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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cassava Beer, Nigerian Guinness, and Western Companies

This first appeared on "Africa in Transition."

The day before last, I attended an on-the-record discussion with two African heads of state here at the CFR. One talking point was a pitch for foreign investment in their countries. This brings us back to the debate over “Africa’s untapped potential,” and the costs and benefits of doing business on the continent. Responding to a previous posting on this topic, a blog reader commented tongue-in-cheek “Africa may not be a ready market for Western businesses because the West produces mainly higher added value products. But from where I type in Enugu, Nigeria, it is a goldmine for Chinese and Indian manufacturers,” whose products are much cheaper.

A recent Financial Times article suggests that Africa is, indeed, ready for products produced by Western companies—and that they should be thinking hard about ways to make their businesses on the continent work. The author quotes NestlĂ©’s head of emerging markets that there are three hundred million to four hundred people in Africa who can already afford his companies products, and within a few years that could increase to six hundred million.

The many challenges of doing business in Africa—underdeveloped infrastructure and supply networks, political and financial constraints, not enough skilled workers—do not lend themselves to conventional business models. However, motivated companies have begun to find innovative solutions.

Food and drink companies that already have significant operations in Africa–Heineken, Nestle, Unilever, SABMiller, and Diageo (Guinness)—for example, are overcoming sourcing problems by purchasing from local farmers and, in exchange, providing training and a guaranteed price for the finished product. In some cases, the company will also provide seeds, fertilizers and even microfinance.
SABMiller is trying to create new products with locally available crops. For example, the company is using locally produced cassava in beer that will sell for seventy percent less than other types. Nestle has responded to supply network and transport issues by setting up smaller and cheaper “finishing” factories close to customers, which gives Nestle the flexibility to increase production when demand rises.

Who knows? Perhaps we will see cassava beer on the shelves in the United States before too long—or even Nigerian-brewed Guinness, which I’ve heard has acquired something of a cult following in the UK

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dalai Lama Visa Issues for Desmond Tutu’s Eightieth?

This first appeared on John Campbell's "Africa in Transition."
The Dalai Lama has applied for a South Africa visa to attend iconic anti-apartheid activist and preeminent religious leader archbishop Desmond Tutu’s eightieth birthday celebration on October 7. Denying him a visa, as the South African government did in 2009 to avoid offending China, would likely generate unwanted negative attention. It would be another incident among a series of controversial actions that have generated harmful domestic and international press, such as President Jacob Zuma’s contentious appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Supreme Court chief justice and his government’s opposition to the Libyan transitional government as well as ANC youth league leader Julius Malema’s inflammatory comments on overthrowing the Botswana government, land redistribution, mine nationalization, and “economic war” on whites.
Already, public government comments have raised uncertainty about his visa and attracted media attention, prompting Archbishop Tutu to comment:
“I mean it’s so sad to think that we have had a kind of experience of repression that we have had, in that we should want to kowtow to a hugely repressive regime that can dictate to us about freedom and things of that kind.”
Further, the Dalai Lama is not, at least publicly, seeking a meeting with representatives of the South Africa government. He is no longer head of the Tibetan government in exile, though, like Archbishop Tutu, he has enormous moral authority.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zuma's Opposition to the Libyan NTC

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

The day before an African Union meeting in Pretoria to discuss Libya, Zuma reminded the South African National Assembly that the AU does not recognize the Libyan transitional government, despite the fact that Qaddafi is gone. These statements are part of what has been Zuma’s consistent opposition to intervention in Libya, including the NATO airstrikes and unfreezing Libyan assets for the NTC. (South Africa ultimately agreed to the later, but only after pressure).

This is curious given that twenty African governments have recognized the NTC, including, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, and even Sudan. Or maybe not all that curious.

South Africa commentator Greg Mills explains Zuma’s quixotic stance, one that, as some commentators have noted, risks undermining South African credibility and effectiveness as a regional leader on foreign policy. Mills identifies six “drivers”: “a visceral rejection of external involvement,” which, he notes, likely has a racial dimension considering NATO’s role in Qaddafi’s fall; that South Africa is trying to reestablish its “radical credentials,” which were damaged by South Africa’s initial support for the UN resolution that brought NATO into the fray. This approach, Mills argues, is a low cost way of doing so, at least domestically. (Internationally, South Africa has likely diminished its political capital).
Mills’ third driver is the impact of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on South Africa’s Middle East policy, and its perceived similarities in South Africa with apartheid. Number four is “a predilection to replicate the South Africa negotiated solution,” which Mill’s argues the success of has been “distorted and mythologized”; and number 5 is the “misplaced notion” of a global power shift east.”

