A Look Back at the Sahel and the Horn in 2012

2012 ends, for the regions of Africa this blog covers, with considerable uncertainty and tragedy for some countries, and cause for cautious optimism in others.

We do not have to look far to find chaos. Mali’s trajectory, whether in terms of political arrangements in the south, the future of the north, or the future role of external actors in reuniting the country by force, remains unclear. Violence in northern Nigeria continues, not only in the form of attacks by Boko Haram but also in intercommunal conflicts and abuses by security forces. Fighting continues along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The rebellion in the Central African Republic may end with the formation of a coalition government, or perhaps rebels will take the capital. In Somalia, recent attacks in Puntland hint that al Shabab, while weakened by losses of territory in the south, will remain a source of violence.

Yet we also do not have to look far to find causes for hope. Senegal experienced a democratic transition from one party to another earlier this year. On December 21, the Lagos-Kano railway reopened in Nigeria. Somalia completed a political transition and has a new government. There are always reasons to feel gloomy – perhaps Senegal’s new President Macky Sall will prove incapable of dealing with the country’s problems, and Nigerian society will fragment further, and the tenuous political and territorial gains by Somalia’s government will vanish – but it is worth thinking about what went right this year in various places. About the institutions that endured, the plans that worked, the macro and micro changes that improved or protected people’s lives.

It is also crucial to go beyond reductionist paradigms of African tragedies on the one hand and African “success stories” on the other. Writing the above paragraphs reminded me how easy it is to fall into the superficial trap of juxtaposing the positive with the negative and calling that complexity, or calling that “Africa.” The real complexity is all the stories that don’t fit into neat categories of tragedy or triumph. Thus as Sall turns to the task of governing Senegal, we find him struggling to resolve a conflict with a religious leader and his partisans. In Nigeria, we see a state attempting to balance religious and political constituencies in the wake of a governor’s unexpected death. In what some consider unmitigated tragedy we also find complexity – one brother who was sentenced to have his hand amputated for taking up arms against Islamists in northern Mali and another brother who, seeming to endorse the Islamists’ vision of a religiously pure society, carried out the sentence of amputation himself. We can always find heroes and villains in events if we choose; but sometimes we can’t grasp the complexity of a situation until we stop looking for heroes and villains, and just look for people.

So 2012 has given analysts of the Sahel and the Horn a lot of material to digest. Events this year certainly surprised me in various ways. I was surprised by how rapidly the situation in Mali deteriorated, especially between January and April. But I was also surprised to see Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade step down amid relative calm after months of tension around his bid for a third term of questionable constitutionality, and what at times had looked like his willingness to secure that third term at great cost. These surprises encourage us to question received narratives, like that of Mali as a “democratic poster child,” or the idea that an “African strongman” can always cling to power. The surprises also encourage us to remember that events are fluid and contingent. Sometimes events are shaped, to a shocking extent, by chance. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was shot in October, but lived – had the bullets killed him, who can say what the repercussions might have been for Mauritania, for Mali, for the Sahel? It is strange to think that one low-ranking soldier’s aim could influence outcomes for a whole country, even for a whole region.

I listed five “stories to watch” at the beginning of this year. The ideas were safe enough, and broad enough, that they all did prove relevant to the course of events, though not always in the ways I might have expected – for starters, Mali’s democracy certainly underwent a severe test, but not at the ballot box. But the value in comparing the perspective looking forward in January 2012 with the perspective looking backward in December 2012 is not primarily in asking who got what right, but in determining what changed and how analysts can do better in grasping the causes and effects of those changes. The methods I use for this blog – aggregating and synthesizing news in the hope that what emerges is more than just the sum of its sources – will remain basically the same in the coming year. But 2012 reminds me to ask a broad array of questions, to look beyond politicking in Bamako or Dakar or Khartoum or Mogadishu. To think about the potential of so-called “marginal” actors to affect an entire country’s trajectory (and not to forget ethnic, religious, or political minorities in a rush to analyze “Tuareg rebellions” or a “Muslim Northern Nigeria”). To think about the webs of relationships – between individuals, between communities, between countries – that are activated, and reshaped, in the course of conflict and cooperation.

I plan to post a look forward at 2013 tomorrow. I’m thinking I’ll go more with the idea of “themes to consider” rather than “stories to watch.” In the meantime, what struck you the most in 2012 about the Sahel or the Horn? What was expected and unexpected about how this year played out?

