Africa Blog Roundup: Meles Zenawi, Drug Cartels, South Africa, Kismayo, and More

Toni Weis on the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:

When I recently asked someone who knew Meles well about his legacy as a person, not just a political leader, my interlocutor rejected that distinction as artificial: “Meles was a profoundly political person”.

I’m not sure all of those who penned his obituaries – the eulogists as much as the detractors – have understood the importance of this point. If there is a consensus among the multitude of voices, it seems to be that Meles left behind a “mixed” legacy, a “checkered” or “conflicted” one: good for the Ethiopian economy (the famous ‘double-digit growth’), less so for Ethiopian politics (the infamous ‘authoritarian tendencies’).

What the commentators fail to understand is that, to Meles, these were two sides of the same coin. Development, in his eyes, was primarily a political process, not an economic one.

Ken Opalo: “The Drug War Moves East As Cartels’ Influence in Africa Grows”

The Economist on Christian religiosity in Ghana and Nigeria, with special attention to issues of security in the latter country.

Two complementary takes on mining strikes and violence in South Africa:

  • Keith Somerville: “Under a democratic government committed to righting the wrongs of apartheid, distributing wealth and providing services to ALL South Africans, events like the Marikana strikes and killings should never happen. Even before the strikes, the living conditions of the miners were appalling and wages had not improved to match higher costs of living.  Yet, senior politicians who had fought their way to prominence as union leaders and opponents of apartheid, are seen to be reaping the benefits of investments in mining and of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). They have become increasingly distant from those whose support made them national leaders.  Every newspaper I read told this story and it was reflected in a general atmosphere of gloom, brooding resentment and a certain amount of fear.”
  • Amb. John Campbell: “The Zuma government is handling poorly the upsurge in mining unrest at the Marikana platinum mine, which is spreading to gold mines near Johannesburg. Julius Malema, expelled African National Congress (ANC) bad boy, is exploiting these government errors to discredit President Jacob Zuma in the run up to the African National Congress (ANC) December party convention.”

Lesley Anne Warner on Kenya, Somalia, and the battle for Kismayo.

Africa Blog Roundup: Clinton in Africa, Oil in Uganda, Senegal and Habre, and More

Habiba Osman: “On Hillary Clinton’s Recent Visit to Africa.”

I am therefore not surprised that this African tour has come up now considering the diminishing role that the US is now finding itself in with the Chinese almost taking over as the biggest African donor and trade partner. Sub Saharan Africa, especially, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in the South have felt the presence of the Chinese greatly with infrastructure being built everywhere in these countries, courtesy of the Chinese government.

Politically, Clinton’s visit is therefore timely as some of most African states have openly declared that they are in favour of the Chinese donations, which seem to have no strings attached. By strings, I mean, adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and observance of good governance. Africa’s relationship with China has gained international attention and is a sure factor in destabilising America’s role as the sole super power.

Tony Otoa Jr. on oil and civil society in Uganda.

Lesley Anne Warner: “Kenya’s Coast Province Could Be Flashpoint in Run-Up to Elections.”

Amb. John Campbell on recent violence at a South African platinum mine.

Peter Dorrie on President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso:

To adequately judge Blaise Compaoré’s record of bringing development and prosperity to his people, it is first of all important to remind oneself that he has been in power since 1987, a full quarter of a century. More than half the population of his country has only known his rule.

Despite the period of peace that Burkina experienced during this time, and a comparatively generous 13 Billion US Dollars in international development assistance, the country still ranks only 181st out of 187 countries in terms of human development. All of the other bottom ten countries in the HDI ranking experienced devastating civil wars during this time – except Guinea, which instead had to put up with a brutal military dictatorship. To put it bluntly: Blaise Compaoré is the only African head of state who managed to dramatically limit the development of his country without declaring outright war on it.

Jason Stearns asks, “When Will Donors Un-Freeze Aid to Rwanda?”

