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?

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?

Update on New Leadership for Sudan’s Islamic Movement

Back in November, Sudan’s Islamic Movement – historically a key pillar of support for President Omar al Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party – held its eighth general conference. The conference attracted attention and speculation as observers watched to see how divided the Movement would appear. Some observers also say that the succession to the post of secretary-general may hold clues as to the future succession battle over the Sudanese presidency itself. The outgoing Secretary-General (due to term limits) and current First Vice President of Sudan is Ali Osman Mohammad Taha (bio here).

It’s now possible to give a few updates. At its conference the Movement elected Zubair Mohamed Hassan as its new secretary-general, and Dr. Mahdi Ibrahim (a former Sudanese ambassador to the US, I believe) as president of its 300-member Shura (Arabic: Consultation) Council (more on how the elections unfolded here, in Arabic). The Council subsequently selected several new deputies: Bakri Hassan Salah, Hassabo Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Raja Hassan Khalifa, and Hamid Sidiq. The Sudan Tribune attaches special significance to Bakri’s appointment.

Bakri who is among those army officers who implemented the Islamist coup d’état of June 1989, occupied important positions in the different governments including director of national security service, defence and interior minister.

He is also known as influential among the Sudanese armed forces. But he remained far from the Islamic Movement and the organs of the National Congress Party.

His name circulated recently in Khartoum among those who might probably succeed to President Omer Al-Bashir who remains strongly attached to the military institution more than the party.

Observers say Bakri has the support of Bashir and the army. At different crises high ranking officers in the Sudan Armed Forces prefer to deal directly with him about their concerns instead of their minister Abdel-Rahim Hussein.

I have only been able to find limited information on the other appointees. According to this article (Arabic), new Secretary-General Zubair Hassan is “among the major economic personalities in the country,” and is “head of the financial sector in the ruling party.” He previously held posts as financial minister and oil minister, among others. Sudan Tribune has a brief note on Hassabo Mohamed Abdel Rahman, who “was appointed to lead the National Congress Party’s political relations bureau on 23 February 2012.” Raja Hassan Khalifa was, as of early 2012, an adviser to Bashir and a university professor. In this article, Sudan Tribune identifies Hamid Sidiq as the NCP’s communications secretary.

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?

Sudan: Khartoum’s Pessimism on Normalizing Relations with the United States

Since 1993, the US State Department has listed Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Since 1997, Sudan has faced a set of economic and political sanctions from the US. President Barack Obama renewed those sanctions in November, as he did in November 2011. Both times, unsurprisingly, the government in Khartoum objected to the decision, charging that Washington wants the sanctions to hurt Sudan’s economy. This year, the Sudanese government suggested that it had fulfilled the conditions necessary for Washington to lift the sanctions:

“The American administration has acknowledged more than once that Sudan has honored its commitments but the American administration, time and again, has withdrawn from its promises … to lift the sanctions,” the foreign ministry said.

Implied in the statement is that by allowing the secession of South Sudan, Khartoum did what Washington wanted it to do.

The State Department suggested that sanctions would remain in place as a means of pressuring Khartoum to make peace with South Sudan and in the new border zones such as South Kordofan, where the Sudanese government is at war with rebels:

In recent years, Sudan has made progress in resolving a number of outstanding issues with South Sudan, which contributes significantly to the prospects for peace between the two countries. However, the ongoing conflict in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur continue to threaten regional stability, and the human rights and humanitarian crises there – including the lack of humanitarian access – are very serious. Outstanding issues with South Sudan, such as the final status of Abyei, also pose such a threat. Addressing these concerns is necessary for a peaceful Sudan and would enable the United States and Sudan to move towards a normalized relationship.

The issue of sanctions revives a conversation that took place at different points last year among Africa watchers about whether the US has real leverage over Khartoum. A brief conversation that occurred last summer on Twitter between Sudanese blogger Amir Ahmad Nasr and Sudan analyst Bec Hamilton has stuck with me, and I am reminded of it now. Nasr wrote, “There’s leverage. Sudan badly wants relations normalized with US.” Hamilton responded, “Right, but that’s no longer leverage since Khartoum doesn’t believe it will ever happen (and they are probably right).”

Why am I writing about this now, when the sanctions were renewed well over a month ago? Because of a statement on December 16 by the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson Al-Obaid Adam Marawih:

Marawih told the pro-government daily Akhbar Al-Yawm* that Sudan’s position on normalizing ties with the U.S. remain clear and unchanged. He elaborated that as long as this issue remains in the hands of lobby groups in the U.S. Congress, Sudan can never hope for any positive results.

“We reiterated this position when we congratulated the U.S. President [Barack Obama] on his re-election for the second term” Marawih said. He added that therefore the issue is “not a priority” for Khartoum in the time being.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Marawih’s idea of the causes for the continued sanctions, his pessimism regarding prospects for normalization – and, assuming he speaks for the government, a broader pessimism in Khartoum regarding this issue – is clear.

*I tried to find the Arabic article but the link to the paper is broken for me.

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?

Africa News Roundup: Nigerien Tuaregs, South Kordofan, Kenya and Somalia, and More

I rarely comment on North African affairs here, but the death of Morocco’s Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine will merit reflection on the meaning and trajectories of “Islamism” well beyond Morocco. His funeral was yesterday.

A recent CNN interview with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta included discussion of Mali. See also the audio and transcript of a recent NPR segment on intervention in Mali.

Deutsche Welle: “Niger’s Tuaregs Fear Spillover from Mali.”

Magharebia: “Mauritania Outlaws Coups d’Etat.”

Sudan Tribune:

The Sudanese army is dispatching heavy reinforcements to South Kordofan in order to defeat the rebellion and increase security in the border region, the country’s defense minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein has announced.

[...]

His visit and comments followed reports by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army North (SPLM/A-N) that their forces defeated attempts on Monday by government forces to capture Daldoka village southeast of Kadugli and inflicted heavy losses on them.

This Day:

Former governor of Yobe State, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Thursday  declared that unless the activities of the Boko Haram was completely checkmated, there might not be any election in the entire six states of the North-east geo-political zone by 2015.

Similarly, the former governor of Kano State and chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Rebuilding and Inter-Party Contact Committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, called on opposition politicians to ensure that the ongoing alliance talks between opposition political parties worked out this time as anything to the contrary would spell doom for the nation.
The two leaders spoke in Enugu, when the ANPP special rebuilding committee met with the party’s leaders and major stakeholders from the five states of the South-east zone in continuation of its nationwide consultation with members.

In a separate article, This Day reports that the Federal Government plans to send more troops to Borno State to fight Boko Haram.

Kidnappers have released the mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Charles Wachira: “After Somalia Intervention, Kenya Faces War Within.”

What else is happening?