Africa Notes: The Sudanese War

The news is bad. Sudan and South Sudan are, reportedly, now “locked in a logic of war” (BBC). The key disputes center on the still-disputed border regions where oil fields are present. (Map available here.)

Khartoum, unfortunately, seem to be moving along the path towards further conflict. Reports CapitalFm:

Omar al Bashir’s government says that will conscript all its citizens to fight in an all-out-war with South Sudan following an escalating oil conflict.
Sudan’s Ambassador to Kenya Kamal Ismail Saeed said on Tuesday Khartoum would sustain the war ‘at all costs’ until Juba withdraws its troops from a disputed oil field in Heglig.

AlJazeera has posted this report on how the Sudanese Parliament is now calling South Sudan the “enemy”.

South Sudan, for its part, claims that Sudan is violating the laws of war, using “indiscriminate bombing” in its attack on Heglig.

Overall, I get the sense that Sudan may be beginning to win the land war, but South Sudan may be earning broader support from its African neighbors and the international community.

Regional Dimension
There is, of course, an important regional dimension to this conflict. Two regional powers, Egypt and Kenya, have made bids to help resolve the feud diplomatically.

Thurston reports on Egypt’s roles here. As he notes, “It is not like Egypt has resolved all of its own internal uncertainties, so the fact that Egypt is making the Sudans such a high priority right now says that Egypt is quite concerned.” My view is that Egypt’s current situation also means that it is unlikely going to have the kind of impact that is needed to resolve the situation.

With the case of Kenya, objectivity may be the big obstacle to their playing a role as peace broker. Kenya has been a big winner with South Sudan’s independence. It is likely, for instance, that oil will soon flow from South Sudan to its port of Lamu (Reuters). But the recent conflict threatens both those economic interests and potentially Kenya’s broader influence in the region. As Thurston mentions at Sahel Blog, concerns about future refugees and associated humanitarian challenges are also relevant here.

Ethiopia… well, there really isn’t much news about Ethiopia’s government playing a role in any of this, though they are the host for the African Union’s efforts. Indeed, Ethiopia and Sudan seem to have their own border dispute issues (Sudan Tribune).

Efforts by the African Union, including talks held since in July in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, have also failed thus far. As one security analyst notes: “Thabo Mbeki [former South African president who is leading the mediation] and his panel are losing their edge” (The Star).

The International Community
I am still not very clear on what roles China is currently playing in all of this. Ever since secession was clearly going to happen, China has actively courted South Sudan’s leaders. South Sudan’s President Kiir is due to make a state visit there within the next few weeks (Reuters).

As for the United Nations, no clear policy for dealing with the situation has emerged yet. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is making the basic pleas for peace. And the Security Council is hearing reports on the issue. One option on the table is sanctions (Reuters).

But we are all waiting.

Africa Notes: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: not an American, but an African, and a woman

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: A Missed Opportunity?
I meant to comment on this last week, before it became a moot point. But yesterday, the World Bank selected Obama’s nominee, Jim Yong Kim, as its new President (Business Insider). This should come as no surprise, as the US has always had its choice selected. And I am personally hopeful that he will do a good job.

Not an American
Nevertheless, it is still worthwhile to consider the significance of Ngozi’s candidacy. As Drezner noted, the rhetoric surrounding this reached a surprising level and for the first time the World Bank’s board did consider her in additional to the US candidate. Consider noted realist Stephen Walt’s mention of this as a “missed opportunity” for the US. He has interesting take on what the “smart” realist position should have been here:

Of course, realists expect powerful states to use international institutions to advance their own interests, which is why they want to make sure that the people in charge are reliable. If I were president, I would want the World Bank to be led by a highly competent individual who wasn’t about to harm U.S. interests. But a smart realist would also recognize that imposing the U.S. choice on others every single time is bound to trigger resentment, and encourage rising powers like China, Brazil, India, and others to redouble efforts to break Washington’s stranglehold. And every time the United States has to twist arms or use its privileged position to get its way, other states quietly seethe and anti-American forces are handed another nice talking point to use to undermine the U.S. image around the world.

But an African
Over at Global Voices, they bring the attention back to Ngozi herself, wondering whether the campaign was only symbolic.
Ngozi herself was very graceful in her concession to Dr. Kim. But she also noted that she saw this as a significant effort to reform an old institution. From her Facebook page:

by our participation we have won important victories. We have shown what is possible. Our credible and merit-based challenge to a long-standing and unfair tradition will ensure that the process of choosing a World Bank president will never be the same again. The struggle for greater equity and fairness has reached a critical point and the hands of the clock cannot be turned back.

