Senegal: On the Trials of Karim Wade and Hissène Habré

I have a post at the Global Observatory discussing two ongoing trials in Senegal. An excerpt:

The trials of [former Chadian ruler Hissène] Habré and [former President Abdoulaye Wade’s son Karim] Wade will have implications for elites across Africa. The former’s trial may mark a new, albeit halting, effort to use African judicial systems to hold former heads of state accountable for human rights abuses. The latter’s trial may signal a new effort to crack down on corruption. At the same time, however, the trials may have little impact on ordinary Senegalese and their day-to-day struggles.

If you read the piece, please stop back by here and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Africa Blog/Reports Roundup: Somalia Famine, Mali Elections, Baga, and More

Famine Early Warning Systems Network (.pdf): “Mortality Among Populations of Southern and Central Somalia Affected by Severe Food Insecurity and Famine during 2010-2012.”

Africa Research Institute: “After Boroma: Consensus, representation and parliament in Somaliland.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Toward an Economic Recovery in Somalia.”

Bruce Whitehouse: “Why Mali Won’t Be Ready for July Elections.”


Senegal and Chad signed an agreement on Friday to allow special tribunal judges to carry out investigations in Chad into former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre, ahead of his trial for war crimes.
Habre’s prosecution, delayed for years by Senegal where he has lived since being ousted in 1990, will set a historic precedent as until now African leaders accused of atrocities have only been tried in international courts.

Financial Times:

“A French writer from Algeria,” was how a tight-lipped Albert Camus characterised himself in October 1957 on accepting his nomination as the second-youngest winner of the Nobel prize in literature. These simple words concealed a churning heart. The normally voluble Camus, then 43, was in the midst of a period of self-imposed silence.

After years of championing equal rights for Arabs in his native Algeria, Camus, the son of a Pied-Noir family descended from European settlers, found himself in the uncomfortable position of rejecting any notion of his homeland gaining independence from France.

Jacques Enaudeau: “In Search of the ‘African Middle Class’.”

Baobab: “Djibouti’s Development: Location, Location, Location.” A video with a link to a report.

Africa in DC: “Anti-Federalism, Colonial Nostalgia, and Development in Nigeria: Lagos State Governor at SAIS.”

Alkasim Abdulkadir: “After Baga, JTF Lost in a Maze of Rocks and Hard Places.”

Al Jazeera: “Jailed Boko Haram Members Seek Pardon from Nigeria.”

In Senegal, Inauguration of Extraordinary Chambers to Try Former Chadian Leader Hissène Habré

Hissène Habré, a French-educated political scientist, rebel commander, and politician, took power in a coup in 1982 and ruled Chad until rebel forces led by Idriss Déby overthrew him in 1990. Habré has been living in Senegal ever since. Pressure to put him on trial has come from numerous forces: groups within Chad, officials in Senegal and Belgium, the United Nations, the European Parliament, the African Union, and others. For years, however, some observers felt that Senegalese authorities were stalling on the question of whether they would try Habré. Human Rights Watch has a chronology of the case here, an overview here, and a Q&A here.

Today marks an important event in the case: the inauguration of special tribunal called the Extraordinary Chambers, in Dakar. There are a number of points to be made about this event. For one thing, as VOA says, “this will be the first time a world leader is prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the government of another country.” The case will have major ramifications for future attempts to try former heads of state.

Second, there are questions to ponder about how Senegalese politics interacted with the trial. VOA quotes Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, framing the shift in Senegalese authorities’ behavior on the case as a result of the change in administration from President Abdoulaye Wade (in office 2000-2012) to new President Macky Sall.

“In 10 months, Macky Sall and [Justice Minister] Aminata Toure and the government of Senegal have moved this case more than Abdoulaye Wade had done in 12 years.  Finally, the tenacity and the perseverance of the victims is being been rewarded by this government,” [Brody] said.

What happens next? It’s hard to tell – AFP says that no details are publicly available about when the trial will start. RFI (French) gives a broad timeline: fifteen months (maximum) for investigations; seven months for the trial; and five months for appeals. That could mean that there is no final verdict until May 2015. In the meantime, this will be an important case to follow.

Africa Blog Roundup: Crime in the Sahel, Continuity in the Horn, Boko Haram’s Funding, and More

Wolfram Lacher on “Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region.” He argues:

Western governments have focused heavily on AQIM’s presence, providing technical assistance in an attempt to strengthen the capacity of the security sectors and justice systems to combat the group. But Western governments have underestimated, if not ignored, the destabilizing impact of organized crime in the region. AQIM itself is in part a criminal network, kidnapping Western nationals with the double aim of extorting ransoms and freeing the group’s imprisoned members. And up until Mali’s military coup of March 2012, state complicity with organized crime was the main factor enabling AQIM’s growth and a driver of conflict in the north of the country. Actors involved in organized crime currently wield decisive political and military influence in northern Mali.

