On President Trump’s Call with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

On February 13, President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Many observers, including me and Nigerian analyst Muktar Usman-Janguza, were impatiently awaiting for the White House to post a readout of the call, which it finally did yesterday. The delay, I should note, was offensive to some Nigerians in and of itself.

The main news coming out of the call was when Trump “expressed support for the sale of aircraft from the United States to support Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram.”

There is a backstory here, dating to 2014, when the Obama administration blocked sales of US-made helicopters to Nigeria due to concerns about human rights violations by Nigerian security forces. As recently as December 2016, Nigeria purchased military aircraft from Russia and Pakistan after growing impatient with Washington.

Another part of the backstory, as former Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell explains here, is that US security cooperation with Nigeria has also been limited for many years by the Leahy Amendment. The amendment prohibits US security assistance to foreign security force units that the US government believes have committed human rights abuses.

Some will see Trump’s offer to Buhari, then, as a change in policy, but I think this reflects more the momentum of the War on Terror (or whatever one is supposed to call it now) and the tendency of that momentum to wear down or override human rights concerns in the long term.

After all, in May 2016, the Obama administration expressed its willingness, pending Congressional approval, to “approve a sale of as many as 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria.” (You can watch a demonstration of the Super Tucano here.)

The sale does not seem to have gone forward but, as the New York Times has reported, the willingness to approve it reflected a wider change of attitude in Washington toward Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. I believe two key moments that prompted that change: the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in April 2014, and the election of Buhari in March 2015. Those two events boosted those voices in Washington who argued that the US should ease its restrictions on security cooperation with Nigeria. Trump’s offer to Buhari is not a complete break with older policy, then, but rather a demonstration that those voices are continuing to win out over those who favor more restricted security cooperation.

This is the logic of the War on Terror, I believe: when policymakers or human rights organizations raise concerns about security force abuses, they will tend, over the long term and often in the short term, to be overruled by those whose primary concern in places like Nigeria is with killing jihadists. I would bet that a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton would have also eventually approved the sale of military aircraft to Nigeria. I say all this not to let Trump off the hook or to somehow praise him – I oppose Trump unequivocally – but to point out that some policy dynamics are bigger even than Trump.

Mbaku on the Challenges Facing Moussa Faki Mahamat at the African Union Commission

Earlier this month, I discussed the process whereby Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat was elected chair of the African Union Commission.

Over at the World Policy Institute, John Mukum Mbaku has a smart post on the challenges Mahamat and the AUC will face now. Mbaku identifies five: the Western Sahara issue (now that Morocco has been readmitted to the AU); the International Criminal Court; poverty; “sectarian conflicts”; and terrorism. Here is Mbaku’s conclusion:

During the last decade, the AU has failed to confront major issues threatening peace and security in various parts of the continent. There is hope that Faki, who has gained significant experience dealing with terrorism during his chairmanship of the council of ministers of the G5 Sahel, which has been quite active in the war against terror, can provide the leadership needed to move the AU in the right direction. Some observers believe that Faki’s close working relationship with the EU and the United States in the fight against religious extremism in the Sahel could help him, as AU Commission chairperson, to secure resources for the continent’s peace and security efforts. Although he is Francophone and will be viewed by those countries as representing their interests, he is fluent in English, French, and Arabic and will be able to reach out to virtually all of the continent’s stakeholders. This is critical because dealing with the continent’s multifarious problems would require significant levels of consultation with all relevant groups. Nevertheless, some critics question whether he has the political will to democratize the AU and the continent, especially given Chad’s increasing authoritarianism—Déby has ruled Chad with a strong hand since 1990 and was reelected in April 2016 to a fifth term as president in an election that was considered by many international observers as not fair, free, or credible. Nevertheless, Faki has promised to prioritize development and stability and to undertake necessary reforms to render the AU more responsive to continental crises.

The whole post is worth a read.

An Economy-Focused Cabinet Reshuffle in Chad

Recently, Chadian President Idriss Deby reshuffled his cabinet. Part of the reshuffle was prompted by the departure of Foreign Affairs Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, who is going (with Deby’s blessing) to become the new chair of the African Union Commission.

