Quick Thoughts on Senegal’s Elections

Yesterday Senegal held the second round of its presidential elections. Two-term President Abdoulaye Wade was seeking a third term, a move which – combined with widespread anger at his perceived economic failures and autocratic tendencies – called a significant urban protest movement into being last year. In the first round in February of this year, Wade won a plurality (35%) but not the majority needed to avoid a run-off. Between then and yesterday the opposition coalesced around runner-up Macky Sall, who is currently mayor of Fatick but whose resume includes time as prime minister and president of the National Assembly. Last night, after voting ended, Wade conceded to Sall, indicating that the latter’s victory must have been massive. Results are not yet available; I will update when they are. According to Wikipedia, Sall will take office on April 1.

My feeling is that a change of leadership is a good thing for Senegal in and of itself. It will lower the political temperature of the country and allow for a re-thinking of its trajectory. News articles and analyses over the past month have stressed the relationship between Wade and Sall – the latter “owes his political career to Abdoulaye Wade” in the BBC‘s formulation – and some have implied that Sall’s style of governing will not differ strongly from that of (the early?) Wade. Even if there is continuity in policymaking, I think that had Wade remained in office, there would have been serious protests and general uncertainty concerning the future of the country.

With that said, Sall will not have an easy job. One task is to define it. The contours of the Senegalese presidency were thrown into question by the changes and maneuvers Wade made as he sought to remain in power, and by wavering over term lengths and limits that goes back decades. Sall has campaigned in part on limiting the power of the presidency, for example ensuring that presidents can only serve, at most, two five-year terms. Other problems Sall will confront concern the economy – electricity generation, job creation, poverty, etc. Some of the protest fervor last year and this year focused on Wade the man, but it also focused on economic and infrastructure issues. Indeed, protests over electricity shortages occurred well before the “June 23rd” movement came into being. Sall will face massive pressure to make progress on solving these issues, progress that is meaningful to ordinary people, within his first term.

Senegal’s election has meaning beyond the country’s borders, but I think that meaning is both bigger and smaller than some people say. French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls the outcome “good news for Africa,” which prompts two questions: First, why just for Africa? And second, although I agree with Sarkozy that it is good news, will what happens in Senegal affect what happens elsewhere on the continent? Opposition victories in African presidential elections are major events. But the last one that I am aware of, that of Michael Sata in Zambia’s September 2011 vote, does not seem to have played any significant part in shaping what happened in Senegal yesterday. Events in each country have a lot to do with that country’s internal dynamics and the specific external forces that influence them. One country’s transition can inspire activists in another, but inspiration only goes so far without the conditions and the strategies that make change possible in a given place.

In that vein, we can compare Senegal and its neighbor Mali, where a recent coup has left the country in confusion, but only to a certain extent. They are both African countries that were supposed to hold presidential elections this year; one did and one didn’t. The contrast is striking – but so is the contrast between the pasts and presents of the two countries. This is not the first time that civilians have been in power in Senegal while soldiers rule Mali. Nor does Senegal, despite periodic violence in its southern Casamance region, face a conflict like the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali. My point is, we should not over-generalize based on cases. I do not believe the coup in Mali heralds a wave of coups across Africa, nor do I believe that Senegal is ground zero for a continent-wide democratic movement. That is in no way meant to take away from the triumph of the Senegalese people; in fact, I think to treat it on its own terms, rather than as some sort of weather vane for Africa, gives it more dignity and importance.

Africa Blog Roundup: AGOA, Climate Change in Nigeria, and More

Jessica Achberger reports from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum in Zambia.

Roving Bandit considers a proposed “division of labor” for international aid organizations.

A few items on Nigeria:

  • Saratu returns to Lagos (an awesome piece, highly recommended).
  • Baobab discusses the activities of the “Niger Cyber Hacktivists.”
  • Amb. John Campbell writes on Boko Haram.
  • The US Institute of Peace has a new report, “Climate Change and Adaptation in Nigeria.”

Sean Jacobs posts music by the anti-regime Burkinabe singer Sams’K Le Jah.

With conflict along the North-South Sudan border, food, fuel, and other supplies are low.

Last but not least, Kal looks at a few developments in Mauritania.

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?

Secretary Clinton Arrives in Africa Today

Following her attendance yesterday at a meeting on Libya in Abu Dhabi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Lusaka, Zambia today for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) ministerial forum (visit AGOA’s website here). After Zambia, Clinton will stop in Tanzania and Ethiopia. This is her first major tour of Africa since August 2009, and like that trip it will test the efficacy of America’s political outreach to Africa in comparison with the approaches of China and other powers.

