Africa Blog Roundup: Kenya and Somalia, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, West African Food Crisis, and More

The International Crisis Group released a report (.pdf) this week, “The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia.” From the executive summary:

The intervention taps into deep-seated Kenyan fears of Somali encroachment and corresponding Somali qualms that Kenya seeks to assert control over territory that was once part of colonial Kenya. Al-Shabaab is trying to exploit Kenyan-Somali grievances against Nairobi and making pan-Somali appeals, although without much apparent success to date. For Kenya’s venture to have a positive outcome, its leadership will need to define its goals and exit strategy more clearly, as well as work effectively with international partners to facilitate reconciliation and the development of effective local government mechanisms in the areas of Somalia where its forces are active, as part of a larger commitment to ending Somalia’s conflicts and restoring stability to the region.

And at Reuters’ Africa Blog: “Has Kenya learned from the 2007/2008 post-election violence?”

Peter Dorrie examines the protests in Senegal with an eye toward issues of nonviolent and violent tactics.

Texas in Africa posts a field report from Ituri, a district in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And at African Arguments, William Townsend looks at the presidential elections held in November in the DRC and asks, “Congo is on the move, but where is it going?”

Shelby Grossman objects to the BBC’s characterization of life in Equatorial Guinea.

Amb. John Campbell discusses food insecurity in West Africa:

Droughts have long been feature of Africa. But their frequency and severity appears to accelerating, and the international community needs a better understanding of their causes. The conventional wisdom is that they result from the interrelationship between climate change, population growth, acute poverty, changing migration patterns, conflict and bad governance. No doubt, broadly speaking this is true, if not necessarily helpful for understanding a particular episode. Famine often is localized in its causes and frequently involves political factors, as it did in Somalia last year, where al-Shabaab blocked international aid efforts and Somali children paid with their lives. It can’t be the money. For the international community $650 million is peanuts. After all, the conventional wisdomis that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was costing the U.S. taxpayer $300 million per day. Perhaps more important in explaining apparent donor lassitude may be factors such as the international community’s limited attention span, compassion fatigue, and frustration over an apparent inability to deal with the root causes of humanitarian disasters. At least in West Africa, there is no al-Shabaab.

Africa Unchained profiles Liberian reporter Tecee Boley.

And, via Africa Is A Country, Cameroonian rapper Yanigga with “Dans un ghetto près de chez toi” (“In a ghetto near you”) over the beat from “Heaterz,” from Wu-Tang Forever.

Africa Blog Roundup: South Sudan’s Future, AQIM and bin Laden, Liberia’s Elections, and More

Chris Blattman weighs in on an interesting discussion about what South Sudan’s government should do now.

Battlman also recommends Ken Opalo’s blog. Check it out.

I missed this piece from Kal last week, but it’s still relevant. He writes about how bin Laden’s death might affect al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Here are three worthwhile posts on areas of Africa I don’t normally cover:

Joshua Keating writes on remittances, and includes a nice map.

What are you reading this weekend?

Africa Blog Roundup: Nigeria’s Elections, African Currency, and More

John Campbell and the Economist‘s Baobab consider what the results of Nigeria’s presidential election mean for the country’s North-South divide.

Chris Blattman experiments with giving cash to Liberian youth and describes how “the researchee defeats the researcher.”

Joshua Keating looks at the possibility of a “common currency for Africa.”

After a short absence, Kal returns to blogging at The Moor Next Door and raises some questions about protests in Algeria, AQIM, and the impact of Libya’s civil war on the surrounding countries.

G. Paschal Zachary and Rosebell Kagumire offer different takes on the protests in Uganda.

A Bombastic Element nominates Niger’s transitional government for the Mo Ibrahim Prize.

Last but not least, check out this interview on soccer and revolution with James Dorsey.

Any new blogs I should check out?

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?