Writing in Nigeria’s Daily Trust, Idang Alibi comes out against Senegal’s planned trial for former Chadian leader Hissene Habre.

Anne Campbell weighs in on the issue of African presidents and overseas educations.

Baobab on electricity in Somalia.

Last but not least, a reflection from Carmen McCain on fasting during Ramadan as a non-Muslim.

Two Points on Secretary Clinton’s Tour of Africa [Updated]

Yesterday United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off her 2012 tour of Africa. Today she is in Senegal, where she is expected to give a speech about China that does not name China. Other scheduled stops on the tour include South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Ghana.

Press coverage of the tour has emphasized three issues: terrorism, Chinese economic influence in Africa, and democracy. Let’s leave the first of those aside for this post. I have just two brief points to make:

  1. American rhetoric will not deter African countries from accepting Chinese investment. However forceful the Secretary’s speeches, however persuasive her arguments, African countries will continue to partner with China. Money will speak louder than words.
  2. Democratic achievements sometimes seem firmer in the present than they do in hindsight. I too applaud Senegal’s democratic transfer of power from one leader to another. I applaud Malawi’s peaceful succession process, and Ghana’s. But each country’s trajectory is different, and today’s democrat may become tomorrow’s autocrat. Defeated Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade earned plaudits as a democrat when he came to office in 2000, only to become another leader seeking an exemption to term limits by 2012.  I am not saying that Senegal, Malawi, and Ghana are headed for autocracy, but I am saying that “democratization” often proves fragile.

What do you expect from Secretary Clinton’s visit? What significance do you see in her choice of destinations?

[UPDATE]: Find the transcript of Sec. Clinton’s remarks in Dakar here. An excerpt:

Africa needs partnership, not patronage. And we have tried to build on that challenge. And throughout my trip across Africa this week, I will be talking about what it means, about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value rather than extracts it. That’s America’s commitment to Africa.

[...]

So the links between democracy and development is a defining element of the American model of partnership. And I acknowledge that in the past our policies did not always line up with our principles. But today, we are building relationships here in West Africa and across the continent that are not transactional or transitory. They are built to last. And they’re built on a foundation of shared democratic values and respect for the universal human rights of every man and woman. We want to add value to our partners, and we want to add value to people’s lives. So the United States will stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing. Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will.

Africa Blog Roundup: Jacob Zuma Portrait, Joseph Kabila, Nigeria’s Economy, and More

The Economist‘s Baobab:

Unlike Britain’s queen, President Jacob Zuma does not often have his portrait painted. But a new likeness by a South African artist, Brett Murray, now showing at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, has the nation agog and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) frothing at the mouth.

In truth, hardly anyone had heard about the painting until the ANC issued a statement on May 17th expressing its “outrage” over the “disgusting” depiction of its revered leader and demanding its immediate removal from the gallery and the website of the only newspaper until then to give it any coverage. The portrait, the ANC thundered, was a violation of Mr Zuma’s constitutional right to dignity and therefore illegal.

At African Arguments, William Townsend writes that President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has begun to “turn on his friends”:

As the rumour mill turns and suspicion runs rife, conflict is unfolding in eastern Congo’s Kivu provinces once again, following three years of relative calm. The most recent chapter of violence can be traced back to March this year, pitting Congo’s socially and politically maladroit president against some of the very people who helped him achieve electoral victory less than seven months ago.

Having been compelled to accept the outcome of a conspicuously fraudulent ballot last November combined with the conviction in March of another Congolese war lord, Thomas Lubanga, the West appeared keen to stress-test its relationship with President Joseph Kabila over his protection of another indicted war lord, Bosco Ntaganda. The decision to crack down on Bosco, by launching operation Amani Kamilifu or ‘Perfect Peace’, has led to a mutiny and a spate of violent clashes in the east of the country that has seen tens-of-thousands of civilians flee and left NGOs unable to dispense aid.

Lesley Anne Warner expresses concern about human rights issues within the armed forces of South Sudan.

