Africa News Roundup: Kenyan Elections, Jonathan in 2015, Meth, and More

The big news for the coming week will be, of course, the elections in Kenya on March 4. The BBC profiles the candidates here.

Reuters:

Opponents [of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan] within his own party say since he has already been sworn into office twice, another term would break the constitutional two-term limit. Cyriakus Njoku, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), brought the case.

But Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the High Court in Abuja rejected that argument.

“After the death of Umar Yar’Adua, there was no election. President Jonathan was merely asked to assume the office … in line with doctrine of necessity,” he said.

“He is therefore currently serving his first tenure of office and if he so wishes, he is eligible to further seek his party’s ticket … to run for office in 2015.”

Njoku did not say whether he would appeal to the supreme court.

In my view Jonathan is highly likely to win the 2015 elections.

AFP:

Efforts were underway Friday to confirm the killing of a notorious Al-Qaeda commander during fighting with French troops in Mali, with Washington calling reports of his death “very credible”.

Algeria’s independent Ennahar TV reported this week that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a chief of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed in northern Mali along with 40 other Islamist militants.

In Washington, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said reports of his death seemed “very credible” and that if Abou Zeid was indeed slain “it would be a significant blow to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

French officials have so far reacted with caution, with President Francois Hollande saying Friday: “Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them.”

Bloomberg relates that Sudan is reinforcing troop levels in Blue Nile State.

Jeune Afrique (French) on Gao, Mali.

Europe1 (French) reports that Boko Haram is attempting to recruit youth in Cameroon. “Today, dozens of members of the religious sect are in prison in Cameroon. It is to obtain their liberation that the group chose to kidnap seven members of a French family last week in the northwestern part of the country.”

VOA: “Methamphetamine ‘Growing Concern’ for West Africa.”

IRIN: “Why the Sahel Needs $1.6 Billion Again This year.”

Mali: Guerrilla Attacks and the Possibility of Pockets of Support for Islamists [Updated]

Since being displaced from northern Malian cities by French and Malian troops, Islamist fighters have turned to guerrilla tactics. At least three tactics have emerged so far: (attempted) suicide bombings, raids, and landmines.

In Gao, this weekend saw two suicide bombings (one Friday and one Saturday) followed by what might be called a raid on Sunday:

In the first large-scale urban guerrilla assault of the conflict, rebels from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) attacked Malian troops in the streets of central Gao, sending residents running for cover as Kalashnikov bullets and 14.5-millimetre rounds pierced the air.

Rocket-propelled grenade explosions and fire from heavy machine guns and light weapons resounded late into the afternoon before dying down in the evening, when a power cut plunged the city into darkness.

A French Tiger attack helicopter was circulating over the neighbourhood around the governor’s offices and the central police station, the focal points of the attack.

A Chadian source (French) with which I am unfamiliar, meanwhile, reports that another raid or ambush occurred around February 5, north of Kidal, in which gunmen attacked a Chadian contingent and killed twenty-four soldiers. I have not seen confirmation of this story elsewhere – the Chadian source says “this information has been carefully kept secret by Chadian and French authorities.” We’ll see if more details on this emerge. UPDATE: Commenters Andy Morgan and itsme_leclerc offer evidence suggesting strongly that the story is false.

Regarding landmines, fatal incidents have reportedly occurred in (1) Gossi (January 30, four Malian soldiers killed and five wounded), (2) along the road linking Kidal, Anefis and North Darane (around February 4, two civilians killed), and (3) between Douentza and Gao (February 6, four civilians killed). There may have been other incidents involving landmines too.

The emerging guerrilla war raises a number of questions, one of them being what support Islamist fighters have among northern communities. Al Akhbar (Arabic) mentions the hypothesis that yesterday’s raid on Gao may have involved “the entrance of some Islamists into the city by way of the river, with the help of some local residents.” One Malian commentator (French) writes, meanwhile, “In reality, in certain northern localities, one doesn’t know what support or what rejection these combatants might enjoy.” American analysts sometimes underestimate the support that Islamists possess on the ground in places like Mali, and images of celebration from liberated areas can give the impression that Malian populations unanimously delighted in the ouster of the Islamists. But the guerrilla phase of the conflict, assuming it continues, may hint at lingering pockets of support in Gao and elsewhere.

