Africa Blog Roundup: Benghazi, Oil, Achebe, Kismayo, and More

Josh Rogin:

The State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB), meant to review the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, met for the first time at the State Department Thursday.

[…]

The ARB is charged with determining the extent to which the incident was security-related, whether the security systems and procedures at that mission were adequate and were properly implemented, the impact of intelligence and information availability, and any other facts and circumstances that might be relevant to the appropriate security management of the United States missions abroad.

Roving Bandit on the oil deal between Sudan and South Sudan:

Whilst this seems like a good deal for North Sudan in the short run and a good deal for South Sudan in the long run, my main concern is the hold-up problem. What is stopping North Sudan ripping up the agreement in 3 years, demanding a higher cut, and just confiscating oil (again)?

Texas in Africa on child soldiers:

The dilemma in the Congo is this: while everyone agrees that the use of child soldiers is a horrible, inexcusable human rights violation, it is far from clear that disengaging from the Congolese government on military issues will end those abuses.

Loomnie excerpts two reviews of Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country.

Emeka Okafor on hip hop in Nigeria.

Baobab on the potential impact of debt forgiveness on Guinea, and on cultural differences between Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Somalia Newsroom: “Al Shabaab, Jubbaland, and the Future of Kismayo.”

At Focus on the Horn, Dr. Samson Bezabeh discusses Djibouti’s politics with reference to Sasha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator.”

Africa News Roundup: Somalia’s New Prime Minister, Protests in Ethiopia, Bombings in Nigeria, Cabinet Reshuffle in Guinea, and More

Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has appointed a new prime minister:

[Abdi Farah Shirdon] Saaid, a political newcomer, has been a prominent businessman in neighbouring Kenya and is married to Asha Haji Elmi, an influential Somali peace activist.

A Western diplomat said Saaid had a reputation for being above Somalia’s notoriously volatile clan politics, similar to the new president, and the news of his appointment would be welcomed by foreign governments.

“Like all the decisions the new president has made so far, this is a good one, and Somalia is on a bit of a roll with the election of (Mohamed Osman) Jawaari as parliament speaker and Mohamud as president,” the diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency.

Mohamud, a former academic and a political newcomer himself, was elected president in a secret ballot on September 10, a result hailed by his supporters as a vote for change in the Horn of Africa state ravaged by war and anarchy since 1991.
Saaid’s appointment as the prime minister will have to be approved by Somali legislators, diplomatic sources said.

VOA:

Ethiopian Muslims will elect a new Islamic Council this Sunday, October 7.  The election has stirred protest among many Muslims who believe the government is trying to influence the Council.
A protest erupted after the Friday prayer at the Anwar mosque, the largest mosque in Addis Ababa.  People were waving yellow papers, symbolizing a warning card for the government and the crowd was chanting for about 20 minutes, shouting slogans such as “let our voice be heard” and “release the prisoners.”  Dozens of protesters were brought to a police station during and after the demonstration.
The anger behind the protest started earlier this year, as some Muslims accused the government of interfering with religious affairs by trying to promote a more liberal form of Islam from Lebanon, known as al-Abhash.

Peter Tinti: “Understanding Algeria’s Northern Mali Policy”

In the recent killing of students in Nigeria’s Adamawa State, the prior destruction of mobile phone towers by Boko Haram seems to have contributed to victims’ difficulties in placing calls to warn others.

Two explosions in Nigeria’s Taraba State, in the town of Jailingo, occurred respectively on Thursday and on Friday/Saturday night, killing at least two persons and wounding at least nineteen.

Micah Zenko wonders, “Foreign governments and peoples ask for international humanitarian interventions all the time, so why do we only pay attention to some and ignore others?”

An unexpected cabinet reshuffle in Guinea.

IRIN reports on a cholera outbreak on the Kenya-Somalia border.

What else is happening?

Cholera in the Sahel

News of an outbreak of cholera in Islamist-held Gao, northern Mali (map), has focused some international attention on the problem of cholera across the Sahel region. You can read about cholera’s causes, symptoms, and treatments here.

