A Ministerial Security Meeting in Burkina Faso

On 16 October, ministers from Benin, Togo, Niger, and Burkina Faso met in Ouagadougou to discuss security issues and cross-border cooperation. In public remarks, attendees stressed the inter-connectedness of their sub-region and the desire for greater collaboration between police, gendarmes, and soldiers. The ministers also met Burkina’s President Roch Kaboré.

Clearly, then, the violence in Burkina Faso’s east has its neighbors worried.

These four countries are already part of different political, economic, and security organizations. All of them are members of the Economic Community of West African States. Niger and Burkina Faso are members of the G5 Sahel, which has its own Joint Force. Those two countries re also members of the U.S.-sponsored Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership. Niger and Benin are both members of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (to counter Boko Haram), although Benin is a minor member. There is not, to my knowledge, a formal common framework for these four countries. Perhaps we will see one emerge.

I am, in general, a skeptic about the efficacy and prospects of regional approaches to counterterrorism. The MNJTF, I think, has been less integrated than advertised, and the G5 Joint Force has gotten off to a slow and problematic start. With that said, though, more cooperation is obviously better than less. We’ll see where this goes.

Advertisements

“The Weakness of the Opposition in Africa”: Senegal as a Case Study

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has been in power for over a decade, and many Senegalese want him to go. Domestic discontent with Wade has been growing for years. Wade, who came to the presidency in 2000 in a vote widely hailed as free, fair, and inspiring, has even found that “Senegal’s democratic credentials are being questioned.” Earlier this spring, Senegal saw serious protests led by disaffected veterans and other groups, such as youth.

Senegal’s opposition parties are hungry to take out Wade. Yet they are fragmented and weak: in 2007, by which time many Senegalese were already fed up with Wade, the president cruised to re-election with nearly 56% of the vote. His closest rivals, a former protege named Idrissa Seck and the head of the Socialist Party, Ousmane Tanor Dieng (the Parti Socialiste ruled Senegal until Wade’s 2000 victory), scored only 15% and 14% respectively. Since 2007, opposition parties have maneuvered for position in advance of the 2012 elections, but in the protests this year they have been followers, not leaders.

An anti-Wade rally this weekend once again underscored the opposition’s weakness:

The rally attracted more than 30 opposition groups, including several former members of Wade’s party and the socialist regime that preceded him. The goal of the meeting was to begin to field possible candidates who could unite the fragmented opposition and run a viable campaign against the president.

Among the half-dozen politicians present, it is still unclear who might fill this role. Though the 84-year-old president’s popularity has faded over his 10-year rule, he retains much support in the capital Dakar.

We hear all the time about the “weakness of the opposition” in Africa’s elections, and I would love to be able to challenge the stereotype. But in the majority of elections I’ve followed, incumbents have triumphed over fragmented oppositions. In the official results from this year’s presidential elections in Uganda, Chad, Benin, and Nigeria, opposition candidates failed to break the 40% threshold. In several cases, a host of opposition figures split tiny fractions of the vote between them – in none of these cases would their combined totals have produced an opposition win, but the fragmentation dilutes the opposition’s ability to voice demands on the national or international stages. The only presidential election in sub-Saharan Africa that produced an opposition triumph occurred in Niger, and that was a different set of circumstances, namely an open election following a military coup.

It is revealing that the Senegalese case fits the pattern of opposition weakness so well, because only a few years ago Senegal would have exemplified opposition triumph: Wade ran for president four times before his fifth, victorious run, and his win was made possible because the rest of the opposition rallied around him in the second of a two-round election.

Many factors help explain opposition weakness, and they don’t all apply to Senegal. In some countries, vote-rigging dilutes opposition totals, obscuring the genuinely high levels of support that exist. I heard allegations of rigging when I was in Senegal during the 2007 elections, but these were never proven. Other factors are certainly present, though:

  • the power of incumbency,
  • regional divisions
  • the ineffectiveness of opposition boycotts,
  • the tendency toward party schisms and the creation of parties based around one figure, and
  • the incumbent’s ability to divide and conquer the opposition –
  • and more.