And a Woman
So the dominant meme above is about the World Bank, the institutional reform that might be needed there, and concerns about North-South relations. We also hear online about how this was “a victory for Africa”. But it should not be missed that here we have a strong African WOMAN who played a key role in the political drama. Forbes recently listed her as the 87th most powerful women in the world. Had she secured the World Bank bid, I am certain she would have risen quite quickly in their rankings. She has a history of activism on the part of African women, s described over at the International Women’s Health Coalition. There she describes her “community” approach to supporting women’s rights:

In the early 1980s I got involved with Women in Nigeria (WIN), which was a women’s rights activist group and feminist organization with men members as well. I was one of the founding members of WIN, I started the Kano state branch, and in the mid 1980s I was the national coordinating secretary. But even at that time I felt that focusing on women alone would never bring about the kind of radical transformation of the conditions of womanhood that we envisioned for Nigeria—whether we were talking about patriarchy, or our relationships with men, or our ability to exercise our reproductive rights, or even our ability to attain reproductive health. Focusing on women or on one single issue was not going to do it—we needed to work with men and young people and women together. So, I felt that only by taking a community perspective could we create the sociocultural environment necessary for her to assert or express her full personhood as a woman.

Since those earlier days, she has risen to be a major force in Nigerian politics (the Finance Minister), and had a successful career with the World Bank, including being Managing Director prior to her current job in Nigeria. In Nigeria, her biggest battles have been against corruption. A brief recent biography at The Economist helps highlight how brave she truly is:

Death threats are no rarity, and the barrage of abuse from the national press and in online forums is continuous. Often referred to as Okonjo-“Wahala”, meaning “trouble” in pidgin, she does not tiptoe around. “If vested interests, benefiting from corruption, are attacking left, right and centre, then you are doing something right. The degree of attack is a barometer,” she says.

One of my favorite TED videos, which I often show to students, is her presentation on why Africans should accept aid. The pertinent bit begins at about 6:40, when she states:

African states have been giving the other countries aid… The UK and the US could not have been built today without Africa’s aid. It is all the resources that were taken from Africa — including human — that built these countries today.

This is a strong woman who would have been able to play an important role as head of the World Bank. But at 57 years of age, maybe this wasn’t her last chance?

See also The Guardian’s profile on Ngozi.

Africa Notes: Mali Update

Update: Just saw this link to a nice timeline of the conflict in northern Mali since 1891 on IRIN. (h/t Sahel Blog).

Things still look rather grim in Mali, though the situation is in constant flux. It might be useful to look at the situation from different vantage points:

The people of Mali
It is probably no surprise that in coups and wars much is done in the names of various peoples, but at least in the short-term, the peoples of Mali seem poised to suffer. While County and Peterson find that some in Mali may welcome the coup as an opportunity to introduce democratic reform, as Bonicelli suggests at Foreign Policy, the lessons for the impatient citizens in Mali might be the wrong one. Coups should not be normalized as a way to bring about democratic change.

Also unfortunate for the Mali people, and perhaps most immediately threatening, is a looming famine crisis.

And violence + famine = refugees here. The largest group outside of Mali is apparently in Mauritania (48,033) but at least 100,000 are internally displaced and others have fled to Burkina Faso, Niger, and elsewhere in West Africa. (IRIN)

The Azawad State
The rebels want their own state and even have a name for it (see Thurston’s comments at Sahel Blog). But what does it take to create a new state? What is required for secession to count? Lesley Warner’s take is that the Azawad rebels have “not been able to check the necessary boxes for international support” (h/t Sahel Blog). Indeed, ultimately statehood does rely on international recognition. So far, they seem quite far from getting it.

Over at Wronging Rights, they add a little more depth, citing the only document we have on what a state is, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.

The Government of Mali
The coup leaders did step down. But the new interim President, Dioncounda Traore, does not seem to want to keep things calm. As has been wildly reported, he is threatening “total war” on the rebels in the north.

West Africa
West Africa has a strong tradition of tending to its own political crises, via African mediators and its own unique regional organization, ECOWAS. All of this is happening here. President Compaoré (Burkina Faso), opened talks on Saturday between Mali’s politicians and military. Notably absent: the Tuaregs.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS’ Mediation and Security Council recommended a regional force be deployed should mediation by President Compaoré fail. However, that force is not intended to deal with the coup so much as it is to deal with the rebels in the northern part of Mali. This is an important sign that the Azawad state lacks the regional allies it would need.