News coverage has stressed the economic focus of Clinton’s trip. VOA writes, “Enhancing trade, development and regional security will be key priorities for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on an Africa tour later this week.” This economic focus will extend beyond the AGOA meeting to include the visits to Tanzania and Ethiopia. Here is a sense of the agenda:

The chief US diplomat will meet with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“In Tanzania, she will highlight our successful bilateral engagement, including a host of programs, including Feed the Future,” [deputy spokesman Mark] Toner said.

In Ethiopia, Clinton will “focus on regional issues,” visiting the African Union headquarters and meeting with AU Chairman Jean Ping in addition to holding bilateral meetings with Ethiopian officials.

She will also meet with representatives of civil society — which usually includes human rights and other society activists — to “draw attention to their innovative and enterprising work,” Toner said.

The AGOA meeting is the main event of the trip, and from the stature of its representatives there – US Trade Representative Ron Kirk spoke during the opening proceedings yesterday – it is clear that Washington takes the conference seriously. US analysts and African attendees have highlighted problems with AGOA, problems that seem even darker with China’s shadow cast over the meeting. The Wall Street Journal, in an article I recommend you read in full, puts the issue this way:

The U.S. remains the top donor to Africa, disbursing $7.6 billion in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

China isn’t a member of the OECD, and doesn’t provide detailed breakdowns of aid and investment to Africa. But in 2009, China became Africa’s largest trade partner. In the first 11 months of last year, China’s trade with Africa amounted to $114.81 billion, according to the Chinese government’s White Paper on the topic. U.S. trade with Africa for the period reached $103 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

China has tied much of its trade and investment to Africa with preferential loan deals, often aimed at securing supplies of oil, gas and minerals. Top-ranking Chinese officials regularly visit African countries to cement these agreements.

“The goal of China is mercantilist; they do what they need to do to get access to natural resources,” says Paul Ryberg, the Washington-based president for the African Coalition for Trade, which represents African companies in the U.S. The centerpiece of U.S. economic engagement, Agoa, says Mr. Ryberg “is economic development, creation of jobs and the creation of a middle class to buy our products.”

AFP also touches on the subject:

AGOA’s rules are broad enough to encompass most of the continent, but leave out countries hit by coups or major political conflicts, including Ivory Coast, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The United States sees the offer of tariff-free access to the world’s largest economy as a carrot to encourage good governance in Africa.

But like other western countries, the United States now finds itself competing with China, which imposes no such pre-conditions.

African trade with China jumped more than 40 percent last year, compared with an 18 percent increase for the United States.

Last year AGOA exports to the United States reached $44 billion, but 91 percent of that were petroleum products, mainly from Nigeria and Angola, according to the State Department.

Washington, it seems, understands the weaknesses of AGOA. But will US diplomats and policymakers be able to increase non-petroleum trade and more effectively compete with China? Sending two high-level officials to AGOA demonstrates strong engagement, but will there be follow-through? These issues bear watching even after Clinton’s trip is over.

Goodluck Jonathan and Ali Bongo to Washington, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama to Africa

Next week major leaders from African countries will travel to Washington as major leaders from the United States prepare to travel to Africa. In both directions, the visits are sure to occasion commentary.

In Washington, President Barack Obama will receive Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday and Gabonese President Ali Bongo on Thursday. Obama and Jonathan met around this time last year, after Jonathan was sworn in for the first time. I may be mistaken, but I believe Jonathan’s first visit following each of his inaugurations has been to the United States.

Commentary on the visit in Nigeria and in the Africa-focused press may be more curious than critical. The meeting with Ali Bongo may evoke more criticism. Despite a relative lack of international media attention, Gabon was the site of one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest protest movements earlier this year, and Bongo’s security forces carried out a serious crackdown on the protesters. I doubt that many in the US will be paying attention to these visits, but we may see some criticism of Bongo’s visit this week on Twitter and blogs.

While Jonathan and Bongo are in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be getting ready for her upcoming trip to Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Here’s a peek at the itinerary:

Clinton, following a trip to the United Arab Emirates, will visit Zambia’s capital Lusaka on June 10 for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Ministerial Forum, Clinton’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.

[…]In Zambia, Clinton will also meet Zambian President Rupiah Banda, who is seeking re-election this year, and “participate in events to highlight US government initiatives to improve the lives of the Zambian people,” Toner said.

Afterward, he said, Clinton will travel to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but gave no precise dates.

The chief US diplomat will meet with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“In Tanzania, she will highlight our successful bilateral engagement, including a host of programs, including Feed the Future,” Toner said.

In Ethiopia, Clinton will “focus on regional issues,” visiting the African Union headquarters and meeting with AU Chairman Jean Ping in addition to holding bilateral meetings with Ethiopian officials.

