Africa Reports: Drought in the Horn, Elections in West Africa, Western Sahara, Abyei, and More

A few reports readers may find interesting:

As always, if you read these or if you know of another recently released report, let us know in the comments. Have a great weekend!

Africa News Roundup: Nigeria and Cheney, Niger and Cameroon Elections, Sudan and Wikileaks, and More

Nigeria: AJE: “Nigeria has dropped charges against Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, over bribery allegations involving the energy giant Halliburton after an out-of-court settlement was agreed. Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said that the charges were dropped on Friday after Halliburton agreed to pay fines totalling up to $250 million over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to Nigerian officials.” Halliburton’s implicit admission of wrongdoing is a big deal.

In Nigerian election news, “twenty of Nigeria’s powerful state governors said on Thursday they would support President Goodluck Jonathan as the ruling party candidate in elections next April, giving him a boost ahead of a tough battle in the primaries.” The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primary will take place January 13.

Finally, IRIN reports on corruption in the Niger Delta.

Niger will hold elections in January, and Cameroon will (probably) hold its presidential contest in October.

Sudan: BBC: “President Omar al-Bashir has been accused of siphoning off up to $9bn of his country’s funds and placing it in foreign accounts, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.”

Cote d’Ivoire: As the standoff between Cote d’Ivoire’s rival presidents continues, “The U.S. is prepared to impose ‘targeted sanctions’ on Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.” The EU, meanwhile, “called on Ivory Coast’s army to defect from President Laurent Gbagbo to Alassane Ouattara, who won the presidential election last month.”

Ethiopia: Conflict is brewing over land policies in Ethiopia:

The government of Meles Zenawi is pioneering the lease of some three million hectares of land over the next five years, an area the size of Belgium.

The policy is targeting massive lowland areas mostly in the west and south-west of the country.

These are regions populated by smaller minority ethnic groups.

The government denies conducting any repression, and says instead that its policy is aimed at lifting local people out of poverty.

Foreign investors in Gambella include Chinese, Indian and Saudi firms.

Foreign control of land in the Horn of Africa is a trend worth watching.

Western Sahara: AFP: “Morocco and the Western Sahara rebel group, the Polisario Front, on Thursday started new talks on the future of the disputed north African territory, diplomats said. The three days of talks at Manhasset near New York are being guided by UN envoy Christopher Ross and also include representatives from Algeria and Mauritania.”

What are you reading today? Feel free to post links in the comments section.

Africa Blog Roundup: Guinea Elections, Western Sahara, Somalia and Piracy, Etc.

Guinea: Andrew Kessinger discusses where things stand in post-election Guinea.

Western Sahara: Alle writes on the recent violence in the Western Sahara.

This is without a doubt a very significant moment for Sahrawi nationalism. Exactly how things will play out remains to be seen, but the violent nature of the crackdown and the protests, and the scale of public protest, is unprecedented. I believe this will become as significant an internal turning point for Sahrawi nationalism as the May 2005 Sahrawi “intifada” in el-Aaiun. While that event passed unnoticed in the larger world, it was the starting point of the recurrent Sahrawi protests and human rights lobbying that has since dominated the nationalist side of the argument, and it has seriously affected the parameters of the conflict.

Gambia: King Jammeh?

Nigeria: Loomnie writes on developments in the banking sector.

Sudan: Maggie Fick writes about portrayals of Sudan in the international media (h/t Texas in Africa):

[Recent] news clips illustrate the tendency—rather, modus operandi—of the international media coverage of Sudan to highlight the worst case scenarios surrounding the key upcoming events instead of the best possible outcomes. Since I’m a member of this media corps, I can affirm that this is the case. My short experience to date as a journalist has taught me that—surprise!—editors do not think a story with a headline to the effect of “All looks set to go smoothly in Southern Sudan’s crucial independence vote” is newsworthy. Instead, a headline to the effect of “tensions rising,” “concern mounting,” and the like is what editors want to read, because they know it is what readers online around the globe will be likely to click on as they skim the news.

This is definitely worth thinking about. Perhaps my own coverage of the referendum here has been too negative. I’ll look forward to reading more of Maggie’s writing.

Somalia: Dipnote talks about anti-piracy efforts in the Horn of Africa.

What are you reading?

Opportunity and Crisis in the Western Sahara

Two and a half weeks ago, Christian Science Monitor correspondent Drew Hinshaw warned us that the Western Sahara, headed toward peace talks but plagued by conflict, was poised to “heat up.” This week we are seeing the fulfillment of that forecast, as opportunity and crisis confront the region.