Finally, and perhaps most damningly, is Qaddafi’s proclivity for “spraying money around the continent and at its politicians,” implying that at least some of the former Libyan leader’s support has been purchased.

Read his article here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Boko Haram, International Terrorism, and the Obama Administration

This first appeared on John Campbell's "Africa in Transition."
John Campbell has a piece today on where he discusses Boko Haram, that shadowy Islamic terrorist group based in northern Nigeria that has claimed responsibility for the UN headquarters bombing in Abuja two weeks ago. As he argued in previous blog posts, a security centric solution, particularly when implemented by a poorly trained and trigger happy military and police insensitive to civilians, does not address the conditions that motivate Boko Haram. Instead, political solutions that reduce northern alienation are needed. The United States should encourage the Nigerian government to reach out to the North while deepening its own ties to the North by means such as opening a consulate in Kano.

Read the whole oped here.

In another recent oped, Nigeria expert Jean Herskovits raises questions about the credibility of Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility for the bombing and argues that close association with the Jonathan administration could actually lead to stronger ties between Boko Haram and international terrorist groups, which are currently weak at most. Read her oped here.

More indepth background on Boko Haram can be found via CFR  here and the International Crisis Group here.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ivory Coast, Disarmament, and the Dozos

This first appeared on John Campbell's Africa in Transition.
As Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara embarks on a long and difficult process of national reconciliation after the divisive elections of November 2011 that led to four months of violence, the role of Dozos, a multinational fraternity of game hunters that participates in some traditional West African cult practices, complicates the process, especially in the western border regions.

Villages in Ivory Coast began employing Dozos to provide security in response to rising crime rates in the early 1990s. In general, they were viewed as a stabilizing force, providing protection when and where the police could not. In return, they were paid cash, allowed to hunt on private property, and even provided land to cultivate crops.

However, as Amnesty recently reported (see my blog post earlier this week), the Dozos have been implicated in atrocities alongside forces loyal to President Ouattara  in southwestern Ivory Coast, which generally supported defeated president Laurent Gbagbo in the November 2011 elections.

IRIN news service reports that Ouattara’s government has publicly asked for assistance from Dozos in providing security. But Dozos are irregulars, not subject to, nor accepting of, military discipline.  Further, they are not indigenous to the areas where they have now established themselves and where refugees and internally displaced persons are likely to return.  It is unclear how the Ouattara government will deal with them or what their future will be. But, they will certainly complicate the Ivorian process of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of irregular fighters left over from a decade of political instability and civil war.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New Report on Displacements and Conflict in Ivory Coast

This post originally appeared on John Campbell's Africa in Transition

Amnesty International’s latest report, released late last week, on Ivory Coast, “We Want To Go Home, But We Can’t: Cote d’Ivoire’s Continuing Crisis of Displacement and Insecurity,” is a grim reminder of an ongoing crisis that has largely disappeared from the pages of the western media. The report focuses heavily on continued insecurity, widespread displacement, and killings based on ethnicity.

The authors write that forces associated with the government of President Alassane Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro have continued reprisal attacks against ethnic groups and villages perceived as supporting ousted president Laurent Gbagbo and are responsible for much of the country’s insecurity since mid-May of this year. Further, the Ouattara government has had little success in reaching out to Gbagbo’s core supporters.

The report notes that until May when Ouattara defeated Gbagbo, militias from both sides were responsible for the violence that left hundreds if not thousands dead and, according a recent UNHCR estimate, five hundred thousand people internally displaced (pdf). Another one hundred and forty four thousand were forced to flee to neighboring Liberia, itself facing potentially divisive elections this year. Given the continued insecurity, displaced people are afraid to return home, contributing to a dire humanitarian situation that sooner or later is likely to have repercussions in the West African region and require the engagement of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.

Read the entire report here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

South Africa and Foreign Investment

This first appeared on John Campbell's Africa in Transition.
Yesterday, I had a discussion with a few students about the various lenses through which different American communities view sub-Saharan Africa. I chose to talk about the business community, civil society, and the federal government.

One view that seems to be quite common among the American business community is Africa’s enormous untapped economic potential. However, clearly, that hasn’t translated into the investment necessary to tap that potential. I speculated that this timidity was related to a number of issues, including the widespread poverty of African consumers and our lack of nuanced understanding of the African business climate.

Interestingly, South Africa, despite its highly developed (and Westernized) business climate, has also failed to attract significant foreign investment.

In the most recent installment of the World Bank’s biannual “South Africa Economic Update,” released last week, the authors emphasize that now is the time for South Africa policymakers to start focusing on the country’s medium term growth prospects, including working to attract more private investment, to reduce its sizable unemployment.

The authors note that South Africa actually provides favorable and rising returns on investment but that “risk perceptions or structural barriers to investment” likely impede foreign firms.

