Africa News Roundup: LRA, Boko Haram, Guinea-Bissau, Malian Refugees, and More

Several items on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA):

The Federal Government of Nigeria has reportedly opened a special prison for detainees from the Boko Haram movement.

The aftermath of the coup in Guinea-Bissau continues, with the Economic Community of West African States and the junta at loggerheads.

Some 60,000 Malian refugees have fled to Mauritania since the war began in Mali in January. The overall number of displaced persons from the conflict in Mali is around 260,000.

The New York Times on the Ethiopian holy cities of Aksum and Lalibela.

Jeune Afrique (French) on the “war” to succeed defeated President Abdoulaye Wade within Wade’s Parti démocratique sénégalais (Senegalese Democratic Party, PDS). Seneweb (French) reports on the recent visit of one PDS leader, Senate President Pape Diop, to Touba, center of the country’s Mouridiyya Sufi brotherhood.

Reuters: “Kenya, Somalia border row threatens oil exploration.”

What else is going on?

Africa News Roundup: Mauritania in Mali, Suicide Attack in Mogadishu, Museveni Impeachment Attempt, South Sudan Violence, and More

Mauritania’s army continues to hunt members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) inside Mali, but Mauritania’s government denies supporting the Tuareg rebellion in the region.

On Wednesday, a suicide attack occurred at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. The rebel movement al Shabab has claimed responsibility. Such events, in my view, boost the predictions of analysts who said that al Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu would change the nature of the conflict there, rather than ending it.

The US military says that 2011 saw a major increase in bomb attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia.

Ethiopian troops are still preparing to hand over areas in Somalia to African Union troops.

The administration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni says an impeachment bid against the president has little chance of success.

The BBC re-examines Uganda’s role in Somalia.

The LA Times looks at ethnic violence in South SudanAlan Boswell, meanwhile, writes that the government’s army – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or SPLA – is “part of the problem.”

Here in Jonglei state, where tit-for-tat raids have billowed into a full-scale internal war between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes, South Sudan’s army has become part of the problem, despite the $270 million in American aid it’s received since a 2005 U.S.-brokered peace deal led last year to the creation of the country.

A broad group of U.S. activists who forged close ties with the South Sudanese rebel movement spurred that deal to end Sudan’s decades-long civil war. They included churches from then-President George W. Bush’s hometown of Midland, Texas, the Congressional Black Caucus and celebrities such as actor George Clooney.

The violence, and the role of the South Sudanese military in it, points out the difficulty of a legacy in which the U.S. and influential activists remain supporters of a government that often lies at the heart of the problem. Even with its poor human rights record, South Sudan continues to be the darling of its committed backers.

Thoughts?

Africa Blog Roundup: University of Timbuktu, Boko Haram and Cameroon, Bribes in Kenya, AFRICOM, and More

I suspect anyone who read news about Africa this week saw the controversy over the “Stop Kony” project launched by the group Invisible Children. I do not have much to say about it. I side with the critics of the project, but I also think the issue has been a distraction – as bloggers like Jina Moore and Andrew Harding have pointed out – from other, more important issues. Those wanting defenses or critiques of Invisible Children can find them easily; any round-up on my part would be redundant.

I found the most value in efforts to place the discussion in a wider context, such as Aaron Bady’s roundup “On the genre of ‘Raising Awareness about Someone Else’s Suffering’” and novelist Teju Cole’s micro-essay “Seven thoughts on the banality of sentimentality.” Finally, there is a lot to ponder in Max Fisher’s response to Cole – not because I agree with Fisher (I agree with Cole), but because of how keen Fisher (editor of the international channel at The Atlantic) is to police the boundaries of the debate. Fisher criticizes Invisible Children, but he dismisses Cole’s concerns about broader issues concerning white American activists and Africa as “resentment.” Fisher others Cole – prompting Cole to respond, “I’m as American as you” – and passes silently over Cole’s invocation of the contrast between white activists’ responses to the Iraq War and their responses to African wars. My question for readers is: What does Cole and Fisher’s interaction say about the tensions and limitations in efforts to examine America’s relationship with Africa?