I don’t see anything specifically “African” about these trends. Incumbents profit from the weakness of the opposition all the time as, for example, President Bush did in 2004 and as President Obama looks set to do in 2012. Nor can the weakness of all African opposition parties be ascribed in a straightforward way to “weak party institutions” – in the Senegalese case, after all, the Parti Socialiste has been around since 1960, and held power for four decades. This, again, is what makes the Senegalese case so fascinating: it fits the trend of opposition weakness, but it complicates the simple explanations.

One explanation that does hold, I think, is the idea of “weak institutions” in general. Specifically there is the lack of strong checks on rulers’ abilities to distribute patronage to supporters, and there is also the lack, or the fuzzinees, of term limits in many places (even though Senegal’s 2001 constitution prohibits presidents from holding three terms, Wade argues that he is grandfathered in, and thus eligible to run in 2012). There is much more to say on the question of institutions, of course, but I will leave that to the political scientists.

My final thought is that some responsibility accrues to opposition politicians themselves. I do not pretend to know the complexities of running for office in Senegal, Benin, Mauritania, or elsewhere, but it seems to me that certain features of the political landscapes in these countries – especially the revolving door through which many opposition leaders circulate from partnering with regimes to denouncing them, and back again – weakens opposition parties’ credibility and sows disunity. Some opposition leaders also overstay their welcome, and end up re-running tired campaigns instead of making way for new, and potentially more popular, faces.

Many voters in countries like Senegal have not given up on democracy. On the contrary, they are eager to engage in the process, eager to try to achieve change at the ballot box. That enthusiasm helps explain, I think, why we have not seen larger or more widespread protests south of the Sahara this spring. Stronger opposition parties would not necessarily overturn incumbent regimes across the continent, of course. But as matters stand in Senegal and elsewhere, aspirations for change, given that their main vehicle is a weak and fragmented opposition, end up going nowhere.

A Kidnapping in Northern Nigeria [Updated]

On Thursday, two European engineers were kidnapped in the Northern Nigerian city of Kebbi. As AFP comments, “Kidnappings for ransom have occurred frequently in and around the oil-producing Niger Delta region in the predominately Christian south, but have been rare in the mainly Muslim north.” The last reported kidnapping of a Westerner in the North was in 2009, when a Canadian researcher was seized in Kaduna and held for two weeks before being released.

The location of the kidnapping (see map of Kebbi below) and the limited description available of the attack suggest to me – though this is only speculation – that the kidnappers are members of neither Boko Haram, North Eastern Nigeria’s Islamist rebel sect, nor of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has kidnapped a number of foreigners in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, as well as in parts of North Africa.

Here is the description given by AFP in the link above:

Gunmen have kidnapped a Briton and an Italian working for a construction firm in northern Nigeria after storming their apartment, police said on Friday, but a ransom had not been demanded.

A German colleague managed to escape by scaling a fence, police said, while a Nigerian engineer was shot and wounded in the incident on Thursday in the city of Birnin Kebbi, said state police commissioner Adamu Hassan.

“Two construction engineers, a Briton and an Italian working for a foreign construction company, B. Stabilini, were kidnapped from their lodge in Birnin Kebbi last night by unknown men,” said Hassan.

“The kidnappers have not established any contact with us and have so far not demanded for any ransom.”

Describing the incident, he said “a horde of gunmen stormed the apartment where the construction workers were staying.”

According to the commissioner, a large amount of cash in the lodge where the two expatriates working for the firm were staying was not taken. The firm, B. Stabilini, was founded by Italians but is located in Nigeria.

I would rule out Boko Haram because of location – Kebbi is in Nigeria’s far North West, while Boko Haram’s stronghold is in the far North East – and because of the style of the attack. Boko Haram has not, to my knowledge, conducted kidnappings, but has rather focused on either assassinating individuals (such as policemen and imams) or staging mass uprisings.