However, the report’s authors believe that South Africa’s economic problems can be overcome by promoting policies that generate higher employment, productivity, savings, and investment to kickstart a "virtuous cycle of inclusive growth.”

An added advantage for American business is that establishing a foothold in South Africa could make it easier for private firms with little or no Africa experience to begin expanding into the continent, helping to provide the much needed investment and employment that Africa needs.

Read the report here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nigeria's Challenge

This article was coauthored with John Campbell and first appeared on The Atlantic. Read the whole thing here.

On May 29, 2011, as newly elected Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan took the oath of office, Boko Haram, a shadowy Islamic terrorist group opposed to Nigeria's secular government, detonated three bombs at an army barracks in Bauchi state, killing at least 14 people. Two weeks later, the first suicide bombing in Nigeria's history killed five people just outside the Nigeria Police Headquarters in the national capital, Abuja.

These attacks highlight the challenges that Jonathan's government faces if it is to improve governance, reduce conflict, and promote economic development, all despite Nigeria's extreme inequality, a youth bulge, crumbling infrastructure, and high unemployment. His biggest hurdle will not be the Boko Haram, who in many ways are symptoms of Nigeria's problems, but the entrenched interests that have run Nigeria since the end of the civil war in 1970.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mapping Violence in Nigeria

This post originally appeared on, the Future Forum, and Africa in Transition.

The recent intensification of attacks by Islamic militant group Boko Haram in northern and central Nigeria, including its capital Abuja, is alarming to Nigerians and the international community alike. But is it really an escalation?

Nigeria has been marred by violence almost continuously during its post-independence history. To cite recent episodes, since 2005, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has waged war against the Nigerian government and the oil industry over what it deems is an unfair distribution of the wealth the Delta region produces. They have killed soldiers, kidnapped oil workers, and destroyed infrastructure, and have threatened renewal of its campaign against the government and the oil industry. Near the city of Jos, situated in the middle belt region of the country, economic, religious, and sectarian conflict (often between Christians and Muslims) has killed thousands over the past three years. Following the disputed presidential elections in April 2011, violence along religious lines erupted in northern states, claiming the lives of an estimated 800 Christians and Muslims, after southern Christian Goodluck Jonathan was declared the victor.

Considering the apparent daily attacks and bombings attributed to Boko Haram in the past few weeks, there is a new, palpable feeling of insecurity in the country. More than fifty civilians, soldiers, and militants have been killed in the last week in separate attacks in Maiduguri, Kaduna, and Suleja, prompting the indefinite closure of the University of Maiduguri and the banning of motorbikes in that city, as well as an unprecedented 10 p.m. curfew in Abuja. Further, bombings in the capital during its 50th Independence Day celebration in October as well as the June bombing at the National Police Headquarters have underscored the federal government’s inability to suppress violence, at least in the short term.

However, press and other reporting of the violence and unrest are often contradictory or inconsistent. At times, numbers of victims appear to be underestimated. Sometimes, however, casualties are double-counted. And disagreement over responsibility is common.

In an effort to improve our understanding of the scope of the unrest, we have initiated a crisis mapping project, the Nigeria Security Tracker, sifting through media reports, looking for incidents of violence that ostensibly can be connected to political, economic, and social grievances directed at the state or other affiliative groups (or conversely the state employing violence to suppress those uprisings). Using Ushahidi’s relatively new Crowdmap platform, we are recording each event we find, categorizing the data, and plotting it on a map and timeline. Over time, we hope to be able to evaluate the frequency of attacks, the magnitude (measured in terms of lives lost or injured), and the location of incidents.

Crisis mapping has a number of advantages. For one, it requires a more rigorous definition of violence and consideration of information as part of the process of determining which incidents should be included. It provides a means to organize and analyze often conflicting reports while at the same time allowing us to database information for future reference. In addition to being visually, appealing, the act of mapping also creates a novel opening to discuss violence in Nigeria for a technology-hungry media.

Of course, its analytical value is equally limited. Dependence on published reports means that incidents will be missed or reported inaccurately. This is particularly relevant in Nigeria where media is often concentrated in the south and important events, especially in the north, may not receive the coverage they should.

Further, it does not answer the question of why these incidents happen or why their frequency or intensity might be changing. As a result, we are working under the assumption that violent incidents often take place because of the weakness of the government and popular alienation from it, making scarce legitimate channels for redress of grievances. This alienation in turn is, at least in part, driven by Nigeria’s extreme poverty and inequality, which is most pronounced in the north; a political system that encourages winner take all competition; overzealous security services operating within a culture of impunity; and perverse corruption, which saps the political will for political solutions.

Follow the Nigeria Security Tracker here.