On a lighter note, the White Nigerian.

Inside Islam continues a really cool series on important Islamic sites with a post on the University of Timbuktu.

Dibussi Tande has written a series, “Boko Haram and the Fear of Islamic Extremism in Cameroon.” Part One looks at possible connections between Boko Haram and Cameroon. Part Two looks at the history of Cameroon’s Islamic community, with an eye toward identifying trends that might create opportunities for Boko Haram there. Part Three assesses Cameroonian security forces’ responses to Boko Haram, looks forward to ask what chances Boko Haram has of establishing a serious presence in Cameroon, and suggests what Cameroon can do to prevent that.

Jimmy Kainja asks why Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika felt the need to say he will step down in 2014, given that he is constitutionally required to step down at that time.

Asch Harwood flags a new online tool, I Paid A Bribe, that activists are using in Kenya and India.

The Economist‘s Baobab makes the important point that killings and repression of African journalists deserve just as much attention as the deaths of Western journalists.

The lack of interest in their fate among their counterparts in Western countries is doubly demoralising given that Western hacks have rightly highlighted the sacrifice of their own colleagues who died recently in Syria and Libya. Just as dispiriting is the silence of donor countries. Britain, America and others appear intent on disbursing aid even at the expense of press freedom in Africa. More solidarity is needed.

Zach Warner critiques AFRICOM’s reading list.

Africa News Roundup: Sudan-South Sudan Tensions, Malian Refugees, Senegalese Opposition Coalition, and More

The Sahara Studies Association is calling for papers on the theme of “Conflict, (Counter-Terrorism and Intervention in the Sahara-Sahel.”

Tensions between Sudan and South Sudan continue:

South Sudanese officials said Thursday that Sudanese troops were massing near the disputed border and that Sudan’s armed forces had bombed two oil wells in South Sudan….

Al-Obeid Merwah, a spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, did not return calls seeking comment.

Martin Vogl details some of the latest battles between Tuareg rebels and government forces in northern Mali. IRIN has two reports on Malian refugees displaced by the fighting.

Violence in Northeastern Nigeria, and the resulting military crackdown, are also causing mass displacements of people into neighboring Niger and Chad. Niger’s permanent secretary in charge of Nigeriens abroad has “appealed to Nigerian security forces to show restraint.”

The BBC discusses the launch of a “$23bn (£14.5bn) port project and oil refinery in south-eastern Kenya’s coastal Lamu region near war-torn Somalia’s border.” The piece continues:

An oil pipeline, railway and motorway will also be built linking Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Newly independent South Sudan plans to use Lamu as its main oil export outlet.

Moustapha Niasse, who placed third in the first round of Sunday’s presidential election in Senegal, has pledged to support second-place finisher Macky Sall in the second round (French). Reuters details further opposition support that Sall is receiving.

VOA on American allies in sub-Saharan Africa:

While the United States government is getting increasing help from two African allies in terms of security objectives, U.S-based analysts fear the governments in Uganda and Ethiopia are getting a pass in terms of internal governance…

Ted Vestal, an Ethiopia expert from Oklahoma State University, worries about what is taking place inside Ethiopia, and the lack of reaction from U.S. officials.

“I am thinking of deficits of democracy and a bad human rights record, which the State Department points out every year in their human rights reports,” said Vestal. “But the security angle seems to be more significant to U.S. foreign policy, especially with the war on terror and the connection to Somalia next door to Ethiopia.  We apparently are flying drone airplanes out of Arba Minch down in southern Ethiopia over Somalia. So we have a definite military tie.”

What are you reading today?

US Troops in Uganda: Will History Repeat Itself?

On October 12, US President Barack Obama

authorized the deployment to Uganda of approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. forces to help regional forces “remove from the battlefield” – meaning capture or kill – Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and senior leaders of the LRA.

