Muhammadu Buhari’s Comments on Third Terms Underline ECOWAS’ Credibility Gap on Democracy

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was in Niamey, Niger on September 7 for an ordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He made headlines for the following comment:

More of his remarks quoted here:

As leaders of our individual Member-States of ECOWAS, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region.

Related to this call for restraint is the need to guarantee free, fair and credible elections. This must be the bedrock for democracy to be sustained in our sub-region, just as the need for adherence to the rule of law.

The obvious though unnamed targets of these remarks are Guinea’s Alpha Condé and Cote d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara, both of whom are seeking third terms in elections that fall, respectively, on October 18 and October 31 of this year. One could also, although I’m not sure that this was Buhari’s intention, read his remarks as applying to other leaders in the region who have not sought third terms but who made the electoral playing fields very uneven when running for re-election – I am thinking of Senegal’s Macky Sall and Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou, both of whom jailed their main opponents while running for (and winning) second terms. And then there is perhaps the most egregious anti-democratic case in the whole region – Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé, who won a fourth term this past February and whose family has been in power since 1967.

Buhari has many faults, but I think he has credibility on this issue of third terms – I do not expect him to seek a third one when his time is up in 2023, and he has repeatedly pledged not to do so. You never know, of course.

The context for Buhari’s remarks about third terms was the ongoing ECOWAS response to the August 18 coup in Mali, which removed second-termer Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. ECOWAS leaders’ domestic efforts to bend and extend rules have implicitly weakened their credibility in negotiating with different actors in Mali – first the anti-Keïta protesters who threw Bamako’s politics into turmoil from June until the eve of the coup, and then more recently with the junta (the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, French acronym CNSP).

Newsworthy though Buhari’s remarks are, I don’t see pressure from him or others resulting in a course change for Condé or Ouattara. Once presidents start down the third term route they are usually (although not always, as the cases of Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Mauritania*’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz exemplify) determined to go through with it.

I should probably do a separate post on the ECOWAS summit’s conclusions regarding Mali, but the final communiqué is here (French). The key paragraph on Mali is paragraph 16, page 6, where ECOWAS calls for a 12-month transition back to an elected president, and demands that the CNSP designate an interim president and prime minister, both of them civilians, by September 15. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

*Not an ECOWAS member currently.

Africa News Roundup: Abdel Aziz Back to France, Jubaland Plans, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Trials of Mutineers in Burkina Faso, and More

The United Nations Security Council is considering a plan by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to deploy troops in Mali. The French government has urged the UNSC to pass the resolution approving the force by December 20.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13, returned to Mauritania one week ago after an extended convalescence in France. Yesterday he announced that he will return to France briefly for further medical treatment, raising questions about the state of his health. At the same press conference, Abdel Aziz also stated his opposition to an external military intervention in Mali.

AFP: “Renewed Flooding Threatens Niger Capital.”

Garowe on “Jubaland”:

According to Jubaland authorities, there have been five committees set up to establish the Jubaland state in southern Somalia.

The committees include a Security Committee, Election Committee, Selection Committee, Logistics and Financial Committee, and an Awareness Committee, according to Jubaland sources. Each committee consists of 11 members.

The committees will be fundamental in creating the Jubaland state that has been backed by IGAD regional bloc.


After almost a decade of rebel rule, northern Côte d’Ivoire is coming to terms with a new authority as the government of President Alassane Ouattara, who assumed power some 18 months ago, establishes its presence in a region which effectively split from the rest of the country.

Aman Sethi’s op-ed on the Muslim protests in Ethiopia.


Seven gendarmes were jailed on Thursday for taking part in last year’s military mutinies in Burkina Faso, in the first trial linked to the outburst of deadly riots, protests and looting in the normally peaceful West African nation.

A new video from Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: Eid and Boko Haram, Northern Mali, Chad and China, and More

Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, this Sunday. In Northern Nigeria, authorities are bracing themselves for possible attacks by the rebel sect Boko Haram:

A centuries-old Eid festival in the major northern city of Kano, famed for its elaborate horse pageant, has been cancelled, officially due to the local emir’s health, but residents suspected the worsening violence was to blame.

