Africa News Roundup: Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and More

A few notable pieces on Sudan:

  • VOA asks, “What’s Next for Sudan?”
  • The New York TimesJeffrey Gettleman reports from the Nuba Mountains, where he says the situation “seems to be sliding inexorably toward war.”
  • The BBC looks at the recently signed border demilitarization agreement between North and South Sudan.
  • The Sudan Tribune quotes President Omar al Bashir as rejecting a reported agreement to create a vice president post for Darfur.

Reuters says Nigerian unions may strike later this month if state governments do not start implementing the new minimum wage.

Two pieces on Somalia: International Crisis Group’s EJ Hogendoorn writes on Somali piracy, and the Toronto Star‘s Michelle Shephard assesses the pressures new PM Abdiweli Ali faces.

A poll from Kenya indicates an anti-incumbent mood there.

Jeune Afrique (Fr) profiles the president of Burkina Faso’s Independent National Electoral Commission, saying he is “alone against all,” and looks ahead to the legislative and municipal elections of 2012.

I leave you with this video from Al Jazeera English on the AU summit and the “shadow” of Col. Qadhafi.

Will Clinton Hasten Africa’s Turn Away from Qadhafi?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to the African Union in Ethiopia:

There is, of course, another country whose security matters to all of us, and that is Libya. Libya has been the subject of many of our discussions during the past few months. And I believe there is much on which we can agree. There is little question that the kind of activities that, unfortunately, have affected the Libyan people for more than 40 years run against the tide of history. And there is little question that despite having the highest nominal GDP in Africa, thanks to oil, Libya’s wealth was too concentrated within Qadhafi’s circle.

But of course, all the countries here are not in agreement about the steps that the international community, under the United Nations Security Council, have taken in Libya up to this point. Having looked at the information available, the Security Council, including the three African members, supported a UN mandate to protect civilians, prevent slaughter, and create conditions for a transition to a better future for the Libyan people themselves.

Now, I know there are some who still believe that the actions of the UN and NATO were not called for. And I know it’s true that over many years Mr. Qadhafi played a major role in providing financial support for many African nations and institutions, including the African Union. But it has become clearer by the day that he has lost his legitimacy to rule, and we are long past time when he can or should remain in power.

So I hope and believe that while we may disagree about some of what has brought us to this place, we can reach agreement about what must happen now. For as long as Mr. Qadhafi remains in Libya, the people of Libya will be in danger, refugee flows by the thousands will continue out of Libya, regional instability will likely increase, and Libya’s neighbors will bear more and more of the consequences. None of this is acceptable, and Qadhafi must leave power.

I urge all African states to call for a genuine ceasefire and to call for Qadhafi to step aside. I also urge you to suspend the operations of Qadhafi’s embassies in your countries, to expel pro-Qadhafi diplomats, and to increase contact and support for the Transitional National Council. Your words and your actions could make the difference in bringing this situation to finally close and allowing the people of Libya, on an inclusive basis, in a unified Libya, to get to work writing a constitution and rebuilding their country. The world needs the African Union to lead. The African Union can help guide Libya through the transition you described in your organization’s own statements, a transition to a new government based on democracy, economic opportunity, and security.

Clinton’s speech follows a trend of leaders in the Sahel, some of whose countries border Libya, breaking with Qadhafi. These include Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who chairs an AU committee on Libya, but as Reuters notes, “the AU’s position has been murkier and the organization — long itself the beneficiary of Gaddafi’s largesse — has declined to join calls for Gaddafi’s ouster, instead accusing Western nations of undermining its own efforts to find a solution to the conflict.”

The momentum, in Africa, appears to be with those leaders who are turning away from Qadhafi. Clinton’s urgings may have little relevance to heads of state whose calculations are made on the basis of their own interests, and not the United States’. But to the extent that a trend is underway, and that some countries may believe siding with the US against Qadhafi is actually in their interest, Clinton’s speech may help tip the balance.

Sahelian Leaders Look to a Post-Qadhafi Libya

During his long rule Colonel Moammar Qadhafi has exercised substantial influence over Africa. The Colonel has aided client regimes, helped bring rulers to power or ruin, and intervened in conflicts as participant or peacemaker. As this map shows, his influence has been particularly pronounced in Sahelian countries like Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad.