The Moor Next Door analyzes an Al Akhbar video featuring a man who said, before his death, that he had spied in Mali, on Mauritania’s behalf, on Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The al-Akhbar report places the video in the context of AQIM’s leaders’ reported purges of Mauritanians accused of spying for the Mauritanian intelligence service, which has been reported on in the Mauritanian and Algerian press; in late 2010 and early 2012 Algerian papers began reporting on paranoia in the AQIM command (mainly Abu Zaid’s katiba) about penetration by Mauritanian intelligence and more recently there are reports that there has been an effort to diversify the southern katibas’ ranks which for some time were dominated by Mauritanians (estimates are that at as many as 70% of AQIM recruits/fighters to particular katibas in the Sahel were or have been Mauritanian).

Rosebell Kagumire, writing about African films at the Cannes Film Festival, uses a Senegalese film on African immigrants to Europe to discuss larger issues regarding migration.

Amb. John Campbell, “The State of Nigeria’s Economy.”

Dibussi Tande, “An Overview of Cameroon Prison Literature.”

Lee Crawfurd on evaluating Millennium Villages.

Sophia Azeb on the death of the singer Warda al Jazairia.

What are you reading today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Kaduna Easter Bombing, War in Mali, China in Ethiopia, Succession in Malawi, and More

A bomb near a church in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, killed dozens this morning.

The war in northern Mali may be “over,” but events remain fast-paced and complex. Andrew Lebovich writes about the interactions between various armed groups in “The Blag Flag Flies in Mali.” And African Arguments writes up the contents of a roundtable with several experts on Mali.

Lesley Warner weighs in on the prospects for international recognition for the newly declared independent state of “Azawad” in northern Mali. She offers several important insights, especially the following:

Previous cases of post-colonial state creation in Africa demonstrate that the success stories were administered as separate entities during the colonial period. Eritrea became an Italian colony, then a governorate of Italian East Africa, then a UN-mandated British protectorate, then an autonomous unit federated to Ethiopia in 1950 by a UN-resolution, and then was annexed by Ethiopia in 1962. The case of South Sudan is a bit different. As part of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899-1955), southern Sudan was administered separately from the northern part of Sudan between 1922 and 1946 as a result of the Closed Districts Ordinance (also known as the “Southern Policy”), but was then reintegrated with northern Sudan during preparations for independence in the late 1940s and early 1950s. With respect to this point on a region’s history of administration by colonial powers, Somaliland, which declared its independence from Somalia in 1991, is a slight exception. This region was administered as British Somaliland (with the exception of a few years as part of Italian East Africa), and then united with the Trust Territory of Somalia in 1960 to become the Somali Republic.

History is important. I have less and less patience for the policymakers, investors, and other audiences who so often tell report authors or conference presenters, “Keep the history stuff to a minimum.” The history matters, and it’s worth taking the time to examine.

Christian Science Monitor on China in Ethiopia.

Dr. Kim Yi Dionne on the presidential succession in Malawi.

Abdi Aynte writes that a split has taken place within the southern Somali rebel movement al Shabab.

Africa Is A Country on Cape Town:

In 2008, while living and studying in Cape Town, I heard, over and over, two observations about the city: it was a place of singular beauty, perhaps even the world’s most captivating city. Visitor and local alike seemed incapable of seeing other landscapes than the physical one, and some claimed that the city’s insularity was a result of the mystical, domineering influence of Table Mountain. The second perception, loosely related to the first, was that Cape Town was not an African city or, at least, not a “real African city.”

What are you reading today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Two-Round Electoral Systems, War in Mali, Media in Somalia, and More

Dibussi Tande on the difference having a two-round election system can make, and why Cameroon (for historical reasons) does not have one:

The Republic of Senegal has a new president following run-off elections which resulted in the defeat of outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade by Macky Sall, his one-time protégé and former Prime Minister. One of the main reasons for Macky’s victory is Senegal’s two-round electoral system, which calls for a second round of voting if no candidate obtains more that 50% of votes cast. This is unlike countries such as Cameroon which have a one-round/first-past-the-post electoral system.