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: UK Foreign Policy, Sudan Referendum, Liberian Diaspora

Here are some links I liked this week from Africa/foreign affairs blogs:

Owen Barder discusses how the new British government will conduct development, and Steve Coll recounts a meeting with William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary.

Jon Temin looks at the National Congress Party‘s decision-making process on the 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence.

Analysis of Sudan often displays a common weakness, especially when it originates from outside the country: limited understanding of dynamics within the NCP. The party is, often justifiably, portrayed as the source of much of Sudan’s suffering. But it is also portrayed as a single-minded monolith, rather than a party that struggles with internal divisions and consensus building, as any political party does. One trait that distinguishes the NCP – especially compared to the SPLM of late – is how effectively it keeps those internal divisions from public view. But that shouldn’t be confused with an absence of internal divisions or uniform thinking on key issues.

Inevitably, factions within the NCP disagree on whether to proceed with the referendum. Contrary to conventional wisdom, in all likelihood there are NCP factions that are actively pro-secession, with the critical caveat that they support secession only if a favorable post-referendum wealth sharing agreement is reached (and agreed to prior to the referendum). For them, secession offers an opportunity to consolidate authority in the north and move towards the vision of the “Hamdi Triangle.” Surely there are also factions that are resolutely opposed to secession and refuse to let the NCP preside over the division of Sudan (though the recent elections, in which President Bashir received only approximately 10% of the vote in the south, suggest that a unity outcome of the referendum is a tall order), with some opposed to allowing the referendum to proceed at all. And, as in any debate, there are those who are undecided and are probably being courted by either side.

Two pieces, unrelated, on Liberia: Loomnie features Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf‘s reaction to the death of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, and Texas in Africa discusses a Liberian town hall in Atlanta.

Music from Cameroon.

Louisa Lombard on efforts at transparency in the Central African Republic.

A few pieces on US policies in Africa: UN Dispatch on an anti-LRA law that passed Congress, and The Majlis’ Evan Hill on US aid to Egypt and the actions of the Mubarak regime.

And least but not least, I can’t resist: tell me what you think of this picture of Secretary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Niger: Obama Weighs In, Protests and Counterprotests Hit Niamey

The Obama administration has followed the EU’s lead on Niger, expressing concern over the country’s constitutional crisis and imposing penalties on President Mamadou Tandja, who has remained in office despite the term limits that were in place earlier this year. Washington recently suspended $20 million in aid to Niger, and for the first time that I know of President Obama himself has weighed in on the situation:

“America looks forward to the day when Niger can celebrate both the proclamation of the republic and its firm transition to democracy,” Obama said in a message to Tandja ahead of Friday’s 51st anniversary of the founding of the Niger republic.

The administration’s tougher stance toward Niger has won praise from Nigerien civil society groups, but the political atmosphere inside the country remains contentious.  Recently, both opposition groups calling for Tandja’s resignation and groups supporting Tandja have staged demonstrations in the capital, Niamey. The president’s supporters also “denounced sanctions imposed on Niger by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)” and “criticised the European Union.” Clashes between opponents and supporters of Tandja have reportedly occurred in other towns. Do these events indicate that Tandja and his people are actively feeding nationalist fervor and violent tendencies among grassroots supporters?

Niamey, Niger

Tandja has been stubborn at many points since the crisis kicked off, but Nigerien opposition leaders say they see signs of political progress. Last week, “a key Niger opposition leader cautiously welcomed Thursday the government’s pledge to drop a legal prosecution against him, calling it a ‘small step’ towards resolving a political crisis.” The administration’s change of heart seems to have come about because of EU and ECOWAS pressure.

Speaking of regional involvement, Liberia’s Inquirer reports that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has completed her report on Niger, where she has helped to lead mediation efforts. What will ECOWAS’s next move be? And will the combined efforts of the EU, ECOWAS, and now the US to pressure Niger bring about a change in Tandja’s behavior? Or will Tandja offer a few concessions (like dropping charges against the opposition leaders) in order to be allowed back into the regional and international fold, but not make any move to give up power? We’ll see – and the answer will say something about the capacity of all three bodies to influence leaders’ political calculations in the region.

