Africa Blog Roundup: Colonialism, Ghana’s Elections, Ethnicity in Northern Mali, and More

Via Chris Blattman, a new paper that argues, “In the light of plausible counter-factuals, colonialism probably had a uniformly negative effect on development in Africa.”

Via Michael Nelson, George Ayittey on elections in Ghana.

Gregory Mann: “Foreign Correspondents and False Notes”:

Local color and snide observations aside, anyone who can keep shining light on the intertwined dangers of an undisciplined army and the bugbear of ethnic militias—as the author of “the West’s Latest Afghanistan” does, and as Tamasin Ford and Bonnie Allen have done—is making a contribution.

So is it the editors who are ginning up and cashing in bad analogies at will? Who wants us to believe that Mali is like Afghanistan?

Andrew Lebovich: “Northern Mali: The Politics of Ethnicity and Locality.”

The Moor Next Door rounds up recent articles on Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, and the Sahel region.

Lesley Warner highlights key points from General Carter Ham’s recent remarks on counterterrorism in Africa.

Owen Barder: “DFID Transparency Policy Is a Game-Changer.”

Loomnie flags a nice quote on the idea of “Africa rising”:

I wonder if we should perhaps think of sub-Saharan Africa as a collection not so much of jointly emerging markets, but of diverging ones.

Roving Bandit: “Mapping Rebel Groups in the Congo.”

Vote for the name of the US State Department’s blog.

Whither US Policy on Mali? [Updated]

As the analyst Andrew Lebovich writes, US statements on Mali have been “contradictory,” creating confusion about the trajectory of Washington’s policy toward the country. The State Department seems to have undergone a genuine change of heart concerning the wisdom of an armed intervention in Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But it is harder to read words and deeds coming from the Department of Defense and the White House, especially regarding the possibility of direct US military action in northern Mali.

Department of State

Foggy Bottom’s position on Mali has evolved considerably over the last few months. To quote from an earlier post:

In May, [Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie] Carson told reporters that ECOWAS’ “mission and role” in Mali “must be defined before we make any kind of commitment.” Remarks by Carson in late June sounded even less enthusiastic: “We think an ECOWAS mission to militarily retake the north is ill-advised and not feasible.”

In September, however,

In an interview with VOA, Carson said Mali’s military should accept an intervention force from the Economic Community of West African States, because the army is fractured by the flight of soldiers to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

“The Malian military has been broken. It is now in need of restructuring and repair and rehabilitation,” Carson explained. “It should accept the support, the camaraderie, the mentoring and the friendship of other ECOWAS states as it attempts to get itself together so that it can help address the issues of terrorism in the northern part of the country, as well as humanitarian support.”

ECOWAS appears to have convinced State, then, that it has a plan for helping the Malian government retake territory in the north, and that supporting this plan is better than the status quo.

[UPDATE]: As Twitter user Stephanie Lamy adds, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that US support for an ECOWAS intervention may hinge on whether the Malian government is able to hold elections before the deployment. At the UN General Assembly meeting last week, Clinton said, “In the end, only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion and restore the rule of law.”

Department of Defense and the White House

Last week, General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM, visited Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria to discuss the crisis in Mali. Amid ongoing discussions of an external military intervention in Mali, Gen. Ham’s stated that the US will not be directly involved:

“We first need to re-establish a legitimate government in Bamako, meet the pressing needs of the people, deal with the serious humanitarian crisis ravaging the region and finally tackle the terrorist groups,” General Ham said. He stressed that “the only alternative which could not exist is the American military presence in northern Mali”.

The Washington Post, however, recently reported that the Obama administration has considered forms of direct intervention in Mali and elsewhere in the region:

“Right now, we’re not in position to do much about [the presence of terrorist groups in northern Mali],” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the talks. As a result, he said, officials have begun to consider contingencies, including the question of “do we or don’t we” deploy drones.

This is not the first time that US officials have raised the possibility of American force against militants in northern Mali. In July, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan made remarks that sound similar to Gen. Ham’s, but did not rule out the use of violence:

“Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako,” Sheehan said. “We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort.”


Sheehan went on to say that the area north of Mali’s Niger River has become almost ungoverned and an area of focus for the Department of Defense.

“We cannot allow al Qaeda to sit in ungoverned places,” Sheehan said of northern Mali.

Sheehan indicated the U.S. military is considering how to handle the problem.

“All those options will be considered,” Sheehan said. “There have been no decisions and things would be considered and they are being concerned to what is a looming threat.”