Africa News Roundup: Abdel Aziz Back to France, Jubaland Plans, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Trials of Mutineers in Burkina Faso, and More

The United Nations Security Council is considering a plan by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to deploy troops in Mali. The French government has urged the UNSC to pass the resolution approving the force by December 20.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13, returned to Mauritania one week ago after an extended convalescence in France. Yesterday he announced that he will return to France briefly for further medical treatment, raising questions about the state of his health. At the same press conference, Abdel Aziz also stated his opposition to an external military intervention in Mali.

AFP: “Renewed Flooding Threatens Niger Capital.”

Garowe on “Jubaland”:

According to Jubaland authorities, there have been five committees set up to establish the Jubaland state in southern Somalia.

The committees include a Security Committee, Election Committee, Selection Committee, Logistics and Financial Committee, and an Awareness Committee, according to Jubaland sources. Each committee consists of 11 members.

The committees will be fundamental in creating the Jubaland state that has been backed by IGAD regional bloc.

IRIN:

After almost a decade of rebel rule, northern Côte d’Ivoire is coming to terms with a new authority as the government of President Alassane Ouattara, who assumed power some 18 months ago, establishes its presence in a region which effectively split from the rest of the country.

Aman Sethi’s op-ed on the Muslim protests in Ethiopia.

Reuters:

Seven gendarmes were jailed on Thursday for taking part in last year’s military mutinies in Burkina Faso, in the first trial linked to the outburst of deadly riots, protests and looting in the normally peaceful West African nation.

A new video from Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

What else is happening?

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: Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Oil Contracts, Elections in Sierra Leone, Gold in South Sudan, and More

Chris Blattman recommends, and highlights some powerful quotations from, Robert Worth‘s “Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?”

Alemayehu Fentaw on Muslim protests in Ethiopia:

There is little evidence to support the Ethiopian Government’s claim that its own Muslim community poses a legitimate threat to national and regional security.  It only seems to be driven by a shrewd strategic calculus. Since Ethiopia is a critical partner in the West’s ‘War on Terror’, the government thinks it helps to foment fear of the rise of radical Islam in Ethiopia that would lead to an improbable takeover of power by political Islam.  The current Ethiopian Government seeks to keep Western support and aid flowing into the country through characterizing the Muslim community as linked to Islamic radicals and thus a threat to national security.

Baobab on Sierra Leone’s elections.

Duncan Green/The World Bank: “What Have We Learned from Five Years of Research on African Power and Politics?”

Two on oil:

  • Loomnie: “Oil Contracts: How to Read and Understand Them.”
  • Laine Strutton: “A Very Brief Chronology of the Nigerian Oil Economy.”

Orlando Reade: “Revolutions and Dancing.”

Amb. John Campbell comments on “a new report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, ‘Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide.’”

Roving Bandit on artisanal gold mining in South Sudan.

Africa Blog Roundup: Malaria, Northern Kenya, Obama and Africa, and More

Owen Barder:

There was bad news in research published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine about the effectiveness of what had seemed to be the best prospect for a malaria vaccine. The vaccine is known by the unsexy name of ‘RTS,S’.

The study of the phase III trials finds that in babies (aged 6-12 weeks) the vaccine only reduces malaria by less than a third.  This is disappointing because this is less than half the effectiveness that  had been suggested by the phase II clinical trials.

Karen Kaya and Jason Warner: “Turkey’s Love Affair with Somalia.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Uganda’s Withdrawal Threat.”

Hassan Kochore:

The face of northern Kenya…is changing, and one might expect people’s opinions and loyalty to the Kenyan state to shift accordingly. However, while the government has set out to socially and economically integrate the northern populations into Kenya, the narratives on the ground seem to be painting a contrasting picture.

Laine Strutton: “Italian Colonization in Africa.”

Roving Bandit on mental illness in South Sudan.

Lesley Anne Warner on US Africa policy and President Barack Obama’s second term. And via Amb. David Shinn, Tadias looks at US-Ethiopian relations in light of President Obama’s re-election.

Africa Is A Country: “10 Films to Watch Out For.”

Africa News Roundup: ECOWAS and Mali, French Commanders in Mauritania, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Karim Wade, and More

Details on the Economic Community of West African States’ battle plan for Mali:

“International forces will not do the ground fighting, that role will belong to the Malian army,” a military officer familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named, said on Friday.

“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.

Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries. It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations.

The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north.

Top French military commanders visited Mauritania this week to discuss Mali and terrorism.

The ongoing Muslim protests in Ethiopia merit a full post, but two items of note are the announcement of new members of the Islamic Affairs Council and a statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressing concern “about the increasing deterioration of religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia.”

In other Ethiopia-related news, “Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to resume jointly working on organizing sustainable management, utilization and development of the Nile waters under the Eastern Nile Basin. The agreement was reached after water Ministers and representatives of the three countries held a meeting in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.”

VOA:

The United Nations warns survivors of Nigeria’s worst flooding in five decades are at risk for waterborne and water-related diseases.  Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports the heavy rains have killed 363 people, affected 7.7 million and made more than two million people homeless.

Reuters: “Somalia’s al Shabaab, Squeezed in South, Move to Puntland.”

Senegalese police will again question Karim Wade, a former minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?

Africa Blog Roundup: Ethiopia and Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, and More

Aaron Maasho:

Ethiopia and Eritrea are still at each others’ throats. The two neighbours fought hammer and tongs in sun-baked trenches during a two-year war over a decade ago, before a peace deal ended their World War I-style conflict in 2000. Furious veRed Sea, UNrbal battles, however, have continued to this day.

Yet, amid the blistering rhetoric and scares over a return to war, analysts say the feuding rivals are reluctant to lock horns once again. Neighbouring South Sudan and some Ethiopian politicians are working on plans to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

Reem Abbas: “Escaping Military Service and Kidnap, One Eritrean Woman’s Ordeal.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Al Shabaab’s Changing State in Somalia.”

Laura Mann:

On October 11ththe Rift Valley held its first ‘Nairobi Forum’. They invited Ken Menkhaus, Amal Ismail, Jabril Abdulla and Matt Bryden to discuss the post-election climate in Somalia. The former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Affey, who was chairing the proceedings, joked: “We wanted to show Kenya what it means to be a democratic nation”.

All parties agreed that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is a man who combines two clean hands with enormous street cred. There is reason for ‘cautious optimism’ even amidst the challenges ahead. Ken Menkhaus argued that it was not the election of this single remarkable man that was important, but the extensive support network behind him. Describing this network as a ‘constructive elite,’ Menkhaus clarified that this was not a mass uprising ‘Somali Spring’ but a civic mobilization of determined professionals tired of warlordism and ineffective foreign interventions alike. These individuals have been on the ground for the past 20 years, building hospitals, schools, universities and private businesses. They have spent the past 20 years “navigating the streets” as Ken Menkhaus put it. They have learnt how to negotiate deals with difficult parties, how to build trust across clans and most importantly, they know how to get things done. Jabril Abdulla added that these negotiating skills are important. The gradual expansion of the state will not just involve institutions, but people, some benign and some less palatable. Getting warlords to engage in politics is one of the key challenges.

Sociolingo flags UNECA’s 2012 report “Unleashing Africa’s Potential as a Pole of Global Growth.”

UN Dispatch: “UK, Ireland, and Denmark Suspend Aid to Uganda.”

Roving Bandit: “Cash Transfers in Northern Kenya.”

Shelby Grossman: “The Monotony of the Generator Guy’s Work.”

What are you reading today?

Africa News Roundup: Alleged Boko Haram Peace Talks Offer, Kismayo, Uganda and Somalia, Flooding in Niger, and More

A spokesman claiming to represent Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect has outlined conditions for peace talks with the federal government. Demands include holding the talks in Saudi Arabia and having former military ruler and presidential aspirant General Muhammadu Buhari as a mediator. Coverage from the Guardian, This Day,  Business Week, and News 24.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International released a new report, “Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence,” on November 1, writing, “The brutal actions of Nigeria’s security forces in response to Boko Haram’s campaign of terror are making an already desperate situation even worse.”

Nigerian security forces reportedly killed thirty people in Maiduguri on Friday.

AP writes, “Weary from years of kidnappings, the inhabitants of Algeria’s rugged Kayblie mountains are finally turning against the al-Qaida fighters in their midst and helping security forces hunt them down. And that turnaround is giving Algeria its best chance yet to drive the terror network from its last Algerian stronghold.”

The BBC:

Nearly 400 people have been arrested in a major security operation in the Somali port city of Kismayo, officials there have told the BBC.

African Union troops, the Somali army and a pro-government militia gained control of the strategic port last month from al-Qaeda-aligned militants.