The forces will deploy beginning with a small group and grow over the next  month to 100. They will ultimately go to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the permission of those countries.

The LRA, formed in the late 1980s, is one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world. Although it began as a rebellion against the Ugandan government, it preys on civilian communities in countries throughout the region.

Halting the LRA is a laudable goal. Killing Kony could fragment and weaken the movement. But the deployment of US troops to Uganda carries political risks, and missions against the LRA have failed in the past. By most accounts, December 2008′s “Operation Lightning Thunder,” a Ugandan-led campaign against the LRA to which the US gave operational support, was a disaster: Kony lived, and many civilians died.

In January 2009, the UN news agency IRIN wrote:

The LRA has been blamed for the murder of hundreds of civilians. Uganda has also faced criticism over the operation. The Enough Project described it as “poorly executed” and “operationally flawed”, noting that “LRA camps were largely empty of fighters and high-level commanders when struck by Ugandan aircraft”. The advocacy group added that Lightning Thunder had made the situation in north-eastern DRC worse by playing to the strengths of the LRA, “who know the tricky terrain better than their adversaries … are able to move and disperse quickly in small numbers … have shown every willingness to loot and pillage to survive”.

Read an even more critical account here.

Even though the design of the current mission is different, the same risks remain: poor coordination among different militaries, civilian deaths, and the inability of local or outside forces to find Kony.

Some believe that this time could be different. In March 2009, Enough called for a second mission, one that would “place civilian protection front and center.” Undoubtedly US civilian and military authorities have carefully studied Operation Lightning Thunder and its failures.

But Richard Downie of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has put together a helpful background piece on the LRA, writes that applying the lessons of the past “will not be easy”:

One of the consequences of Operation Lightning Thunder was that the LRA scattered into smaller groups, making them much more difficult to track down. Kony himself is believed to be operating in the Central African Republic. The groups have discarded any communication equipment that would allow them to be traced and instead rely on runners to relay messages. In addition, the LRA is a hardened guerilla force used to operating in difficult terrain. It has survived against the odds for a quarter of a century. U.S. policymakers and military planners emphasize that there is no quick fix to ending the scourge of the LRA and that even the death or capture of Kony and his senior commanders may not be sufficient to finish off the group unless broader efforts are made to address the grievances that caused it to form in the first place.

Things could be different this time around, but the challenges are large enough to make me pessimistic about the chances of success.

Finally, there is a broader political risk to note. Across Africa, many leaders and ordinary people are wary of deepening US military involvement on the continent. Given direct US military involvement in Libya, various forms of involvement in Somalia, and the planned construction of a US drone base in Ethiopia, this deployment of US troops to Uganda, small though it is, could make for even more nervousness in Africa regarding the United States’ long-term intentions there.

Uganda and North Africa

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has, it seems, been paying attention to the “Arab spring” since it began. During the Ugandan presidential elections in February, in which Museveni won a fourth official term, government authorities banned the use of certain words in text messaging. These included “Egypt”, “bullet,” “people power,” “Tunisia”, “Mubarak”, “dictator”, “teargas”, “army”, “police”, “gun”, “Ben Ali” and “UPDF,” the last term being the acronym of the Ugandan armed forces.

Not too long afterward, NATION intervened in Libya, and Museveni was upset. In late March, he wrote a widely circulated article for Foreign Policy in which he cited double standards in the West’s treatment of Libya (versus, for example, Bahrain), lamented what he saw as the bypassing of the African Union in the decisionmaking process, and expressed concern about the potentially long-lasting, negative consequences of the intervention. Whether one agrees with Museveni or not (and I do on some issues), the point is that Museveni seems to fear how the “Arab spring” might reshape African politics.

During the spring, Uganda saw the “Walk to Work” movement, in which opposition leader Kizza Besigye mobilized hundreds to protest high food and fuel prices. These protests were primarily related to domestic troubles, rather than foreign influences, but the harshness of the government crackdown hinted that “the nearby Arab Spring revolutions can’t be far from Museveni’s mind.”