UNICEF (via VOA) released a statement this week expressing concern about the recent uptick in cholera cases in the western Sahel sub-region:

Since mid-June, the number of people affected by the deadly highly infectious water-borne disease has shot up in the Sahel, especially in Niger’s regions bordering the Niger River, where the Ministry of Health reports nearly three times as many cholera patients over the first half of 2012 compared to the same period last year.

Niger is home to about 400,000 children who are expected to require life-saving treatment for severe malnutrition this year.

Cholera is a recurrent threat throughout the Sahel. Last year, over 67,000 cholera cases were reported mainly around the Lake Chad Basin countries (Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria), with 2,153 deaths and an average case fatality rate of 3.2 per cent.

But this year, the outbreaks appear to be concentrated further to the west around Niger and Mali, where its impact is aggravated by massive displacement of people fleeing the conflict in northern Mali and puts more strain on the children already affected by an acute nutrition crisis. While cholera cases appeared in Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria earlier this year, several other Sahel countries are now facing significant risks, with a sharp increase of cases expected with the onset of the rainy season.

As IRIN summarizes, the number of cases in parts of the Sahel, such as the Lake Chad basin, is lower than it was in 2011, but in Mali and Niger the number is set to rise between August and December, which is peak cholera time.

Decreases in cases this year in countries like Chad and Guinea are due to a combination of acquired immunity, prevention methods, and vaccines.

The Red Cross has worked near Gao to prevent the spread of cholera there, supporting “a treatment centre set up on the spot by the health authorities to prevent the disease from spreading…Local radio stations have begun to broadcast warning messages and recommendations, and Mali Red Cross volunteers are going door to door to distribute treatment products and water.” The Islamist group the Movement for Unity/Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) has also reportedly “told people not to drink the river water or bathe in it in a bid to contain the outbreak.”

Nevertheless, ongoing violence in northern Mali between various rebel groups could complicate efforts at prevention and treatment, potentially allowing the disease to spread. Cholera’s spread would add to the burdens Mali, Niger, and other countries in the sub-region already face, including displaced persons and lack of food. UNICEF, the Red Cross, and other organizations are stepping up their efforts to monitor and contain outbreaks, but the present chaos in northern Mali may well work against them.

Africa News Roundup: Celebrations in Little Senegal, Drought and War in Mali, Guinea’s Army, Sudan Talks, and More

In New York City’s Little Senegal, support for President-elect Macky Sall was strong in last week’s elections, and celebration at his win has been equally pronounced.

An Oxfam press release from yesterday:

Growing insecurity in Mali and northern Nigeria is disrupting the supply of food to communities suffering from a major food crisis affecting 13 million people in West Africa, said international aid agency Oxfam today.

The conflict in northern Mali, one of the driving factors of last week’s coup d’état and the temporary closure of borders, had already posed a major risk to vulnerable communities in Mali and the region. Now there are signs that the escalation in the country’s instability is further affecting the already serious food insecurity across West Africa, meaning a rapid increase in humanitarian assistance to the region is urgently needed.

Meanwhile, rebels in northern Mali yesterday captured the town of Kidal (map), one of the three “capitals” of Azawad, the nation the rebels say they want to slice out of Mali. The other two capitals, Gao and Timbuktu, lie further south. Leader of the recent coup in Mali Captain Amadou Sanogo appealed for international help against the rebels, but his regime faces the withdrawal of US aid and the threat, by the Economic Community of West African States, to close the country’s borders. The Nigerian Senate, meanwhile, “is pushing for military action against Malian coup plotters.”

In other Nigeria news, two teams of suspected Boko Haram members attacked a police station and a bank yesterday in the northeast.

Jeune Afrique (French) on the re-organization of Guinea’s army under the new civilian regime. Guinea experienced a military coup in late 2008, but returned to civilian control in late 2010.

Somaliland is suffering a serious drought.

Further south, southern Somali rebel movement al Shabab continues to lose territory to the government and its allies.

Following a border clash between the two nations this week, Sudan and South Sudan are set to hold more talks today on final status issues such as oil revenue sharing. Yesterday, rebels in Sudan’s South Kordofan State reportedly began new attacks.

What else is going today?