Jalal Abdel-latif: “Ethiopia and the Horn: Continuity Predicted in Rough Neighborhood”

Via Amb. David Shinn, a look at “Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean” (.pdf).

The World Bank: “Kenya’s Education Dividend”

Think Africa Press: “Uganda: Hidden Hunger in the Capital”

Amb. John Campbell on British concerns about transnational funding for Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

A Q&A from Human Rights Watch on the case of former Chadian leader Hissène Habré.

Baobab on aviation and art in Nigeria.

What are you reading today?

Africa News Roundup: Meles on Sick Leave, Anniversary of Somalia’s Famine, Protests in Mauritania, and More

The New York Times has a photo essay on skateboarding in Uganda.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi takes a leave of absence after his recent hospitalization.

The Nigerian government has lifted a state of emergency in Borno and other states, but violence by Boko Haram continues.

In other Nigeria news, “government revenue increased 32 percent to 763.6 billion naira ($92.7 billion) in June from the previous month, boosted by company and oil taxes.”

The BBC and the United Nations mark the one year anniversary of Somalia’s famine.

Anti-regime demonstrations continued this week in Mauritania.

What will President Macky Sall do?

The International Court of Justice on Friday ordered Senegal to prosecute the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, who has lived comfortably for two decades in Senegal despite indictments in connection with political killings, torture and a host of other brutalities.

As Sudan and South Sudan negotiate in Ethiopia, the South accuses the north of bombing one of its villages.

Three Europeans kidnapped in Tindouf, Algeria last October were freed (in Mali) this week. The government of Burkina Faso helped negotiate their release.

What else is happening?

Senegal: A New Chapter in the Saga of Hissene Habre?

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habré has been living in legal limbo in Senegal since 1990. The administration of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade from 2000-2012 proved reluctant to either try Habré inside Senegal or allow his extradition to Belgium, and dragged its feet on taking action. Now Habré is the problem of newly elected President Macky Sall, whose administration may be moving more decisively to end the saga.


Senegal has begun preparations to try Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habre for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture after being accused of dragging its feet for years.
The justice ministry said a working group had met Friday to debate the practical aspects of staging the trial in line with Senegal’s international commitments and with the support of the African Union.
The group comprises representatives of the judiciary, the prison system, the foreign ministry and human rights groups, the justice ministry said Saturday in a statement.

The change of administration seems to have been one factor in prompting this legal action. Another appears to be renewed pressure from abroad. AFP adds:

Belgium finally took Senegal to the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, which heard the case in March but has yet to rule on it.

At the hearing in The Hague Senegal denied it was dodging its legal obligations, insisting that it planned to put Habre on trial.

We will see now whether the Sall administration goes through with the trial.

I never understood Wade’s reluctance to move against Habré. Wade claimed at times that Senegal lacked the funds. Perhaps Wade, had he won a third term, would have finally gone forward with a trial, especially given the increasing pressure from Belgium. But perhaps the change of administration makes all the difference. It is possible that Sall, of a different generation than either Habré (b. 1942) or Wade (b. circa 1926), is more willing to prosecute a former African head of state. It is also possible that Sall sees little to gain from protecting Habré, and simply wants to deal with a case that has been a longstanding source of dispute between Senegal, the African Union, and Europe.

Senegal/Chad: Hissene Habré Remains in Legal Limbo [Updated]

Late last week, Senegal readied itself to extradite former Chadian dictator Hissene Habré back to his home country, where he has been sentenced to death.

For months, international organizations like the United Nations have been pressuring Senegal to act on Habré’s case, and either try him there or hand him over to another court. Habré has been living in Senegal, under various indictments, since 1990.

Many feel, myself included, that Habré’s case will set important precedents regarding accountability for leaders, not just in Africa but around the world. AP writes that Habré “has become a symbol of impunity.”

The importance of the case increases outsiders’ concerns that it be administered fairly. Hence the UN objected to the plan to send Habré back to Chad:

“I urge the Government of Senegal to review its decision and to ensure that Habré’s extradition is carried out in a way that ensures his fair trial rights will be respected and he will not be subjected to torture or the death penalty,” said Ms. [Navi] Pillay [the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights].

“As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Senegal may not extradite a person to a State where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. At the very least Senegal must obtain fair trial guarantees from the Government of Chad before any extradition takes place,” she added.

Ms. Pillay said extraditing Mr. Habré in the present circumstances, in which those guarantees are not yet in place, may amount to a violation of international law.

Yesterday Senegal bowed to the pressure and agreed to suspend the extradition.

Senegal’s Foreign Minister Madicke Niang on Sunday announced the government had reversed its decision to return Mr Habre following the UN plea.

Mr Niang told state broadcaster RTS that Senegal would hold talks with the UN and European Union to try to solve the situation.

