Roundup on Sudan, Israel, and the Yarmouk Weapons Factory

On October 23/24, explosions occurred at the Yarmouk weapons factory in Sudan. The Sudanese government has stated that an Israeli airstrike was responsible. The situation remains murky enough that I do not feel comfortable writing an analytical piece on the issue, but the incident has generated substantial media attention, so I thought I would round up some important stories.

International Press Reports

  • VOA: “The [US-based] Satellite Sentinel Project released images Tuesday that show six 16-meter-wide craters near the center of the explosion. The group said the holes are consistent with impact craters created by air-delivered munitions.”
  • NPR: “Israel Operates Inside Sudan, Israeli Official Says.”
  • AP: “In Sudan blast, signs of Iran and Israel’s rivalry.”
  • BBC (October 29): “An Iranian naval task force has docked in Sudan, carrying with it a ‘message of peace and security to neighbouring countries,’ Iranian state media report.” Reuters (October 31): “Iran Warships Leave Sudan after Four-Day Stay.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Sudan denies Iranian links to bombed factory.”
  • VOA: “Sudan’s Iran Alliance under Scrutiny.”

Speculative Commentary (International Media):

  • Time: “Did Israel Bomb a Sudanese Ammunition Depot?”
  • Reuters: “Sudan: A Front for Israel’s Proxy War on Sinai Jihadists?”
  • Washington Post/World Views: “Why Would Israel Bomb Sudan? Theories Cite Iran, Hamas, Even the US”

Sudanese, Egyptian, and Israeli Sources:

  • Sudan Tribune: “Sudanese Opposition Groups Condemn ‘Israeli Aggression,’ Criticize Government.”
  • Akhir Lahza (Arabic): “Explosions and Fire at the ‘Yarmouk’ Factory”
  • Ahram Online: “Egypt Military Dismisses Rumors of Israeli F-35 Overflights.”
  • Akhbar (Arabic): “The [Non-Governmental] Egyptian Delegation Returning from Sudan: The World Ignores Israel’s Crimes.”
  • YNet: “Egypt Denies Knowledge of Attack in Sudan.”
  • Jerusalem Post: “Sudan Strike – A Blow to Iran.”

What do you make of this whole affair?

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?

Another Kano Update

My second week in Kano went as well as the first. After spending week one at the university, I was eager to get out into the city more during week two, and I largely succeeded. I was able to talk with officials at several Islamic institutions, and met several people who studied in Saudi Arabia and Sudan (in other words, exactly the type of people I came to conduct interviews with). Later today I am hoping to meet with some members of a Nigerian Shi’a group. My research focuses primarily on Nigerian Muslims who have studied in Arab countries, but talking with people who studied in Tehran and Qom should help broaden my understanding of the phenomenon of Nigerians pursuing religious education abroad.

As I’ve branched out beyond the university, I’ve been struck most by the number of conversations I’ve had with Muslim intellectuals who are deeply concerned about the situation in Israel/Palestine. Nearly everyone I talk with seriously has something to say on the topic. Northern Nigeria may not be crawling with foreigners, but its residents are (in my experience and by other accounts) deeply connected to and interested in world affairs. Radio, notably BBC Hausa, VOA, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France, along with local outlets, has played a major role in shaping this international consciousness. Granted, I have been talking with people who come from backgrounds of relative affluence and high education, but still I think American policymakers may underestimate the degree to which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict engenders tremendous passions not just on the “Arab street,” but also on the West African street. And there are, if one performs a rough estimate by calculating that Nigerian Muslims make up 50% of its 150 million residents, some 75 million Muslims in this country.

Other political conversations have focused on Nigeria’s national politics, especially the upcoming elections. From what I can see, former head of state and two-time presidential runner-up Muhammadu Buhari enjoys broad support in Kano, as does his new party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). I do not know what Buhari’s chances of winning the presidency are, but it seems that CPC has a good chance of capturing the governorship here in Kano State.

I think I’ll stop there. I’ll try to post one more update before I leave, but in the rush of gift-buying and packing next weekend I may not be able to. I’m also trying to put together a links post for tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who’s still checking in despite the drastically reduced output.

More on AQIM Summit

If you’re hungry for more coverage of the recent pan-Saharan summit on AQIM, check out Kal’s piece on the subject. He turns needed attention on the internal dynamics of Mauritanian politics and terrorism:

What is missing in the discussion about AQIM, especially in Mauritania, is a critical look at the country’s current leadership. This refers to perhaps two trends: (1) the tendency of the current Mauritanian government to evoke AQIM and terrorism when attempting to consolidate broader and (sometimes) extra-constitutional powers; and (2) a similar movement by the government towards “engaging” the Salafist tendency to the point where it risks making a generally marginal political and religious movement more mainstream and an important part in legitimizing the first trend internationally and domestically.

