Africa News Roundup: Nigerien Tuaregs, South Kordofan, Kenya and Somalia, and More

I rarely comment on North African affairs here, but the death of Morocco’s Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine will merit reflection on the meaning and trajectories of “Islamism” well beyond Morocco. His funeral was yesterday.

A recent CNN interview with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta included discussion of Mali. See also the audio and transcript of a recent NPR segment on intervention in Mali.

Deutsche Welle: “Niger’s Tuaregs Fear Spillover from Mali.”

Magharebia: “Mauritania Outlaws Coups d’Etat.”

Sudan Tribune:

The Sudanese army is dispatching heavy reinforcements to South Kordofan in order to defeat the rebellion and increase security in the border region, the country’s defense minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein has announced.


His visit and comments followed reports by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army North (SPLM/A-N) that their forces defeated attempts on Monday by government forces to capture Daldoka village southeast of Kadugli and inflicted heavy losses on them.

This Day:

Former governor of Yobe State, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Thursday  declared that unless the activities of the Boko Haram was completely checkmated, there might not be any election in the entire six states of the North-east geo-political zone by 2015.

Similarly, the former governor of Kano State and chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Rebuilding and Inter-Party Contact Committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, called on opposition politicians to ensure that the ongoing alliance talks between opposition political parties worked out this time as anything to the contrary would spell doom for the nation.
The two leaders spoke in Enugu, when the ANPP special rebuilding committee met with the party’s leaders and major stakeholders from the five states of the South-east zone in continuation of its nationwide consultation with members.

In a separate article, This Day reports that the Federal Government plans to send more troops to Borno State to fight Boko Haram.

Kidnappers have released the mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Charles Wachira: “After Somalia Intervention, Kenya Faces War Within.”

What else is happening?

Sudan: Political Reorganization in the Aftermath of SPLM-N Suspension

This spring, as Sudan prepared for the secession of its southern region, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) also prepared for a division. The main SPLM would continue as the ruling party in the new South Sudan, but the party’s Northern supporters would also continue, as SPLM-N, to fight for their vision of a more pluralistic political climate in (North) Sudan. In March, SPLM-N leaders visiting Washington expressed their hopes and ambitions for remaking Sudan, but also warned of the possibility of conflict, especially in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which would lie on the new border between Sudan and South Sudan.

Conflict, rather than pluralism, has been the outcome in Sudan. In May, a gubernatorial election in South Kordofan saw the victory of Ahmed Haroun, a member of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The SPLM-N’s rejection of this result helped spark intermittent violence in the state, including a military deployment by the regime on the eve of Southern Sudanese independence. Matters deteriorated further with the outbreak of fighting in Blue Nile State, the only Northern state with an SPLM-N governor, Malik Agar. On September 2, President Omar al Bashir dismissed Agar and has since replaced him with a series of generals. On September 16, the regime suspended the SPLM-N along with 16 other parties with alleged links to South Sudan. And just two days ago, three SPLM-N MPs from South Kordofan resigned. SPLM-N leaders in both South Kordofan and Blue Nile are now effectively operating as rebels, and the fighting is fierce.

The regime’s aggressive posture toward the SPLM-N suggests that leaders in Khartoum believe they must tighten their political control in order to maintain power and stop rebellions. The posture suggests fear, in other words. Suspending the SPLM-N seems like a mistake to me – the backlash could be worse for the regime than simply letting the party continue – but this move adds weight to what some analysts have been saying for a while now, namely that hardliners in Khartoum oppose giving any ground to internal political dissent in the wake of Southern independence. If that’s the case, the hardliners appear to be dictating policy in the border areas.

The extent of the backlash in the border areas bears directly on the question of the central government’s stability. It is not necessarily any single one of the problems that Khartoum faces, but rather the combination of all them, that has made analysts like Bec Hamilton up the odds of regime change in Khartoum. With violence in Darfur escalating, the economy suffering, and the border areas blowing up, Khartoum has a full plate.

Sudan: Keep An Eye on South Kordofan


Heavy shooting broke out on Monday in Kadugli, the capital of Sudan’s volatile oil-producing border state of South Kordofan, amid soaring tensions ahead of southern independence, witnesses and the UN said.

“The fighting appears to be between elements from the SAF and SPLA,” said Kouider Zerrouk, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Sudan (UNMIS), referring to the respective armies of north and south Sudan.

He added that the fighting had stopped, but gave no information on casualties.

