Africa Blog Roundup: South Sudan Violence, Algerian Protests, AQIM, and More

A lot of commentators were writing this week about the protests in North Sudan and the violence in South Sudan. On the North, here are some links:

  • Amanda Hsiao writes, “The violent government response to peaceful protests in Sudan last week is an alarming reminder that without external engagement, the Sudanese government is likely to continue a ruling strategy that has so far led to more conflict than peace in the country’s history.”
  • Spencer Ackerman mocks Sudanese President Omar al Bashir for “instruct[ing] his government to expand rural electrification efforts ‘so that the younger citizens can use computers and Internet to combat opposition through social networking sites such as Facebook’.” I share Ackerman’s view that Bashir will have a hard time using Facebook to stop the protest movement, but Bashir’s comments reveal where he sees part of his political strength lying – namely, in rural areas and among constituencies who will reject the political viewpoints of urban students.

And here are some pieces on the South:

  • Baobab: “[The shooting of Jimmy Lemi Milla, minister for co-operatives and rural development]  is unlikely to be the start of a sustained campaign of violence or an attack on secessionist leaders more generally. But it does make clear how far South Sudan is still from having a fully functioning state.”
  • Elizabeth Dickinson: “Over the last several days, as many as 140 people have been killed in clashes in Southern Sudan, pitting the army against a break-off rebel faction. The deaths raise the ominous scepter of conflict in a region that has tried hard for unity in recent weeks, as it voted in a referendum to secede from greater Sudan. Now, as Southern Sudan becomes an independent state, it’s worth remembering that north-south violence isn’t the only type to fear.”

Kal and Andrew Lebovich take a look at the protests in Algeria. Aaron Bady rounds up accounts of protests across the Arab world as he ponders the connections between them.

Aaron Zelin reviews an article on AQIM’s propaganda.

Reuters Africa Blog questions the African Union’s approach to political crises on the continent:

[The] question lies in whether the AU’s decisions — passed almost always with a twinge of nationalist sentiment — are working. From the electoral crisis in Zimbabwe to the one in Kenya and now Ivory Coast, the AU’s “African solutions” have failed to reap yields, exposing a lack of muscle on the bloc’s side.

In Zimbabwe and Kenya, the organisation stuck with its favoured stance of mediating a deal and forming power-sharing governments, forcing uneasy coalitions in which government business is stymied by feuding rivals sitting at the same table.

Some analysts believe unless a tougher stance is taken on leaders who flout the will of voters, African elections will continue to be routinely abused.

Finally, it is interesting to see how the State Department’s vision of the ambassador is changing. The role of American ambassadors is on many people’s minds because of the Wikileaks cable dump, and it is also something I am thinking about in light of the impending replacement of Michael Ranneberger by Scott Gration (both of whom are high-profile and controversial diplomats) in Kenya.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

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Africa News Roundup: Nigeria and CAR Elections, Ranneberger and Gration, Somaliland Fighting, and More

Nigeria: President Goodluck Jonathan wins the support of a major opposition party in advance of April’s elections.

Central African Republic: President Francois Bozize’s re-election is now completely official:

The constitutional court in the Central African Republic on Saturday declared President Francois Bozize the winner of elections last month which the opposition has denounced as fraudulent.

In a public session broadcast on television the court threw out complaints by opposition candidates, pronouncing the election properly conducted and Bozize the victor with 64.37 percent of the vote.

Kenya: Controversial US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger is stepping down, and President Barack Obama has nominated US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration to fill the post. I am planning to write more on this story during the coming week.

South Sudan: Battles between rebels and South Sudan’s army killed over 100 people this week.

Somaliland: In eastern Somaliland, clashes between the army and a clan militia have killed dozens – and caused some army desertions. This is a story to watch, as Somaliland’s image of stability is a major component of its bid for international recognition. Should that stability crumble, hopes of recognition will wane.

Gabon: The Arab protests spread to sub-Saharan Africa.