First, the opportunity:

UN-mediated talks on Western Sahara’s future began outside New York yesterday. The starting positions are the Moroccan government’s preference for Western Saharan autonomy, and the Polisario Front’s desire for a referendum on full independence for the region. Commentators Anna Theofilopoulou and Jacob Mundy find cause for hope in the talks, writing that active American, French, and Spanish involvement could help bring about a resolution after thirty-five years of strife. Edward Gabriel and Robert Holley, who served in Morocco under the Clinton administration, disagree with Theofilopoulou and Mundy on the specifics but also see a path toward peace. A lot of knowledgeable observers, in other words, believe the talks could, under the right circumstances, bear fruit.

Crisis, however, has already cast a shadow over the talks. Yesterday, even before representatives of Morocco and the Polisario came together in New York, Moroccan forces raided a “protest camp” near Laayoune in Western Sahara.

The latest tensions started in mid-October, when some residents of Laayoune set up the Gdim Izik tent camp 10 kilometers (six miles) east of the city to protest poor living conditions. Monday’s operation to dismantle it took less than an hour, according to Moroccan radio.


Morocco’s official MAP news agency said five security officials were killed Monday — four in the operation at the camp, and one stabbed to death elsewhere — and said about two dozen others were hospitalized.One protester died and hundreds of native Saharawis were allegedly injured, according to a statement by the Western Sahara government in exile carried by the Sahara Press Service. The government in exile is run by the Polisario Front.

Yet Moroccan officials insisted no civilians were killed in the raid, and the exact death toll was unclear.

The BBC has more on the clash.

The raid has already affected the tenor of the meetings in New York. Reuters quotes a worried UN official:

“It is highly unfortunate that this operation and the events preceding and following it have affected the atmosphere in which these talks are being held,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

“We call on all parties involved to exercise the utmost restraint in the hours and days to come.”

The US and the other powers that have brought Morocco and the Polisario to the table are going to be loath to give up now. But they may be in for disappointment. The talks seem to be going forward, though it also seems that yesterday’s events dented the prospects for success. If the stalemate continues, crisis will have triumphed over opportunity at this pivotal moment.

Laayoune, Western Sahara:

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Sudan, Ethiopia, Qat, Western Sahara, and More

Sudan: Dipnote (the State Department’s blog) posts Special Envoy Scott Gration’s recent remarks in Washington on US diplomatic efforts with Sudan.

Ethiopia: Barry Malone of Reuters Africa Blog asks what comes next for recently freed political activist Birtukan Mideksa.

Somalia: Mogadishuman reports on Islamists’ campaigns against Qat.

DRC: Chris Albon runs the idea of a “humanitarian use of force” in the DRC through the matrix of the Powell Doctrine.

Sahel: Kal writes about how governments in the Sahel play the “terrorism card” and discusses other developments in the region.

Western Sahara: At Africa Monitor, Drew Hinshaw says, “Dormant Western Sahara Threatens to Heat Up.”

While UN envoys have been coaxing Saharan rebels and Moroccan royals to the table, human rights conditions in refugee camps along the Algerian border have deterioatated. The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has released at least two reports documenting how those camps have become recruitment targets for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – a terrorist organization and crime syndicate which benefits from any conflict from Morocco and Algeria, the two powerhouses of the Saharan region and with the most at stake in the region’s camapign against lawlessness.

It’s going to take more than a third round of informal chats, [former UN spokesman Abdel Hamide] Siyyame says, to bend Morocco and Polisario, not to mention Algeria and Mauritania (which has intermittently attempted to annex parts of Western Sahara), into a compromise.

“There must be a third party that can propose a serious, comprehensive solution to bring everybody to the negotiation table,” he said.

Yemen: Inside Islam writes on rap in Yemen.

Nowadays, Yemen is often associated with a growing Al-Qaeda movement and seen to be a breeding ground for terrorism. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric, has become an example not only of the growing terrorist influence in Yemen but also in America. However, this is obviously not all there is to Yemen, just as it is not all there is to Islam. Many Muslims artists have used hip-hop and rap to relay messages of change and peace. While one may not think of rap in the context of Yemen,  this needs to change. Yemeni-American Hagage “AJ” Masaed, has been rapping for many years and is using this medium to reach the younger generation and to counter extremist messages.

Algeria: Inside Islam also has a cool post on women soccer fans in North Africa.

I leave you with two more: Africa Is A Country posts on deaths of asylum seekers in the UK, and Chris Blattman asks why more development economics studies focus on Latin America than on Africa.

Quick Thoughts: Jonathan Dismisses Justice Minister, Morocco and Polisario Meet, Al Shabab/TFG Faceoff in Mogadishu

A few quick thoughts (a full post on another topic to follow later this afternoon, so I wanted to point these out first):

Western Sahara

  • Goodluck Jonathan, now acting president of Nigeria, has reshuffled the cabinet, sidelining the justice minister who had been among the powerful voices objecting to the transfer of power. Many will be analyzing this move for what it says about the tone Jonathan wants to set.
  • Humanitarian groups are having trouble reaching N’zérékoré, Guinea, because tensions are still simmering there. Eastern Guinea was the site of religious clashes earlier this month, prompting fears that a wave of ethnic violence is nigh.
  • Moroccan government officials and leaders of the Polisario are meeting near New York “to engage in earnest on the future of the disputed resource-rich territory.”
  • Mogadishu remains tense as al Shabab fighters “pour into” the city in anticipation of a brutal fight against government forces. This story could evolve rapidly over the next few days – one source I recommend for the blow-by-blow details is Garowe, and I hope readers will suggest any other good sources in the comments.