I would rule out AQIM because of location – Kebbi is located near the borders with Benin and Niger, but is south and east of where AQIM usually operates. I would also rule out AQIM because this kind of hot invasion of an urban home seems unlike AQIM’s most frequent method of preying on drivers or lone tourists in remote areas. True, AQIM kidnapped two Frenchmen right out of a restaurant in Niamey, the capital of Niger, in January, but that attack was a departure from their normal style. AQIM has also, to my knowledge, made no inroads into Nigerian territory. This incident in Kebbi could be a brazen AQIM foray into a new land, but if so it seems AQIM would have already boasted about it.

The most likely identity for the kidnappers, it seems to me, is a group of freelancers motivated not by ideology but by money. From the description they sound numerous and well-armed, but they also sound somewhat amateur: they left cash and they allowed victims to escape. Possibly they are also local, though Kebbi’s proximity to other countries may suggest the involvement of some foreigners, and may mean that the hostages will be held outside of Nigeria. The kidnapping in Kebbi resembles the 2009 kidnapping in Kaduna, but again because of geography (Kebbi and Kaduna are a fair distance apart), it seems unlikely that this is the same group.

Hopefully, like the Kaduna incident, this incident will be resolved relatively quickly, and without loss of life. I also hope that the kidnapping in Kebbi will not signal a growth in hostage-taking in Northern Nigeria. My sympathies go out to the victims and their families.

[Update]:

Via email, a reader cautions me not to rule out AQIM so quickly, especially the possibility of their involvement by proxy. Even if the kidnappers were not AQIM members, in other words, it is possible that the hostages will end up in AQIM hands. AQIM, the reader continues, would certainly like to expand into Nigeria and other areas. These are good points. Hopefully we will learn more – and be able to discuss the kidnapping with more certainty – in the days ahead. To reiterate, if this does turn out to involve AQIM, that will be a major turning point for AQIM and for Northern Nigeria.

In other, potentially related news, this is significant:

Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, the Chief of Defence Staff, says the Nigerian military will partner with the Republic of Niger military in evolving strategies to fight terrorism.

He made the announcement on Monday when the Chief of Defence Staff of the Republic of Niger, Brig.-Gen. Salou Souleymane, paid him a courtesy visit at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja.

Petinrin said Nigeria was ready to work with the Republic of Niger to fight criminal elements, noting that the unrest in Libya, Egypt and Cote’d Ivoire might directly or indirectly have a spill-over effect on both countries.

Petinrin is emphasizing unrest in North Africa and in Cote d’Ivoire, but closer Nigerian-Nigerien military cooperation could affect Sahelian efforts against AQIM as well.

Kebbi:

Africa Elections Updates: Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Sudan, and Mauritania

As VOA reminds us, “over 30 African countries [are] scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections this year,” and some sixteen countries have already held their votes. A few weeks ago, I looked at the electoral pictures in Djibouti, Nigeria, Benin, Mauritania, and Chad. One of those elections has completely concluded: on April 8, Djibouti re-elected President Ismael Guelleh to a third term (more here). This post looks at how elections in the other countries (and in North Sudan) are proceeding.

Here’s the updated electoral calendar:

  • April 25: Presidential elections in Chad
  • April 26: State elections and some (previously delayed) legislative elections in Nigeria
  • April 28: State elections in Nigeria’s Kaduna and Bauchi States
  • April 30: Parliamentary elections in Benin
  • May 2: State elections in North Sudan’s South Kordofan State
  • Unknown: Partial Senate elections in Mauritania

Here is an outline of the major issues at stake in each country:

Chad

Chad’s upcoming presidential election follows parliamentary elections in February that the ruling party won. Threats of boycotts are dogging the presidential election, meaning incumbent President Idriss Deby will likely be able “to extend his two-decade rule in the central African nation.” I am expecting a continuation of the status quo in Chad.

Nigeria

Nigeria has already completed its presidential election (April 16, which incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan won) and most of its legislative races (April 9, which resulted in some losses for the ruling People’s Democratic Party). On April 26, Nigeria will hold state elections (for governor and state assembly seats) in almost all of its 36 states, and will hold some of the legislative elections that were delayed because of logistical problems earlier this month. Following the news of Jonathan’s victory this week, riots began in some Northern Nigerian states. Due to the violence, the electoral commission has delayed the elections in two states, Kaduna and Bauchi, to April 28.