The rest of the piece builds on these remarks.

Speaking of internal Mauritanian politics and their broader effects, Mauritania recently severed ties with Israel. Ties were suspended since the Gaza offensive in January 2009, but this month Mauritania “expelled Israeli diplomats and ordered the closing of the Israeli embassy.”

What do commenters think of this move? Does it signal a desire on Mauritania’s part to move more firmly into the Arab fold? Has US and French support for Mauritania’s leadership (as described by Kal in the piece above) made President Ould Abdel Aziz feel freer to reject ties with Israel? Does breaking ties with Israel dilute the appeal of Salafism for Mauritanian youth?

Nigeria and Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s five-country African tour “is one of the most extensive trips by an Israeli foreign minister to Africa in recent years.” He has used the occasion to call for a greater role for Africa in the Arab-Israeli peace process:

Avigdor Lieberman addresses the Ethiopian-Israel Economic Forum in Addis Ababa, 09/02/09

Avigdor Lieberman addresses the Ethiopian-Israel Economic Forum in Addis Ababa, 09/02/09

Lieberman on Wednesday [September 2nd] said Africa should help moderate Arab positions to solve the Middle East crisis[…]

“Africa’s ties with Arab and Muslim countries, whether within the framework of the Arab League, the Islamic Conference or the African Union, place the countries of Africa in a position to contribute positive influence.

“We look to Africa to help promote moderation and reconciliation in the Middle East.”

Many African countries, often cajoled by Libya whose leader Moamer Kadhafi currently holds the African Union chairmanship, have traditionally backed Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.

Kadhafi accused Israel Monday of being “behind all of Africa’s conflicts” during a special AU summit in Tripoli.

“Indeed, within the African Union itself it is very important that the decisions and activities of African states reflect a positive and constructive approach, one that rejects one-sided decisions against Israel,” Lieberman said.

Yesterday in Nigeria, Lieberman received a message in return:

Nigeria’s foreign minister said on Tuesday Israel must do more to achieve peace in the Middle East if it wants improved diplomatic and business ties with Africa’s most populous country.

Ojo Maduekwe and his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, on a two-day visit to Nigeria’s capital Abuja, signed an economic agreement for both countries to work more closely on trade, agriculture and infrastructure development.

“We urge you to do a lot more for peace then you have done now,” Maduekwe said after a signing ceremony.

“If there is peace, we will sign more. If there is no peace, it will be difficult to sign more agreements.”

Maduekwe said Nigeria was “frustrated” with the violence in the Middle East and suggested Israel turn to African countries for help in resolving the crisis.

“Every solution has been tried except the African solution … perhaps we can provide more traction in that process,” Maduekwe said.

Reuters goes on to say that Israel may sign an agreement with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) while Lieberman is in Nigeria. It seems then that Lieberman’s trip will boost Israel’s economic position in Africa, but Maduekwe’s statement suggests it will be harder for Israel to improve its political position on the continent.

I’m actually working on a conference paper about how the Arab-Israeli conflict played out in Northern Nigeria in the period just before and after independence, so I’m following these developments with interest. To give a rough historical outline of the relationships, from the late 1950s through 1967, Israel’s diplomatic position in Africa was strong, and despite African leaders’ objections to the Six Days’ War it was not until 1973 that a majority of African nations severed ties with Israel. Israel rebuilt some relationships on the continent in the 1980s and afterwards, and restored ties with Nigeria and many other countries by the early 1990s. So Israel is not cut off from Africa. This effort by Lieberman, however, does appear to herald a renewed effort at engagement. I wonder where it will lead.

Saturday Links: Burkina Faso Flooding, Al Shabab and Somaliland, Drones in Seychelles

Flooding has ravaged Burkina Faso. 150,000 are homeless. The BBC has photos.

Al Shabab threatens to target Somaliland.

The spiritual leader of the radical Somali militant group al-Shabab has sharply criticized the leadership of the breakaway region of Somaliland for having ties with Ethiopia. The radical leader also called the brand of democracy practiced in the Somaliland un-Islamic and demanded implementation of Sharia law.

In a thinly-veiled message warning of future attacks, al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Sheik Muktar Abu Zubayr, warns residents of Somaliland not to do business with Ethiopians and to stay away from Ethiopian-owned property.

In the taped message, the al-Shabab leader also ripped the territory’s government, saying that that Somaliland democracy is responsible for the disunity among its leaders and has stomped on teachings of the Koran.

In other Somalia news, al Shabab is crossing the border and recruiting Kenyans to fight in the war.

To fight piracy, the US military is going to operate drones out of the Seychelles.

Avigdor Lieberman says Africa can “help promote moderation and reconciliation in the Middle East.”

And finally, NPR has a report on the US military and terrorism in Africa.