It’s Still Dangerous to Be a Politician in Somalia

It’s still dangerous to be a politician in Somalia.

September 12, 2012:

Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, survived an assassination attempt Wednesday when suicide bombers attacked the Mogadishu hotel where was living.

[...]

Militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the bombings.

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Somalia’s parliament elected Mr. Mohamud president on [September 10]. It was the last step of a U.N.-backed plan to bring a stable central government to Somalia.

January 29, 2013:

A suicide bomber Tuesday detonated explosives outside the prime minister’s home in Somalia’s presidential palace compound, killing two people, security officials said. [Al Shabab] claimed responsibility for the attack.

Remember, these attacks occurred after (1) a multi-year military offensive carried out by African Union troops, Kenyan soldiers, and Somali government forces against Al Shabab and (2) a months-long political transition that was hampered by delays and left key questions regarding the nature and extent of federal authority unresolved. Somalia’s conflicts are not over.

Somalia, in my view, fits neither the narrative of “hellhole where nothing ever changes” nor the narrative of “brand new success story.” Reconquering rebel-held territory and holding elections (or in this case selections) for new political leaders do not necessarily end strife and division. Before one touts Somalia as a model for Mali or anywhere else, it’s important to keep in mind the formidable obstacles to national unity and reconstruction that remain there.

Africa Blog Roundup: Eritrea Mutiny, South Sudanese Cows, Algeria and Mali, and More

International Crisis Group: “Eritrea: When Is a Mutiny Not a Mutiny?”

New York Times editorial: “Hope, and Lessons, in Somalia.”

Louisa Lombard on the history and complexity of attempted disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs in the Central African Republic.

Seifulaziz Milas with a pessimistic piece on Sudan.

Lesley Anne Warner: “[South Sudanese President Salva] Kiir Reshuffles the SPLA.”

Internally Displaced: “Cash Cows: The Financial Prospects of Cattle in South Sudan.”

Andrew Lebovich: “Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali.”

Max Fisher:

Lots of countries, especially ones that are facing internal threats from militant extremism, have “hard-liners.” But only Algeria has “eradicateurs,” a faction within the Algerian government that has argued, since the civil war broke out in 1991, that the military can never negotiate with Islamist movements and must destroy them outright. The war ended, in 1999, only when an Algerian leader from the opposing faction — “conciliateurs” — outmaneuvered the hard-liners. But that central tension has remained within the government ever since, a particularly Algerian dynamic that is important for understanding the country’s militancy crisis and the government’s response.

Bruce Whitehouse: “Lessons from Diabaly [,Mali].”

Louise Redvers:

I don’t begrudge people getting rich and doing well. Why shouldn’t Africa have billionaires like the rest of the world? But sometimes this obsession to fulfil the “Africa Rising” prophecy blinds us to the real issues.
And in the case of Isabel [Dos Santos], I think celebrating her wealth as this Forbes label does is an insult to the two thirds of Angolans who live in poverty. When I look at Isabel and Dos Santos Inc and see all that money, all I can think of are the suffering Angolans who will never have the chances they have had and for whom water, electricity and sanitation are luxuries.

What are you reading this weekend?

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?

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s Trip to Minneapolis

I had a trip to make last week and another coming up this week, so I’m falling behind somewhat on blogging. But important things have been going on. In particular I’m frustrated that various commitments are preventing me from writing more about Mali. Public commentary on that country’s crisis has begun to really upset me, especially commentary that seems to celebrate violence.

Anyways. Today I have a quick point to make about Somalia, whose (relatively) new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited the United States last week. On January 17 Hassan Sheikh met with President Barack Obama and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, and (separately) with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After the latter meeting, Clinton announced that the US government had official recognized the government of Somalia, the first time Washington has done so for any government in Mogadishu since 1991. Hassan Sheikh also spoke at a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies – you can watch the video here.

The US recognition of Somalia’s government was, in one sense, the big news of the trip. But what struck me most was that on January 18, President Hassan Sheikh traveled to Minnesota, where he addressed the Somali diaspora community there (Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the US).

