Africa News Roundup: Protests in Nigeria and Sudan, New PM in Ethiopia, Senate Scrapped in Senegal, and More

Following protests in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere this week, Muslims protested yesterday in Jos, Nigeria and Khartoum, Sudan against an inflammatory anti-Islamic video. The Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque called for restraint and discouraged the turn to street protests.

Ethiopia is expected to name a new prime minister this weekend, to replace the late Meles Zenawi.

IRIN: “Kenya’s Deadly Mix of Frustration, Politics and Impunity”

Senegal’s National Assembly voted Thursday to disband the country’s Senate as a means of freeing up funds for flood relief.

Also in Senegal, a Gambian opposition group sets up shop.

Burkina Faso will hold legislative elections on December 2. The opposition (French) has written to President Blaise Compaore complaining that only 55% of voting-age citizens are registered to vote, and calling for a delay of the elections until 2013.

Leaders from the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement were in Washington, DC this week, meeting with officials at the State Department.

What else is happening?

More on the Protests in Khartoum

Protests have continued in Khartoum, Sudan, over the government’s austerity package. Demonstrations by students and others began Saturday, and protesters clashed with police Monday, Tuesday, and today.

Today also brought more details regarding the austerity measures:

Speaking in parliament, Finance Minister Ali Mahmud al-Rasul said fuel prices will rise by between 12.5 and 60 percent, as the government moves to scrap subsidies it can no longer afford.
Taxes on bank profits will also jump, from 15 to 30 percent, and VAT will rise from 15 to 17 percent, he added, while the administrative expenses of the government are to be cut by 25 percent.
In another key measure aimed at tackling Sudan’s financial woes, the government will devalue the local currency, from 2.7 Sudanese pound (SDP) to the dollar to 4.4 SDP, closer to the black market rate of around 5.5 SDP.

Last-minute amendments to the budget by the cabinet yesterday attempted to limit the harm to ordinary people, but the package as a whole still threatens to increase inflation and make everyday life harder for many.

The goal of the measures is to reduce government expenditures and reduce the deficit. Sudan’s government lost major revenues with the secession of oil-rich South Sudan last year. As negotiations with South Sudan over oil transport fees drag on, and the two sides have clashed along the new border, Sudan has taken further financial hits.

As several news outlets have noted, previous demonstrations have not acquired “momentum” or seriously threatened the regime of President Omar al Bashir. On the other hand, the economy has been in crisis for some time, and that could hurt Bashir’s popularity. The situation now is a far cry from that of April 2010, when the New York Times reported that many Northern Sudanese, happy with the economic “expansion” that had taken place during Bashir’s rule, were keen to re-elect him. Bashir has stated that he will retire when his current term ends, but the country may well see more unrest before that time.

Follow James Copnall of the BBC for updates.

Protests in Khartoum

AFP:

Anti-regime protesters clashed with police in Sudan’s capital on Monday, witnesses said, as President Omar al-Bashir announced a raft of austerity measures aimed at propping up the country’s ailing finances.
Speaking in parliament, Bashir said the government had decided to raise taxation and remove fuel subsidies “step by step,” as well as axing hundreds of positions in the federal and state governments and cutting officials’ salaries.
[…]
It was the third time in as many days that protests have been held outside the university next to the Blue Nile river in the centre of the capital, with students chanting anti-regime slogans and denouncing a sharp rise in food prices.

AFP, Bloomberg, and Reuters have more on the austerity measures and the reasoning behind them. Sudan’s $2.4 billion deficit results largely from the loss of South Sudan and its oil revenues, a loss compounded by months of conflict, tension, and unresolved issues between Sudan and South Sudan. These unresolved issues included transport fees for South Sudanese oil, fees Khartoum hoped would help fix its deficit (it should be noted that South Sudan’s economy is suffering too). Inflation in Sudan has hit 30%. Sudan “effectively devalued its currency in May to try to attract more remittances from Sudanese living abroad and to try to boost gold and agricultural exports. But experts say it will take time for the measure to have an impact.” Finance Minister Ali Mahmoud Abdel Rasoul is expected to present a new budget to parliament on Wednesday, which could be an occasion for further protests.