In the volatile central city of Jos, authorities declared off-limits two main prayer grounds that have been hit by violence in the past over security concerns, but said alternative locations were available.

The authorities’ moves were an indication of how badly security has deteriorated in northern and central Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since 2010.

Nigeria’s national police chief urged the public to share tips with officers, something many people have been reluctant to do out of fear of both Boko Haram and the authorities, who have been accused of abuses.

The warning message from the US Embassy in Abuja is here.

The Washington Post reports on Boko Haram’s efforts to gain a foothold in towns along the Nigeria-Niger border. An interesting article, although as regular readers know I think the “tolerant Sufis versus militant fundamentalists” line is simplistic.

In other Nigeria news, Shell “said on Friday it had contained oil leaked from a failed pump within a flowstation on Nigeria’s Nembe Creek though local residents disputed this, saying it had spread to mangrove swamps.”


Observers of Somalia’s political transition process say the final political benchmarks to end the transition, including the election of a new president, will not be met by the August 20 deadline.  An arbitration committee working to solve clan disputes on how to share parliamentary seats is yet to reach agreement. Some reports also say the technical selection committee working to screen and approve members of the next parliament objects to some of the candidates put forward.

The numbers out of northern Mali are grim and getting worse: over 435,000 people displaced, and 4.6 million hungry.

Patriarch Abune Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church passed away on Thursday.

China delivered food aid to Chad this week, marking the occasion with a ceremony on Monday (French).

Presidents Alassane Ouattara and Idriss Deby met in Mecca (French), where they discussed Mali and other matters.

IRIN writes that education in the Sahel is “in crisis.”

What else is happening?

Another Post on a Potential Foreign Intervention in Mali

Talk of foreign intervention in Mali continues. Leaders of nearby countries, especially but not only Niger, have expressed alarm about Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its alliance with the Islamist group Ansar al Din, which now controls key areas in northern Mali. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), France, the United States, and others have talked (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) about military intervention in Mali for months. Over time the level of seriousness seems to be gradually increasing. Yesterday (French), President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire told a French newspaper, “Negotiations are continuing but, if they were not to succeed, we would be obligated to utilize force to clear northern Mali of these terrorist and Islamist groups.”

More significant still is the Malian military’s reported willingness to allow a foreign force into the country, a change from their previous stance.

Coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo had initially expressed opposition to accepting assistance from foreign troops, and Thursday’s announcement appeared to be a softening of that position.


[Military chief of staff Ibrahim] Dembele said Thursday that Malian officials would agree to “security assistance” in addition to help in taking back the troubled north.

“Before deployment of the foreign troops, there should be public awareness about the mission’s objective,” he said. “Once people understand, it will facilitate the presence of foreign troops.”

This week, the European Union also suggested a readiness to back an external force in Mali:

EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels asked EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton to make “concrete proposals” on support for “the possible deployment of a well-prepared ECOWAS force in Mali, under a UN mandate and in conjunction with a government of national unity and the African Union.”

Washington, in the person of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, has seemed fairly unenthusiastic about the idea of an intervention throughout the spring and summer. This week, however, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflicts Michael Sheehan spoke of a need to “accelerate” US efforts to foster political progress in southern Mali, deny Al Qaeda access to “ungoverned places,” and keep all options open in the face of a “looming threat.” More on Asst. Sec. Sheehan’s remarks here.

Commentators such as Todd Moss have argued compellingly that the crisis in northern Mali cannot be solved until the political situation is clarified in the south. That concern seemed present in Sheehan’s thinking as well. But as an ECOWAS-imposed July 31 deadline for the formation of a national unity government in Mali approaches, southern Mali politics appear bitter and confused. This state of affairs leaves many wondering where political resolution will come from.

In short, then, it seems there is increasing international talk of and enthusiasm for an intervention, but limited progress (at least in public) on the political and logistical conditions that would make such an intervention feasible. Various players favor an ECOWAS-led, European- (and American-?) backed force, but it is not clear how such a force would obtain sufficient troops or what its goals and strategies would be.