The civil war in Libya has dramatically affected the Sahel: Niger and other countries are absorbing thousands of refugees, Sahelians are being accused of serving as pro-Qadhafi mercenaries, Libyan weapons have reportedly traveled south, and money flows have been disrupted or altered. Perhaps reflecting the interlinked fates of Libya and the Sahel, the latter has been well represented in the African Union’s peace efforts, providing two of the five members of the AU’s committee on Libya (they are President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, who chairs the committee, and President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali). This AU group, at least initially, tried to broker a peace that would have allowed Qadhafi to remain in power.

Given all that, it is significant to see several Sahelian leaders begin to speak about – and act to bring about – a post-Qadhafi Libya. Senegal appears to have led the trend, with President Abdoulaye Wade establishing relations with the Libyan rebels in mid-May. Last week, Wade met with rebel leaders in Benghazi and said that Qadhafi should step down. Gambia also recognizes the rebels. Wade’s call for a transition was seconded last week by Mauritania’s Abdel Aziz, who said that Qadhafi’s “departure has become necessary.” With this, Abdel Aziz seemed to speak for the African Union as a whole. Another Sahelian leader, Chad’s President Idriss Deby, soon added his voice to the chorus. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki met on the sidelines of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum in Zambia last week, and afterwards Clinton announced that “the Chadian government does not support Gadhafi.”

To say there is an emerging Sahelian consensus against Qadhafi would be going too far. I have not seen a statement from Mali’s Toure calling for Qadhafi’s resignation, nor to my knowledge has newly elected Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou gone beyond calling for a solution to the crisis (without stating a preference on who rules Libya). President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, according to one source, has continued to proclaim solidarity with Qadhafi. And further east, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir has not demanded Qadhafi’s ouster either. So if the baseline position among Sahelian leaders three or four months ago was support for Qadhafi, or neutrality, many of them have not moved. But the movement that has occurred in the region has been toward breaking with the Colonel.

AFP has discussed the Senegalese and Mauritanian statements in the context of a larger African shift away from Qadhafi. Attention to the Sahelian context is also important, though, as Qadhafi’s departure could affect the Sahel more than any other region in Africa. The calculated risks that Wade, Abdel Aziz, and Deby are taking indicate that the political landscape in the Sahel has already shifted even though Qadhafi still clings to power. These decisions also suggest some confidence on the part of Sahelian leaders that siding with Qadhafi’s foes is a better bet than staying neutral, or continuing to support the Colonel on the chance that he might weather the storm. If and when Qadhafi does go, the relationships forged in this time of crisis, both between the Sahelian countries and the rebels as well as among the Sahelian countries themselves, will influence the direction of regional relations in the future.

The AU and the Arab League on the Airstrikes in Libya

Offered without much comment, as I’m still thinking through my opinion on the intervention in Libya.

The African Union:

The African Union’s panel on Libya Sunday called for an “immediate stop” to all attacks after the United States, France and Britain launched military action against Moamer Kadhafi’s forces.

After a more than four-hour meeting in the Mauritanian capital, the body also asked Libyan authorities to ensure “humanitarian aid to those in need,” as well as the “protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya.”

It underscored the need for “necessary political reforms to eliminate the causes of the present crisis” but at the same time called for “restraint” from the international community to avoid “serious humanitarian consequences.”

The Arab League:

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said Sunday that he would call a league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.

Moussa said the Arab League’s approval of a no-fly zone on March 12 was based on a desire to prevent Moammar Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians and was not designed to endorse the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli, the capital, and on Libyan ground forces — whose images have filled Arab television screens for two days.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” he said in a statement carried by the Middle East News Agency. “And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”

Cynics have explained the AU’s statement as motivated by its financial dependence on Qaddhafi, and (other) cynics have explained the Arab League’s view as dictated by a desire to play both sides of the field (ie, to lend token support to an effort that might oust Qaddhafi while at the same time deflecting potential popular anger). With the AU, its position seems consistent to me with its other stances against Western intervention in Africa. In neither case can the positions be reduced to one factor, though.