Students are reportedly leading many of the protests, but others have turned out as well. Opposition parties have also apparently threatened to take to the streets (Arabic). The protests now seem to tap into not just anger at the current economic situation, but also standing resentment of the government in Khartoum – Sudan saw serious anti-regime protests last year, with students also playing a prominent role at the time. Now, as then, the regime response has included significant repression, which partly succeeded in discouraging protests in 2011.

North Sudan Says UN Peacekeepers to Leave July 9

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was formed in 2005 to assist in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). You can read about UNMIS’s mandate here.

The CPA was the agreement that included plans for the referendum on Southern Sudanese independence that occurred in January of this year. With the South’s vote for secession, Sudan will become two countries on July 9. Given that, the government of North Sudan now wants UNMIS peacekeepers to leave the country by that day – the date when UNMIS’s mandate formally expires.

The UN and the government in Khartoum disagree about who has the power to decide when UNMIS must leave. The UN says it is a decision for the Security Council, while the Northern Sudanese government says final consent rests with them.

The future of UNMIS is also a point of contention between the governments of North and South Sudan. The issue arose – but was not settled – at a vice presidents’ meeting yesterday:

the two sides also appear to have irreconcilable positions.

The official SUNA news agency said on Saturday that Khartoum had “officially notified the United Nations of the end of the term of the United Nations Mission in Sudan on July 9.”

[Southern Sudanese Vice President Riek] Machar argued, however, that the UN force was needed even more post-July in Abyei as well as in the northern border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, both of which have strong links to the south.

The border zones that Machar mentions are definitely still hot spots for conflict. The departure of UN troops could have a negative effect on those areas. Still, the legal questions remain – who has the final say over whether UNMIS stays or goes? We will see what the Security Council says.

Al Jazeera has a video report:

Sudan Elections Roundup

Lots of coverage of Sudan as the country enters day two of voting:

  • Reuters describes “chaos”: “Confusion soon erupted on Sunday as centre after centre, sometimes hours into the voting, discovered that voters were using the wrong ballot papers or that names or symbols of candidates were either missing or incorrect.”
  • The BBC has pictures, and also comments on logistical problems with voting: “While the process generally went well in the capital Khartoum, voters faced obstacles in several states from the Red Sea in the north to the far south. The dominant party in the south is calling for a four-day extension.”
  • VOA quotes David Caroll of the Carter Center’s monitoring team, who says voting was peaceful and also says, “Sudanese generally are looking interested in the voting process. I think it is fair to see some variability around the country. We don’t have all of the reports from our observer team, but in many places we saw good turnout.  We saw people waiting in lines to vote. But in many instances, we saw shortages of material or ballots or voter lists being delivered to the wrong stations.” Read about the Center’s preparations for the monitoring effort here.
  • Christian Science Monitor talks about “a taste of democracy” for the Sudanese: “With nearly 100,000 soldiers deployed across northern Sudan to keep security, and police kept on high alert, the first day passed without significant violence. And for those who voted Sunday, the experience was an affirmation that normal citizens, on paper, do have power over their leaders, and thus they have a say in their own and their country’s future.”
  • The Majlis gives a nice overview of the opening of the elections.
  • Al Jazeera English blogger Hoda Abdel-Hamid says the SPLM felt it was a “wasted day” in terms of voting in the South. Her fellow AJE blogger Fatma Naib gives a view from Khartoum, noting the absence of youth voters and the presence of observers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. These on the ground perspectives are invaluable.
  • The New York Times gives another view from Khartoum, reporting substantial support for President Omar al-Bashir.
  • Coverage of Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir voting.
  • Save Darfur and Rob Crilly have good roundups.

