Headlines out of Today’s ECOWAS Summit

Between May 15 and 19 (today), Ghana has hosted three important meetings for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): (1) an Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers from May 15-16; (2) a Session of the Mediation and Security Council on May 17; and (3) a Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on May 19.

The Council of Ministers is made up of member states’ Ministers in charge of ECOWAS Affairs, while the Mediation and Security Council is composed of member states’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense. More details about the agendas for these meetings can be found here, with additional information on the Heads of State summit here. I should note also that Ghana’s President John Mahama has been the ECOWAS Chairman since 2014.

Here are some key takeaways, readouts, and headlines from the meetings:

  • Term limits: “West African leaders on Tuesday rejected a proposal to impose a region-wide limit to the number of terms presidents can serve, after opposition to the idea from Togo and Gambia, Ghana’s foreign minister said.”
  • Mahama’s remarks/Jonathan’s farewell: Reiterating his earlier praise for Nigeria’s “historic elections,” Chairman Mahama lauded President Goodluck Jonathan for his “mature statesmanship” in conceding defeat, and “salute[d]” President-elect Muhammadu Buhari for his victory. You can read Jonathan’s remarks at the summit here.
  • Youth Employment: Mahama also urged greater focus on job creation for youth, saying, “considering the fact that we have the fastest growing youth population; young people are coming out of school at every level of the educational system in the hope of finding jobs, it’s going to be a major hurdle for us.”
  • Common External Tariff: “Regarding the [ECOWAS Common External Tariff or CET], which entered into force in January this year, the Commission indicated that as at 30 April 2015, only eight Member States had started the implementation, namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, with the remaining seven countries, lagging behind due to various reasons, such as legal requirements, public health and other technical considerations. Council commended the eight Member States and urged the remaining seven to take the necessary steps to ensure effective implementation of the CET before the end of the year in accordance with the decision of the Authority of Heads of State and Government.”

Recent Developments and Perspectives on Mediterranean Migration Crisis

This year, repeated fatal shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea have shocked the world and highlighted the struggles of migrants who travel from Africa and the Middle East to the shores of the Mediterranean seeking access to Europe. I’ve written on the issue here, especially as it relates to European-Sahelian relations, and now I want to point out a few recent developments and perspectives on the crisis.

Developments

  • Naval Mission: Today, European foreign and defense ministers, meeting in Brussels, backed plans for a European Union naval mission that “will involve European warships and surveillance aircraft gathering intelligence and then raiding boats to crack down on people smugglers.” The mission is supposed to start next month.
  • Italian Rescues: Last week, the Italian Coast Guard rescued nearly 2,500 migrants.
  • Shelters: The European Union, in cooperation with Niger, plans to open shelters in the Nigerien cities of Agadez, Arlit, and Diffa. The centers aim to “dissuade [migrants] from trying to reach Europe and instead offering local alternatives.”
  • Anti-Trafficking Law: On May 11, Niger’s parliament passed a “law that could see human smugglers facing up to 30 years in prison in an effort to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing its borders in hopes of getting to Europe.” Together, the shelters and the law attempt to go part of the way toward addressing Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou’s call to address the local roots of the migration crisis.

Perspectives

  • Francis Kornegay: “The Mediterranean crisis is indicative of how intellectually inadequate geopolitical and foreign policy/national security analysis has become at connecting the dots of interdependence between land and sea in the world’s unfolding power dynamics.”
  • Gary Younge: “The facts on immigration don’t fit easily on a mug, whereas the politics of xenophobia can be condensed into a single sentence. ‘They’re coming here to get what’s yours.’ This is, of course, a lie, stemming from a system in which borders reflexively open for capital and close for people.”

Varieties of Selecting Muslim Leaders in West Africa

When it comes to Sahelian countries such as Mali and Niger, I tend to think of strong national-level, top-down Muslim clerical bodies as a phenomenon of the period before liberalization, and especially as a phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s. There are still bodies like the Islamic Council of Niger, but they don’t seem to have the monopoly over religious decision-making that their predecessor organizations enjoyed.

That’s why this link from Ghana caught my eye, especially the role of the National Chief Imam:

Sheikh Abdul Wadud Haruna, a Kumasi-based Islamic cleric, has been appointed the President or Zaeem of the Tijaniyya Sufi sect in Ghana.

