Coup Rumors and Reports from Eritrea and South Sudan

Eritrea

Martin Plaut:

At around 10am on 21 January a contingent of Eritrean troops stormed the state television station. They rounded up the staff – all employees of the Ministry of Information – and forced the director of Eritrea TV, Asmellash Abraha Woldu, to read a statement calling for:
the freeing of all prisoners of conscience
the implementation of the Eritrean constitution
and stating that the ministry of information was under their control.
Almost immediately the television broadcast was interrupted, and remained off the air for several hours, before resuming its broadcasts with pre-recorded material. This is about all that is clear.

Al Jazeera:

The small country in the horn of Africa remains isolated and is often described as repressed.

With thousands of political prisoners, a constitution that remains in limbo, and a president who has failed to keep promises of reform, analysts say more challenges are inevitable.

The BBC has more reporting, while Think Africa Press takes a look at Eritrea’s present and its possible future. Jay Ufelder, meanwhile, reminds us that there’s more to events like these than the equation “poverty+repression=coups.”

South Sudan

The BBC:

South Sudan has denied to the BBC that the dismissal of more than 30 top army officers has anything to do with a rumour about a coup attempt.

The country’s information minister said the changes were been made to bring younger people into top positions.

On Monday, all six deputy chiefs of staff were removed and 29 major generals were dismissed.

It is the biggest shake-up of the military since South Sudan became independent in July 2011.

More here and here is the official document from the Government of South Sudan, via their website.

What do you make of these events?

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: Ethiopia’s Transition, Sudan-South Sudan Summit, CAR Rebellion, and More

Deutsche Welle: “Ethiopia’s PM Marks 100 Days in Office.”

Sudan and South Sudan:

  • BBC: “Presidents Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir of South Sudan are set to discuss speeding up the implementation of a deal reached last September. The talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, follow reports of renewed clashes on the disputed border.”
  • Reuters reports that Sudan’s oil production now stands at around 140,000 barrels per day.
  • VOA reports that South Sudan will likely not resume oil exports before mid-March.
  • Guardian Development Network: “South Sudan is set to resume oil output but revenues are not yet being poured into schools, hospitals, roads and agriculture.”

A BBC video report on the economic impact of Mali’s crises.

IRIN on the humanitarian impact of the rebellion in the Central African Republic.

Magharebia: “Mauritania, Senegal Partner Against Terrorism.”

What else is happening?

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?

Africa Blog Roundup: Media Piracy in Nigeria, Ghana’s 2012 Elections, Malian Politics, and More

Yinka Ibukun on piracy, music, and movies in Nigeria.

Dennis Laumann: “Six Lessons from Ghana’s 2012 Elections.”

Peter Tinti: “Mali’s Coup 2.0: Adjusting to the New Normal.”

Lesley Anne Warner:

Until the political situation in Bamako becomes less unstable, the U.S. and European allies can agree on an approach to intervention, and ECOWAS can get boots on the ground (perhaps not until late 2013), I think containment is going to be the name of the game in northern Mali.

Aly Verjee on the resignation of US Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman and the trajectory of “US diplomacy in the Sudans.”

Derica: “Dear K’naan, Africa Is Not The Only Place Where ‘Politics Happens’.”

Internally Displaced:

What I am enjoying…in the South Sudan National Archives, as they take shape, is looking at how a determined researcher – with a significant amount of time on their hands – could write a very interesting, if a bit scattergun, history of women in South Sudan from these records.

The main body of the collection sits in the 1920s to late 1970s, and is dogged by the sex-centric, patriarchal mode of governments with respect to their female citizenry.  There are files and files of adultery cases, domestic violence disputes – including whole files on chiefs’ violence against their wives and resulting punishments – runaway women and girls, and prostitution; illustrated nicely by the page above, in a letter from a local Sudanese official deciding not to pursue abductors of “genuine incest children or undesirable harlots”  - clearly these are unwanted and unpleasant things.

However, there are also women in politics: local chapters of the Liberal and Federal Parties and the Southern Front include women members, at least until the government banned their participation; their role in chiefly disputes and tribal affairs includes spying, informing on disputes and suspects, protecting and harboring criminals and suspects, and encouraging clashes – and that’s just the stuff I’ve had time to read.

Jimmy Kainja: “The Virtuous Circle of Malawi Politics That Sustains Poverty.”

Richard Joseph makes recommendations concerning US policy toward sub-Saharan Africa during President Barack Obama’s second term.

What are you reading?