The protests that are reshaping the Arab world weren’t supposed to spread south to sub-Saharan Africa. But for weeks, while scenes of Egyptians overtaking their capital have mesmerized global TV audiences — and brought the world’s most recognized names in TV news to Cairo — Gabonese protesters have been facing death and imprisonment in a series of anti-repression demonstrations consciously modeled off the Tunisian example.

Will historians talk about “global 2011”? Too soon to say, I guess.

What’s on your screen today?

Bush Appointees, Obama, and Apportioning Credit in Sudan

The credible and relatively peaceful referendum that took place last week in South Sudan would seem to vindicate the current US administration’s Sudan policy of the past two years. Yet members of President George W. Bush’s Africa team, who have steadily criticized President Barack Obama on Sudan since 2009, continue to raise concerns about the White House’s approach. At stake in this debate are the nature of US policy in Africa and the apportioning of credit in what is arguably the greatest American diplomatic triumph since the 1990s.

Bush and other architects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 (CPA), which ended decades of civil war in Sudan and laid plans for the referendum, initially envisioned a smooth transition to Obama with regard to Sudan. Immediately after Obama took office, one Bush appointee, former US Senator and Special Envoy to Sudan John Danforth, wrote encouragingly, “The Obama administration can help to finish the work we started. The U.S. can help save the peace agreement.”

But criticism of Obama on Sudan soon followed, portraying the President as disengaged and his appointees as disunited in the face of threats of renewed civil war in Sudan. Andrew Natsios, one of Bush’s Special Envoys to Sudan, wrote in 2009, “Disputes within the Obama administration are inhibiting U.S. efforts to stop Sudan’s slide toward civil war at a time when unified American leadership is essential.” Shortly before Sudan’s April 2010 presidential elections, Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Bush, told CNN that the Obama administration had “wasted almost a whole year on a policy review, and yet they are still talking with many different voices.” Richard Williamson, Bush’s final Special Envoy to Sudan, denounced Obama’s Special Envoy Scott Gration for not doing enough to enforce a court ruling concerning a North-South border dispute in the oil-rich Abyei region. Frazer and Williamson suggested that Gration’s friendliness and Obama’s disengagement were allowing Khartoum to act with impunity.

September 2010 was a turning point for Obama on Sudan: he attended a UN meeting on Sudan and called for the full implementation of the CPA. Frazer dismissed Obama’s statement as “public relations,” saying, “The president needs to insert himself into the policy and be seen to actually care about it.” Obama’s actions in the following months, which included increasing the US diplomatic presence in Sudan, earned some praise from Bush appointees. Still, Williamson warned, “The naiveté of U.S. President Barack Obama and his advisors” had helped make renewed civil war in Sudan a real possibility.

War has not broken out, but criticism has not ceased. In an interview last week, Frazer told me that the referendum was going well, and she credited the administration with diplomatic accomplishments in Sudan. However, she said past mistakes had ongoing repercussions: Had Obama pursued a more coherent diplomatic strategy from the beginning, she said, things in Sudan could be better. For example, “Abyei might be having a referendum right now.” Given that the deferral of Abyei’s referendum (originally scheduled to run concurrently with South Sudan’s) and the tribal tensions there make the region a potential flashpoint for war, Frazer’s remark amounts to a stinging criticism of two years of diplomacy by team Obama.

That Bush appointees continue to criticize Obama on Sudan will surprise few observers, but the debate represents more than just partisans taking swipes at their opponents. It is a struggle over legacies. By the time Bush left office, many Americans rejected his foreign policy views. Obama’s early candidacy gained momentum in part because he offered a new direction for foreign policy – an end to the Iraq war, a recalibration in Afghanistan, a greater emphasis on diplomacy, and a tougher approach on Sudan. If officials from the Bush administration can claim that they successfully implemented – and that Obama nearly bungled – a diplomatic solution to Sudan’s conflicts, they will have undermined a core component of Obama’s foreign policy brand. And they will have partly rehabilitated Bush’s image as a doer and decider. The race to apportion credit for the referendum is on.

