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.

Africa Notes: Now that Timbuktu has been taken, will more of us pay attention?

The crisis continues to unfold in Mali. And maybe the coup leaders are seeing that EVERYTHING is going against them.On Saturday the pledged a quick power handover.

  • First, the coup leaders are increasingly unpopular in West Africa.
  • Uncertainty is the word Camilla Toulmin used to described the situation.
  • The view from the West
    • The UK tells its citizens to leave.
    • Walter Russell Mead continues in his Afro-pessimist vein in describing the situation. As he says, the Financial Times described Mali as “one of west Africa’s most stable countries”. So, he tells us, “This casts serious doubt on the mainstream press, NGO and foreign policy establishment line on Africa.”
  • Meanwhile, the average Malian is in for some major problems.
    • As Baz Lecocq notes, the hot season is starting in Mali and food is going to be a big issue. What is more, he suggests, the Malian army is not prepared to handle the heat of the hot season in the extreme parts of the country the rebels currently hold.
    • Oxfam has this press release on food shortages (here) (via Sahel Blog)
  • And the Mali army is losing more and more ground to the rebels. I am certain by now they must realize that former President Toure likely did not have any more resources to give them before the coup. Perhaps that was why he already was willing to step down on his own.
    • So they lost the northern town of Kidal.
    • And rebels reportedly entered and then took Gao. (and here)
    • And then on Sunday (today) they apparently surrounded Timbuktu and then planted their flag there.. Which is probably the only city most Americans have heard of. So we might finally start to see greater press attention.

    If you examine this map of Mali (via Wars in the World), you can quickly see how rebel advances place them in control of a large swath of territory. Indeed, draw a line between Gao and Timbuktu, extend it, and you will see about half the country in rebel hands. Of course, it is the less-populated, poorer half. But it is very significant.

Noted: More reactions on the Mali Coup

First, an interesting point that is often not stressed enough in the news reports on the coup: President Toure wasn’t even running in the April presidential elections. He already planned to step down. So why be impatient?

Indeed, Gregory Mann seems appropriately skeptical of the coup leaders’ lofty goals for fighting corruption and promoting democracy (Africa is a Country). Brian Peterson finds a lesson in all of this: African leaders should take grievances seriously (African Arguments). I actually was unaware of the “war widow” protests in January that he mentions.

Meanwhile, our understanding of the potential routes forward continues to develop. First, the immediate consequences of the coup are still being sorted out. The US has joined other states in suspending aid to Mali (Reuters). Meanwhile, Tuareg rebels are reportedly advancing further into Mali (The New Yorker). Thinking more about the long term, Alex Thurston usefully considers whether past West African coups have lessons for Mali (Sahel Blog). I think his fourth point, “coup leaders who cause chaos are overthrown in coups”, might be prescient.

Africa Notes: The Mali Coup

The recent coup in Mali is an important setback for Sahelian democracy. And the situation there is still fluid, as reports of a counter-coup (which may just be a rumor)surfaced today.

Here are some of the themes that are emerging:

Coup Causes

1. The North Africa Spring. As I hinted last week, we can trace back the recent coup–at least partly–to the events of the North Africa spring. The military officers who took over stated very explicitly that one of their reasons for their actions. Meanwhile, Afro-pessimist Walter Russell Mead has already used this as an opportunity to critique NATO intervention in Libya.

2. The military’s specific discontent with the government. Over at Baobab at The Economist, they mention the events most proximate to the coup:

The spark for the mutiny came during a visit to Bamako’s main barracks by Mali’s defence minister. For weeks, discontent has been building as ethnic Tuareg rebels—flush with heavy weaponry stolen from Libya, and better organised than at any time in the past—have launched a series of attacks, sacking beleaguered garrisons and inflicting heavy casualties on the demoralised Malian army.
When the minister failed to assuage soldiers’ concerns that the government had a grip on the insurgency, troops fired angrily into the air. Hours later they swept into Bamako, stormed the state broadcaster’s offices and laid siege to the presidential palace. A thousand miles to the northeast, junior soldiers placed their superiors under lock and key.

3. Was this an accident? Think Africa Press has questioned whether any of this might even be “accidental”. (h/t SahelBlog).

4. General dissatisfaction with the President. Some in Mali doubted the President’s commitment to overseeing free and fair elections this April and he is alleged to be involved in cocaine trafficking and a number of corrupt business deals. (Sources: Tesfay)

Coup Consequences

1. Mali is losing aid money. TheWorld Bank and African Development Fund suspended funds. The EU was next. The US has only issued threats about withdrawing aid thus far. Mali, of course, has been a key strategic partner in American efforts to counter Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Also, while (now former) President Toure was an important part of that alliance, there are reports that one or more of the leaders of the coup received American training.

2. Delay in national elections. The elections were due next month but now no one knows when they may take place. ECOWAS has suggested they go on with the elections as planned, but that is way too optimistic. While the coup leaders say they will restore democracy, Mali historian Gregory Mann, at least, thinks that the coup was “not intended to secure democracy, but to prevent it”. (Sources: Tesfay, Gregory Mann, Reuters).
        [The Africa Report has a nice rundown on who the possible candidates for the election were prior to the coup.]