The common denominator in these statements is an emphasis on establishing the integrity of the Malian government as the first step toward solving the country’s crises. Beyond that, though, there is significant uncertainty about Washington’s intentions.


The statements from State and Defense can be reconciled; indeed, in a way they are separate conversations, one having to do with supporting ECOWAS and the other having to do with direct US military action against militants. This thematic difference is reflected in a geographical one, with State seeming to focus on West Africa and Defense seeming to focus (at least in Ham’s trip) on North Africa. Indeed it is the very sense that the two conversations are separate, and that Defense has not made a firm decision on the form its involvement will take, that leaves me struggling to discern where Washington’s Mali policy is headed.

AQIM: Western-Sahelian Cooperation Deepening

In recent days General Carter Ham of the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM) and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe have both visited Mauritania, signaling a positive Western response to Mauritania’s recent offensives against al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as well as a continuation of the trend toward deeper cooperation between Western and Sahelian governments on counterterrorism. Mauritania, which has undertaken the most aggressive military campaign of the three Sahelian countries most affected by AQIM (the others are Mali and Niger), is receiving the lion’s share of the attention right now, but visits by top Western officials come as the entire region is asking for outside help.

AFP reports on Gen. Ham’s trip:

“I congratulated him for the success of the Mauritanian army in its fight against AQIM, in collaboration with Mali and other countries in the region,” Ham said after a meeting with President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in Nouakchott.

The general, who has been in the capital since Sunday, also welcomed the Mauritanian peoples’ rejection of the north African Al-Qaeda branch, and committed to work to “advance security co-operation between America and Mauritania.”

ANI (Ar) reports on Juppe’s trip to Nouakchott, which spanned Sunday and Monday. Juppe met with Abdel Aziz and affirmed French “solidarity” with Mauritania on counterterrorism. CBS adds that Juppe combined praise for Mauritania with pressure on other goverments:

Juppe told reporters on his visit to Nouakchott that Mauritania has “led an exemplary fight.” He said France wishes other nations in the Sahel “would be more engaged.”

Juppe and Abdel Aziz also discussed the crisis in Libya, an issue with broad political significance in the Sahel as well as direct significance – in terms of potential movement of Libyan weapons to AQIM – for counterterrorism.

Mauritania’s government is not the only one in the region exploring a deeper partnership with the West. Niger’s President Mamadou Issoufou recently visited France (Fr), and the crisis in Libya and security issues were major themes in his meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy. Mali, though Western powers have sometimes seen its government as less willing to engage fully in counterterrorism, has partnered with Mauritania in recent efforts against AQIM. Malian-Mauritanian relations have recovered substantially from the low they hit in February 2010 when Mauritania recalled its ambassador from Mali in protest over the latter’s engagement in negotiations with AQIM.

Mauritania, Mali, and Niger may not be on exactly the same page when it comes to AQIM, but they are moving toward greater cooperation. Regional cooperation may in turn facilitate deeper partnerships with the West. The existence of such partnerships is not new – all three countries have participated in US training exercises and counterterrorism programs for years, and all three are planning to attend a summit in Algeria this September where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to attend – but the degree of cooperation seems to be increasing. That could have diverse implications for Sahelian counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel: on the one hand, stronger partnerships with the West could enhance local military capacity; on the other hand, perceptions of ever stronger political ties to the West could generate local political opposition. For now, though, the Mauritanian military’s star seems to be rising, both overseas and within the region.

General Carter Ham Becomes New Head of US AFRICOM

General William Ward, the founding commander of AFRICOM, has stepped down at a ceremony in Stuttgart, Germany after about three years in his post. VOA reports on his departure and profiles his successor, General Carter Ham:

The new commander of Africa Command, General Carter Ham, said he intends to maintain the approach General Ward established. “The longer I serve, the more I believe relationships with our partners are what really matters and really enables us to achieve our objectives.  I believe we are most successful when we help find African solutions to African security challenges.  And I know we will face many challenges.  Some of those we can see very clearly today, while others will emerge in unexpected ways and in unexpected places,” he said.

General Ham has been the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe for the past two-and-a-half years, and has had a variety of command and Pentagon assignments.

Most recently, he co-led the defense department’s analysis of the potential impact of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military.  That process led to the approval of a law that is expected to lift the ban this year, once the military services have conducted a planned training program.

The military leadership, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has emphasized continuity amidst transition, though AFRICOM’s staff and the entire Pentagon are clearly watching events in North Africa carefully and assessing the impact those events might have on AFRICOM’s future. AFRICOM has responsibility for any US military activities in Libya.

AFRICOM’s press release is here.