In assessing the value of each administration’s approach to Sudan, it’s important to remember, as Frazer told me, that the lion’s share of the credit must go to the South Sudanese themselves, for their vision and persistence. While partisan differences (and a great deal of continuity, as Frazer acknowledged) affected Sudan policy in Washington, the US did not ever dictate what happened in Sudan. The US was merely an important partner in what may turn out as a great success story.

Violent Rhetoric in Sudan

A return to civil war in Sudan would be a tragic outcome for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. But with tensions high over the upcoming referendum on Southern independence, we hear violent rhetoric even from the top.

Reuters:

Sudan risks “violence on a massive scale” if there is any delay to a planned January referendums that will likely split the oil-rich African nation in two, South Sudan’s leader said on Friday.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir said it increasingly appeared that “unity is not an option” following the January 9 vote, which will cap a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war in the country.

“At the moment all signs point to the fact that on January 9, 2011 Southern Sudanese people will vote overwhelmingly for their own independence,” Kiir told an audience in Washington.

“There is without question a real risk of a return to violence on a massive scale if the referenda do not go ahead as scheduled,” he said.

Can US policy prevent bloodshed in Sudan? President Obama will make a major statement at a UN summit on Sudan that will take place this Friday, and many will be carefully observing what he says and does. Policy changes are in the works:

This past week, the Obama administration announced a package of incentives for Sudan, including normalized relations, if Khartoum chooses peace. [US Special Envoy Scott] Gration said there would also be consequences if Sudan turns to war, but he didn’t detail what those would be.

[…]

The new incentive package immediately loosens restrictions on agricultural equipment and would lift non-oil-related sanctions on Sudan if the vote takes place on time. Sudan would get debt relief, the lifting of more sanctions, and the restoration of full diplomatic ties if it supports the outcome of the vote, and resolves the conflict in Darfur.

[…]

[An anonymous State Department official] noted that Khartoum is already facing the prospect of losing a third of its territory and up to 80 percent of its oil revenue if the south breaks away, so there is little that additional US threats would accomplish.

Asked after a press briefing last week if his policy is all carrot and no stick Gration said: “We have a policy that gives the north a pathway to better bilateral relations. If they don’t take it, that’s already a stick.’’

Three and a half months till the referendum.

Saturday Africa Links: Flintlock 10, Hizbul Islam Split, Nile Controversies

Christian Science Monitor discusses AFRICOM’s Flintlock 10 training exercise in the Sahel:

At one time, a military exercise like Operation Flintlock – which is now in its fifth year – would have set African opinion-page columns aflame and set a fair number of African politicians pounding on tables with their shoes. Some African nations worried that the newly announced but vaguely defined Africa Command (AFRICOM) of the US Army would herald a new colonial presence in Africa, complete with permanent military bases and political interference.

But today, AFRICOM’s military exercises often pass with little notice, and increasingly with the support of African leaders. In part, this is because African leaders now see a common threat: armed violent groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which have carried out a series of murders and kidnappings from Mauritania to Algeria to Niger and threaten to topple any government that dares confront them.

AQIM might have brought a change in attitudes. Or maybe the passage of time has softened criticism. More on Flintlock 10 here and here.

Speaking of AQIM, they’ve abducted another Frenchman in northern Niger.

One of Somalia’s two main Islamist rebel groups, Hizbul Islam, is facing a schism:

An influential splinter group has officially cut it ties with the Somalia’s militant, Hizbul Islam, vowing to wage war against rival Islamist group.

Abdiaziz Hassan Abdi, a spokesman for the Ras Kamboni faction, says senior faction members including Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Islam ‘Madobe have decided to formally walk out of Hizbul Islam.

I’ll try and write a full post on this next week. I would love to hear any insights from readers.

The UN to hold a conference on Somalia. Meanwhile, IRIN updates us on the economic effects of the pirates’ departure from Harardheere. (Can we standardize the spelling of this town? Is it Haradhere, Harardhere, Harardheere, or Xharadhere, or something else?)

