Africa News Roundup: Mali Kidnapping, Abdel Aziz’s Expected Return to Mauritania, Boko Haram, Eskinder Nega, and More

First, most readers have likely heard that the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA/MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a French citizen in Diema, Kayes, southwestern Mali (map – other versions have the kidnapping taking place in Nioro). The Kayes region is not part of the territory held by the Islamist coalition. The kidnapping, it seems to me, will ratchet up security concerns in southern Mali and increase the perceived threat to Western interests posed by the Islamists.

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13 and spent the last weeks recovering in France, was reportedly expected to return to Mauritania today. Yesterday he gave an interview (French) to RFI and Le Monde on Mauritania and Mali.

AFP: “Suspected French jihadist Arrested in Mauritania.”

Reuters: “Sudan’s information minister had one clear message after security agents moved in to arrest their former spy chief – that a plot had been uncovered, the culprits caught and the situation in the country was now ‘totally stable.’ Khartoum did appear quiet a day later on Friday – but on the desert city’s dusty streets the detention amplified a debate about the future of the country’s leader, and posed new questions about who might one day unseat him.”

Two items on Boko Haram:

  • Al Jazeera: Nigerian “security services have released a list of Boko Haram’s ‘Most Wanted’ men. The list is published with corresponding bounties on offer for the capture of the men, and appeals to members of the public who wish to come forward with information leading to the arrest of the wanted men, to do so…First on the ‘Most Wanted’ list is Abubukar Shekau, the self-styled leader of the group…The other 18 men on the Boko Haram’s ‘Most Wanted’ list, who have bounties ranging from $155,000 dollars down to a more meagre $60,000 dollars upon their heads, names and faces are hardly known to the public or the media. This may make their capture much more difficult.”
  • This Day: “Boko Haram kingpin arrested in Adamawa, Bomb Factory Closed.”

VOA: “Ethiopia’s Federal Supreme Court has postponed hearing an appeal of the conviction of prominent Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage.  But the court gave its first indication Thursday that charges brought by prosecutors under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation may not be that strong by demanding that prosecutors justify the June convictions.”

IRIN on reintegrating returned refugees in Senegal.

Africa Blog Roundup: Dakar Fashion Week, South Sudan, Dual Citizenship, Lagos, Djibouti, and More

PEN’s statement on the sentencing of Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega.

Also from Ethiopia, reports of clashes between police and Muslim protesters (some background here).

Africa Is A Country on the cultural politics of representing Africa in fashion (and how Dakar Fashion Week breaks the mold):

As designers continue to release fantasy collections inspired by their latest trip to exotic, mystical and faraway lands (Michael KorsGiorgio Armani) and fashion editorials feature white models amidst backgrounds of hyper-sexualized dark bodies in seemingly equally dark continents (Daria Werbowy for Interview Magazine), it is clear that for the fashion world, Africa represents a sort of otherness. That otherness, and especially the sexuality of the other, is marketed as flavor and spice, something new, sexually raw and stimulating. Whether depicted in high-fashion advertisements or on the runway, racial difference becomes both at once threateningly pleasurable and seductively dangerous, positioning it at the intersection of most intimate obsessions with desire and death.

Lesley Anne Warner on Washington and Africa policy:

On one hand, DC is a highly intellectual, international city brimming with opportunity and access. On the other hand, it can be very insular and one can easily fall into the trap of assuming all knowledge can be found in DC or its immediate vicinity. It’s the latter that irks me.

On top of having writer’s block, I’ve also had a very introspective week – which is why I was reminded of this Beltway dichotomy at an Africa event I recently attended. The speaker was addressing a pretty controversial topic, but was very politic in their remarks and when it came to Q&A. Their remarks did not spark a heated debate, which should have been the case given the subject matter. Instead, it sounded like a pitch for maintaining the status quo of U.S. engagement in Africa – regardless of the inherent idiosyncrasies of our approach (security at the expense of democracy, for example), or any potential areas for improvement.

Amb. David Shinn flags two items from the US Institute of Peace on the trajectory of South Sudan.

Dr. Kim Yi Dionne on “Diaspora, Development, and Dual Citizenship”:

Last month, Malawi President Joyce Banda traveled to the UK and US to participate in international summits related to aid and development. During President Banda’s visit to the US, she spoke at a specially convened meeting of the Malawi Washington Association (MWA), an organization of the Malawian diaspora in the US.