After Latest Sudan-South Sudan Agreement, Southern Oil Exports May Resume Soon

Sudan and South Sudan have suffered economic pain in the last two years – Sudan, due to the loss of the South and its oil in 2011; and the South, due to the shutdown of oil production it began in late January of this year as a protest measure against Khartoum’s demands regarding oil transit fees. The shutdown in the South has, of course, also affected the north, and the economic picture I’m painting here is extremely simplified – more economic information about Sudan is available here and here, and more information about South Sudan is available here.

Economic pain has continued in part because of political conflict. Since South Sudan’s independence, the two countries have disputed issues including border demarcation, security, and oil revenue sharing. In August of this year, Sudan and South Sudan came to a tentative agreement on oil, and signed a deal covering oil and border security on September 26. Yet security issues remained unresolved, and the South did not restart its oil production on November 15 as it had planned.

On December 1, Pagan Amum, the South’s chief negotiator, met with Sudanese officials in Khartoum. The meeting had two important outcomes. First, the South Sudanese now plan to resume oil exports through Sudan within a few weeks (although returning production to pre-shutdown levels could take up to one year). Second, the two sides have agreed to stop supporting rebel movements within each other’s territory; the north is particularly concerned about the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North or SPLM-N, who have fought government forces in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, along the new border between Sudan and South Sudan. AFP has more on the new agreement and the background to it.

The success of these agreements, of course, will depend on their implementation. Meanwhile, other contentious issues remain, including determining when and whether the territory of Abyei will hold a referendum about joining the South or the north.

For Arabic readers, summaries of the remarks of Pagan Amum and Sudanese presidential assistant Nafi Ali Nafi are available, respectively, here and here.

Africa Blog Roundup: M23, South Sudan, Mali, al Shabab, and More

Commentary on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the fall of Goma to forces from M23:

Dipnote/US State Department:

What surprised me on this trip, however, were the enormous logistical challenges faced by humanitarians who were trying to help and protect both the refugees and the communities that host them. Yida in Unity State and the Maban camps in Upper Nile are very difficult places to reach and quite far from South Sudan’s capital city of Juba. In the rainy season, the dirt roads to both areas are completely cut off for months at a time. This has meant that aid supplies have to be stockpiled in advance of the rains or flown in at incredible expense.

Internally Displaced: “The South Sudan National Archive: Taking Stock.”

Peter Tinti: “What Has the US Already Tried in Mali?”

Two pieces on Somalia’s al Shabab:

  • Abdi Aynte: “The Somali militant group al-Shabaab is currently losing ferocious battles against Kenyan troops in Southern Somalia –  part of an African Union peacekeeping mission. However, they are winning a strategic war back in Kenya; this is the battle for hearts and minds.”
  • And Amb. David Shinn flags a new study (.pdf), “Lights, Camera, Jihad: Al-Shabaab’s Western Media Strategy.”

Justin Scott:

The richest literary prize in the world, the Nobel Prize, carries a US$1.1 million purse. The richest lit prize in Africa, the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, doesn’t quite match up, but it does guarantee the winner a whopping US$100,000. It’s been around since 2004, with the purse increasing from $20,000 to $40,000 in 2006 and finally to $100,000 in 2008. The latest prize, awarded at the start of November, went to Chika Unigwe for her novel “On Black Sisters Street.” Though there has been widespreadpraise for Unigwe across the Naijanet, talk of the politics of her win has been muted.

These politics have been addressed before, but critiques focus mostly on the kinds of novels — those that confirm Westerners’ pessimism and faithlessness about Africa’s future — that tend to win. Thus far, talk of who sponsors the prize and why that matters has been nonexistent.

What are you reading today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Oil Contracts, Elections in Sierra Leone, Gold in South Sudan, and More

Chris Blattman recommends, and highlights some powerful quotations from, Robert Worth‘s “Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?”

Alemayehu Fentaw on Muslim protests in Ethiopia:

There is little evidence to support the Ethiopian Government’s claim that its own Muslim community poses a legitimate threat to national and regional security.  It only seems to be driven by a shrewd strategic calculus. Since Ethiopia is a critical partner in the West’s ‘War on Terror’, the government thinks it helps to foment fear of the rise of radical Islam in Ethiopia that would lead to an improbable takeover of power by political Islam.  The current Ethiopian Government seeks to keep Western support and aid flowing into the country through characterizing the Muslim community as linked to Islamic radicals and thus a threat to national security.

Baobab on Sierra Leone’s elections.

Duncan Green/The World Bank: “What Have We Learned from Five Years of Research on African Power and Politics?”

Two on oil:

  • Loomnie: “Oil Contracts: How to Read and Understand Them.”
  • Laine Strutton: “A Very Brief Chronology of the Nigerian Oil Economy.”

Orlando Reade: “Revolutions and Dancing.”

Amb. John Campbell comments on “a new report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, ‘Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide.’”

Roving Bandit on artisanal gold mining in South Sudan.

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?