Vincent Ogbulafor, chairman of Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party, will resign next month.

The AP profiles Juba, South Sudan.

US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Food shortages in Burkina Faso affect livestock as well as people, producing a cycle of loss.

Controversy continues around a water-sharing agreement in Nile Basin countries. More here, and below is a video from Al Jazeera English:

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Ethiopia and Water, Chad and Sudan, African Business

Anna Kramer on water shortages in Ethiopia:

I visited Ketele Pond on my trip to southern Ethiopia eight months ago. The pond was wide and flat, softened at the edges, a shallow bowl reflecting the pale afternoon sky. It’s nothing impressive to look at, until you realize that it’s the only clean drinking water source for thousands of families in this remote area. Ketele is in fact partly man-made, shored up by local aid groups in an effort to protect the water supply during the dry season.

When we opened the photos attached to the email, one of my Boston colleagues, who was with me on the trip, gasped as though in pain. Ketele’s water had bled out, thick and red-tinged like the rust-colored soil. The pond itself was a puddle: shrunken, diminished.

On the shores of Ketele, I saw dozens of women and girls carrying yellow, 40-gallon plastic jugs. Some laughed as they scooped up water, tying the jugs to the backs of donkeys or to their own backs, getting ready for the hours-long journey back to their home villages. These jugs held their families’ water supply for the day — their only water for drinking, cooking, and a dozen other essential tasks.

I don’t know what those girls and their families are doing now that Ketele is gone.

Jane Smith updates us on relations between Chad and Sudan:

January’s rapprochement between Chad and Sudan was genuine, and may well last. After all, as long term allies (Deby launched his takeover of Chad in 1990 from inside Darfur), it makes perfect sense for them to want to stabilise the situation. Neither of them is capable of fully controlling the desert border regions, as the Darfur conflict and displacements in eastern Chad have attested. After a surprisingly peaceful passing of April’s election, Bashir would be risking much by renewing his support to the Chadian rebels. Likewise, Deby’s message to JEM was unequivocal – after the January agreement he despatched a team to the area around the Oure Cassoni refugee camp near Bahai in the far north east, and told JEM to get out of Chadian territory.

US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration and the Sudan Assessment and Evaluation Commission give a report on how implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is progressing.

Loomnie has a links roundup on Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua’s death.

Roving Bandit on ethnic grievances and civil war.

Matthew Tostevin on African business: “African business leaders are much more optimistic than the global average.”

The Mezze points us to a documentary on Mecca.

Chris Blattman has some useful tips for international air travel.

Texas in Africa on savior vs. empowerment paradigms in international development.

And on a lighter note, click through for a video on skateboarding in Uganda.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Mali, Sudan, Somalia, and African Football

Reuters looks at Chinese rickshaws in Mali:

Mali introduced Chinese-made motor rickshaws in 2006. They’ve been such a hit that most of Mali’s bigger cities are overrun with them and competition between drivers is pushing down prices. They’ve now been barred from the centre of the capital, Bamako, but in Mali’s third-largest city, Segou, the rickshaw-taxi is the main means of public transport.

[…]The rickshaws are a government initiative to create employment and improve transport. Mali’s minister for transport introduced them in 2006 after a visit to China, where motor rickshaws are widely used.

In Mali, drivers buy them from the government for about $2000 and pay for them in instalments over 20 months.

Foreign Policy assesses the situation in post-election Sudan. The Boston Globe has beautiful photos of the voting (h/t Roving Bandit). And US Envoy Scott Gration discusses an upcoming visit to Sudan and Ethiopia.

Owen Barder asks, “Can aid create incentives for politicians in developing countries?”

Modern Day Pirate Tales gives us an update on al Shabab’s conflict with Somali pirates.

Texas in Africa offers some thoughts and a blog roundup on the “One Million Shirts” controversy. Karen Attiah also shares her view.

Morealtitude on the situation in Niger.

Finally, check out Steve Bloomfield’s Africa United blog about “How Football Explains Africa.”