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called on Somalis living in Minnesota to help rebuild their war-torn homeland.

Mohamud spoke to about 4,000 people late Friday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Although most of his speech was in Somali, he said in English that it was, “the beginning of a new foundation.”

Semhar Araia attended the event and collected her reactions and photographs here; I highly recommend reading/viewing them.

The trip struck me not because it is surprising but because it is unsurprising. Two data points don’t necessarily make a pattern, but let’s recall that the previous president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, toured Somali diaspora communities in the US in 2009, visiting Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, home to another sizable Somali community. Sheikh Sharif was the first Somali president to make such a trip, and it is noteworthy that Hassan Sheikh is building on this precedent. One reason, of course, is that the Somali diaspora is a critical source of money and minds for Somalia. The relationship between diaspora and homeland is also, it should be stressed, far from simple.

I am aware, in the abstract, that large-scale diasporas are reshaping our world and transforming notions of community and nation. But this emerging tradition of Somali presidents making official visits to Minneapolis makes that trend particularly vivid. In a legal sense, no part of Minnesota is part of Somalia. But in an existential sense, an important part of Hassan Sheikh’s country is in Minnesota. I would be very surprised if this is the last trip a sitting Somali president makes there.

Somalia: Extending AMISOM’s Mandate

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has played a decisive role in the Somali government’s reconquest of territory in the southern part of the country from the rebel group Al Shabab.

AMISOM was created in January 2007. The United Nations Security Council authorized the African Union to deploy troops in Somalia in February 2007, and has periodically renewed that mandate. The most recent renewal came in November 2012, when “the council extended the AMISOM peacekeeping mission for four months, instead of the usual 12, to allow for a review of operations, including consideration of the request to lift the arms embargo and a call for permission to resume the export of stocks of charcoal.” The request to lift the embargo, which has been in place since 1992, comes from AMISOM. Introductory commentary on the charcoal issue can be found here.

The new mandate will expire around March 7, and regional leaders have begun calling for its extension. In December, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud released a joint statement calling for the mandate’s renewal. This week, Uganda’s Chief of Land Forces General Katumba Wamala (bio here) added his voice:

“Somalia is like a baby that is still suckling. She needs all the support from the rest of the world,” Katumba said recently in Somalia, where he is currently on the on-spot assesment of the peace operations. Uganda is the leading contributor to the military and police components of the mission.

The AMISOM mission is supported by mainly the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union. “The capacity for Somalia to stand on its own and survive as a country are not yet in place, irrespective of the efforts the world has been putting in,” Katumba said. He explained that in the last few years, tremendous steps have been taken in trying to revive the country, but more support is still needed.

I would be very surprised to see AMISOM leave Somalia in March. It will be interesting, though, to see what happens with the arms embargo issue and the charcoal issue.

Africa Blog Roundup: Mali, Libya, Jubaland, Sudan Maps, and More

Peter Tinti appears on the BBC to discuss the ongoing French military action in Mali.

Bridget Conley: “Libya in the African Context.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Jubaland Close to Becoming Somalia’s Next State.”

Shelby Grossman: “FOIA Cables on Lebanese in Sierra Leone”:

The thing that is most striking is that the documents assert over and over again that Lebanese in West Africa are funding Hezbollah (”hundreds of millions of dollars” according to one cable), but it’s unclear if these assumptions are based on any evidence other than hearsay, as none is provided.

Internally Displaced on the search for a map showing the 1956 border between Sudan and South Sudan:

The strength of the British administrators was, as John Ashworth rightly points out, their obsession with recording things.  This obsession however was bureaucratic (and they were hardly preoccupied with recording in mile-by-mile detail what was, to them, an internal border).  But this means that the entirety of the South Sudan National Archives collection from the 1950s – and its counterpoints in the Durham Sudan Archives and in the Khartoum Sudan National Archives – are the border proofs.  What is needed is a careful examination of who administered which areas, and which villages; that is the proof of the real border.  The detail is there; there are files here in Juba that trace disputes over single cows in the border regions, let alone administrative and taxation rights.  You’re not going to find a simple, easy, 1:10,000 scale map that will solve this (and who said even finding the map would resolve anything anyway?).  The map is in the notes.