When South Sudan becomes formally independent on July 9, South Kordofan State will remain part of North Sudan. South Kordofan lies on the border between the two countries and is a zone of, as you can see, considerable tension: gubernatorial elections that ended there on May 4 resulted in a victory of the North’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) over the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which rules South Sudan but has a significant presence in parts of the North, including South Kordofan. The NCP victory in South Kordofan produced considerable bitterness among SPLM partisans, exacerbating NCP-SPLM tensions nationwide as well as within the state itself. The SAF and the SPLA (the army of the SPLM) are taking the political conflict to the battlefield once more.

The region of Abyei, control of which is formally disputed between the North and the South, has received tremendous attention in recent months. What happens in Abyei will help set the tone for relations between the North and the South after the latter gains independence. But South Kordofan is important too; even though its status is not disputed, its cultural and political identity is, and that dispute could lead to conflict just like the one in Abyei has to some extent already.

As I and others have said before, the secession of South Sudan will give birth to not just one new country, but two: North Sudan has been changed already by the process, and will continue to change post-separation. Old tensions have flared up in new ways, as the North – which is more internally diverse, ethnically, ideologically, and politically, than many people realize – confronts its problems once more, but this time in a political and geographical space that is being reconfigured before our eyes. The conflict in South Kordofan will not be the last of such struggles.

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’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 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’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 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?

Sudan: The SPLM in the North

_MG_4451 | Kurmuk BlueNile Sudan

Blue Nile State, North Sudan

This week I’m in Washington, DC. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars entitled “The Future of Northern Sudan: An SPLM-North Sudan View” (event notice here; video to appear soon). The event drew at least eighty attendees, by my estimate, testifying to the strong interest Washington has in the future of Sudan. Here’s my takeaway:

In July, South Sudan will become an independent country. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), long the dominant voice of Southern Sudanese, will rule the new nation. But the SPLM has a significant presence in North Sudan, and this wing – let’s call them the SPLM-N for now – will have to negotiate their identity in the new North even as the new South decides its own identity.

The event at the Wilson Center featured Yasir Arman, a Northerner who was the SPLM’s candidate in the April 2010 presidential election, and Malik Agar Eyre, current governor of Blue Nile State, which remains part of the North. The two politicians represented an openly partisan standpoint, and denounced many of the policies of North Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP). So their viewpoint was not objective, but it offered important insights into the challenges facing North Sudan.

As Alan Goulty, the event’s moderator and the UK’s former ambassador to Sudan, reminded the audience, with the conclusion of the January referendum “we are looking at two new states.” The South will remake itself, but so will the North: the NCP’s vision of an Arab Islamic state is already competing with the SPLM-N’s aspirations for an ethnically diverse and politically and religiously plural nation. Arman and Agar repeatedly stressed the argument that the balance between Khartoum and the regions must change, with states and regions gaining a greater say in North Sudan’s affairs. South Sudanese secession will help resolve some of Sudan’s political tensions, Arman said, but some underlying issues remain: populations in south Darfur and in states like Blue Nile and South Kordofan comprise “the new South of the North,” and if Khartoum does not listen to their desires, there will be conflict.

The SPLM-N has serious political ambitions in North Sudan: they have begun a process of “delinking” themselves from the SPLM in the South (though a common political and intellectual vision endures), and they hope to position their party as the major opposition to the NCP. The SPLM-N wants what what Arman calls “real democratization,” including constitutional reform and free and fair elections.

Arman and Agar both urged the US and the Obama administration to pressure the NCP to undertake democratic reforms. Arman said that Washington has privileged stability in Sudan over democracy, but contended that neither element can exist without the other: Washington’s willingness to normalize relations with Khartoum, he added, should hinge on Khartoum’s efforts to democratize, to reform the North’s constitution, to establish lasting peace with the South, and to resolve the conflict in Darfur without violence.

The event, both because of its content and because of the fact that it took place, demonstrates the SPLM-N’s intention to remain politically relevant in North Sudan. The SPLM-N is looking to Washington to support this effort. Whether the Obama administration listens to these desires or not, the event highlighted the complexity of politics in North Sudan: efforts to deepen the Arab and Islamic character of the state in Khartoum may proceed, but they will not proceed uncontested. Challenges for North Sudan are, as Agar noted, just around the corner: an upcoming gubernatorial contest in South Kordofan State will test the strength of the SPLM-N and shed some light on the future of political pluralism in the new North Sudan.