Africa Blog Roundup: Violence in Kenya, Theater in Somalia, Pensions in Nigeria, and More

The World Policy Journal recently interviewed UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. The interview touches on Libya and the Sahel, especially Mali.

Keith Somerville on Kenya:

In the last six weeks there have been a number of violent clashes in areas of Kenya where the existing political, social and religious structures are contested or fail to meet the subsistence or security needs of the local populations.  Many derive from long-lasting grievances, which periodically reach the pitch of violence, but usually simmer just below the surface. As soon as elections approach, the actions of politicians (both local and national) are frequently the trigger for violence.

One of the conflicts Somerville discusses took place in the Tana River region. Human Rights Watch recently wrote about the violence there as well.

Baobab on the current state of Somalia’s National Theater, which reopened in March only to become the target of a suicide bombing shortly thereafter:

In late August the theatre manager, Abdiduh Yusuf Hassan, announced that the first stage of renovations was complete and shows would begin again in a few weeks. The first production is scheduled to be “Somalia’s Got Talent”, presenting a brighter face for a country so scarred by conflict.

But violence is never far below the surface in Somalia. On September 20th, two suicide bombers attacked “The Village” cafe opposite the theatre, where journalists and MPs are known to mingle, killing at least 14 people. The Village has been a bright spot in Mogadsihu’s re-emergence, and if businesses like that start closing, other ventures may not be far behind.

G. Pascal Zachary on changing presentations of Africa in the media: “That the New York Times, in its influential ‘Lens’ blog on visual journalism, is featuring the work of Peter DiCampo, highlights the sea-change in attitudes on the part of the mainstream media towards even the possibility of African normalcy.”

Amb. John Campbell on how institutions define Africa – and what analytical and policy consequences those choices bring.

Think Africa Press on social pension programs in Ekiti and Osun States, Nigeria.

The State Department’s Dipnote on “community-led conservation” in Namibia.

And last but not least, is it ethical for scholars to cite wikileaked cables?

Africa Links: Nigeria, Sudan, AQIM, Cote d’Ivoire, Wikileaks, and More

Nigeria: Police in Maiduguri recently arrested 92 suspected members of Boko Haram.

Sudan: President Omar al Bashir on the Jan. 9 referendum:

“The referendum process shall go on with God’s blessings, with the trust of our commitment that we will renew at this moment,” al-Bashir said, “and accepting the result that will come from the desire of the citizens and their choices.”

Al-Bashir made the comments in a speech Friday marking Sudan’s 55th Independence Day. He also promised to negotiate what comes after the referendum.

“Our acceptance of the final results will not be withdrawn or hesitated about,” he said, “because the peace is our ultimate goal in our relationships with our southern brothers, even if they choose a path other than unity.”

AQIM: NPR reports from Agadez, Niger on AQIM and kidnappings.

South Africa joins the BRICs.

Cote d’Ivoire: VOA:

Political stalemate continues in Ivory Coast, where the two rival presidents are each ignoring deadlines set by the other side to step down.

A youth leader for incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo has given rival president Alassane Ouattara until Saturday to leave Abidjan, and called for Gbagbo’s supporters to seize the hotel where Mr. Ouattara has been holed up for weeks.

However, the Associated Press reports that no Gbagbo supporters had shown up at the hotel by mid-day, and that Mr. Ouattara remained on the premises.

From the blogs:

Loomnie flags the start of an interesting new blog series on urban Africa.

Andrew Harding visits a sangoma diviner in Soweto and asks what will happen in 2011.

And finally, here’s an interesting take on Wikileaks from Joshua Kucera. I recommend the whole thing, but here’s the climax:

Why can’t the Americans just sit down with the Kazakhs and say, “OK, you’re crude and corrupt, and we’re oafish neoimperialists. But you have things we want, and we have things you want. So let’s do business.” Why wouldn’t that work?