What do you think? Are these organizations operating cynically?

Initial International Reactions to Sudan Elections

Despite the criticism of Sudan’s elections coming from many corners, the international community does not have a unified perspective about the fairness of the vote or what to do next.

A White House statement yesterday called the elections “an essential step” in the peace process but also condemned “serious irregularities.” The statement did not give much insight into what Washington’s policy will be in the mid-term, except for continuing to support the CPA. Mark Goldberg at UN Dispatch probably hits the mark when he says, “The statement seems to show that the White House is trying to accommodate the competing visions for Sudan policy that have been duking it out in the inter-agency process.” Goldberg argues that the message is incoherent and risks a policy failure. That could be right too. Still, taking steps like refusing to recognize Bashir could easily backfire.

China, for its part, “has praised Sudan’s first multi-party elections in 24 years as a ‘success’ a day after the United States criticized the vote as neither free nor fair.” Does Sudan need China more than it needs the US? If so, Beijing’s view on the elections will count for more than Washington’s.

International observers have offered mixed appraisals of the vote, with the Carter and the EU citing irregularities and the AU and the Arab League giving the elections a rating of “free and fair.” Opposition groups in Northern Sudan have taken note of these international criticisms of the vote and plan to use them as ammunition against Bashir. Opposition leaders say they are planning protests, which is something to keep an eye on – that could turn ugly. In the South, the ruling SPLM has come under international criticism itself. Reports surfaced that the SPLM pledged to accept the results of the elections, but an SPLM spokesman denied them.

With all the major international and domestic players on different pages, how will the script go from here? Rumors of fraud are circulating, and Bashir appears headed for a massive victory. We’ll see whether the reactions from international players change, but if policies in Washington, Beijing, and Brussels stay the same it looks like Chinese approval and Western desires not to rock the boat in advance of the 2011 referendum will let Bashir claim re-election without much problem, at least internationally.

Here are two videos on the elections, one from NTV Kenya and one from Al Jazeera English:

AJE:

An African Israel for Haitians?

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade:

“We have to offer [Haitians] the chance to come to Africa, that is my idea. They have as much right to Africa as I have.”

[…]

“Israel was created like that,” he said of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine following World War Two and the mass extermination of Europe’s Jews in Nazi death camps.

“You can’t tell me it’s not possible. It’s all possible if the Haitians seek it,” said Wade, who was speaking on the margins of a conference in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Senegal is due to submit a resolution to the African Union urging the creation for Haitians of “their own state on African territory, the land of their ancestors”, according to the text of the resolution published in local newspapers.

I wonder whether this will gain traction.

What are your thoughts on the idea?

Saturday Links: Chadian Army Spoof, Nigerian Roads, LRA in South Sudan

A television spoof of the Chadian army is attracting fans and anger:

Brandishing a radio in one hand and a baton in the other, “Commandant Alkanto” barks abuse in a mix of crude French and local Arabic dialects at a rag-tag bunch Chadian soldiers on parade in the baking sun.

In another film clip, Alkanto is roused from his nap under an acacia tree to deal with a group of village elders whom he literally kicks into army prison with his trademark gammy leg.

The result is an unlikely local hit — a series of comedy films about the shortcomings of the military in Chad, a poor central African state accused of frittering away its oil wealth on the army rather than bettering the lives of its population.

“I received threats from the military but that encouraged me to continue,” Haikal Zakaria, the bank manager-turned actor who created and plays Alkanto, told Reuters in an interview. “Chadians welcome the work of Alkanto. They appreciate the message that he puts across in his sketches,” he added.

In the hit film “Brigade Mobile” Zakaria pokes fun at military units who are meant to control customs and prevent smuggling but in fact do little but harass citizens. His character Alkanto is a proud but illiterate officer who, when not castigating soldiers for shoddy uniforms, is telling them to stand ready to fight to defend the “dishcloth” — a term he uses for Chad’s national flag.

The message is an indictment of the state of the military in Chad. Having come to power in a coup and a wave of optimism in 1990, President Idriss Deby’s time in power has been marked by flawed elections, coup attempts and eastern rebellions.

VOA had a ton of interesting articles this week, four of which I’ve linked here. The first concerns road quality in Nigeria.