Africa News Roundup: Davos and Africa, Arrests in Mauritania, Darfur Talks, and More

Reuters: “At Davos, Bankers Close in on Africa.”

French and Malian soldiers may take Gao soon.

Timbuktu is apparently something of a ghost town at the moment.

AFRICOM: “AFRICOM Commander Addresses Concerns, Potential Solutions in Mali.”

Mauritania:

“Mauritanian police arrested eight students of the Islamic University in Laâyoune, 800km northeast of Nouakchott, and accused them of having ties with the extremist Islamist groups in northern Mali,” Sahara Media reported on Monday (January 21st). [Original story in Arabic here – six of them seem to have been subsequently freed (Arabic).]

Another young Mauritanian was arrested Monday in Guerou, 600km east of Nouakchott, Al-Akhbar reported.

Somalia:

Somali security forces will not be able to replace African troops until the international community provides “predictable” funding for their training, according to the United Nations.
“The withdrawal, whether it’s Ethiopian or Amisom, is contingent upon adequate replacement by the Somali forces,” Augustine Mahiga, the UN sectrerary-general’s special representative to the Horn of Africa nation, said in an interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The pace at which Somali forces are being trained is not as fast because there hasn’t been predictable funding.”

Sudan Tribune: “The Sudanese government and a rebel faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have agreed on an agenda to negotiate a peace deal, an international official told the UN Security Council (UNSC).”

IRIN: “Chad’s Health System Struggles to Combat Malnutrition.”

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: Nigeria’s Oil Export Problems, Somalia’s New Cabinet, Karim Wade Questioned in Senegal, and More

BBC (video): “Nigerian Military Chief Sets Out Mali Plan.”

Jeune Afrique (French): “The MNLA Launches an Offensive against MUJWA in Gao.”

Reuters:

Nigerian crude oil export delays have lengthened, traders said on Friday, a sign that a raft of recent output problems caused by oil theft and flooding are increasingly holding back supplies from Africa’s biggest producer.

BBC:

Nigeria’s military has killed a top commander of militant Islamist group Boko Haram in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, an army spokesman has said. Ibn Saleh Ibrahim was killed in an exchange of fire with six of his lieutenants.

On Tuesday, Somalia’s Federal Parliament approved the new cabinet.

VOA: “In Somalia, Political Battle Over Newly Liberated Regions.”

The Economist: “The question of what to do with the charcoal, perhaps worth $40m, could affect the fate of Somalia’s new government.”

Senegalese police summoned Karim Wade, a former cabinet minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, for questioning on Thursday, and have forbade him to leave the country.

BBC (video): “Is Biofuel a Solution for Burkina Faso?”

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, wounded in a shooting on October 13, continues to convalesce in France.

What else is going on?

Mali: A Backlash against the Islamist Coalition? [Updated]

Saturday, in Gao, northern Mali:

On Saturday night the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa [MUJWA] announced on private radio that they would [amputate a thief’s hand] at the square.

MUJWA did not get their way:

“They [Islamists] were not able to take the prisoner to the square to cut off his hand. The residents of Gao occupied the square and refused to allow the thief’s hand to be amputated,” the leader of a local NGO said on condition of anonymity.

According to corroborating sources, the accused was a young [MUJWA] recruit who had stolen weapons to re-sell them.

“We don’t want to know what this young man did, but they are not going to cut his hand off in front of us. The Islamists have retreated and the civilians sang the national hymn as a sign of victory,” another resident said.

This is not the first report of local resistance to MUJWA and the broader Islamist coalition of which it is a part (the other major factions are the movement Ansar al Din and fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). Protests in July – to which Ansar al Din responded harshly – also seemed to signal some popular discontent with Islamist rule.

It has been hard to get a clear sense of what is going on in northern Mali, but the recent signs of resistance to Islamist control could mean several things. One widespread interpretation is that the versions of Islam and Islamic law that the Islamists are attempting to impose are foreign and extreme in the eyes of the people of northern Mali. In this reading, conflict between the Islamists and those they are trying to rule is inevitable.

Another interpretation, more complex than the one above, is that the people of northern Mali have a range of stances vis-a-vis Islamism and that the outcome is not predetermined. In this interpretation, the Islamist coalition is facing resistance because it has mismanaged the politics of the situation.