Three Recent Coups in West Africa and How They Played Out

Many questions still surround the ongoing attempted military takeover in Mali: What motivated it? Will there be a counter-coup? What does it mean? What are its implications for the rebellion in the north and the future of Malian democracy? What are its implications for other countries? Answers to these questions will take shape over time, and Mali will follow its own path. In the meantime it is useful to think about other recent military coups in West Africa and how they played out.

The coups in question took place in Mauritania (2008), Guinea (2008), and Niger (2010), all of which border Mali. One commonality is that all three countries experienced coups at moments of perceived crisis. Another commonality is that they all eventually held elections. However, each took a different path towards its coup and towards the resolution of the coup. One key takeaway, indeed, is that coups can follow very different trajectories.

The order is chronological. This post fleshes out – and adds to – arguments I made here.

Mauritania

Mauritania‘s history, following the end of one-party rule in 1978, includes four successful coups: 1978, 1984, 2005, and 2008. While the coups of 1978 and 1984 installed military regimes, the 2005 coup was motivated by increasing domestic tension under the rule of Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya. This tension stemmed partly from Ould Taya’s limited toleration for democratization. The coup leaders organized open elections, and a civilian president was in 2007. Feelings within parts of the military leadership that the civilian regime was politically fecklessness and weak, especially in the face of a perceived Islamist and jihadist threat, prompted a coup in August 2008. The leader of that coup, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, had been a key participant in the 2005 coup. In 2009, the junta oversaw presidential elections. Abdel Aziz ran as a civilian and won. He remains in power today.

Guinea

Guinea has had two successful coups: one in 1984, at the death of independence-era leader President Sekou Toure, and one in December 2008, at the death of President Lansana Conte, who came to power in the coup of 1984. The junta installed in 2008 was led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Camara promised that elections would take place and that he would not stand, but tensions rose as his promises came to appear hollow and his behavior became erratic. In September 2009, soldiers brutally cracked down on an opposition rally in the capital. Then, in December 2009, one of Camara’s guards shot him in the head. The junta leader lived, but was flown to Morocco, later to Burkina Faso, and was not permitted to re-enter Guinea. Power passed to General Sekouba Konate, who oversaw a two-round election in June/November 2010. The elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud. The winner, long-time opposition leader Alpha Conde, is still president.

Niger

In Niger, four successful coups have occurred: the 1974 coup that overthrew independence-era President Hamani Diori; a 1996 coup that installed Colonel Ibrahim Mainassara after several attempted civilian governments; the 1999 assassination of Mainassara by his bodyguards, who then organized civilian elections which were won by President Mamadou Tandja; and the February 2010 coup that ousted Tandja after he amended the constitution and remained in power beyond his original two-term limit. The 2010 coup, led by Colonel Salou Djibo, shows continuities with the 1999 coup: Djibo’s junta, appearing to consider itself the referee of Nigerien democracy, relatively quickly organized civilian elections. This two-round contest, held in January/March 2011, was won by opposition leader and current President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Conclusion

What lessons do these examples offer? I can think of four:

  1. These coups came out of (perceived) crisis. In addition to the big triggers I mention above – a sense of civilian incompetence in the face of threats, the death of a long-time leader, or the refusal of a leader to leave office – other problems were at work in each case, ones that civilian leaders struggled to deal with. Mauritania was juggling domestic unrest, non-violent Islamist political activism, and jihadist violence. Guinea saw military mutinies in 2008. Niger had experienced drought and famine. Military leaders seized power, it seems, in part because they feared further such situations would deteriorate further. This seems to have been the case in Mali as well.
  2. Coup leaders quickly adopted the rhetoric of democracy. Within months if not days of taking power, these military juntas were promising elections and, in Mauritania and Niger, working to organize them. This, too, holds for Mali, at least at the rhetorical level; vague promises to restore democracy have already surfaced.
  3. (Promises of) elections served different purposes for each junta. In Guinea, many came to see Camara’s promises as a tactic he exploited to delay having to clarify his status and his intentions. In Mauritania, elections brought a large measure of continuity. Some protesters in Mauritania believe the elections did not really end military rule; in this view, elections were an exercise Abdel Aziz went through to legitimate his rule. In Niger, finally, the junta lived up to its promises, and its leaders did not compete in the election. With Mali, how this junta will use/abuse the promise of democracy will be a key question.
  4. Coup leaders who cause chaos are overthrown in coups. I take this observation from the case of Camara (who only survived by luck) in Guinea and that of Mainassara in Niger. It arguably also applies to Ould Taya in Mauritania and even to General Sani Abacha in Nigeria, who rumor says was poisoned by treachery in 1998. In each case, the new military leaders exemplified a more sober style of leadership and transitioned fairly quickly to civilian democracy. The implication for Mali’s new junta, then, is that if they are seen to be dragging the country further into chaos and dragging their feet on democracy, there could be yet another coup in the coming years.