Another factor in the reshuffle, however, was the less amicable firing of Finance and Budget Minister Mbogo Ngabo Seli (French), who had only been in his post since August 2016. Seli, it seems, had been unable to maintain a good relationship with Deby’s inner circle and had been equally unable to manage a crisis resulting from the “non-payment of salaries” to civil servants and other key personnel. That “non-payment” is a core part of the budget/austerity crisis that has evoked recurring protests in Chad in recent months, an issue I discuss here (.pdf, p. 13).

In December, there was another firing: Mines Minister Gomdigué Baïdi Lomey (French). In that case, no reasons were given.

The new government promotes Hissein Brahim Taha, the Chadian ambassador to France and a veteran diplomat, to the post of Foreign Affairs Minister. Other new and key appointments include the promotion of three senior technocrats, Christian Georges Diguibaye, Ngueto Yambaye, and Ahmat Mahamat Hassan, to the posts of Finance Minister, Minister of the Economy, and Minister of Justice, respectively. The new government also includes the famous Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun to the post of Minister of Touristic, Artisanal, and Cultural Development.

The reshuffle did not affect ministers in the security and defense sphere, suggesting that the move was more about dealing with the country’s economic crisis than anything else.

Gambia’s Next Major Political Milestone: Parliamentary Elections in April

This week, the Gambian and Senegalese (French) press both reported that the Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has confirmed 6 April 2017 as the date for the country’s National Assmebly elections. Municipal elections are confirmed for 12 April 2018. I have not been able to find the IEC’s statement online, but its website does feature a countdown clock for the elections.

The Gambia’s constitution (.pdf, Chapter VII, Part 1) mandates that National Assembly should have fifty-three members, forty-eight of them elected and five appointed by the president. The National Assembly’s website lists fifty-one current members.

The final days of former President Yahya Jammeh’s rule, in January, saw mass resignations from the cabinet but not from parliament. Indeed, the National Assembly remained strongly loyal to Jammeh, approving a ninety-day extension of his tenure as well as a ninety-day state of emergency.

By my count, forty-four of the fifty-one members listed online belong to Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. It will be interesting to see how that party fares without him, and how new President Adama Barrow gets along with an APRC-dominated parliament for the next two months.

To conclude, it’s worth revisiting this comment that Peter Penar made to Deutsche Welle last month:

In previous parliamentary elections, Jammeh’s party held all but one parliamentary seat. So he has a lot of loyalists in parliament. In the up-coming legislative elections, there is a chance that he could come back in some sort of form. This would be very destabilizing. So ECOWAS would be very concerned about Jammeh’s potential return to politics.

 

New Article: “Islamic Modernism and Colonial Education in Northern Nigeria: Na’ibi Sulaiman Wali (1927–2013)”

I’ve published a new article with the journal Religion & Education. The article is part of a special issue on “Life Trajectories of Educators Between Religion and Religious Education,” edited by Professor Abdulkader Tayob of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. My article is entitled “Islamic Modernism and Colonial Education in Northern Nigeria: Na’ibi Sulaiman Wali (1927–2013).” It discusses the career of a major intellectual from Kano, Nigeria, who played a major role in book publishing in northern Nigeria during the decades before and after independence. In the 1970s, he published two polemical books denouncing what he saw as neo-colonialism and Muslim “backwardness” in Nigeria; part of my paper discusses those two books. The article can be found here, although it is only available to those with access to the Taylor & Francis system, whether through a university library or other such system.