The conferment of the title and the presentation of a certificate of honour were performed by the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, during the 47th annual birthday of Prophet Mohammed held in Kumasi last weekend.

Until the elevation, the appointee was the regional head of the Tijaniyya sect in the Ashanti Region.

The appointment was done with the consent of clerics responsible for such decisions and based in Madina Kaolak, Senegal, according to a release.

President John Dramani Mahama, who was the guest of honour at the activity, promised to promote religious tolerance in the country after making a presentation of GH¢12,000, 50 bags of rice and 10 bags of cooking oil to the organisers.

Also present were Sheikh Tijani Aliyu Cise, the Grand Imam of the Tijaniyya sect worldwide, who is also the Imam of Madina Kaolak.

The Tijaniyya is one of the most important Sufi orders in West Africa. Although founded in North Africa in the early nineteenth century, the Senegalese Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975) was responsible for much of the order’s spread in places like Ghana. Kaolack was Niasse’s home and is the seat of his successors. Worth mentioning is that Ghana’s Chief Imam is himself a member of the Tijaniyya. So it’s interesting that the selection of a new representative of the Tijaniyya in Ghana is a decision made jointly by the National Chief Imam and the shaykhs in Kaolack (presumably with some input from other Tijanis, but nevertheless presented as a top-down selection).

I’ve been strongly influenced by Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori‘s notion of a “fragmentation of sacred authority” in the Muslim world, a concept Ousmane Kane uses quite effectively in his book on Nigeria. But this Ghanaian example reminded me that top-down selections of new Muslim leaders are not always a thing of the past. On the other hand, some Ghanaians are worried that when the current National Chief Imam passes (he is over ninety years old, and has served since 1993, when he succeeded his cousin), the Ghanaian Muslim community will divide bitterly over the question of succession – not all Ghanaian Muslims are Tijanis, to say the least. So perhaps further fragmentation is in store.

Continued Rejection of the ICC in West and East Africa

It is not new to read of African governments ignoring or rejecting the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s claims to jurisdictional authority. But two stories this week reinforce the idea that many key players on the continent are willing to cross the Court.

First is Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s attendance at an African Union summit in Abuja, Nigeria. The ICC issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest in March 2009, in connection with war crimes in Darfur. His travel itinerary since then charts a map of ICC rejection across Africa and beyond. While Nigeria is the first West African nation to host Bashir, it joins a trend that includes several other countries and the African Union itself. From the BBC:

Mr Bashir has visited numerous African countries since the arrest warrant was issued – including Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

Only Botswana and Malawi have threatened to arrest him.

In May, the AU called on the ICC to drop war crimes charges against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta after accusing it of “hunting” Africans because of their race.

Mention of Kenya brings us to the second news item from this week: Yesterday, the ICC rejected another request from Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who like Kenyatta faces charges at the Court, to hold his trial in Africa.

The election, in March of this year, of Kenyatta and Ruto seemed a rebuke to the Court. Both men have been under indictment since March 2011 in connection with election/post-election violence in 2007-2008. David Bosco, writing shortly before Kenya’s most recent election, spelled out some potential consequences that a Kenyatta victory might have for the Court. One of these is particularly noteworthy in light of the Court’s decision on Ruto’s request for a trial location change:

That a freshly elected African head of state will bear the burden of ICC indictment would likely worsen already poor relations between the court and African officialdom. Many African leaders have argued that the ICC, which to this point has indicted only Africans, systematically ignores crimes committed in other parts of the world. At various points, African leaders have discussed withdrawing en masse from the treaty that created the court or, more likely, empowering a regional court to investigate atrocities, thereby displacing the ICC.

The ICC’s decision to keep Ruto’s trial in The Hague may strengthen such sentiments among some African leaders.

From both Nigeria and Kenya, then, I see fresh examples of the difficulty the Court is having in achieving legitimacy and recognition in Africa.

Kenyan Elections Open Thread

Kenyans are voting today in much-anticipated presidential elections. The BBC has profiles of the eight candidates, including front-runners Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. The BBC also has a Q&A on the elections. Reuters has an interactive timeline covering the period from the 2007 elections to February 2013. IRIN has a page for the elections as well. International Crisis Group’s report on the elections is here (.pdf). Finally, VOA is providing live updates here.