The gubernatorial elections next week will further test the PDP’s control at the state level (currently the PDP has 26 governors). It is possible that PDP victories in Northern states could lead to more riots, and there is potential for violence in other areas too, such as the Niger Delta in the South.

Benin

Benin’s situation is the mirror image of Chad’s. In March, Benin held presidential elections which the incumbent, President Boni Yayi, won. This victory produced opposition threats to boycott the parliamentary elections that have been moved to April 30. These elections will therefore help set the tone for regime-opposition relations during Yayi’s new term.

North Sudan

Sudan, when it was still one country, held national elections in April 2010. South Kordofan State’s elections, however, were delayed due to problems with census results. On May 2, voters in South Kordofan (located in North Sudan) will at long last go to the polls to vote for governor and state assembly members. The governor’s race will be a test of how the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)’s North wing performs now that South Sudan, the SPLM’s home base, has seceded. The race pits the SPLM’s candidate against a member of the National Congress Party (NCP), which rules North Sudan.

The Sudan Tribune lays out the next steps in South Kordofan:

South Kordofan lies on the fault line between north and south Sudan, incorporating: the Nuba population, which largely sided with the south during the war, as well as the Hawazma and Messirya nomadic Arab tribes who were then believed to be used as proxy militias by the north to fight the south.

The state abuts the explosive region of Abyei, another bone of contention between the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) in South Sudan and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the north.

Under the CPA, South Kordofan is meant to hold popular consultations, in order to determine whether the agreement has met the aspirations of its citizens and resolve any outstanding issues related to its implementation.

The popular consultation, which is delayed pending the conduct of the state’s elections, does not accommodate a right to self-determination for South Kordofan which will remain a part of northern Sudan regardless of the consultation’s outcome, but may retain some autonomy.

The elections in South Kordofan will also tell us something about the political trajectory of the North-South border region as a whole.

Mauritania

Mauritania was due to hold elections this month for around one-third of its Senators, but opposition forces called for a postponement. The regime made a postponement, but the manner in which it did so displeased some of the opposition groups, who said the regime had taken the decision out of pure political calculation. A new date has not been set. The delay shows that the opposition has some sway, but the bickering may convince the government that attempts to placate the opposition are in vain.

*****************************

What is your take on these elections? Have I missed any others?

Africa Elections Updates: Djibouti, Nigeria, Benin, Mauritania, and Chad

With so much news coming out of Africa this week – ongoing civil wars and foreign interventions in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire, a diplomatic transition in Sudan, and a tragic plane crash in Congo – I want to make sure there is some coverage of elections taking place in West and East Africa, including but not limited to Nigeria’s vote.

The calendar runs as follows:

  • April 8: Presidential elections in Djibouti
  • April 9: National Assembly elections in Nigeria
  • April 16: Presidential elections in Nigeria
  • April 17: Parliamentary elections in Benin
  • April 24: Senatorial elections in Mauritania
  • April 26: State elections in Nigeria
  • May 8: Presidential elections in Chad (there are conflicting dates for this vote, but I am following All Africa’s electoral calendar, available on their homepage)

Here is an outline of the major issues at stake in each country:

Djibouti

Presidential elections in Djibouti are nearly guaranteed to return two-term incumbent Ismael Omar Guelleh to power, and this prospect has sparked a protest movement that aims to place this small Horn of Africa nation in the company of Egypt and Tunisia. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on Djibouti’s government to “allow peaceful protests.” For two different views on the meaning of the elections, see pieces by Gabriel Constanza and by Awate (a website run by Eritrean dissidents).