This week, Ugandan activists made explicit reference to the North African revolutions:

Pressure group Activists 4 Change wants to hold a rally in the capital Kampala on Friday to “celebrate people power in North Africa” following the overthrow of the leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The group has emailed invitations accompanied by a flyer featuring photos of the toppled rulers crossed out — with Uganda’s long-serving President Yoweri Museveni lined up as the next to go.

Police banned the rally. If activists push forward, as they have in the past, there could be bloodshed again.

Talk of an “African spring” has largely crested and fallen. President Blaise Compaore retained power in Burkina Faso, the sub-Saharan African country which experienced perhaps the most serious protests this year. Gabon’s President Ali Bongo withstood major protests there. Museveni is unlikely to fall any time soon. And leaders who look vulnerable, like Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, are not under threat so much because of contagion from North Africa, but because pent-up local grievances are coming to the fore amid (pre-)electoral campaigning.

Still, the “Arab spring” has changed the way activists in countries like Uganda frame their demands and view heads of state. And it has changed how heads of state view their own position. Going forward, both sides will likely continue to mull over the lessons of the North African revolutions, with each side trying to stay once step ahead of the other on the organizational, technological, and political levels.

Africa Blog Roundup: Sam Childers, al Shabab, Niger Delta, Twitter in Uganda, and More

Brett Keller has done fascinating research on Sam Childers aka “the Machine Gun Preacher,” whose complicated story involves hunting Joseph Kony, working with PR firms, and cultivating a strange relationship with violence and Christianity.

Loomnie: “How a Chinese Syndicate Is Screwing Africa”

Amb. David Shinn comments on al Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu. The Economist’s Baobab blog looks at how civil war complicates aid delivery.

Amb. John Campbell on environmental degradation in the Niger Delta:

It is easy to blame the international oil companies for degradation of the Niger Delta environment, all the more so when Exxon is reporting that its profits world-wide increased by 69 percent during this year’s first quarter while Shell’s are up 30 percent. But, the real story does not lend itself to a morality tale. “Bush refining” (illegal mom-and-pop refining operations) supplied by “bunkering” (oil theft by puncturing pipelines) substantially contributes to the pollution, as the UNEP study acknowledges. More importantly, the Nigerian government is deeply involved with all elements of Delta oil and gas production through the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and all oil and gas is the property of the Nigerian state, and provides the state with about 65 percent of its total revenue and 95 percent of export earnings. NNPC owns a majority interest in the assets operated by Shell under a joint operating agreement, for example. Such partnership agreements require NNPC to fund its share of petroleum production, including pollution abatement efforts, making the federal government at least partially complicit in the degradation of the Delta environment. But the Abuja government too often fails to appropriate the funds necessary for the NNPC to fulfill its partnership obligations because of politicians’ other priorities.

Rosebell Kagumire looks at a Ugandan minister’s claim that activists are using Twitter to prepare an insurgency.

No doubt the Uganda opposition uses social media much better than the government. We have seen top opposition leaders updating their facebook and twitter accounts as they are in running battles with the police. But government’s reaction to social media has been slow ad hence they see the opposition having some good advantage in the race to put out information. I remember in April when the protests were on high, the presidential press secretary told the Guardian that they were not bothered about the impact of social media because “farmers in Uganda don’t know what it is.” Today we see the government waking up to accept the power of social media-in a disguised way- on the youth in the country. Social media use in Uganda has been steadily increasing since end of last year.

Check out my friend Kristi’s new blog on lived religion.

What are you reading today? Any new blogs on your radar?

Africa Blog Roundup: Somalia, DRC, Malawi, Senegal, and More

Yesterday’s big news was al Shabab’s withdrawal from the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu. James Gundun reacts here, and here is coverage from the New York Times and the AP. The BBC’s Andrew Harding, writing several days before the withdrawal, reported on how some government and AU officials see the ongoing famine as an opportunity to break al Shabab.