Please consider this an open thread for Kenya-related news. What are you hearing/reading/seeing? Let us know.

Roundup: Kenya’s Presidential Debate

Kenya will hold presidential (and general) elections on March 4. For background on the elections, see herehere (.pdf), here, and here. For Ken Opalo’s forecast that Uhuru Kenyatta will win the first round, though not by enough to avoid a run-off, see here.

Yesterday, eight presidential aspirants met for the country’s first-ever presidential debate. The debate garnered massive attention – as the BBC tweeted, it was the “top trending topic on Twitter”  at one point yesterday.

Here is my roundup of coverage and reactions:

  • Daily Nation has a transcript. There was a livestream of the debate on YouTube, but I was unable to find a video of the event afterwards.
  • BBC: “[Frontrunners Uhuru] Kenyatta and [Raila] Odinga in First Kenya Presidential Debate.” From the article: “It is doubtful that the two-hour debate will significantly influence many voters as most Kenyans vote along ethnic lines.”
  • Standard Media focuses on the candidates’ remarks about ethnicity.
  • The Guardian: “Kenya Tunes in as Uhuru Kenyatta and Rail Odinga Promise Peaceful Elections.”
  • Reuters: “Raila Odinga, the frontrunner in Kenya’s presidential election, taunted his rival Uhuru Kenyatta in a debate on Monday, asking how he would be able to rule from the Hague, where Kenyatta goes on trial shortly on charges of crimes against humanity.”
  • AP: “Kenyatta insisted that he will be able to manage the task. ‘If the people of Kenya do decide to vote for me as their president, I will be able to handle the issue of clearing my name while ensuring the business of government continues and our manifesto and agenda for Kenya is implemented,’ Kenyatta said.”
  • Daily Nation: “Candidates Face Off Over Education, Health and Security.”
  • Nairobi Star: “Raila Dwells on Jobs, Shies Away from Land.”

Did you watch? What was your take?

Kenya: Police Crack Down on the Mombasa Republican Council

The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a secessionist group in Kenya’s Coast Province, has made headlines several times in recent months for their tense relations with Kenyan authorities and what some see as their potential to disrupt the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 2013. In the spring of this year, the Council staged several protest actions in Mombasa, drawing condemnation from President Mwai Kibaki and other senior politicians. In July, the High Court of Mombasa (the capital of the province) overturned a ban on the organization that had been in place since 2010 – see Lesley Anne Warner for more on that story, as well as an explanation of the Council’s grievances against the government, which the MRC accuses of marginalizing the Coast.

This month, the Council is back in the news as police crack down on its leaders. Authorities have accused the MRC of organizing a recent assassination attempt on Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi on October 4. On October 8, authorities arrested MRC spokesman Rashid Mraja, apparently on charges of using hate speech. On October 15, police raided the home of the MRC’s chairman:

Kenyan police arrested the leader of the separatist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) and shot dead two supporters in a house raid on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement seeking independence for the country’s coastal region.

Dozens of youths, some armed with machetes and clubs, who tried to prevent officers from detaining Omar Mwamnuadzi were also detained and a number of crude weapons seized, Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli said.

The MRC is campaigning for the secession of the Indian Ocean coastal strip – a tourist hotspot and trade hub – and threatens to disrupt next March’s general election if its demand is not met, raising fears of violence.

The raid occurred in Kwale, near Mombasa. A photograph of Mwamnuadzi shows him badly beaten. VOA writes that “tension is high” in Mombasa.

Some politicians have come to the MRC’s defense, such as Sheikh Dor, a nominated member of parliament. Presidential candidate William Ruto, without offering any support to the movement, has promised to address the grievances that underlie it. If elected, he says, he will create a special economic development fund for the Coast.

Finally, other politicians are working to create new political vehicles for residents of the Coast. The Nairobi Star reports that “Muslim clerics” launched the Unity Party of Kenya this weekend in Mombasa. Sheikh Dor (the same as above) “said the party will liberate the Coast people from the chains of marginalisation and oppression.” The Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council warned in June against the creation of this party, fearing it would cause political division among the country’s Muslims.

Kenya’s presidential elections are still some five months away. It seems a lot may happen in the interval.

For more background on the MRC, see here and here.