Roving Bandit: “Does Policy Work?”

Africa News Roundup: Mopti Area Clashes, Malian Refugees, Lake Chad, and More

More on the clashes around Mopti, Mali and on international reactions:

  • NYT: “Mali Government Is Left Reeling After Islamists Take Village Long Held by Army.” The village in question is Konna (more on the conquest of Konna from France24 here). NYT adds, “The Islamists now threaten a major airfield some 25 miles away at the town of Sévaré, which is also the home of a significant army base. And 10 miles from Sévaré is the historic river city of Mopti, the last major town [i.e., in this area] controlled by the Malian government, with a population of more than 100,000.” Information from different sources is still highly confusing and contradictory at times; for example, NYT describes Konna as “a sleepy mud-brick village,” while France24 calls it “a city of 50,000 people.”
  • Al Jazeera: “UN urges swift deployment of troops to Mali”
  • AP: “President Francois Hollande said Friday that France will be ready to intervene to stop al-Qaida-linked militants in Mali who have been moving toward its capital.” According to Sahara Medias (Arabic),  four planes carrying French special forces arrived in Sevare from Chad on Thursday night. More here.
  • Reuters: “France, Nigeria and Senegal are already providing Malian government forces with assistance on the ground against Islamist insurgents, a defense ministry spokesman said on Friday.”

IRIN:

In Mbéra refugee camp in eastern Mauritania, home to 55,000 Malians, just under one child in five is malnourished, and 4.6 percent are severely malnourished – two to three times the national average, according to a just-released November survey by NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).

IRIN again:

Around 800 Nigerien families have been relocated from areas along the River Niger as water levels during annual flooding are expected to rise above normal and last until February.

The river is predicted to rise 540-565cm, which while not as high as recorded during the August 2012 flooding when it rose to 618cm, is above the 530cm alert level, the Niger Basin Authority said in a recent statement.

The flooding comes just a few months after more than 500,000 people were displaced and over 80 killed by floods in Niger following torrential rains in August and September 2012 which inundated thousands of rice farms.

On January 7, a Senegalese man set himself on fire outside the residence of President Macky Sall, and died the following day. “Cheikh Mbaye, 32, apparently said that life was better under ex-President Abdoulaye Wade, local media report.”

Reuters: “Two weeks of fighting in Sudan’s Darfur has displaced 30,000 people who are in need for food and shelter, the United Nations said after some of the worst clashes in the western region for months.” Recent UN News reports here and here.

Horseed Media: “Turkish Doctors to Train Specialists in Somalia”

Two on Nigeria:

  • Bloomberg: “The Nigeria police introduced a code of conduct for its officers to deal with allegations of extra- judicial killings and other abuses made by rights groups including Amnesty International.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Once counted as the largest water reservoirs in Africa, Nigeria’s Lake Chad is rapidly shrinking due to excessive use and climate change. The lake supplies water to four different countries, but it could dry up by the end of the century.”

What else happened this week?

Two Perspectives on Somalia’s Government and Its Prospects

United Nations Special Representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga, in his “Year End Letter” to the people of Somalia:

We have come to the end of an historic year for Somalia, for the region and for the rest of the international community. On 10 September 2012 a new Somali Parliament, sitting in Mogadishu, elected a President—the first such democratic exercise in over twenty years. Holding such an election in the Somali capital would have been unthinkable just months before, and it sent an unambiguous signal to Somalis, to the region and to the international community that the winds of change were blowing. In Mogadishu, the sound of gunfire and explosions has been replaced with the noise of construction and the hum of commerce. Flights into the city are booked solid months in advance. New restaurants and hotels open every day and the city’s building boom produces frequent concrete shortages. Fresh produce from the countryside and fish from the ocean spill from the city’s bustling markets and scores of Somalis from the diaspora return to Mogadishu each day. Similar stories are being played out in other cities recently recovered from the insurgents. Hope and progress have returned to Somalia.