Over at Al Wasat, Ibn Siqilli posts photographs of al Shabab leaders.

Jason Stearns‘ interview with Eric Kajemba, director of an NGO in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, has occasioned a lot of commentary about the impact of the Dodd-Frank “conflict minerals” legislation on the DRC. Laura Seay reacts here. A Bombastic Element, meanwhile, looks at relations between the DRC and Angola.

Dipnote has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s expression of concern over the recent deaths of several Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei, a border region of Sudan.

Kim Yi Dionne details what the fuel shortages in Malawi look like on the ground.

Africa Is A Country posts a lecture by Dr. Jean Comaroff about crime in South Africa.

At African Arguments, Pascal Bianchini says Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade may fall from power.

Amb. John Campbell explores the issue of Cote d’Ivoire’s “Dozos,” their role in security, and the implications of trying to disarm them.

Rosebell Kagumire writes a powerful reaction to her interviews of female victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda.

I highly recommend Kal‘s review of Robin Wright’s Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.

Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday.

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.

Africa Blog Roundup: Boko Haram, Khartoum-Juba Relations, East African Drought, Mobile Phone Banking, and More

At African Arguments, Murray Last has written an excellent backgrounder on Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement. One important paragraph:

This widespread ‘panic’ or terror over BH’s campaign of violence has led to any major attack, anywhere in the north – whether on a bank, a police station, a government building, or simply on individuals – being attributed to the group. The perception of both BH’s ferocity and its ubiquity has therefore grown in recent weeks.  The police often try to counter this by saying that in their estimation it was an act of armed robbers or hitmen hired to settle a dispute. As no one is caught, we do not know for sure who is to blame: BH does not always claim the attack – but even if they do, is the claim credible?

Over at Amb. John Campbell’s place, Payton Knopf of the US State Department looks at relations between North and South Sudan following the latter’s independence. Knopf argues that a violent present may portend an even more violent future:

With euphoria from its newly won independence still hanging over South Sudan’s capital, Juba, relations with Khartoum are already being tested by the increasingly tense situation along their shared border.

In South Kordofan, a northern state that borders the South, a stalled political process and subsequent northern military offensive against the forces of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader Abdulaziz Hilou has left tens of thousands–if not hundreds of thousands–displaced. To the east, rumors abound that northern troops will launch a related campaign in Southern Blue Nile, another northern state governed by SPLM leader Malik Agar, within days. And to the west, the conflict in Darfur still simmers. North Sudan President Omar Bashir’s boasts that a peace agreement signed Thursday in Doha with one Darfur rebel faction rings hollow, as that group lacks both political legitimacy and military relevance.

The potential for an anti-Khartoum alliance among Hilou, Agar, and the only Darfur rebel movements with true military might—the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the newly reconstituted Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) of Minni Minawi and Abdulwahid al Nur–are high, which could lead to a war stretching across nearly the entire length of the days-old border between North and South Sudan.

Internally Displaced probes the political uses of history in South Sudan.

Chris Blattman raises interesting questions concerning development, the United Nations, and African manufacturing.

Rosebell Kagumire reports on Ugandan commemorations of last year’s Kampala bombings.

A Bombastic Element on the “politics of chocolate” in West Africa.

The drought in East Africa is a human and, as the Economist Intelligence Unit points out, a political tragedy. The State Department’s Dipnote details a visit to an Ethiopian refugee camp where drought victims are surging in.

Ajong Mbapndah tells us what to watch for in the upcoming Cameroonian elections.

The Christian Science Monitor’s West Africa Rising on mobile phone banking in Africa.

Check out Kim Yi Dionne’s roundup.

And last but not least, on Thursday I wrote a guest post on Somalia for Africa Is A Country, drawing out some of the implications of recent strikes and of Jeremy Scahill’s revelation that there is a significant CIA presence in Mogadishu. Thanks to Sean Jacobs for having me.