In the first round of voting, President Wade obtained 34.81% of votes cast while Sall obtained 26.58%. If this had been the first-past-the-post system practiced in Cameroon, Wade would still be President of Senegal…

The two-round system is a potent tool for dislodging sit-tight incumbents, especially in the face of a splintered opposition (there were 14 candidates in the first round of elections in Senegal).

Erin in Juba provides a snarky perspective on life in South Sudan during the oil shutdown.

Mali continues to grapple with war and the aftermath of the recent coup. Dr. Gregory Mann says Mali’s democracy is “Down But Not Out.” Lesley Warner looks at the trajectory of the war with a post entitled, “After the Loss of Kidal and Gao, What Next for the MNLA and CNRDR” – the MNLA being the rebels in the north (The National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) and the CNRDR being the military junta in Bamako (the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State).

Peter Dorrie continues his series on the Sahelian food crisis with a look at Burkina Faso. He writes,

Burkina will be one of the least impacted countries of this year’s hunger crisis. This is due to its geographical advantages, but also the early and relatively comprehensive reaction by the government and NGOs. Still, many people will be off worse after the crisis than they were before. Lets hope that they won’t be forgotten as soon as the crisis is declared over.

Carmen McCain, “The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate: South Africa, Nigeria, and the World.”

Laine Strutton reflects on the way her interlocutors in the Niger Delta talk about the 1990s, and what implications this case has for larger questions of  security and/vs. freedom.

Amb. John Cambell argues, “Africa Unlikely to Win World Bank Presidency.”

And Amb. David Shinn flags a new report on the Somali media landscape.

Been a lot of news this week. What’s on your mind?

Africa Blog Roundup: AU Elections, New Aid Models, South Sudan, Kenyan Crime and Twitter, and More

The Economist‘s Baobab calls the recent African Union elections – which failed to produce a new head of the organization – “a humiliating defeat” for South Africa.

At Reuters’ Africa Blog, Alex Whiting argues that emerging donors are “chip[ping] away at aid industry’s status quo.”

Until recently most emerging donors focused their aid on their own regions. Some, like India, China and Brazil, were also major recipients of international humanitarian aid.

But as their economies and political clout have grown, so too has their influence on the humanitarian aid system, which has traditionally been dominated by the mostly Western members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

The piece has an interesting snapshot of Turkey’s humanitarian activities in Somalia.

The State Department’s Dipnote highlights the work of fourteen activists in the Horn of Africa diaspora community.

Aly-Khan Satchu on “South Sudan’s Oil Cutoff.”

Kim Yi Dionne promotes the University of Oregon’s new “African political ephemera collection.” It looks really cool.

The BBC’s “From Our Own Correspondent” from February 2nd contains a segment on Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Vanguard looks back at the chaotic month of January and what it has meant to the country.

Last but not least, Chris Blattman flags a new crimefighting initiative in Kenya that uses Twitter.

What’s on your screen today?

A Summer of African Strikes?

In recent months, there’s been a lot of talk about whether the “Arab spring” would spread to sub-Saharan Africa. In some ways, it did – there were serious protests in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, and elsewhere, and the Arab spring inspired a number of activists to question the legitimacy of incumbents. In some ways, it did not – no leaders have (yet) fallen, and no pan-African, anti-incumbent wave has (yet) reshaped the politics of the whole continent.

Now it’s summer, and I’m wondering whether it’s time to start talking about a wave of strikes, rather than a wave of protests. Although many African economies are experiencing rapid growth, problems like rising food and fuel costs, economic inequality, and dissatisfaction with government taxes and other policies are driving workers to shut down businesses and take to the streets.

Last week, I wrote about strikes in Uganda by traders and taxi drivers (teachers have since threatened to strike as well). This week, Nigerian workers are preparing a national strike from Wednesday to Friday over a non-implemented minimum wage increase – though a last-minute promise by governors to pay the wage may avert the strike.

