Africa Blog Roundup: Mauritania’s “Arab Spring,” Kenyan Foreign Policy, Boko Haram, Elections in Lesotho, and More

At The Guardian‘s Comment is Free, Sharif Nashashibi says that the international media have overlooked the protest movement in Mauritania. He argues:

There is…the possibility, or perhaps even the probability, that the protests in Mauritania will intensify, mainly because the government seems not to have learned from the mistakes of other Arab regimes that are under threat. It has used a combination of repression and pledges of reform that have left Mauritanians unconvinced and more frustrated.

Demonstrations have thus far been peaceful and centred around reforms. However, as in other Arab states, if protesters feel they are being indefinitely ignored or oppressed, not only might calls for reform become demands for regime change, but violence may become a means to advance those demands – a particularly dangerous development given Mauritania’s ethnic fault lines.

By the way, for those who read Arabic, Twitter user Mint Mauritanie is a great resource for news on Mauritanian politics and the protests.

Amb. David Shinn flags a discussion by Kenyan scholars of Kenyan foreign policy.

Two pieces on Boko Haram: G. Pascal Zachary parses a recent Financial Times piece’s language on Boko Haram’s alleged ties to Al Qaida, and wonders whether the US will start taking a more hands-on approach to the rebel sect. Andrew Walker compares two views on Boko Haram that are “almost diametrically opposite…except they both agree that journalists (people like me) have it wrong.” What do you think the international media has done well in its coverage of Boko Haram, and what has it done poorly?

And two others on Nigeria: Attempting Denouement on oil bunkering in the Niger Delta, and Laura Dimon on the social effects of desertification in the Lake Chad area.

Bruce Whitehouse on a sermon he heard on Friday in Bamako:

A few minutes into today’s wajilu I heard the imam utter the word CEDEAO (“sedeyawu“), the French acronym for the Economic Community of West African States.

Now I was interested. Why was the imam talking about ECOWAS in his sermon? This is a preacher who often urges parishioners in general terms to join together and work for unity, and to overcome petty differences. But I had never heard him venture into such explicitly political territory before. It soon became clear that he was coming out in full support of the agreement signed last weekend between ECOWAS and Mali’s military junta, the CNRDRE. Mali’s leaders and ECOWAS would never advocate anything that was against the nation’s interests, he said. He condemned the recent disturbances in Bamako and admonished us not to follow those who seek to destabilize the country.


From the international news media one often hears about firebrand imams throughout the Muslim world using their pulpits to whip their congregations into a political frenzy. In Bamako, however, I rarely hear imams address overtly political topics in Friday sermons. Which made the Badalabougou imam’s message this afternoon all the more powerful.

Royal Africa Society Director Richard Dowden posts excerpts from an interview with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Zachary Rosen on the elections in Lesotho.

This year’s National Assembly contest has been marked by massive voter engagement with an especially strong showing for young and first time voters. Rallies, famo musicperformances and to a lesser extent, social media, have been used to generate support for parties and candidates. Key issues that affect the majority of Basotho include: employment, agricultural investment, union wage negotiations, access to education and labor mobility to and from South Africa. Because no party wants to resort to forming a coalition government with their rivals, competition for voters’ allegiance has been rather intense.

While each party is representing itself as the one that can best be trusted by Basotho factory workers, farmers, civil servants and students, it’s evident that other, more clandestine constituents are being courted as well. The incumbent Prime Minister Mosisili in particular has realized the value of partnerships with foreign investors, especially South Africans and Chinese. Kenny Kunene, South Africa’s infamous “Sushi King” (who also invests in mining) has reportedly been acontributor to Mosisili’s political campaign at a time when Lesotho’s diamond mines are exhuming some of the largest stones in the world. Lesotho’s mountainous highlands have long been of strategic interest to the South African government as well, with giant dams supplying essential water to the Johannesburg area for domestic and industrial use. Chinese investors, who operate many of Lesotho’s textile factories, have benefited from being able to keep wages low on Mosisili’s watch, to the vexation of Basotho factory workers. Chinese contractors have been busy with projects across Maseru. Notably, the recently opened Ying Tao restaurant in one of Lesotho’s nicer hotels, the Lesotho Sun, has quickly become a popular meeting place for Basotho elite and Chinese businessmen.

What are you reading today? Any new bloggers out there I should be reading?