Ironically, the Islamists’ initial rise to power probably came about partly because of their opponents’ political failures. The ostensibly secular National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) originally launched the rebellion in Mali, but the MNLA appeared incapable of providing law and order to conquered areas – which seems to have given the Islamists an opening to establish some form of law and order.

Other forms of politics were also important. Kal notes that in Gao, MUJWA was able to push the MNLA out in part because MUJWA played local politics effectively:

MUJWA appears to have deftly leveraged its local connections in Gao among local Arabs to exploit strong animosity between Songhai armed elements and the Tuareg-dominated MNLA. The MNLA’s pro-[secession] agenda and abuses of the local population on arrival in Gao coupled with long-standing hostility between members of the Ganda Iso and Ganda Koy militia groups (elements of which were involved in atrocities against Tuaregs during previous rebellions) appears to have allowed MUJWA to direct popular discontent with living conditions in the city resulting from the rebellion onto the MNLA, marginalizing it and forcing its members in the city to take flight.

Following this interpretation, I wonder whether Islamists’ political victories over the MNLA contained the seeds of the Islamists’ present political difficulties: without the MNLA around as a contrast, in other words, the Islamists’ political stock must rise or fall on its own and not simply look better than the MNLA’s. Paul Mutter wrote several weeks ago that the Islamists were “less unpopular” than the MNLA – and “less unpopular” does not necessarily equal “popular.”

The Islamists appear to be harming their own political position by making two mistakes. First, their attempts to carry out dramatic corporal punishments are taking attention away from the behaviors that originally made them more popular than the MNLA. The Islamists’ initial (relative) popularity, it seems, came about because they were preventing abuses by fighters, distributing food and aid, and providing rudimentary order. The Islamists seem to feel a religious imperative to mutilate alleged thieves and stone alleged adulterers, but in political terms these moves have probably begun to hurt them.

Second, the Islamists seem to be mismanaging dissent. Their confrontational approach either results in a crackdown, which likely leaves resentment simmering, or a loss of face for themselves, which is what the events on Saturday look like to me.

No one knows what will happen going forward. But it looks like the Islamist coalition will continue to face some resistance, particularly if their response to dissent is uncompromising.

[UPDATE:] MUJWA opts for more repression, generating more dissent.

AFP:

A radio presenter was badly beaten by Islamists occupying the northern Mali town of Gao after he reported on a protest in which they were stopped from cutting off a thief’s hand, hospital sources said Monday.
[…]
Hundreds of people protested on Sunday night in Gao against [presenter Abdoul Malick] Maiga’s detention and demanded his release, setting fire to a car belonging to a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) which controls the town.
The Islamists fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd.

 

Africa Blog Roundup: Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and More

Lesley Anne Warner, “Calls Continue for Military Intervention in Mali.”

The Moor Next Door on “The Battle at Gao.”

Baobab compares recent church attacks in Kenya with interreligious violence in Nigeria.

Emeka Okafor flags a podcast on “The Politics of Ethnicity in Ethiopia.”

Roving Bandit: “Why South Sudan Is Winning the Oil Pipeline Stand-off with Khartoum.”

Shelby Grossman on Nigerian politics and Boko Haram.

Eliot Pence and Bright Simons:

On many of the macroeconomic indicators used to judge conformity with the mainstream – debt to GDP ratio, current account balance, fiscal balance, inflation – Africa is situated closer to the mainstream, while key OECD countries drift away. Data tracking other kinds of flows – in cultural, innovation, and labour flows – point to a continent becoming a key player in the Global South – not just assimilating into the global mainstream, but helping to shape it.

Rosie Spinks on alternative energy in Africa:

A new project called Africa Express, being carried out by Frenchmen Jeremy Debreu and Claire Guibert with support from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is bringing attention to a different breed of alternative energy on the continent, one where Africans who lack access to energy are the main beneficiaries.

For a period of ten months, the pair are traveling 20,000 km through 23 countries using trains and buses to survey a range of alternative energy projects. From a community refrigeration project in northern Senegal to a massive hydroelectric dam in Morocco, the size and nature of the projects differ, though they all have one notable in common.

“Africa Express aims to promote energy projects with good practices that are intended to benefit Africans,” Guibert said. “We are not only talking about renewable energy, but with the access to energy to people at the base of the pyramid.”

Amb. David Shinn on “China’s Special Economic Zones in Africa.”

What are you reading today?