Regional Involvement in Niger’s Political Crisis Continues

This week, Niger’s constitutional court certified the results of last month’s parliamentary elections, which occurred in a context of domestic dissent and regional outcry that began with President Mamadou Tandja’s successful bid this summer to extend his tenure in office. Prior to the elections, which drew condemnation from other countries in the region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Niger, prompting a diplomatic offensive Tandja’s team.

Now regional powers are taking a strong interest in resolving Niger’s political crisis. Nigeria is playing a central role. On Monday, former Nigerian President Abdulsalami Abubakar began leading ECOWAS talks with Tandja’s representatives in Abuja, Nigeria. ECOWAS is taking a cautious approach and attempting to remain even-handed; yesterday, Abdusalami met with a delegation of high-profile members of Niger’s opposition. The EU backs ECOWAS efforts on Niger and a parallel effort on Guinea, and has suspended much of its aid to Niger.

Nigerian President Musa Yar’Adua, who is also the current ECOWAS chairman, is said to favor a “carrot-and-stick” approach to Niger. The linked author expands on this strategy and the challenges that remain:

Several times, Yar’Adua government has attempted to spearhead talks between the government of Niger and the political opposition. But, he has met with failure, principally, because Mr. Tandja has so far refused to shift his position on any of the key issues.

The understanding seems to be, this time around, that negotiations will work, if backed by sanctions. That probably explains why ECOWAS has set the ball rolling, so to speak, by suspending Niger from its ranks. Mr. Tandja can be made to climb down from the high tree he’s flown onto, if a degree of those sanctions is economic. A travel ban on members of his government, plus an asset freeze may also help to cow the president and his supporters.

But, the efforts must be concerted, if they are to bear fruit. On their own, neither ECOWAS nor the A.U. can make much happen, without wholehearted commitment from both the E.U. and the U.N. They are the ones with the real political and economic muscle.

Also, Niger’s military has to be brought into the equation, because, to a large extent, the military leadership hold the key to a solution. If every kind of military aid to Niger was cut off, the backers of the 72-year-old president in the armed forces would begin to think twice.

The opposition themselves need to close ranks by acting as one. But, most importantly, it would seed that the best option on the table should be to encourage both sides to settle for a government of national unity, ahead of elections that are fair, credible and transparent. Before that, political reform must happen.

In terms of bilateral Niger-Nigeria relations, it’s not clear how big of a stick Yar’Adua will wield against his neighbor. A recent border closure between the two countries hinted at a stiffer Nigerian policy toward Niger, but the reasons for the closure were not made explicit, so perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

The other country in the region with a potentially significant role in the crisis is Liberia. Xinhua reports that Tandja asked President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for help in finding a resolution. What that request means I’m not sure. If nothing else, I think we can say that Tandja wants good relations with other countries in the region, which opens the possibility that regional pressure will lead to a resolution. On the other hand, Tandja has fought hard to remain in power and will be unlikely to step down. Does resolving the crisis therefore mean other demands will take center stage – some kind of power-sharing agreement, perhaps, rather than a total political alternation? We’ll see where these talks in Abuja go.

China’s Influence in West Africa

A recent deal between China and Guinea Conakry has once again drawn attention to Beijing’s foreign policy in Africa. Here I want to start to put Chinese-Guinean relations into a continent-wide, as well as regional, context.

Conakry, Guinea

Conakry, Guinea

All over the continent of Africa, Beijing’s hand is visible in diverse economic projects, many of which concern energy resources. To take a few recent examples, China is constructing a pipeline in Chad and won major engineering contracts in Sudan this month. China’s trade with Africa now matches or potentially surpasses US-African trade. At the end of the summer, Reuters’ Africa blog proclaimed, “China Shunts US into Second Place in Scramble for Africa.”