Summits around the Continent: AU, ECOWAS, and Arab Maghreb Union Discuss Crises, EAC Rejects Sudan

This past week saw important meetings of four important regional and continental organizations in Africa. Political crises, particularly in North Africa and the Sahel region, topped the agenda for the African Union, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), and the Arab Maghreb Union. Meanwhile, the East African Community reportedly rejected Sudan’s bid for membership.

The African Union:

African Union Chairman Boni Yayi will visit some of the continent’s conflict areas including Sudan and South Sudan, Mali and Libya for direct talks, an aide said on Saturday.

Yayi, also president of Benin, had been hosting an informal summit of the continent’s leaders in Cotonou focusing on security, especially in the Sahel, piracy and the threat posed in Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.


Over the course of its two-day summit in Abuja, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, discussed the region’s many crises, as well as its successes.  On Friday, the confederation also elected Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara as its new chairman.
The litany of crises facing the region could not be overlooked.  Said Djinnit is the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa.  He urged ECOWAS states to exercise the same vigilance and cooperation they have shown so far.

“Despite the complexity of the region’s immediate problems – namely, food crisis in the Sahel, new flow of refugees, increased numbers of smuggled arms in the fallout of the Libyan crisis, piracy, and terrorist activities – the leadership of the region spared no effort to address them, with the support of the international community,” said Djinnit.

(In related news, the AU and ECOWAS will be sending a team to Senegal this week in an attempt to help defuse pre-election tensions.)

The Arab Maghreb Union:

Ministers from Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) member states Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya convened Saturday in Rabat, the first high-level conference since 1996.

During the meeting, Algeria proposed to boost cooperation with North African neighbours against terror and organised crime.

Algeria sought “true and effective Maghreb cooperation in the fields of terrorism, organised crime, illegal arms and drug trafficking and clandestine immigration,” Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told counterparts in Rabat.

The meeting is also the first since two members, Tunisia and Libya, went through the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

Finally, members of the East African Community met last Wednesday. They rejected Sudan’s bid for membership for two reasons, according to one account: first, on geographical grounds (too far) and second, because it applies shari’a, which no other member state does.

It will be interesting to see whether there is more momentum toward regional and continental integration in the wake of all the political changes that 2011 brought.

Cote d’Ivoire Roundup: The Civilian Toll

I have been waiting to write something on Cote d’Ivoire until we see the resolution of the struggle between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and internationally recognized President-elect Alassane Ouattara. But looking at the headlines this week, a lot of commentators are calling attention to the fact that “when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” (another version reads “ants”).

So this roundup concentrates not on the “big men” in the civil war, but on ordinary people. As a Reuters Africa headline read yesterday, “Ouattara [Has Been] Overshadowed by Ivory Coast Killings.” Whoever takes the presidency, the crises that war has produced, both inside Cote d’Ivoire and in its neighbors, will reverberate through people’s lives for some time.

  • AJE: “More than 100 bodies, some burned alive and others thrown down a well, have been found in
    the past 24 hours by United Nations staff in Cote d’Ivoire.” See the BBC and NPR for more.
  • UNHCR: “Cote d’Ivoire exodus into neighbouring countries swells to 150,000.”
  • IRIN: “Ivoirians who have fled across the border to Liberia have reported incidents of rape, sexual abuse and murder to NGOs and human rights groups.”
  • CNN: “Aid organizations are warning of an impending humanitarian crisis for tens of thousands of refugees who have arrived in Liberia after fleeing violence in Ivory Coast.”
  • Foreign Policy: “ICC to Investigate Crimes in Ivory Coast.”

Resolution of the Gbagbo-Ouattara duel may come at any time. But the rebuilding process will take much longer.

Cote d’Ivoire Roundup: Renewed Civil War

Reuters writes that “it looks like…civil war has already restarted” in Cote d’Ivoire, where last November’s election left incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alassane Ouattara both claiming the presidency. Here is a roundup of news reports, international reactions, and commentary:

News reports

  • Reuters: “Ouattara’s establishment this week of a new army — the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) — ends efforts by his camp to distance the former IMF man from armed conflict. The move puts gunmen who still control the north and have launched a number of pushes south, as well as any members of the security forces who defect, under his command. One diplomat said the former rebels are already being recognized as members of an army serving under Ouattara.”
  • BBC (video report): “The man internationally recognised as having won Ivory Coast’s presidential election has made what he called a final offer to the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to avoid a civil war. In a televised address, Alassane Ouattara appealed to Mr Gbagbo to accept a national unity government, a fusion of their armed forces, and a truth and reconciliation commission.”
  • WSJ: “In the main city of Abidjan, witnesses said fighting erupted around the residence of Mr. Gbagbo’s army chief of staff. The assault on the army chief’s residence Sunday evening marks the first time an insurgency in Abidjan has spread beyond the northern district of Abobo, where running gun battles between the army and forces have raged daily over the last month.”
  • VOA: “It’s estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 people have been displaced by the political turmoil and fighting in Ivory Coast.  Humanitarian agencies and NGOs are stretched thin trying to help.”

International reactions

  • UN: “The shelling of an Abidjan market by Ivory Coast security forces which killed at least 25 people may be a crime against humanity, the UN says.”
  • UNHCR: ” ‘We are shocked at the escalating violence in (Ivory Coast), particularly in Abidjan, where this week was by far the most violent since the post-election crisis began,’ the agency spokesman said at a briefing Friday.”
  • UN in Liberia: “Top UN Official in Liberia Warns of Spillover of Violence From Ivory Coast”
  • France: “France, Ivory Coast’s former colonial ruler, condemned Thursday’s ‘deliberate massacre of civilians’ and called on the United Nations Security Council to adopt sanctions against self-declared President Laurent Gbagbo and his circle, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.”
  • IMF: “The International Monetary Fund on Thursday warned of ‘serious risks’ from the political power struggle in Ivory Coast, saying the longer it continues the more severe its impact will be on the regional West African economy.”
  • International Rescue Committee: ” ‘The crisis here is rapidly deteriorating,’ says Louis Falcy, who oversees International Rescue Committee aid programs in Ivory Coast. ‘In addition to ongoing clashes and attacks on civilians, we’re seeing health clinics, schools and businesses close as people flee. Supplies of food, water and electricity are diminishing and other vital services are collapsing. The situation is having a dire impact on millions of people.’ “


  • NYT Editorial (h/t Dana Hughes): “The international community must move quickly to halt this terror.”
  • The Economist’s Baobab: “Most of the armed forces have given up on the former president. Many are now simply waiting for a signal from Mr Ouattara to change sides and join his Republican Forces, the new name for the Nouvelles Forces, the former rebel army, to begin the ‘final push’.”
  • Aaron Bady on international “silence” on Cote d’Ivoire: “It isn’t that ‘we’ don’t want to understand [the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire]; it’s that we don’t know how to see beyond the initial same-old-story-ness of this story, when we hear it. Which is why, I would suggest, we end up where we started: a sense that, because there is violence, we should pay attention to what is happening, followed by the discovery that there is no news there; just the same ‘turmoil in Africa’ narratives we sort of quietly presume to be going on across the continent all the time, and nothing we can think anything new about.”

What are you hearing about the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire? Do you think it could end soon?

Africa Blog Roundup: Cote d’Ivoire Conflict, Libya and Africa, Polling from Nigeria, and More

Several authors cover the situation in Cote d’Ivoire: Andrew Harding reports on goods shortages and political confusion in Abidjan. Elizabeth Dickinson speculates on how violence in Cote d’Ivoire might affect the rest of West Africa, especially Liberia. And Baobab says that prolonged crisis might cost Alassane Ouattara some support:

In one of Côte d’Ivoire’s independent newspapers yesterday, Vincent Tohbi Irié, a respected former Ivorian ambassador to Paris and a self-professed supporter of Mr Ouattara, warned the internationally accepted winner of November’s presidential elections, that his backers’ patience was “not limitless”. Many Ivorians had decided to support, Mr Irié said—sometimes at the cost of their own lives—to champion the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and democracy. But the country was still in crisis. “If you are not the solution,” Mr Irié warned the new, but impotent, president, “you could become the problem for us…If you don’t get Gbagbo to go soon, it’s you who must go. You must liberate us from yourself, or we shall do so.”