Some Details on Moussa Faki Mahamat’s Election as AU Commission Chair

On January 30, Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat was elected the new chair of the African Union Commission (a position distinct from that of AU chair, which is always a head of state and is currently Guinean President Alpha Conde). Here are some key points about how and why he was elected:

  • The election (French) initially involved five candidates: Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Equatorial Guinea’s Agapito Mba Moku, Kenya’s Amina Mohammed, and Mahamat. After four rounds of voting, the race narrowed to Mohammed and Mahamat. After Mahamat began to pass Mohammed in the sixth round (French), she withdrew and he was elected on the seventh ballot, 39 to 15 (the 15 being abstentions). The winner needed not just a simple majority, but a majority of two-thirds (i.e., at least 36).
  • As I wrote last July (paywalled), the election of a the new AU Commission chair was meant to be decided then. But West Africa balked at the list of candidates available (which included some of the candidates from this time – Venson-Moitoi and Moku – but not the others), and was not able to insert a last-minute candidate of its own.
  • In a formal sense, Chad is in Central Africa rather than West Africa, but West African (and particularly Sahelian) support was crucial in Mahamat’s ultimate victory. One report (French) says that Mahamat won in part because of fragmentation within regional blocs during the early rounds – even on the first round, West Africa’s Bathily only received 10 of West Africa’s 15 votes. West Africa’s support steadily shifted to Mahamat during subsequent rounds. The same report talks about an anti-Senegal sentiment among certain key countries, reflecting displeasure with President Macky Sall’s foreign policy as well as suspicions that Senegal is too pro-Morocco (Morocco was just readmitted to the AU after a long suspension, and some countries opposed its re-entry).
  • The key backers of Mahamat after round four of voting were reportedly (French) North Africa (especially Libya, Algeria, Mauritania), the Sahel, and Southern Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique. In other words, much of the continent aligned in favor of Mahamat, while Mohammed retained East African support until the end. Mahamat received only fourteen votes on the first ballot, but he emerged as a consensus candidate.
  • The victory has been widely interpreted as a sign of Chad’s influence and particularly the influence of its President Idriss Deby. As RFI (French) wrote, “It is a victory for Idriss Deby who waged a discreet, but methodical campaign in favor of his protege. It is a victory for Chadian diplomacy, but still more for the Chadian army, which for five years has paid a bloody price in Africa for defending Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon against the terrorists of al-Qaida and Boko Haram. Finally, it is a victory for Francophone [Africa] because the outgoing president, Madame [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma [of South Africa], did not speak a word of French.”
  • Chad’s military deployments in recent years directly mapped onto the voting for Mahamat: the West African countries that supported Mahamat over Bathily included (French) Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, as well as Burkina Faso, which borders Mali and Niger and suffered a major terrorist attack in 2016. Chad’s deployments have been expensive financially, but rewarding in foreign affairs. There has been much analysis of how Chad has positioned itself as a key African counterterrorism partner for France and the United States, but clearly Chad has also positioned itself as a key ally for other African countries.

Some biographical details on Mahamat, as well as some coverage of his election, can be found in English here.

The Gambia: The Logic of Adama Barrow’s Cabinet

Yesterday, a list of new Gambian President Adama Barrow’s cabinet was released on Twitter. I believe it to be genuine, although there has been some uncertainty about whether Barrow’s account is really his or not. Here is the list:

  • Ousainou Darboe, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Hamat Bah, Minister of Tourism and Culture
  • Omar Amadou Jallow, Minister of Agriculture
  • Mai Ahmad Fatty, Minister of Interior
  • Henry Gomez, Minister of Youth and Sports
  • Lamin Dibba, Minister of Forestry, Environment and Natural Resources
  • Isatou Touray, Minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment
  • Amadou Sanneh, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
  • James Gomez, Minister of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters

Some of the names on the list will be familiar to readers of last week’s post on the people close to Barrow. Recall that Barrow was the candidate of a seven-party opposition coalition. Bah, Fatty, Jallow, Henry Gomez, and James Gomez are leaders of individual parties within that coalition, and one assumes that Halifa Sallah will remain spokesman. If my count is right, that means that each of the seven parties got a major post. And one party got more: Darboe, Dibba, and Sanneh, who were still political prisoners at the time of the December 1 presidential election, are long-time leaders within Barrow’s own United Democratic Party (UDP).

Touray was another opposition candidate for president, who withdrew in favor of Barrow.

In other words, Barrow has formed a cabinet that attempts to reward and preserve the coalition that brought him to power, while giving the UDP preeminence.

Relatedly, Niklas Hultin has “the five big questions facing the New Gambia’s new government.”