After several failed attempts to end of the Transition in Somalia, we succeeded this past year because the process was inclusive, transparent, legitimate, participatory and Somalia-owned. This underpinned the integrity of the change process, which was enabled on the security front by the determined efforts of the Somali National Forces and the AU Peacekeeping Mission (AMISOM). Throughout this remarkable year, the United Nations, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other international partners worked together to overcome challenges as they arose. Above all, it was the desire of the Somali people for peace and change that moved the process forward. Patience and persistence pays.

[...]

The road to stabilization will not be easy. Somalia remains a state in need of support from international community, which will need to re-invest comprehensively and generously if it is to capitalize on its massive investment of time and resources. At the beginning of the year, my office and half of its staff relocated to Somalia and continued to work alongside key Somali partners in a variety of sectors. [The UN Political Office for Somalia, UNPOS] closely cooperated with key regional interlocutors to ensure a unified and coordinated approach on important political issues. A joint framework was established between The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the UN and the African Union (AU) ensuring close collaboration on issues affecting the Somali peace process.  This harmonized international and regional response to challenges within Somalia played a critical role in enabling the international community to speak with one voice in support of the process. The center of gravity has shifted to Mogadishu, and UNPOS completing a major strategic review to ensure full alignment of its policies and programs with the goals and aims of the new government. The mission is also increasing staff presence there by 100% in the coming weeks and I urge other members of the international community to come to Mogadishu. For the first time in a generation, a safe, secure and prosperous Somalia at peace with itself and its neighbors seems more like a reasonable aspiration than a distant dream.  We will work with our Somali brothers and sisters to harness this unique opportunity to transform Somalia. I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year—a new year that dawns brightly and full of promise and hope.

Dr. Michael Weinstein:

The [provisional federal government, p.f.g.] is a weak actor in a power configuration in which it is pulled by the proxy-chain presided over by the “donor”-powers, which hold the purse strings and bankroll AMISOM, and pulled into the fragmented clan, local, and regional conflicts of Somali politics. A government that cannot support itself and cannot exert control over the territory that it is supposed to govern can be called a “permanent” government for the purposes of international convenience, but it is sovereign only in a restricted legal sense and not [in] actuality.

How can a government provide security and deliver services if it depends on external actors to finance it and those actors are not giving it the resources to perform its basic functions? How can a government govern if its authority is actively disputed within its supposed territory and the very form of its political system has not been determined? The p.f.g. is financially starved from without and contested from within. What can it be expected to do? Political outcomes in “Somalia” are not under the p.f.g.’s control, but are resultants of the play between external actors, the p.f.g., and domestic factions. Critics of [Somali President] Hassan [Sheikh Mohamoud] and the p.f.g. should ask themselves if any leader could be effective in such a power distribution. It is the easiest thing to blame leadership as a deflection from the unwillingness or inability to address more serious and less tractable structural conditions, which is not, of course, to say that Hassan is a strong leader.

Weinstein pays particular attention to the problem of determining the administrative status of “Jubaland,” a southern territory that I hope to discuss more in a future post. He also focuses on the question of what groups will be represented, and how well represented, in the government. Weinstein writes, “The ‘Jubbaland’ affair and the representation dispute illustrate the weakness of the p.f.g. from within, a deficit of domestic support in a fragmented political situation.”

The two perspectives are, needless to say, quite different in tone. The heart of the difference, though, may lie in the very different ways in which the statements characterize the relationship between the government and its external partners/donors. For Mahiga, the support of the international community can constitute a critical resource in propelling a successful political transition in Somalia. For Weinstein, if I am reading him right, the international donors undermine the government’s sovereignty at the same time that they enable its existence, and their choices with regard to allocation of resources leave the government weak and dependent.