These events raise familiar questions about international law and national sovereignty. I think we become so used to such debates that it’s easy to forget how blatantly the international community, and in particular European leaders, dismiss the integrity of a judicial system like Chad’s. I believe the UN is right that sending Habré to Chad could result in his torture and execution and in a perversion of justice, and I understand that one of the foundations of international law is the idea that some (all?) countries have issues they cannot handle properly on their own, but it is striking to see international organizations articulate their distrust of individual countries so clearly.

That kind of distrust has implications that go beyond just Habré’s case. Other leaders recognize those implications. In other words, the politics of international law loom particularly large in this case, which helps explain why Senegal has preferred to keep Habré in a sort of legal limbo, or try to make him someone else’s problem, rather than moving to conclude the case. Habré is a symbol of impunity, but he is also a symbol of how hard it is, in the international legal arena, to sort out questions of when, where, and how major trials will take place.

[UPDATE July 12]: Chad‘s government seems to prefer the option of trying the former dictator in Chad, but is open to multiple solutions:

The Chadian government signalled on Monday it could accept former President Hissene Habre being sent to Belgium to stand trial after Senegal reversed a decision to extradite the former leader back to Chad.


Kalzeubet Payimi Demubet, Chad’s communications minister, said his government regretted Senegal’s decision to reverse the decision to extradite Habre despite measures offered to guarantee his safety and a fair trial.

“Moreover, the Chadian government does not exclude the hypothesis of Hissene Habre’s transfer to Belgium,” Deubet said.

“What is important for the Chadian government is that the trial should take place so as to render justice to the victims who have waited 20-plus years for justice to be done,” he said.

[Update 2 July 14] AFP:

Chad’s former president Hissene Habre said in an interview published Thursday that he would be willing to appear before an international tribunal to answer charges of atrocities during his 1982-1990 rule.

“We want Chad and Chadians to see justice done, don’t we? I totally agree. I totally agree that we should organise an independent international judicial process, and that all Chadians accused of something appear before this court,” he told the weekly La Gazette.

Habre going to trial would, in my view, be a big deal. And there has been more movement towards a trial in the past week than in the past six months, I would say.

Africa News Roundup: Libya and Chad, Habre Trial, Airstrikes in Sudan, and More

For those who read French, the International Crisis Group has a piece up on how the civil war in Libya has affected Chad economically and politically.

Meanwhile, controversy over the trial of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré has prompted Human Rights Watch and other groups to denounce Senegal’s approach and call for Habré’s extradition to Belgium.

Yesterday Southern Sudanese officials accused North Sudan of bombing military targets in Unity State, a border state in South Sudanese territory:

“This area is deep inside south Sudan and is a move by Khartoum to control the area and create a de facto border to control our oilfields,” added the spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of the south.

[He] said the SPLA was on “maximum alert” and strengthening its defensive positions, fearing the start of an invasion to seize the oilfields.

A UN spokeswoman, however, denied that the northern army had launched air strikes south of the border.

“The place that they bombed was an SPLA assembly area, right on the north-south border. This is one of the disputed territories,” Hua Jiang for the UN mission in Sudan told AFP.

A Sudanese army spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

IRIN discusses the situation for Southern Sudanese who reside in the North.

Reuters looks at how rising food and fuel costs are driving popular unrest in sub-Saharan Africa, saying the situation gives “African governments a tough choice: to blow their budgets with subsidies or risk street anger.”

VOA reports on Secretary Clinton’s remarks at the AGOA summit in Zambia yesterday. The State Department has the full text and video.


The government of Burkina Faso, faced with public unrest and army mutinies since February, has replaced all the governors of the west African country’s regions, it has announced.

After a cabinet meeting late Wednesday, the governorship of the Centre-Ouest region, where youths protested in February after one of their number was killed in controversial circumstances, was given to a soldier, Colonel Pascal Komyaba Sawadogo, who had been governor of the Sud-Ouest region, a statement said.

The previous governor was dismissed from his post after unrest.

Apparently the protests in Burkina Faso still have the regime quite worried.

What are you reading today?

UN Pressures Senegal to Act on Hissene Habré

Hissene Habré, former dictator of Chad, has lived under house arrest in Senegal for years awaiting trial for war crimes and launching legal complaints of his own. With Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade stating that he would like to “get rid of” Habré, yesterday the UN Committee Against Torture called on Senegal to either prosecute or extradite Habré.

Human Rights Watch summarizes the legal proceedings so far:

Mr. Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 before courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant charging Mr. Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-90 rule and requested his extradition.

Senegal then asked the African Union to recommend a course of action. On July 2, 2006, the African Union called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré “on behalf of Africa,” and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so.

In 2007-2008, Senegal amended its constitution and laws to permit the prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture no matter when and where the acts occurred.