Feel free to post any relevant links in the comments as well.

Saturday Links: Aminatou Haidar Goes Home, Sudan Elections, Senegalese Politics, Amr Khaled

Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar returned home yesterday.

A Western Sahara activist expelled by Morocco has been allowed to return from Spain after maintaining a hunger strike for 32 days.

Aminatou Haidar, 42, left Lanzarote airport in the Canary Islands on a small, private plane after a deal was reached, details of which are unclear.

She said her fast would continue until she was safely home with her children.

Living on only sweetened water, she has developed health problems, and left hospital in Lanzarote in an ambulance.

“This is a triumph for international law, for human rights, for international justice and for the cause” of the Western Sahara, she told reporters as she left.

The US, France and Spain are believed to have been involved in the negotiations with Morocco to send her home to Laayoune, the main town in Western Sahara, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports.

I was quite concerned that she was going to die. Reports say she may have developed permanent health problems, but it seems she will survive.

Reuters has more on the political significance of this outcome for Morocco.

Turning to the elections in Sudan, the International Crisis Group writes that “Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup.” Interestingly, the ICG suggests postponing the elections until November 2010, a move that, if taken by the ruling National Congress Party on its own, would potentially elicit dismay and skepticism from outside observers, though apparently domestic opposition groups also favor moving the elections. In related news, the Carter Center has some good news, and some concerns, about voter registration in South Sudan, Darfur, and other parts of the country.

Amy Niang analyzes Senegalese politics under President Abdoulaye Wade.

IRIN has a set of reports on northern Kenya.

The BBC profiles Egyptian Muslim televangelist Amr Khaled. Khaled is getting pretty famous – a classmate of mine in the Arab Studies program at Georgetown did his MA thesis on him.

The DEA arrests three West Africans on charges of terrorist activity and drug trafficking.

Finally, a Pulitzer Center video on the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline:

What stories caught your eye today?

Quick Thoughts: International Pressure on Niger, Al Shabab’s Strategy, Aminatou Haidar

As a follow-up to some stories I’ve been covering here, a few items worth checking out:

  • For anyone curious about whether EU and ECOWAS pressure on Niger will prevent President Mamadou Tandja from remaining in power, Tommy Miles has an informative post up about the 6th Republic that Tandja has created. Tommy looks at the way Nigerien politicians are positioning themselves with regard to Tandja and outside forces. He concludes:

While a few diehards newly lifted to great heights will fall should Tandja go, most of the political class will just change seats. Look for that jockeying with an eye to a post-Tandja future at every meeting of Nigerien officials with ECOWAS. The final key is where it always was, with Moumouni Boureima and a group of several officers who are all veterans of the 1999 CRN coup government…Jeune Afrique’s recent report of coup talk amongst some younger officers strikes at the very foundations of Tandja’s continued rule.Even if nothing comes of that, the moment a 7th Republic looks more likely to those currently in government than the stumbling on of the 6th, Tandja will be carried out on his throne. Pressure is important, then, but unless either ECOWAS or the opposition exhibit to heretofore unseen ability to generate outside force or popular unrest, Tandja will exit thanks to an inside job.

Speaking of external pressure, The Star reports that the Millenium Challenge Corporation will suspend as much as $23 million in aid to Niger over concerns about Tandja’s actions. The US has condemned Tandja’s behavior before, but this aid suspension could significantly add to the troubles Tandja faces.

  • Regarding Somalia, I’ve been wondering about the political implications of al Shabab’s conflict with Hizbul Islam. Dr. Michael Weinstein of Purdue University addresses this topic in a special report on al Shabab’s strategic thinking. Dr. Weinstein argues that al Shabab is working to slowly encircle Hizbul Islam in Mogadishu, and says that this reflects patience and political sophistication on al Shabab’s part. He distrusts narratives about al Shabab’s loss of political legitimacy in territories it controls, pointing to the lack of popular uprisings against the Islamists as evidence that they have substantial control and support.
  • Finally, two pieces worth reading on a topic I do not cover here: Western Sahara. I do not know enough about the subject to comment on it (that hasn’t stopped me in other areas!, but given the especially sensitive political nature of this topic I try to be extra careful). The two pieces are one by Alle on the hunger strike of Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar and the strike’s implications for Spain and Morocco, and the other is an update by the BBC on her deteriorating health. Haidar says Spanish medics threatened to force-feed her.

Feel free to comment below on these stories or to use this as an open thread.