Sunday, November 6, 2011

Twenty-first Century Statecraft, Sudan and Food Security

This first appeared on Africa in Transition. 

Reuters recently reported that Sudan’s government is unhappy with a blog post written by UK ambassador to Sudan Nicholas Kay calling attention to growing food insecurity in that country.
The episode is significant because it illustrates the use of a relatively new diplomatic tool, social media, by the chief of mission of a major state. Unlike press statements or on-the-record interviews, blogging provides diplomats with an “informal” and individualized space to reflect on issues. Recognizing the utility, the UK Foreign Office has set up a series of blogs for use by its diplomatic staff.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, has been a supporter of experimenting with social media. Many embassies have adopted twitter to promote an exchange of ideas and dialogue with host-country nationals as well as with government officials. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria is an especially active tweeter and Facebook user. (Full disclosure: they regularly retweet my writings. Thanks!)

This brings me to my second point. The medium is not only always the message. In this case, UK Ambassador to Sudan Kay’s point that raised the ire of the Khartoum government, that it is “little wonder Khartoum has seen protests in the last few weeks,” highlights the political problems that food insecurity can cause, particularly in weak states like Sudan.

It is unlikely that these pressures will let up any time soon. The World Bank’s Food Price Watch, in its November quarterly report notes “Global food prices remain high and volatile…Domestic food prices also remained volatile in the same period… But domestic price volatility does not follow a clear pattern, making it difficult to predict that direction of future domestic prices.”

Food insecurity is a clear threat to regimes, particularly ones unaccustomed to accommodating their people. Rather than chastising Ambassador Kay, Bashir should turn his attention to improving the food supply.

Insights into Politics and Development in Nigeria

This first appeared on Africa in Transition.
Over the last week, a number of papers have been published that will be useful to Nigeria watchers.
The Center for Global Development’s Fighting the Resource Curse through Cash Transfers initiative has published a piece by Aaron Sayne and Alexandra Gillies (pdf) that evaluates the potential of direct cash transfers in the Niger Delta. The basic concept of the cash transfer system is that money, if given directly to those who need it, will be more wisely spent than by alternative recipients, such as government or development organizations. Sayne and Gillies find that while such a system may in fact improve the lot of its recipients, direct cash transfers are unlikely to result in transformative economic development because of factors such as lack of infrastructure and insecurity. Sayne and Gillies make the point that a system of direct payments to individuals would also promote the current, unhealthy focus on how to access state largesse that could trigger competition for payments resulting in insecurity. (An additional benefit of this paper is their clear break down of the Nigerian government’s current revenue sharing model.)

The Fund for Peace, creator of the acclaimed Failed States Index, has published its latest installment of incident reports compiled by its UNLock Nigeria early warning network, from April –September 2011. (This includes reports from the contentious 2011 elections.) The FFP methodology is expansive, capturing a wide range of insecurity. What is unique is that this data is not compiled from press reports, but from a network of trained civil society organizations on the ground. While their reporting is country wide, it is concentrated in the Niger Delta, much of which is off-limits to Westerners, and where the extent of insecurity is significantly underreported by the Nigerian press. Based on the authors’ analysis of incidents, they find “With a significant youth bulge–over 40% of the population is under the age of 15—a history of economic and social imbalance between the North and South, religious and ethnic tensions, and a fragile system of political power sharing, Nigeria faces significant challenges over the next few years.” A fair assessment.

And finally, Elizabeth Donnelly at Chatham House has published “Tangible Tensions” (pdf), a broad overview of the challenges Nigeria is facing. The key takeaway, I think, is the differences between the pessimism of those who focus on security issues (Boko Haram, ethnic conflict in Plateau, low-level violence in the Delta, crime, etc.) and the optimism of the business community, especially in Lagos.

Democracy's Growth in Africa: Slow, Violent, and Worth Celebrating

Coauthored with John Campbell. Read the whole article at the Atlantic or at

Hopes are running high for Liberia's second presidential elections since the end of its brutal civil war. The first round of polling appears to be credible. And with former warlord and current senator Prince Johnson's endorsement, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female head of state, is likely to win the run-off in November in what has been so far a largely fair and peaceful election. However, recent presidential elections in Ivory Coast and Nigeria risk overshadowing Liberia's consolidating democracy, and they are much larger countries. Both polls were historic: Ivory Coast's was the first since the end of civil war, and Nigeria's “better” election followed its 2007 “election-like event.” Nevertheless, they illustrate, alongside the polls in Kenya in 2007 and Zimbabwe in 2008, the potential for violent elections in profoundly divided countries. Twenty-seven African countries will hold local and national elections by the end of 2011, and at least seventeen more are expected next year. If elections are so often violent and polarizing, even when they are deemed free and fair, should the United States be promoting them? The answer is yes. Because Africans want them.

Read the rest of the article here.