The International Community
The French are clear about their interests. Sarkozy:

…we must do everything to prevent the establishment of a terrorist or Islamic state in the heart of the Sahel. (Reuters)

Gregory Mann notes that in Paris, however, there are lots of views on the streets about the events in Mali (“Bamako-sur-Seine”).

Also, UNESCO is worried about the cultural treasures of Timbuktu.

And So…
And so things continue to move. I shouldn’t try to predict but… my best bet is that we will see a gradual return to constitutional rule in the southern part of the country followed by a slow and torturous attempt to regain control of the north. ECOWAS will play a key role in this and a year from now we will barely hear anything more about it. But I really hope I am wrong about the torturous bit. I would much prefer that this become an opportunity for national dialog about how to better serve the needs of the Tuareg populations in the north.

Noted: Charli Carpenter on IR and New Media

This video from a presentation by Charli Carpenter has been posted a number of places. I first saw it over at the Monkey Cage. She poses a number of questions about how “new media” – facebook, blogs, twitter, youtube, etc. – and its use by IR scholars might be changing the relationship between IR scholarship and the world, and the nature of IR scholarship.

One thing she discusses is how new media “flattens” some of the hierarchies in our discipline, making it easier for a broader range of scholars to have their voices heard. And, via such mechanisms as comments on blogs, it may also internationalize and diversify the audience for our scholarship. As an Africanist, I have some doubts as to whether the flattening she discusses applies much to African scholarship and voices… but it might be that the new media is better than the previous status quo.

Thanks to the African Student Association!

I just wanted to send out a quick THANKS! to the African Student Association. Saturday evening they held their annual cultural event. This year it was titled “Ariya: The Beats of Africa”. At the end of the event I was extremely surprised to discover they had an award for me! Both Professor Alice Hadler and myself were honored for our support to the African Student Association. As a professor, this is one of the greatest things that can happen: to have your students honor you in this way. So Thanks!

Africa Notes: Some news items.

Titica may be the first African transgender start to make it big, or so suggests Boima Tucker at Africa is a Country. Here is hir music video:


  • President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack yesterday.


  • Singer Youssou Ndour will be Senegal’s new Minister of Culture and Tourism.


  • I can’t help but continue to follow this story. And there is a lot of news so I saved it for the end.
  • As I noted earlier in the week, the rebels advanced rather quickly after the coup and now can claim much of the northern half of the country. Their movement, the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), announced the end of military operations and declared independence. (Sahel Bloghas a nice post on this).
  • And Foreign Policy has a provocative piece by Gregory Mann on “How the war on terror ruined a success story in West Africa”. He makes a reasonable claim: French and American pressure on Mali to assert control over the desert and remilitarize it may have undermined the previous efforts of past Malian governments to give those in the North autonomy. This echoes past statements critical of our anti-terror policy in the region (See Trillo). He speaks of…
  • the stunning fact that a decade of American investment in Special Forces training, cooperation between Sahalien armies and the United States, and counterterrorism programs of all sorts run by both the State Department and the Pentagon has, at best, failed to prevent a new disaster in the desert and, at worst, sowed its seeds.

Why college works

College at Risk – The Chronicle Review – by Andrew Delbanco (may be behind a firewall)

Delbanco takes issue with the instrumental view of education that we see in policy statements, such as the idea that education is about producing “a work force that’s productive and competitive” (former President Bush).

But in several important respects, the American college is a unique institution. In most of the world, students who continue their education beyond secondary school are expected to choose their field of specialization before they arrive at university. In America there has been an impulse to slow things down, to extend the time for second chances and defer the day when determinative choices must be made. When, in 1851, Herman Melville wrote in his great American novel Moby-Dick that “a whaleship was my Yale College and my Harvard,” he used the word “college” as a metaphor for the place where, as we would say today, he “found himself.”

He mentions that the trend towards inclusion in American higher education has also been a unique contribution, including the “California plan”, which unfortunately is under attack.

He also argues that it might be hard to preserve the liberal arts experience that is so special:

One of the difficulties in making the case for liberal education against the rising tide of skepticism is that it is almost impossible to persuade doubters who have not experienced it for themselves. The Puritan founders of our oldest colleges would have called it “such a mystery as none can read but they that know it.”

There is a lot more to his defense of the American liberal arts tradition and I recommend it. As he notes, we are under a lot of pressures to change, but there is much that deserves preservation.