What implications for Mali do you see in these other cases?

Africa Blog Roundup: South Sudan, Somalia, “Ideological Missionaries,” and More

Yesterday South Sudan officially became independent of North Sudan. Different bloggers addressed various aspects of the event and its meaning:

  • Maggie Fick: “South Sudan erupts in sheer joy as it becomes world’s newest nation”
  • Dipnote (US State Department): “Ambassador Rice Leads US Delegation to South Sudan”
  • Baobab/The Economist: “Managing Expectations”
  • Amb. John Campbell/Royal African Society: “Juba and Khartoum: No Velvet Divorce”
  • Edmund Downie/Foreign Policy Passport: “An Awkward Independence Day for Diplomats in South Sudan” – referring to the presence of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir at the event. Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court.
  • Roving Bandit: “Economic Prospects for the Republic of South Sudan” – better than expected, it turns out.
  • Rosebell Kagumire: “South Sudan Independence: A New Journey Begins”

Amb. David Shinn posts his recent congressional testimony on Somalia. Highly recommended.

Chris Blattman flags a quote from Henry Kissinger on the difference between Chinese and American foreign policy. The quote, which refers to China’s lack of “ideological missionary tendencies” similar to the tone that characterizes American engagement abroad, is worth thinking about in the context of Africa.

Louisa Lombard writes an engrossing account of her visit to the “Winners’ Chapel” in the Central African Republic.

Saratu examines the relationship between the African Union and Colonel Moammar Qadhafi.

Loomnie excerpts remarks by Mike McGovern on the relationship between anthropology and development economics.

At Africa Is A Country, Dan Moshenberg places the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser in the larger context of media representations of African women and efforts to secure justice for women around the globe.

A Bombastic Element reflects on Somaliland’s experience with(out) aid, using a recently released World Bank report on African success stories as a point of departure.

What did I miss this weekend?

Chinese Foreign Minister Wraps Up Africa Tour

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Chad yesterday, the last stop on a trip that included Zimbabwe, Guinea, Gabon, and Togo. Yang has made three prior journeys to Africa, and this trip reflects China’s continued engagement across the continent. Once again, economic themes dominated the agenda, and Yang ‘s policy statements affirmed China’s willingness to work with African leaders that the West finds controversial and its willingness to do business amidst political turmoil.

In Zimbabwe, Yang met with President Robert Mugabe. Yang “signed an agreement to give Zimbabwe’s government a 50 million- yuan ($7.6 million) grant and called for sanctions against the southern African country to be lifted.”

In Guinea, Yang spoke with President Alpha Conde and announced “two cooperation agreements worth 170 million yuan ($26 million).”

In Gabon, Yang sat down with President Ali Bongo Ondimbaand they pledged closer cooperation in trade, economy and infrastructure.”

In Togo, “Yang and his Togolese counterpart, Elliott Ohin, signed a deal for a six million euro grant in Kara, the ruling party’s home base and native region of longtime leader General Gnassingbe Eyadema, whose son is now president state media said.”

And finally, in Chad economic cooperation also took center stage.

On each stop, then, Yang announced new agreements and urged further cooperation. Many of these countries have already seen huge increases in their trade with China in recent years.

The differences between Chinese and American styles in Africa remain striking. A high-ranking American diplomat who visited countries like Zimbabwe and Gabon, where political turmoil has profoundly shaken the legitimacy of rulers, would have almost certainly concentrated on political themes, urging reform and greater democratization. China’s strategy continues to center on identifying shared interests (unequally shared, some would argue) and building ever-closer relationships with leaders, no matter how controversial those leaders are, based on those ties.