A militia spokesman told the BBC those arrested were believed to be supporters of the Islamist al-Shabab group.

Since al-Shabab’s withdrawal there have been frequent bombings in the city.

VOA: “Uganda is threatening to pull its troops from African peacekeeping missions, including the one in Somalia, because of a U.N. report that accuses Kampala of supporting Congolese rebels.”

IRIN on internally displaced people in Mogadishu.

Gambia has appointed its first female foreign minister, Susan Wafa-Ogoo.

Ethiopian Muslims continue their weekly Friday protests against alleged government interference in Muslim affairs.

IRIN writes that more flooding may occur in Niger.

What else is going on?

Africa News Roundup: Sudan and Israel, Oil and Floods, Mali and Drones, and More

IRIN: “Sahel Crisis: Lessons to Be Learnt.” One key point:

Pastoralists are affected by food access issues earlier than other groups and need support to access animal fodder, water, vaccinations and to destock, in March and April, not May and June.

This need is rarely reflected in early warning or response, said aid agencies. Pastoralists’ needs are still relegated to a few specialist NGOs rather than being addressed through national systems and as a result they remain marginalized, said Gubbels. Further, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which could be a vocal advocate on their behalf, did not clearly ring the alarm bell to donors on their needs, said NGOs.

During heavy floods in Nigeria recently, oil production has fallen from this year’s average of 2.5 million barrels per day to around 2.1-2.2 million.

Sudan has accused Israel of bombing the Yarmouk weapons factory in Khartoum on Wednesday. NPR: “Israel officials never publicly confirm nor deny their country’s involvement in overseas operations. But speaking anonymously to NPR, an Israeli intelligence officer says that Israel does -– most definitely –- operate in Sudan.” Time has more, as does McClatchy (h/t Armin Rosen).

BBC: “Is the World Ready to Take on Mali’s Islamists?” and AP on French surveillance drones in northern Mali.

The World Bank: “Africa Can Feed Itself, Earn Billions, and Avoid Food Crises by Unblocking Regional Food Trade.”

South Sudan as a diplomatic actor in its region:

Newly independent South Sudan plans to help resolve the long-running border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a senior official said on Wednesday.

South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, Deng Alor, said Addis Ababa and Asmara had given the green light for mediation talks on the border, which could start as early as November.

Ethiopian Muslims continue to protest “what they call unconstitutional government interference in religious affairs, heightened by the election of Muslim leaders this month the protesters say were not free or fair.”

The Sahel is one region of concern for US officials who plan to “keep adding names to kill lists” (h/t Ingrid Pederson).

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: South Sudanese Oil, ECOWAS Meeting in Mali, Flooding in Nigeria, and More

AP: “South Sudan ordered oil companies to restart production Thursday and officials said oil export could resume in about 90 days, ending a nearly nine-month shutdown following a dispute with Sudan over borders and oil.”

IRIN with a piece that is worth thinking about in the context of how the Islamist coalition in northern Mali works to attract support:

Hundreds of displaced northerners in southern Mali are risking life under Sharia law to return home, lured by the prospect of jobs, free water and electricity, and in some parts, relatively cheaper food, Malians in the north and south told IRIN.
Islamist groups have removed taxes on many basic goods, say traders in the region, provide erratic electricity and water services at no charge, and have fixed the price of some basic foods. They are also paying youths to join their ranks, as talk of intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mounts.

A major meeting of ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations took place in Bamako yesterday.

Lagun Akinloye on recent flooding in Nigeria.

Garowe writes that talks between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front have hit “deadlock.”

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and others have raised the possibility that al Shabab, now that its major strongholds in southern Somalia have fallen to African Union forces, may seek to establish more of a presence in Puntland. The BBC reports on a seizure of weapons imported into Puntland that were apparently meant for al Shabab.

Yesterday I wrote about border issues in Niger, but neglected to mention that this week Niger and Burkina Faso were at the International Court of Justice to settle a border dispute. It’s worth noting how colonial legacies still come into play: “During the hearings, Burkina Faso explained that the delimitation of the disputed part should be based on a 1927 French colonial decree, when both countries were part of French West Africa, while Niger contended that the decree was not precise enough to define the frontier in certain areas and asked the Court to delimit it by using a 1960 map of the French Institut Géographique as adjusted with factual evidence of territorial sovereignty.”

What else is happening?