My theory: It would work fine with the Kazakhs, but it’s the American people who would flinch at it. Perhaps not so much at frank talk about Kazakhstan, but about other, more high-profile countries with which the United States does business despite their dubious ethics — China or Saudi Arabia, for example. Americans like to believe in American exceptionalism, that the United States is a force for good around the world, not just another country pursuing its interests via geopolitical horse-trading. This is part of why there is such a visceral public backlash against WikiLeaks — because it lays bare U.S. diplomacy in all its blunt, unromantic reality.

Europeans are more comfortable with political reality, which is why their diplomats can speak more freely. Their U.S. counterparts, though, know this is distasteful to the people they represent, so they are more circumspect when they talk. With 99.9 percent of the WikiLeaks cables still yet to drop, the American people are going to learn a lot more about how their Foreign Service works. And if that means they can all start talking about their foreign policy like adults, that’s a good thing.

Consider this thread open.

Wikileaks Roundup for Africa

See my general position on Wikileaks here. Briefly, now that the information is out there I feel it’s worth discussing it. To that end, I thought a (partial) roundup of what leaked cables say about different African countries might be useful.

Africa-wide:

  • Miami Herald: “From the Saudi-Yemen border to lawless Somalia and the north-central African desert, the U.S. military is more engaged in armed conflicts in the Muslim world than the U.S. government openly acknowledges, according to cables released by the WikiLeaks website.”
  • VOA interviews Liesl Louw-Vaudran of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies and looks at the impact of the cable leaks in Nigeria, Kenya, Libya, and across the continent. Louw-Vaudran says, “I think many Africans are a little bit disgusted, a little bit shocked, at the sort of flippant way that these American diplomats are talking about, ultimately, African heads of state.”
  • BBC: “Cables from a senior American official in Nigeria describe China as ‘aggressive and pernicious’, and that ‘China is in Africa primarily for China’. However, the memo goes on to say the US does not consider China a military, security or intelligence threat.” What about an economic threat? More here.
  • Radio Netherlands Worldwide has its own roundup here, and Christian Science Monitor‘s Scott Baldauf looks at the implications for Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Sudan/Egypt/Kenya:

  • NPR: “Among the cables in this week’s dump of WikiLeaks documents are memos concerning shipments of arms through Kenya to Sudan. The cables suggest that the U-S turned a blind eye to the situation until Somali pirates brought it to public attention by seizing a tanker carrying 32 Soviet-made Ukrainian tanks, apparently bound for Sudan’s south.” Kenya’s Daily Nation has more on the arms shipments from Kenya to South Sudan.
  • Reuters: “One [cable] said Egypt had lobbied for a delay in the referendum for South Sudan’s independence.”

Ethiopia/Eritrea:

  • All Africa: “Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told top visiting American officials before elections in May this year that he would ‘crush… with our full force’ opposition leaders who ‘violated the laws of Ethiopia,’ according to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.”
  • The Guardian: “US ambassador portrays [Eritrean President] Isaias Afwerki as part menace, part weirdo.”

Nigeria:

  • Reuters: “U.S. drugmaker Pfizer hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against Nigeria’s attorney general to convince him to drop legal action against the company over a drug trial involving children, the Guardian newspaper reported, citing U.S. diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks.” BBC: “Pfizer has dismissed as “preposterous” reports that it hired investigators to uncover evidence of corruption against a former Nigerian attorney general.”
  • CNN: “Royal Dutch Shell has people in ‘all the relevant ministries’ in the Nigerian government and has access to ‘everything being done in those ministries,’ according to leaked diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks and posted on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian on Thursday.” Business Week has Shell’s denial. Al Jazeera English has a video report.

Finally, I have some comments on Wikileaks and the Sahel here, and Congo Siasa has a roundup concerning Central Africa here.

Do you see any patterns? Any surprises? Let us know.