IRIN reports that attacks by suspected LRA units are still a big problem in Southern Sudan:

Suspected Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters have attacked Nzara region of Southern Sudan at least three times this month, forcing civilians to flee their homes, local officials said.

Several armed groups operate in the region – including Ugandan and southern Sudanese soldiers hunting the LRA since peace talks failed in 2008. The recent attacks, however, bore the “typical signs” of LRA raids, they said.

“The LRA continue to harm us, killing and burning homes,” said Col Sentina Ndefu, commissioner of Nzara county, one of the hardest hit regions in Western Equatoria state.

The November attacks, she added, left at least seven people dead and eight abducted, indicating that the LRA were still active – despite ongoing military operations against them and humanitarian efforts to support those affected.

Two journalists, a Canadian and an Australian, have been freed after fifteen months of captivity in Somalia. Meanwhile, morale runs low among AU troops in Mogadishu, who have not been paid since May.

Low rainfall is affecting autumn harvests in the Sahel, driving up food prices for staple crops in countries like Niger even as countries like Burkina Faso continue to grapple with damage from floods earlier this fall.

Afmadow: Another Flashpoint in Somalia’s al-Shabab/Hizbul Islam Conflict

The conflict between rival Somali Islamist groups al Shabab and Hizbul Islam, who were formerly allies in the fight against the Transitional Federal Government, turned ugly in the port city of Kismayo back in late September/early October. Both sides, and especially Hizbul Islam, have sometimes downplayed the seriousness of the conflict, and judging from variation across southern Somalia it seems that the degree of hostility between the groups varies from locale to locale. With headlines yesterday proclaiming that major fighting is spreading into areas outside of Kismayo, though, I am wondering whether the chances of reconciliation are shrinking to zero.

As I understand the chronology, fighting around Kismayo started this weekend.

There were no reliable reports on casualties, but local sources said Al Shabaab guerrillas carried out attacks on Hizbul Islam fighters based in the area, leading to heavy gun battle.

Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, Al-Shabaab’s spokesman in Kismayo confirmed that his forces carried out attacks on their rivals after learning that they are regrouping in the village to launch attack on the Islamic administration in the region.

I had read before that Hizbul Islam still controlled villages around Kismayo. Perhaps we can infer then that Hizbul Islam tried to retake Kismayo, and al Shabab not only launched a pre-emptive strike but also kept pushing into Hizbul Islam’s territory.

Shebab fighters attacked the Hezb al-Islam militants and took control of the town located some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Kismayo […]

“The Shebab invaded and the Hezb al-Islam tried to defend themselves but they were overrun after the city was attacked from three different directions,” said Iman Abdi, an Afmadow resident.

Another resident, Ahmed Ali, said the Shebab came in large numbers and seemed well prepared for the assault.

“There could be renewed fighting because the Hezb al-Islam fighters are regrouping to recapture the town,” Ali told AFP by phone.

Many of the dead were fighters, other residents said, indicating civilians had been among the casualties.

The fighting follows last week’s attempts by […] Hezb al-Islam militia to re-take Kismayo over which they have fought with the Shebab.

According to the BBC, there was fighting on the outskirts of Afmadow by Saturday, which could fit with my theory that after al Shabab attacked they just kept pushing Hizbul Islam back until they got to Afmadow.

Also over the weekend, Hizbul Islam fought TFG/AU forces in Mogadishu. Thinking about that (does Hizbul Islam have a country-wide strategy?) and reading that dissension within Hizbul Islam’s ranks expedited their decision to withdraw from Afmadow makes me wonder how centralized command is in either Islamist militia. Are local commanders operating largely autonomously? How much unit cohesion is there? Reports of talks between Hassan Dahir Aweys, a top Hizbul Islam leader, and leaders within al Shabab adds to my suspicion that Hizbul Islam, especially as the (apparently) militarily weaker of the two groups, has some deep fissures if not an outright fragmented structure.

That does not mean that this civil-war-within-a-civil-war will end any time soon, but it does suggest that what sometimes look like big conflicts (Islamists vs. TFG, al Shabab vs. Hizbul Islam) might be better described as a patchwork of interlocking conflicts, some local, some regional, some both. Finally, if al Shabab does possess greater cohesion – and firepower – than its rival, that suggests that time is ultimately on their side in this fight.