On September 16, 2008, fourteen victims filed complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture. Senegal said, however, that it would not process the complaints until it receives €27 million from the international community for all the costs of the trial.

Faced with Senegal’s inaction, Belgium on February 19, 2009 asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Senegal to prosecute or extradite Mr. Habré. . On May 28, the court accepted Senegal’s formal pledge not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending its final judgment.

A ruling from the ECOWAS Court of Justice on November 18, 2010 requested that Senegal create a special jurisdiction to prosecute Habré.

HRW continues the narrative:

On November 24, international donors met in Dakar and fully funded the $11.7 million budget for the trial. Senegal’s justice minister said that the donors’ meeting was the “completion of the long process of preparation leading up to the actual start of trial” and that Senegal would discuss with the African Union (AU) how to respond to the ECOWAS decision.

President Wade then appeared to backtrack yet again. On December 10, he announced that, “The AU must take its case back […] Otherwise I will send Hissène Habré elsewhere. […] I’ve had enough of it at this point. […] I am going to get rid of him, full stop.”

On January 12, an African Union delegation led by AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra presented President Wade with a cost-neutral plan to respond to the ECOWAS decision by creating a special jurisdiction within the Senegalese justice system which would include the nomination of two judges by the AU.

On January 13, however, President Wade told the Council of Ministers that he was “returning” the Habré case to the AU.

The UN and HRW responded to Wade’s statements with strong language.

The United Nations Committee against Torture has called on Senegal to comply with its “obligation” to prosecute or extradite Chad’s exiled former dictator, Hissène Habré, Human Rights Watch said today.


“The UN has stood up for Habre’s thousands of victims who have been seeking justice from Senegal for 20 years,” said Reed Brody, counsel with Human Rights Watch, who represents the victims before the UN Committee against Torture. “President Wade can’t simply ‘get rid’ of the case; he has a legal obligation to ensure that Habré faces justice.”

What are Wade’s motives? The money and the international support for the trial are there; it does not seem that logistics are the main issue now. AFP hints at a motive when it writes, “Senegal has been accused of dragging its feet on the case — which would be the first time an African leader was tried for war crimes on the continent.” It is possible that Wade is uncomfortable with setting that kind of precedent, potentially fearing that trying Habre could damage Senegal’s relations with other African countries. Perhaps Wade does not want to make Senegal a forum for African justice. Or maybe it’s just a project he doesn’t want to devote time or energy to. Whatever the case, he has made his reluctance to pursue a trial clear.

The next move is with the AU and the UN. I do not see how they can force Senegal to hold a trial. And amidst the legal wrangling, I wonder sometimes whether there ever will be a trial.

Africa Links: Compaore Wins in Burkina, Senegal 2012 Elections Set, China-Africa Trade, and More

Burkina Faso: President Blaise Compaore has won re-election with some 80% of the vote.

Senegal: The country’s next elections will take place on February 26, 2012.

[Incumbent President Abdoulaye] Wade has not officially announced his candidacy in the election. In a September 2009 interview, the 84-year-old former lawyer told Voice of America that he would run for a third consecutive seven-year term, “God willing.”

Senegal/Chad: former Chadian President Hissene Habré will face trial in Senegal.

Sudan: AFP: “Observers from the Carter Centre who have been monitoring preparations for a historic vote on independence for south Sudan are warning that a war of words between northern and southern leaders is creating a climate of fear.”

IRIN writes about how to achieve peace in Sudan.

China/Africa: As Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Southern Africa this week, observers note that trade between China and the continent is becoming more diverse.

Increasingly important is trade in sectors besides resources. Chinese consumer goods are making huge inroads in African markets, and more and more Chinese firms are exploring manufacturing deals.

“The key trend going forward here is that we’re seeing hundreds of thousands, literally, of micro Chinese entrepreneurs, procuring from China and selling at the grassroots to African consumers,” said Martyn Davies, chief executive of Frontier Advisory in Johannesburg.

“At the higher end, in more formalised retail … maybe three quarters of their procurement, non-food, is from China,” he said.

While China sees Africa as a prime source for the oil and minerals that its hungry economy needs, the continent is also a promising market for everything from tiny hair decorations to automobiles churned out by China’s fiercely competitive manufacturers.

“There are a lot of complementarities between the Chinese and African economies,” said Xue Lan, dean of public policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Education: Last but not least, the BBC looks at the potential impact of Britain’s cuts for foreign visas on higher education in Africa.

The UK Migration Advisory Committee says the number of overseas students will need to be more than halved if the government is to meet its immigration target – a move that  will affect thousands of students from Africa with dreams of getting a British  university degree.

But is this an opportunity for universities in Africa? If studying abroad is out of reach for many, will students now decided to take degrees in their home countries. Indeed, should African universities now be trying to attract students from elsewhere in the world?

Consider this an open thread.