African Democracy: Elections Despite Divisions

This first appeared on Africa in Transition.
Electoral violence in a number of sub-Sahara countries has prompted some Africa watchers to question whether the United States and other Western countries should be prioritizing “free, fair and credible” elections when the process so often polarizes a country rather than unifying it around democratic institutions and practices. Nevertheless, I believe the United States and other westerners should continue to do what they can to support Africans working to build free, fair, and peaceful democracies, not least because Africans themselves want elections, and there are no good alternatives.

Asch Harwood and I co-authored a piece published today by the CFR Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets program in which we lay out why we should continue to support African democracy despite the electoral potential for polarization.

I also did a Youtube video (posted above), where I make the same argument, as well as a short discussion about the importance of arms control in Africa.

H/T – Asch Harwood

Mobile Phones in Africa

This first appeared on Africa in Transition.

A few days ago, I blogged about Africa’s population growth, based on research from a series of reports produced by Standard Bank looking at “five trends powering Africa’s enduring allure.” The reports are loaded with statistics and provide some food for thought (although if you read the previous post, you know how I feel about the “benefits” of population growth). The reports are not available publicly, but they have been written about widely, so you can get the gist.

In this post, (apropos given today’s release of the new IPhone), I wanted to turn your attention to “Trend 3: Leapfrogging Through Technology.” In it, report author Simon Freemantle notes,
“In no area has the terrain altered more seismically than in mobile telephony. Much of the importance of mobile phones in the African context rests in the manner in which they allow Africans to sidestep pervasive infrastructure constraints, share information more freely, thus making markets more efficient, and stimulate and support entrepreneurial verve.”

I wanted to include this point as another example of ‘African solutions to African problems,’ in this case, finding innovative solutions to challenges that often contribute to investor timidity, such as underdeveloped infrastructure and limited access to credit.

In Kenya, as Freemantle points out in a separate report on African finance, “mobile banking…has introduced financial services to 70 percent of the country’s adult population, up from less than 5 percent in 2006.” And the industry across Africa is predicated to be worth twenty-two billion dollars by 2015.
I won’t argue that mobile phones in Africa are a “silver bullet.” But they demonstrate the potential of simple and widespread technology–the most popular phone in Africa is the relatively unflashy Nokia 6300.

IIGG Report on the African Union

This first appeared on Africa in Transition.

Events this year have raised questions about the effectiveness of the African Union (AU). There was the post-election crisis in Ivory Coast, (President Ouattara vociferously criticized the AU at an on-the-record meeting last month at CFR); and the AU’s initial intransigence over recognizing Libya’s new government. Then, too, there are the long-standing problems associated with Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the Great Lakes region. On the other hand, the African Union has been assiduous in countering overt military coups and it has deployed peacekeepers in numerous trouble spots.
In his new working paper on the Africa Union released by the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the CFR, author Paul Williams analyzes both the achievements and the shortcomings of the continent-wide organization. Notably, he does not measure the success or failure of the organization by international expectations, but by the explicit intentions of the African Union based on its founding documents.
In Williams’ own words:
The AU faced major obstacles during its first decade: its practical achievements fell short of its grandiose declarations of intent; its small number of bureaucrats struggled to keep the organization working effectively and efficiently; and its member states were often divided over how to respond to Africa’s conflicts.
These deficiencies stem from three problems. First, the AU attempted to refashion the continent’s peace and security architecture at a time when crises and armed conflicts engulfed much of Africa. Local governments and external donors were thus forced “to build a fire brigade while the [neighborhood] burns.” Second, the AU took on formidable conflict management challenges without possessing any big sticks or many tasty carrots. It thus lacked sources of leverage crucial for resolving armed conflicts. Third, AU reform efforts became entangled in broader debates about the appropriate relationships between the United Nations and regional organizations.
Ultimately, Williams’ sees the African Union as a potential partner, and one that should be nurtured given the United States’ strategic and moral imperatives on the continent.
On another note, the paper also does one of the best jobs I’ve seen describing the various parts of the organization and their functions.
Read the report here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

ICG Civil War Concerns in Sudan

This first appeared on John Campbell's "Africa in Transition".

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned of escalating civil war in Sudan as fighting between opposition and Khartoum forces continues to spread beyond the disputed territory of Abyei into the states of South Kordofan and now Blue Nile on the Ethiopian border. The first is territory disputed by South Sudan and Khartoum. The latter two remained in Sudan following the secession, but contain armed opposition groups formerly allied with Juba.

South Sudan’s secession has played a role in the escalating conflict. As the ICG notes, parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) were never addressed, including the integration of the armed factions of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which formally split from the Juba-based SPLM on September 8. Perhaps more notably, the ICG argues that the South’s successful succession weakened Bashir’s control over the National Congress Party, allowing hardliners to execute a “soft-coup” within the NCP. They prefer the “military option” as opposed to Bashir’s negotiations.

Analysts at the ICG suggest that fighting in Sudan’s center constitutes civil war and fear that the various opposition groups fighting Khartoum may be coalescing. This in turn could “trigger a wider civil war for control of the country.”

Read the report here.