Given all this coverage, I’m going to wait until voting ends to offer my own analysis. But I’ll probably do another roundup tomorrow as well, and contribute in the comments with any links you’d like me to include. I leave you with an AJE video:

Sudanese Elections: Trouble Spots Re-emerge

For a moment, it seemed, there was potential for calm in Sudanese politics. By nominating a Northerner for their presidential candidate, the SPLM appeared to say that they wanted to concentrate on the South’s internal affairs. By saying that Southern secession was acceptable, President Omar al-Bashir seemed to be saying he was okay with that arrangement as well. But trouble has quickly resurfaced.

Port Sudan

  • In Southern Kordofan, “the site of oilfields and important civil war battlegrounds on the undefined north-south border,” an SPLM gubernatorial candidate plans to boycott “all elections.” Sudan’s central oil regions, because of their uncertain status and the memories of civil war violence still alive there today, could be a starting point for renewed national conflict. An SPLM boycott in Southern Kordofan therefore augurs poorly for the prospects of peaceful electoral competition between them and the ruling National Congress Party.
  • In Port Sudan, another opposition protest has resulted in mass arrests and injuries. Such protests – and the repression they provoke – also raise fears about how the regime in Khartoum will react when the political temperature heats up even more.
  • Human Rights Watch puts these protests in a broader context, saying that both the NCP and the SPLM are targeting opposition figures, contributing to political tensions, increasing the likelihood of boycotts, and curtailing human rights and political freedom. In an atmosphere like that, I wonder how ordinary Sudanese citizens are reacting – undoubtedly in a variety of ways, ranging from fear to passion to apathy – but increasing tension at the street level could act as a prelude to large-scale violence.

In political terms, the elections, scheduled for April, are just around the corner. No one wants to sound like Chicken Little, and I’d be happy to find out in two months that I overstated these problems. But the situation keeps weaving between (somewhat) hopeful and dismaying. Let’s hope it ends up more on the side of the former.

Sudan: Referendum Deals and Tear Gas

On Monday, headlines out of Sudan offered cause for celebration: North and South Sudan agreed on a law regarding the 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence. Southern leaders backed the law and an SPLM spokesman said that “both sides are serious about this agreement.” The Financial Times wrote that this “latest deal is likely to defuse tensions, at least temporarily.”

Political progress on one front, however, coincided with a setback for national unity elsewhere. For the second time this month, security forces broke up a demonstration in Omdurman and arrested SPLM and opposition supporters.

Omdurman, Sudan

Police used tear gas and water cannons outside opposition party offices in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.

Spokesman for the opposition Ummah party Mohammed Zaki said senior party officials, including Mariam al-Mahdi, daughter of party leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, were among those detained.

All of the protestors who had been arrested were released from a police station by the evening, an AFP correspondent said.

There had been a heavy security presence in the capital as police closed off large parts of the city, including all roads leading up to the parliament building where the demonstration was planned.

Earlier, several protesters from the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) carrying their party flag were beaten by police as they tried to reach parliament, the correspondent said.

Some 21 opposition groups, including the SPLM and Ummah had called a rally to demand greater democracy, even after a deal was reached on Sunday between Sudan’s two main political parties on reforms.

Two protests does not make a pattern, but the same grievances motivated both demonstrations. If demands regarding electoral reforms are not met, more demonstrations could follow. The crackdowns are not pretty – Reuters writes that “riot police with batons and shields arrested up to 40 demonstrators minutes after they started a march” – and more incidents like this could meet with greater repression. Reports of protesters throwing stones make me wonder whether open confrontation between security forces and demonstrators lies ahead.

To conclude on another tragic note, Doctors Without Borders says violence in South Sudan hit an all-time high this year in the period since Sudanese leaders signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The increasingly deadly violence exacerbates North-South tensions and “could hamper preparations for national and presidential elections scheduled for April 2010.”

The referendum deal remains a good sign, but these other trends – contentious protests and mass violence in the South – continue to worry me.