Wikileaks, the US, AQIM, and the Sahel

Views on what Wikileaks does run the gamut from admiration to condemnation, but I share the view (articulated here) that the most important question concerning Wikileaks is not whether its staff has acted morally, but rather what impact regular leaks will have on journalism and government, now that it seems likely that regular leaks will become a fixture of the future media landscape. Put differently, some readers might object to Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables related to, for example, US counterterrorism policy in the Sahel. But now that those materials are circulating, I feel that I should analyze them in order to give readers a sense of how the conversation about the US and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) might evolve. Briefly, leaked cables relating to the Sahel suggest a strong US-Algerian partnership and a weaker role for Mali.

CNN has its own analysis, which stresses themes like increasing US concern over AQIM (including its potential involvement in regional drug trafficking), US approval of regional coordination, but continued mistrust among Sahelian governments. Here are some excerpts:

[The fight against AQIM] is a struggle that the United States is taking ever more seriously, according to U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks…The United States has stepped up its military cooperation with governments in the region.

[...]

In the cables, officials from Algeria and Mali talk of a growing threat from al Qaeda in the region. One cable from the U.S. ambassador in Mali discusses the visit by the commander of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. William E. Ward, last November. President Amadou Toumani Toure told him that while al Qaeda “had difficulty getting their message across to a generally reluctant population, they have had some success in enlisting disaffected youth to their ranks.”

According to the cable, Toure complained: “Military cooperation with Algeria is the problem. … It is not just a matter of destroying a couple of (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) bases, we have to be able to hold the territory. The longer the situation drags on, the stronger the Salafists [al Qaeda] will get.”

The Algerians tended to blame Mali. “The nexus of arms, drug and contraband smuggling in northern Mali created an enabling environment,” according to senior Algerian defense official Abdelmalik Guenaizia, who added that “terrorists will use any means available to finance their activities, including corruption and hostage-taking.”

[...]U.S. efforts to improve coordination in the Sahel region against terrorism do appear to be bearing fruit. Another diplomatic cable from 2009 welcomes the establishment of a regional command for counterterrorism operations.

As contacts on Twitter pointed out, the leaked cables are just one more piece in a jumbled puzzle. Tommy Miles wrote, “This would be the proper moment to stress these cables are what US & Alg gov SAY not necessarily what’s happening.” Andrew Lebovich added, “also, what Alg and Mal officials SAY about each others’ levels of cooperation against AQIM.” Arguably the cables reveal more about attitudes than actions.

The Guardian has posted the text of cables related to counterterrorism in the Sahel, and readers may find them of interest. In chronological order:

  • One from December 2007 (following the December 11 Algiers bombings) stresses the adaptability of AQIM, the influence of Iraqi insurgencies on the group, the inability of Algerian security forces to completely stop terrorism, and the author’s expectation that the security situation would either “stay roughly as it is now or deteriorate.”
  • One from December 2009 discusses a US request to the Algerian government to conduct surveillance flights over Algeria, Mauritania, and Mali.
  • One from January 2010 reports Algerian officials’ outrage over their country’s placement on an enhanced screening list at the US Transportation Security Administration, outrage specifically framed with reference to US-Algerian cooperation on couterterrorism. Algeria’s “Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci January 11 summoned the Ambassador and forcefully objected…He termed the decision intolerable, inappropriate, and inopportune. It reflected neither the reality of Algeria’s security situation, its counterterrorism efforts nor our close bilateral cooperation.”

The Guardian has analyzed what these documents say about the evolution of US-Algerian relations from 2007 to the present, with Algeria’s role in American eyes going from “security joke to US ally.” Algeria has come to be the most important US partner in the regional counterterrorism effort.

The content of cables relating to Algeria and the Sahel will not necessarily surprise readers, but the cables do bring out the relationships in the region, especially the closeness of US-Algerian cooperation and the tensions between Algeria and Mali. Given existing tensions between Mauritania and Mali, that could mean that Mali is somewhat marginalized by its neighbors and even by the US. Now that a great deal of AQIM’s high-profile kidnappings and clashes with authorities take place in Mali, disagreements between Algeria and Mali could prove problematic for tightening regional cooperation and advancing the counterterrorism effort.