The sudden upsurge in violence last weekend in Abidjan, the commercial capital, has died down again. No one knows why. No one knows who the perpetrators are. They carry no uniform and bear no insignia. But the tension is palpable. Everyone is afraid. A motorbike backfires and everyone jumps. A meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security is took place in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital and the regional organisation’s headquarters yesterday. They reaffirmed Mr Ouattara as the legitimate president but far from ending the crisis, this is expected to ratchet it up a further notch or two.

Internally Displaced, writing in honor of International Women’s Day, looks at how Sudanese media represent women.

Howard French has an article out titled “How Qaddafi Reshaped Africa.” Here’s an excerpt that details French’s personal experience with Qadhafi’s activism:

In 1983, I scrambled from Ivory Coast to Chad to witness the breakout of war between French and Libyan forces there. Qaddafi had recently spoken of fully “integrating” his country with its southern neighbor.

I quickly found my way to the eastern front, where I watched the conflict from a desert foxhole with French soldiers as they spotted screaming, low-flying Jaguar fighter bombers pounding Libyan positions nearby. That same year, I traveled to Burkina Faso, where Qaddafi had flown to celebrate the seizure of power by a charismatic young army captain, Thomas Sankara, who he clearly saw as a promising understudy.

They met at a military base near the border with Ghana. From there, Sankara’s comrade, Blaise Compaoré had recently rallied paratroopers to free Sankara from detention and install him as president.

When I showed up, Qaddafi, surrounded by his famous all female bodyguard corps, angrily objected to my presence and demanded that Sankara not allow an American to ride with the motorcade for their triumphal, flag-waving trip to the capital, Ouagadougou. Sankara, who already knew me well, insisted on my presence. Four years later, he would be dead, murdered by Compaoré, it is widely believed, with Qaddafi’s encouragement.

On a related note, Rosebell Kagumire discusses how closely Liberians are following news out of Libya. The past is present.

John Campbell discusses the content and potential political uses of recent polling data out of Nigeria.

Matthew Tostevin writes on investment banking in Africa.

And finally, I recommend taking a look at The University of Texas at Austin’s Social Conflict in Africa Database (h/t Ibn Siqilli).

Any new blogs out there that I should know about?

Africa Blog Roundup: Ouattara Teleconference, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somali Soccer, and More

I have restrained myself from rounding up links on Tunisia because that’s pretty far out of the geographical zone of this blog’s coverage. Many of the sites on the blogroll, however, such as The Moor Next Door and Foreign Policy’s Passport (and its Middle East Channel), provide excellent writing on Tunisia and the broader North African context.

With that said, here’s my roundup of Africa blog posts for the week:

Cote d’Ivoire: The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted a live teleconference with Alassane Ouattara on Friday. Video and audio available at the link.

Nigeria: Elizabeth Dickinson comments on the outcome of Nigeria’s People’s Democracy Party (PDP)’s primary this week:

Many a pundit has rehashed the point of contention going into yesterday’s primary: The party’s gentleman’s agreement to rotate the office between north and south every eight years should have shoehorned a northerner into the candidacy this year — but Jonathan is from the south. So not surprisingly, Jonathan was up against a popular northern politician for the nomination, a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. That Jonathan won is no small testament to the political lobbying he has done in recent weeks (but also likely to the fact that the man in power controls the party machinery). The numbers look pretty convincing — 2,736 delegates voted for Jonathan while just 807 voted for Abubakar.

Dig down at the state level, however, and you’ll see the rift — particularly in the country’s middle belt, where north and south meet (and where intercommunal violence has erupted in recent months). A good example is Bauchi state, where Jonathan won by a margin of 2 votes — 46 to 44. In northern Zamfara state, Jonathan won just one-tenth of Abubakar’s share.

Ambassador John Campbell writes on the violence in Jos, and Loomnie excerpts two further articles on the subject.

Sudan: Baobab looks at ongoing economic changes in Juba. Roving Bandit asks what comes next for South Sudan.

Somalia: At his new blog, James Dorsey writes about al Shabab’s decision to ban soccer.

AQIM: Jihadology has a statement from AQIM on the recent kidnapping of two French citizens in Niger.

And finally, check out zunguzungu‘s “Invented Communities in Africa and America.”

What are you reading today?