4 thoughts on “Africa Blog Roundup: Mauritania’s “Arab Spring,” Kenyan Foreign Policy, Boko Haram, Elections in Lesotho, and More

  1. Pingback: Sunday Reading « zunguzungu

  2. Andrew Walker’s fundamental problem can be deduced from his blog post. The guy doesn’t understand Nigeria and he doesn’t trust Nigerians enough to tell their own story.

    That is why he jumped to a hasty conclusion based on the accounts of two foreigners who have even less understanding of Nigeria than he does. Firstly, Ms. Ensign is the president of the American University of Nigeria in Yola. Yola is in Northern Nigeria and the AUN is targeted at the children of the top 1% of society who would otherwise send their children abroad for study.

    Ms. Ensign is writing these articles to (a) market the AUN and (b) calm the frayed nerves of worried parents. She also needs to put out the views of her employer (Atiku Abubakar, a prominent member of the Northern elite, a former vice-president and a man with a well-earned reputation for corruption).

    Pick a man off the streets of Lagos, he’ll tell you all this but evidently, “experienced journalists” like Andrew Walker don’t understand the context.

    Ms. Ensign is well motivated to bury her head in the sand and reproduce rumours of “Christians bombing their own churches” as fact, because she is extremely well paid to do so and the success of her job depends on how well she deflects the media from the true situation of things in that part of the country. (Ever since she penned that article, Boko Haram has attacked Mubi, a few kilometres away, and gone as far south as Jalingo).

    About the gentleman from “the Daily Mail”, Andrew should know that “the Daily Mail” has never liked Blacks, Asians, Muslims, Black Muslims or Asian Muslims.

    Having said that, Western journalists and Western academics tend to represent a limited segment of their own population (liberal/left-leaning) and a particular way of dealing with problems like Islamist terrorism. The only reason why a consensus was formed in the US (briefly) after 9/11 was because that event was so horrific and dramatic. If Osama Bin Laden did not pull off 9/11, there would still be an even noisier and more chaotic debate about “how to deal with terrorist threats against the US”.

    (On the other hand, conservatives see the World much differently but they are barely represented in either the news media or academia. A good number of them work in the Oil and Gas business, though).

    So, many Western journalists and academics travel to Nigeria with a preset framework of dealing with the problems of Islamic terrorism. Some of the key assumptions are:

    1. “Islamic terrorism is driven by poverty/alienation”. But what if this is wrong? As Andrew Walker pointed out, how does poverty/alienation explain the assault on Christian places of worship? But even if you insist that “poverty/alienation drives Boko Haram terrorism”, how are you going to explain that to Nigeria’s large Christian population (who in many cases are equally as poor and as alienated)?

    2. “Nigeria has a Muslim North and Christian South”. This might be an extremely coarse-grained simplification of Nigeria and might be a useful introduction to “Nigeria 101”, but the effect is that academics and journalists hop on the next available flight to either Kano or Maiduguri looking for a “Muslim” solution to what they believe is a “Muslim” problem. Boko Haram is a NATIONAL problem and if a holistic understanding of Nigeria is lacking, any resulting policy prescription tends to be fundamentally flawed.

    Understanding Nigeria is a life-long project (even for Nigerians), so foreign academics and journalists should not give up hope if their analyses are wrong or incomplete. There is a need to constantly adjust one’s assumptions and to be open to new ideas and suggestions.

    About Mr. Zachary’s observations, Islam has been practiced in Nigeria for close to a thousand years and June, 2011 marked the first case of suicide bombing. It was a grim milestone.

    Mr. Zachary is merely stating the obvious. Having stated that, what exactly can the US do? The US can use all the tools at its disposal (including FTO designation) to isolate the sources of funding for Boko Haram. After that, there is precious little to be done.

    There is very little evidence to suggest that increased US Military involvement solves any problems (Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan anyone?). So, beyond a certain point, the US is more of a hindrance than a help.

  3. Boko Haram is Jihad on Christians, says Akinola.

    A very powerful former head of the Nigerian Anglican Church (played a prominent role in Anglican split over homosexuality) and former CAN president is making a very powerful statement against negotiating with Boko Haram.

    What impact would this have on the Nigerian Christian community?

    • His words to Jonathan (who was part of the congregation):

      “You open yourself to ridicule if you open dialogue to a group that has made the country ungovernable. Don’t treat them with kid gloves. You don’t. Dialogue with crime. The problem is not Jonathan; it is because we started in the wrong way and continue same way.”

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