With economic influence comes political effects, negative and positive. One negative encounter was a dispute – which became ugly and public – between Namibia and China over the terms of a low-interest loan. But on the positive side, Rwandan President Paul Kagame recently sang China’s praises, saying “The Chinese bring what Africa needs: investment and money for governments and companies.”

With this background in mind, I’d like to zoom in to the regional level, and talk about China’s activities in West Africa, an issue which the question of China’s involvement in Guinea has brought to the fore.

First of all, energy interests are at stake in West Africa just as they are elsewhere. This is true not just in oil giant Nigeria, but also in Ghana, where China National Offshore Oil Corporation may soon battle Exxon (free registration may be required) for a bid on a “massive offshore field.” Other petroleum-related projects in the region include the Chinese-financed and -built Port of Friendship in Mauritania.

As China’s role in the region expands, it is conducting cultural outreach as well as financial investment. In Liberia, where “mineral firm China Union became the largest investor [in the country] when it signed a $2.6bn deal to go into iron-ore mining earlier this year,” the Chinese embassy has begun offering free Chinese classes five days a week.

China has seen backlash in West Africa just like in other parts of the continent; this summer Nigerian politicians, angered by reports of abuse against Nigerians held in Chinese jails, moved to crack down on Chinese citizens illegally present in Nigeria. And MEND has threatened Chinese oil firms if they do business with the Nigerian government before peace comes to the Niger Delta.

On the whole, however, China seems to feel confident in its political position in the region. The Chinese ambassador to Senegal recently and boldly stated, “We can say that China has done more for Senegal in four years than what the Western countries have for her in 10 or 20 years.” Relations between China and West African leaders generally seem warm, whether they are democratically elected governments or military regimes.

That is certainly the case with Guinea, where China has pursued a relationship with the country’s leader, Captain Moussa Camara, even in the midst of a major political crisis and severe state violence. This week, the two nations concluded a “huge mining and oil deal.” The Guinean opposition has “rejected the deal estimated to be over seven billion dollars as illegal, immoral, and an affront to democracy,” but China appears unmoved by the criticism.

This incident seems to offer further evidence, then, that China’s operative policy is that so long as it can maintain positive relations with an African country’s leadership, it will ignore any domestic or international criticism of that relationship, and will moreover continue to work with those leaders until and unless they directly threaten Chinese interests. Given the trend toward an increasing Chinese presence in the region, the deal with Guinea comes as no big surprise – and will likely not be the last of its kind.

Guinea Conakry Protests Reading List

My girlfriend asked the other day why I haven’t said anything on the protests in Guinea. My initial response was that Guinea lies outside the region I’m most interested in and that I don’t have the necessary background to cover it.

Conakry, Guinea

Conakry, Guinea

But that’s a cop-out, and the situation in Guinea certainly affects its neighbors and West Africa more broadly – and is, most importantly, a tragedy deserving of international attention. So my solution is not to write a full post, since I still feel inadequate for the task, but rather to offer a reading list to people looking to brush up on the conflict. So here goes:

Background on the Crisis

Eyewitness Accounts

Profiles of/Interviews with Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, Guinea’s leader since 2008

Camara…was a virtually unknown army captain when he seized power in December 2008. But he captured the imagination of a country desperately seeking change after the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte, who had also taken charge in a coup in 1984.

His popularity grew as he promised genuine democracy in the country, including a safe transition period and then presidential elections in which he would not stand. He galvanised support from politicians, civil society groups and voters. Although both the West African regional body Ecowas and the African Union initially suspended Guinea, they have been generally supportive of his leadership and efforts to bring democracy[…]

But his increasingly erratic leadership style and unpredictable behaviour has come in for criticism. On several occasions, he has ordered politicians, civil society leaders and members of the public to shut up or even leave meetings, and is reported to have humiliated several foreign ambassadors.

Regional Impact

Feel free to add your own links or perspectives in the comments section.