What do you think? How do you rate the new government’s prospects for success and stability in 2013?

A Look Ahead at the Sahel and the Horn in 2013

What will 2013 hold for the Sahel region and the Greater Horn of Africa?

For the Sahel, the year begins with intense concern about northern Mali and northern Nigeria. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC)’s resolution of December 20 greatly strengthens the prospect of an external military intervention in Mali, in the form of the “deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year.” The UN, the United States, and others are also placing pressure on Malian leaders to, in the UNSC’s words, hold “elections by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible.” Holding credible and inclusive elections, as well as retaking the north by force, may prove difficult to achieve in the time frame allotted. The anniversary of the northern rebellion’s launch, which will come on January 17, reminds us that Mali’s conflicts have lasted longer, and worsened further, than many initially expected – and may last for quite some time still.

In northern Nigeria, meanwhile, recent attacks by Boko Haram and battles between sect members and authorities suggest that instability in that region will continue in the new year. If last year’s trends are any indication, the combination of mistrust between the government and the sect, human rights violations on both sides, and the shifting nature of the sect’s tactics may make the conflict difficult to resolve either politically or militarily. 

One challenge for analysts and policymakers in 2013 will be to consider interconnections between crises and conflicts in the Sahel without falling into simplistic narratives depicting the region as an “arc of instability.” So for example while Niger is not Mali, what happens in Mali affects Niger, and vice versa. At the country level, I would urge analysts and policymakers to avoid suggesting that complex problems can be solved with variants of the “vote, then shoot” or “shoot, then vote” models. So, for example, would holding elections in Mali just three or four months from now really produce a legitimate and inclusive government? Or would elections turn out to be deeply flawed, and risk generating further discontent?

The crises in Mali and Nigeria, moreover, should not overshadow other challenges and important trends in the Sahel. In the category of challenges,  there is first and foremost the looming threat of renewed hunger. IRIN tells us, “Despite good rains across much of the Sahel this year, 1.4 million children are expected to be malnourished – up from one million in 2012, according to the 2013 Sahel regional strategy.” The numbers are grim, and the problem of food insecurity a long-term one – a challenge that requires more than just reactive, year-by-year responses. While men with guns battle for control of territory, drought and starvation will be claiming lives by the thousands.

Turning to the Greater Horn (for which I use quite a broad definition), four areas I’ll be watching are: (1) the efforts of the new government in southern Somalia to consolidate military and political control, with help from African and other partners; (2) the status of negotiations over border demarcation, security, oil, and other issues between Sudan and South Sudan (as well as the trajectory of rebel and protest movements within each country); (3) the shape of the ongoing political transition in Ethiopia in the wake of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death last year, and the shape of relations between the state and the Ethiopian Muslim community, which has been protesting alleged government interference in Muslim affairs since late 2011; and (4) the Kenyan elections of March 4. If one broad theme connects these cases, it is the interactions between transitions taking place in the realm of formal politics (elections, successions, agreements) and forms of dissent and contestation (rebellions, protests, ethnic violence) occurring alongside these transitions.

I have no predictions to offer beyond my warning about the risks in holding premature elections in Mali. I should also reiterate what I wrote yesterday about the shocking capacity of chance to affect larger trajectories, and the ways in which the effects of small actions can escalate beyond their authors’ intentions. None of us can tell what the future holds for the Sahel and the Horn, but I do think it will be an eventful year, including in ways we might never have guessed. Here’s hoping that one surprise will be less tragedy and bloodshed than expected, greater opportunities for peace, and successful transitions for countries from Senegal to Kenya.

A Look Back at the Sahel and the Horn in 2012

2012 ends, for the regions of Africa this blog covers, with considerable uncertainty and tragedy for some countries, and cause for cautious optimism in others.