South Africa (where it is winter, of course), is also facing major strikes:

Tens of thousands of workers ended a two-week pay strike in the South African steel and engineering sector on Sunday while petroleum workers plan to widen a week-long walkout that left hundreds of the nation’s fuel pumps dry, union leaders said.

Steel workers accepted a 10 percent wage rise from the employers’ body, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa had initially demanded a 13 percent increase while SEIFSA’s original offer was a 7 percent rise.

[...]

Meanwhile, the pay strike in the domestic petroleum sector is expected to widen from Monday after trade union Solidarity said on Sunday its mostly skilled members at petrochemical group Sasol will join the industrial action that left hundreds of fuel pumps dry.

The causes and the intensity of the strikes taking place in Africa vary, but I think there is something of a trend, and I think it’s worth watching. With many African economies under pressure, especially from inflation, we may see more strikes soon. And the next few days will be an important moment for Nigeria in particular, as that country’s unions decide whether the governors’ promise is sufficient or not.

Goodluck Jonathan and Ali Bongo to Washington, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama to Africa

Next week major leaders from African countries will travel to Washington as major leaders from the United States prepare to travel to Africa. In both directions, the visits are sure to occasion commentary.

In Washington, President Barack Obama will receive Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday and Gabonese President Ali Bongo on Thursday. Obama and Jonathan met around this time last year, after Jonathan was sworn in for the first time. I may be mistaken, but I believe Jonathan’s first visit following each of his inaugurations has been to the United States.

Commentary on the visit in Nigeria and in the Africa-focused press may be more curious than critical. The meeting with Ali Bongo may evoke more criticism. Despite a relative lack of international media attention, Gabon was the site of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest protest movements earlier this year, and Bongo’s security forces carried out a serious crackdown on the protesters. I doubt that many in the US will be paying attention to these visits, but we may see some criticism of Bongo’s visit this week on Twitter and blogs.

While Jonathan and Bongo are in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be getting ready for her upcoming trip to Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Here’s a peek at the itinerary:

Clinton, following a trip to the United Arab Emirates, will visit Zambia’s capital Lusaka on June 10 for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial Forum, Clinton’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

[...]In Zambia, Clinton will also meet Zambian President Rupiah Banda, who is seeking re-election this year, and “participate in events to highlight US government initiatives to improve the lives of the Zambian people,” Toner said.

Afterward, he said, Clinton will travel to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but gave no precise dates.

The chief US diplomat will meet with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“In Tanzania, she will highlight our successful bilateral engagement, including a host of programs, including Feed the Future,” Toner said.

In Ethiopia, Clinton will “focus on regional issues,” visiting the African Union headquarters and meeting with AU Chairman Jean Ping in addition to holding bilateral meetings with Ethiopian officials.

Later this month, First Lady Michelle Obama will also travel (without the President, but with her mother and daughters) to South Africa and Botswana. This will be an official visit focused on health issues. Read the White House statement here.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Michelle Obama currently holds elected office, but both are political figures, and they are two of the most popular (at times, I believe, the two most popular, as measured by approval ratings) national political figures in the US. I imagine that popularity will hold in Africa to an extent as well, and that both will get enthusiastic receptions on their trips – though Clinton’s meetings with African leaders will not necessarily be entirely smooth. I will cover Clinton’s trip here, as I did when she visited the continent in 2009; Obama’s is well outside of my usual geographic coverage, so I may only offer a few links as relevant.

Africa Blog Roundup: South Sudan’s Future, AQIM and bin Laden, Liberia’s Elections, and More

Chris Blattman weighs in on an interesting discussion about what South Sudan’s government should do now.

Battlman also recommends Ken Opalo’s blog. Check it out.

I missed this piece from Kal last week, but it’s still relevant. He writes about how bin Laden’s death might affect al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Here are three worthwhile posts on areas of Africa I don’t normally cover:

Joshua Keating writes on remittances, and includes a nice map.

What are you reading this weekend?