Africa Blog Roundup: Seychelles and Somalia, Boko Haram, Sudan Oil Deal, and More

Amb. David Shinn flags comments by Seychelles government ministers on how their nation is dealing with Somali pirates.

In other Somalia analysis, see Clint Watts‘ “Inside al Shabaab’s Recruitment Process in Somalia.”

And one more: Nic Cheeseman, “Why the New Plan for Somalia Will Fail.”

Two pieces on Boko Haram: Christopher Anzalone, “Nigeria and Boko Haram in jihadi media discourse” and Elizabeth Dickinson, “What Boko Haram Wants.” I’m especially interested to hear readers’ reactions to these pieces.

A debate about chiefs.

Inside Islam continues its series on important Islamic sites with a profile of Al Azhar University.

Roving Bandit takes to the airwaves to express his optimism about an eventual oil deal between the Sudans.

What else is going on today?

US Drone Base in Ethiopia

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that “the Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.” There are to be four bases, one each in Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, and the Seychelles (we could add to this list a fifth, namely the CIA presence in Somalia, as reported by Jeremy Scahill of The Nation). Of these bases, as some readers know, two are not new at all: the base in Djibouti has been used by French and American forces for years, while drones have been operating from the Seychelles since at least 2009. The really new news for the greater Horn of Africa, then, is the base in Ethiopia.

The Washington Post gives a few more details:

One U.S. official said that there had been discussions about putting a drone base in Ethiopia for as long as four years, but that plan was delayed because “the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.” Other officials said Ethiopia has become a valued counterterrorism partner because of threats posed by al-Shabab.

[...]

[A] former official said the United States relies on Ethiopian linguists to translate signals intercepts gathered by U.S. agencies monitoring calls and e-mails of al-Shabab members. The CIA and other agencies also employ Ethiopian informants who gather information from across the border.

The BBC adds that the base will be located in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which borders Somalia and has a large Somali population.

The BBC emphasizes the backlash that drone strikes have caused in Yemen, but basing drones on the continent of Africa entails political risks there as well. As Wired‘s Danger Room notes, building bases in Africa undermines earlier US government assurances to African leaders that the US would not seek a larger military foothold on the continent. Other African countries looking at Ethiopia could begin to feel more uneasy about long-term US intentions in Africa. Within Somalia, drone strikes could kill major terrorists – but they could also hit civilians, inflaming anger against the US, weakening support for the US-backed Transitional Federal Government, and even driving recruits toward the Shabab rebel movement.

The new base could also negatively affect Washington’s relationship with Ethiopia. If the Ethiopians “were not all that jazzed” about drones for the past four years, they may become quite angry if drone strikes kill civilians or stir up anti-Ethiopian resentment in Somalia and in the Ogaden region. Ethiopia’s government is of course happy to receive US military assistance and to strengthen its relationship with Washington, but the negative aspects of a widening drone war may loom larger than the benefits after a while. The idea of Ethiopia playing Pakistan to Somalia’s Afghanistan, with all the tensions that relationship entails for the two countries and for the US, is a troubling scenario.

Basing drones in Ethiopia is a logical extension of current US policy in the region (and part of a larger projection of US power throughout the western Indian Ocean, as Danger Room writes). This policy continues to carry significant risks, however, not only of causing a backlash inside Somalia but also of straining relations between the US and various African governments, starting with Ethiopia.

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.