We do not have to look far to find chaos. Mali’s trajectory, whether in terms of political arrangements in the south, the future of the north, or the future role of external actors in reuniting the country by force, remains unclear. Violence in northern Nigeria continues, not only in the form of attacks by Boko Haram but also in intercommunal conflicts and abuses by security forces. Fighting continues along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The rebellion in the Central African Republic may end with the formation of a coalition government, or perhaps rebels will take the capital. In Somalia, recent attacks in Puntland hint that al Shabab, while weakened by losses of territory in the south, will remain a source of violence.

Yet we also do not have to look far to find causes for hope. Senegal experienced a democratic transition from one party to another earlier this year. On December 21, the Lagos-Kano railway reopened in Nigeria. Somalia completed a political transition and has a new government. There are always reasons to feel gloomy – perhaps Senegal’s new President Macky Sall will prove incapable of dealing with the country’s problems, and Nigerian society will fragment further, and the tenuous political and territorial gains by Somalia’s government will vanish – but it is worth thinking about what went right this year in various places. About the institutions that endured, the plans that worked, the macro and micro changes that improved or protected people’s lives.

It is also crucial to go beyond reductionist paradigms of African tragedies on the one hand and African “success stories” on the other. Writing the above paragraphs reminded me how easy it is to fall into the superficial trap of juxtaposing the positive with the negative and calling that complexity, or calling that “Africa.” The real complexity is all the stories that don’t fit into neat categories of tragedy or triumph. Thus as Sall turns to the task of governing Senegal, we find him struggling to resolve a conflict with a religious leader and his partisans. In Nigeria, we see a state attempting to balance religious and political constituencies in the wake of a governor’s unexpected death. In what some consider unmitigated tragedy we also find complexity – one brother who was sentenced to have his hand amputated for taking up arms against Islamists in northern Mali and another brother who, seeming to endorse the Islamists’ vision of a religiously pure society, carried out the sentence of amputation himself. We can always find heroes and villains in events if we choose; but sometimes we can’t grasp the complexity of a situation until we stop looking for heroes and villains, and just look for people.

So 2012 has given analysts of the Sahel and the Horn a lot of material to digest. Events this year certainly surprised me in various ways. I was surprised by how rapidly the situation in Mali deteriorated, especially between January and April. But I was also surprised to see Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade step down amid relative calm after months of tension around his bid for a third term of questionable constitutionality, and what at times had looked like his willingness to secure that third term at great cost. These surprises encourage us to question received narratives, like that of Mali as a “democratic poster child,” or the idea that an “African strongman” can always cling to power. The surprises also encourage us to remember that events are fluid and contingent. Sometimes events are shaped, to a shocking extent, by chance. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was shot in October, but lived – had the bullets killed him, who can say what the repercussions might have been for Mauritania, for Mali, for the Sahel? It is strange to think that one low-ranking soldier’s aim could influence outcomes for a whole country, even for a whole region.

I listed five “stories to watch” at the beginning of this year. The ideas were safe enough, and broad enough, that they all did prove relevant to the course of events, though not always in the ways I might have expected – for starters, Mali’s democracy certainly underwent a severe test, but not at the ballot box. But the value in comparing the perspective looking forward in January 2012 with the perspective looking backward in December 2012 is not primarily in asking who got what right, but in determining what changed and how analysts can do better in grasping the causes and effects of those changes. The methods I use for this blog – aggregating and synthesizing news in the hope that what emerges is more than just the sum of its sources – will remain basically the same in the coming year. But 2012 reminds me to ask a broad array of questions, to look beyond politicking in Bamako or Dakar or Khartoum or Mogadishu. To think about the potential of so-called “marginal” actors to affect an entire country’s trajectory (and not to forget ethnic, religious, or political minorities in a rush to analyze “Tuareg rebellions” or a “Muslim Northern Nigeria”). To think about the webs of relationships – between individuals, between communities, between countries – that are activated, and reshaped, in the course of conflict and cooperation.

I plan to post a look forward at 2013 tomorrow. I’m thinking I’ll go more with the idea of “themes to consider” rather than “stories to watch.” In the meantime, what struck you the most in 2012 about the Sahel or the Horn? What was expected and unexpected about how this year played out?