Nigeria

This weekend’s decision to delay elections in Nigeria continues to draw criticism and stoke fears of potential disaster. A number of commentators have spoken on the elections, but I found these words from journalist Tolu Ogunlesi, writing for Think Africa Press, particularly thoughtful:

I think that what we are seeing in Nigeria at the moment is not so much a “deepening of democracy” (i.e. in terms of a transformation of democratic institutions: police, judiciary, executive, legislature, political parties etc), as it is an ‘awareness-transformation’ on the part of citizens. It is important to realise that democracy, as a system of government, is useless when citizens do not realise the extent of the power it offers them. Various interlinked factors including technology (mobile phones, social networking, a computerised voter database), the 2008 Barack Obama story (of change, and limitless possibilities), the North African uprisings and a general yearning for good leadership after 12 unimpressive years of civilian rule have combined to enlighten, inspire and empower Nigerians and to transform their understanding of what genuine democracy is all about (power in the hands of the people). So while the Nigerian judiciary remains embroiled in corruption, the Police Force continues to be as ineffective and compromised as ever, and the political parties continue to lack vision or ideological basis, what is happening is that citizens are realising that they have more power than they thought they had: the power to say “No”, or “Yes.”

For other reactions, see the Economist‘s Baobab and Amb. John Campbell.

Benin

In Benin, presidential elections took place on March 13. Incumbent President Boni Yayi won re-election with 53% of the official vote, eliciting a court challenge from the opposition. Benin’s constitutional court refused to hear the case, and has certified Yayi’s victory. Opposition leader Adrien Houngbedji has, according to the latest report I could find, refused to concede. Parliamentary elections are thus approaching in an atmosphere of tension. David Zounmenou of the Institute for Security Studies explores some of the issues at stake in the election, and asks what the election means for democratization in Benin, here.

Mauritania

In Mauritania, major opposition leaders Messaoud Boulkheir and Ahmed Ould Daddah, who respectively placed second and third in the 2009 presidential elections, are calling on the government of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to delay the senatorial elections scheduled for later this month.

Chad

Problems with Chad’s parliamentary elections on February 13 (elections the ruling party won) have provoked opposition boycotts and played into the uncertainty surrounding presidential elections that have already been delayed at least once. The elections will likely return President Idriss Deby to office, but may leave unresolved political tensions behind.

*******************

What is your take on these elections?

Election Updates: Niger, Benin, and Chad [Updated]

Quick updates on several recent or ongoing African elections:

Let us know if you hear anything about these elections, particularly the results for Niger’s vote. I will have a longer post up later today.

[UPDATE]: Provisional results in Niger’s run-off give Mahamadou Issoufou 58% of the vote to Seyni Oumarou’s 42%. Many predicted that Issoufou would win, and the coalition he assembled between January 31 and now has held. Now all that remains for the transition back to civilian rule, scheduled for April 6, is the electoral commission’s certification of the result.

Africa News Roundup: Libya and Africa, Sudan Protests, AQIM Hostage Releases, and More

Events in Libya continue to affect other parts of Africa. The BBC looks at how sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya are faring. Apparently these migrants number one million persons. Meanwhile, journalists continue to probe Qadhafi’s connections with mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa. VOA has more. Finally, Nigeria, one of the most powerful countries in Africa, has condemned the Libyan government’s use of force against protesters and has started to withdraw its citizens from Libya. Libya’s loss in terms of economic and political prestige could be Nigeria’s gain.

Sub-Saharan African Protests: Yahoo News reports that echoes of North Africa’s protests have been heard in Benin, Senegal, and Mauritania. Mauritanian activist Weddady reported that the government there was censoring media and stopping buses in order to block the protest movement.

In Sudan, more protests occurred this week as demonstrators blocked a main road in Khartoum. But the government crackdown continued as well. A rape victim has come forward to share her story, and international rights groups are criticizing the government’s actions.

In Niger, AQIM has released three of the seven hostages it kidnapped last September. The freed hostages include a Togolese man, a Malaghasy (national of Madagascar) man, and a French woman. That leaves four French men – who are potentially of higher ransom value – in AQIM’s hands. Expect more details to emerge about this, and more speculation about ransoms to circulate, over the weekend.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of Somalia asserts that TFG orces have pushed Al Shabab back in Mogadishu.

Feel free to post relevant links and tips in the comments section.