Later this month, First Lady Michelle Obama will also travel (without the President, but with her mother and daughters) to South Africa and Botswana. This will be an official visit focused on health issues. Read the White House statement here.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Michelle Obama currently holds elected office, but both are political figures, and they are two of the most popular (at times, I believe, the two most popular, as measured by approval ratings) national political figures in the US. I imagine that popularity will hold in Africa to an extent as well, and that both will get enthusiastic receptions on their trips – though Clinton’s meetings with African leaders will not necessarily be entirely smooth. I will cover Clinton’s trip here, as I did when she visited the continent in 2009; Obama’s is well outside of my usual geographic coverage, so I may only offer a few links as relevant.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Sudan Elections, Moussa Dadis Camara, US-Nigeria Partnership

A few bloggers talk about the Sudan elections:

Elizabeth Dickinson is not impressed with a recent New Yorker piece on Guinea’s ex-leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara:

Guinea’s troubles go far deeper, and are far more serious, than one man’s ludicrous antics explain. Dadis was probably a symptom of that more than anything — but we see him portrayed as the disease. I’m still waiting for a piece that explains the backstory behind what has happened in Guinea, because this is not it.

Inside Islam looks at Muslim-Christian relations in Senegal.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson talks about the Binational Commission for the US and Nigeria:

With the launch of the Binational Commission, we expect the United States and Nigeria will engage in serious, high-level talks on issues of mutual interest. The Commission’s four working groups provide the structure of this engagement. We’ll first convene the Good Governance, Transparency, and Integrity Working Group, as electoral reform and improved administration are needed to help Nigeria achieve free, fair and peaceful elections in 2011. The group will also address corruption by seeking to build Nigeria’s institutional capacity and prosecutorial efforts. The Niger Delta and Regional Security Cooperation Working Group will support Nigeria’s efforts to provide immediate and tangible development and economic opportunity to the people of the Niger Delta. The Energy and Investment Working Group will work to improve transparency, administration, and performance of the power generation and hydrocarbon sectors. And finally, the Food Security and Agriculture Working Group will work to increase reliable access to food in Nigeria and the region through improvements in agriculture and trade policy.

Zambia’s Trade Minister gives an interview about China (h/t China in Africa).

Kal fills us in on politics, antiterrorism, and relations with Mali in Mauritania.

And last but not least, Texas in Africa looks at celebrity humanitarianism in Africa.

Feel free to use this as an open thread on Africa news and/or the Sudan elections.

China, Sudan, and Oil

Before I get to what I want to say, two caveats:

First, Sudan-China relations are more complicated than one often hears. China’s positions on political issues in Sudan, such as Darfur, have not been static. Moreover, links between China and Sudan are not just economic and political, but cultural. I don’t want to justify or condemn China’s actions in Sudan, rather I want to point out that the two countries interact on levels and in ways that shouldn’t be classified as just exploitation.

South Kordofan, Sudan

Second, oil politics in Sudan are not simple. Just this week, a British human rights group called for a new audit of oil revenues in Sudan, arguing that inaccurate reporting could stoke tensions between the North and the South. The discrepancy in the figures came to light, interestingly enough, because of different numbers put forth by the Sudanese government and the Chinese National Petroleum Company. Tensions surrounding the distribution of oil revenues, both between North and South and within the South, pose a threat to the stability of Sudan. Throw Chinese investment into the mix and matters become even more complex.

With those two caveats in mind (and a third: I am no expert on the international politics of Sudan’s oil), I was struck today by a story on the execution of two Sudanese prisoners accused of killing two Chinese oil workers around 2004. This is not the only incident of its kind:

Foreign interest in Sudanese oil has pushed workers into some of the country’s most remote and insecure corners.

Three Sudanese working with the Yemeni HTC oil company were killed after they were ambushed while travelling between Heglig and Mayom County in South Sudan’s Unity State in October 2008.

Earlier the same month, gunmen abducted nine Chinese oil workers from South Kordofan and later killed four after what China said was a failed rescue attempt.

To put this into historical context, Chinese companies have been involved in Sudanese oil production since 1996. The oil connection has fostered a military relationship, with China providing arms to the Sudanese government and Khartoum sometimes deploying troops to protect Chinese workers.

In geographical context, Sudan may be “China’s largest overseas oil project” (as of 2004, so that statement may be out of date), but China’s presence in Africa is larger than just Sudan. Chinese involvement in Africa has a lot to do with oil and other resources, and these ventures expose them to backlash. For that reason this story about the killing of Chinese oil workers reminds me of other incidents where Africans have targeted Chinese: in Algeria, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Angola, to take a few examples.

Sudan has carried out other executions in recent years, and at least one execution was connected with an incident where foreigners were targeted. So I don’t want to read too much into the execution this week. But it does raise questions for me about how African governments, and China, will manage African backlash against China when it occurs. If the past gives us any indication, more attacks on Chinese workers will happen, especially when contested resources are at stake. I’m not saying that China should or will leave Africa, but it seems that all the players in this equation – African governments, African communities, the Chinese government, and Chinese workers – will, in the years to come, have to deal with complex and sometimes violent politics stemming from their encounters with each other.