There has been a lot of chatter recently about harnessing African diasporas to develop their home countries, and the MWA is no exception. The MWA discussion (at least as seen on the email listserv) focuses on the need for Malawi to offer dual citizenship.

Amb. John Campbell on Lagos, taxation, and success.

Reflections on Djibouti from an American soldier.

Don’t forget, if you are in DC, do come to discuss these topics (including the relationship between DC and Africa!) at Science Club on Tuesday.

Africa News Roundup: Eskinder Nega, Mali, Nigeria, Somaliland, and More

The Ethiopian government has sentenced the journalist Eskinder Nega to eighteen years in prison.

VOA reports on protests in northern Mali against the rebel group Ansar al Din.

Protests continue in Sudan.

IRIN reports on camps for displaced persons in eastern Chad.

The African Union on intervention in Mali:

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters: “I think there is room for negotiations and room for moving to reconcile Malians among themselves.”
He said teams from the AU and West African regional grouping ECOWAS were working to prepare for military intervention but it would be “a last resort”.

Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso continue to deal with refugee flows from Mali.

Think Africa Press on “The Battle for Edo State” in Nigeria.

According to IRIN, “About 120,000 people in the coastal, mid- and far western regions of the self-declared republic of Somaliland require emergency food assistance after four years of failed rains.”

Djibouti, host to American and French soldiers, could face terrorist attacks.

What else is happening today?

Ethiopia: Terrorism, Journalism, and Human Rights [Updated]

Yesterday, the Lideta Federal High Court in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa pronounced prominent journalist Eskinder Nega and twenty-three others guilty of having “links to US-based group Ginbot 7, considered a terrorist group under Ethiopian law, and other outlawed groups.”

Both Eskinder and [opposition leader] Andualem [Arage] were found guilty of “participation in a terrorist organisation” and “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of (a) terrorist act.”

Andualem was also found guilty of serving as a “leader or decision maker of a terrorist organisation.”

[...]

Both Eskinder and Andualem are accused of using examples of Arab Spring uprisings in the media to promote anti-government protest in Ethiopia.

[...]

Five of the defendants, including Eskinder and Andualem, will reappear in court on July 13 to present their mitigating circumstances.

According to Reuters, “prosecutors said they would not demand the death penalty and called for jail sentences from five years to life for the group.”

The case adds to controversy surrounding Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation, which critics argue is more a tool that the government uses to suppress dissent than a vehicle it uses for punishing genuine terrorists. Both Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued statements on the case yesterday. Amnesty wrote, “Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, used to convict the defendants on several of the charges, enables the prosecution of legitimate and peaceful activities as ‘terrorist’ acts.” CPJ, meanwhile, said, “With its ruling, the court has effectively criminalized free expression, trivialized the genuine threat of terrorism, and undermined the credibility of the judicial system in Ethiopia.”

Some background on Eskinder Nega and his case, including his previous encounters with the Ethiopian legal system, can be found here and here.

Eskinder and those tried with him are not the first to be targeted by Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law. In January, Human Rights Watch denounced the conviction of five persons (including three journalists and an opposition leader) under the law. An HRW researcher stated, “The verdict against these five people confirms that Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law is being used to crush independent reporting and peaceful political dissent. The Ethiopian courts are complicit in this political witch-hunt.” HRW also said that the conviction of two Swedish journalists under the law in December “demonstrates that the country’s anti-terrorism law is fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting.” In addition to condemning the ways in which the government uses the law, HRW has raised concerns about reported torture of suspects detained on terrorism charges.

As I wrote in February,

Ethiopia is a country that plays a large role in the Horn of Africa; some in Washington consider Ethiopia an important ally in American efforts to stabilize the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is also one of the largest aid recipients in the world (more here). The contrast between Ethiopia’s favored status in strategic and aid circles on the one hand, and the sharp criticisms its government draws from human rights groups on the other, raises important questions about how the rhetoric of “fighting terrorism” plays out at the local level.

The conviction of Eskinder Nega and the others adds even greater urgency to these questions.

So far I have not seen any official reaction to the trial from the US government.

[UPDATE]: A statement from the US State Department:

We are deeply concerned about the Ethiopian government’s conviction of a number of journalists and opposition members under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. This practice raises serious questions and concerns about the intent of the law, and about the sanctity of Ethiopians’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression. We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society.

As Secretary Clinton has said, “When a free media is under attack anywhere, all human rights are under attack everywhere. That is why the United States joins its global partners in calling for the release of all imprisoned journalists in every country across the globe and for the end to intimidation.”

For those who are interested, Ginbot 7’s website is here.