Mogadishu Port Controversy: Another Blow to the TFG’s Legitimacy

We know that the Transitional Federal Government’s power is limited. Control of the country largely rests in the hands of others – al Shabab in parts of the south, Somaliland’s government, Puntland’s government, and various warlords and local political and religious leaders.

mogadishu

Mogadishu, Somalia

If nothing else, ongoing violence in Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, demonstrates the TFG’s weakness. To take one example, yesterday a fierce battle between government troops and Hizbul Islam fighters in the border town of Beledweyne tilted toward a victory for the rebels, but more telling than the outcome in this particular round of fighting has been the government’s long-standing inability to secure the town despite repeated attempts to do so.

But politics in Somalia takes other forms than just violence, and a controversy over regulation of the main port in Mogadishu threatens to deprive the TFG of support from businesspersons, a critical constituency for any would-be power in Somalia.

A dispute between the Somali government and the business community has halted trade at the main port in the war-torn capital, Mogadishu.

Businessmen are said to be angered by new rules that require all incoming items to go through security checks.

They say goods could be destroyed by Islamist insurgents if they have to wait in the port to be checked.

The port, which reopened in 2006 after 15 years of dereliction, is now guarded by African Union peacekeepers.

A long line of ships is currently waiting to dock outside the port[…]

Analysts say during 18 years without a central authority, businesses have not had to pay tax.

The UN-backed government controls only a few key areas of Mogadishu with the help of African Union peacekeepers.

Much of the rest of south and central Somalia is in the hands of hard-line Islamist groups.

Correspondents say the port has been refurbished in the past two years, and is increasingly busy bringing in food aid and other supplies.

After nearly two decades of anarchy and conflict, some three million people – about half the population – need food aid, donors say.

The port has largely been safe from pirates, who threaten vessels sailing in the busy shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

As the dispute continues, anger spreads. Yesterday, Garowe reported that “hundreds of port workers…have staged demonstrations against closure of the port activities.” The workers are complaining bitterly about the loss of work and pay. That anger seems to be directed at the government.

A few years ago, a professor of mine talked about visiting Somalia and finding that in areas where governmental control had collapsed, businessmen had stepped in to provide a degree of municipal services and law and order. To me that shows that segments of the business community in Somalia are deeply engaged in politics. The TFG rouses their ire, and the ire of the men and women who work for them, at its peril.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Darfur Casualties, Thomas Sankara, Algerian Islamists

Alex de Waal discusses September casualties in Darfur:

The UNAMID monitoring data for violent fatalities in Darfur recorded a sharp increase in September […]

The total number of violent deaths recorded was 102. In contrast to the three previous months, armed conflict rather than crime was the major cause of violent deaths in the month. The largest number of fatalities (69) were in South Darfur, mainly due to two deadly inter-tribal clashes, namely Rizeigat versus Maaliya (17 September) and Fellata versus Habbaniya (22 September), which between them caused 38 deaths. Both these fights were caused by cattle theft. In addition, a fight between Rizeigat and Saada reportedly led to as many as one hundred injuries. This was sparked by the deaths of four police officers in a dispute. These incidents represent the most serious intra-Arab fighting since March, when approximately thirty people were killed.

Twenty-four fatalities were reported in North Darfur. Of these, 22 arose from the attack by the Sudan Government and related militia on SLA positions in Korma. The majority of those killed were SLA fighters.

On the same general topic, Rob Crilly weighs reports of LRA incursions into Darfur.

The East African Philosopher commemorates the 22nd anniversary of Thomas Sankara‘s assassination.

Kal discusses the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Algeria at a level of detail and sophistication that makes the piece hard to sum up. Definitely worth a read.

Steve Bloomfield writes that economic sanctions by the AU against coup leaders in Africa “have had little effect” and asks, “How serious can the organisation’s commitment be to democracy” if “many of the most influential leaders on the continent came to power via bullets not ballots[?]”

And finally, Michael Bear voices some “heretical thoughts” on aid to Africa.