3. Greater “terrorism” risks. That is the phrase some have used. But as Townsend argues at African Arguments, it is likely that this coup will make it harder, not easier, to solve Mali’s “Tuareg Problem” (Sources: Tesfay, Townsend)

4. Greater risks for (especially) foreign enterprises. Tesfay at Executive Analysis argues that mining taxes and even expropriation might be a risk for a number of businesses operating in Mali.

5. Worse military-society relations. Not only was the public stunned by the military’s actions, but the military also apparently were involved in looting in the aftermath of the coup.

However, there are some optimists out there. Over at The Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten notes research showing that “since the end of the Cold War most coups are quickly followed by competitive elections and a restoration of democracy.”

We’ll see.

Africa Notes: Seeing Kony, Part 2: A timeline

I have resisted posting more about “Kony 2012” since my first post. There has just been so much going on, though it has started to calm down, as the graph of Google searches shows:

To organize my own thoughts about this I thought it would be useful to construct a timeline of some of the major (and minor) stories associated with Kony 2012. This is not intended to be comprehensive (I don’t have the time) but mostly reflects postings on blogs and news websites that I frequent. My main thoughts:

1. This is a great teaching moment.

2. This highlights important challenges for American-based NGOs and advocacy groups doing work in Africa. On the one hand, it is not a bad thing to want to do “good” in the world. On the other, it is tricky to know what it means to do “good”. On balance, I think the intentions of Invisible Children are fine, often laudable. I sincerely doubt that they overtly want the kinds of imperialism and militarization of US foreign policy that there critics suggest they want. But unfortunately that doesn’t mean that their message and their agenda doesn’t have some important flaws.

3. It is hard to insert nuance into propaganda. I do believe that Russell and others at Invisible Children know more about what is going on with the LRA than many critics give them credit for. But video pieces like Kony 2012 don’t do enough to show that. Perhaps they should try to do a “real” documentary?

4. In the age of the internet, it may not matter what your intended audience is. If this had only been shown at college and high school events in the US (the intended audience) it would have had a different reception than it did being shown globally.

The timeline

March 5: Invisible Children releases the video

March 7: Reactions come trickling in.

Joshua Keating provides one of the first and frequently cited reactions to Kony 2012: “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)”.

March 8: Video has at least 38 million views; critics of the video sound out

Michael Deibert on March 8 stated one of the enduring criticisms of the message of the Kony 2012 campaign early on:

The problem with Invisible Children’s whitewashing of the role of the government of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni in the violence of Central Africa is that it gives Museveni and company a free pass.

Christine M. Rose at GhanaBlogging:

Overall, my concern is that although awareness can be an incredibly beneficial boost for a campaign, by itself it doesn’t do anything. Furthermore, it sometimes serves to absolve people from any further effort, including taking the time to actually understand the issue, including its root causes. Reposting a video on facebook is incredibly easy. Throwing red and black posters all over the place and wearing awareness bracelets is easy (look at livestrong.) Even donating money is relatively easy. Facing up to the complex and myriad factors that have contributed to this problem is much harder,

Rosebelle, a Ugandan blogger, was heavily cited for her video response to the Kony 2012 campaign.

Bloggers at Wronging Rights begin a seriesof public media events that show how they are “Kony 2012 skeptics.”

March 10: the range of perspectives, and responses to the criticisms, expands. Many see this as a teaching opportunity.

Kony 2012 Director responds to critics

Teju Cole blogs on American sentimentality towards Africa, in Twitter form:

5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

Qualified Approval
Chris Blattman, who has criticized some of Invisible Children’s earlier campaigns, comes out to provide heavily qualified approval for their campaign.

But, mostly amazement at how big a phenomenon this became.
As Duncan Green blogged, “why did it get 60 million hits?”

And teachers begin to try to think about how they can use this as a teaching opportunity
See Tiemessen on the Duck of Minerva: Bandwagon Empowerment
See also a later post by Charli Carpenter on “The Kony 2012 Experiment”

March 13

Ethan “unpacks” Kony 2012.

Jason Mogus digs deeper into the success of Kony 2012:

IC knew who its audience was, simply, American youth. It speaks in their language, using their cultural heros and influencers. Everything in KONY 2012 from the visuals (Facebook, hip posters) to the tone (hopeful, not dour or depressing) to the emotional hooks (kids, the power of people to tip the world, social media) speaks directly to this audience. Maybe this is one reason why it annoyed so many “institutional experts” over 40!

David Kenner compares Kony to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

March 14: More Ugandan perspectives, criticism

The video is shown to Ugandans. (The Guardian reports). At Al Jazeera, they stress “angry” reactions by Ugandans to the video.

Also at FP, Betty Bigombe, State Minister for Northern Uganda, responds to some interview questions.

It’s coming rather late, and I’m not quite able to understand the objective. Is it fundraising? Is it awareness creation?

So with this kind of campaign, [Kony 2012], I do not know whether it makes any difference as far as taking him out is concerned. However, what is important is bringing this to the attention of policymakers. I hope that something innovative will come out of it.

The criticism continues to build:
Sverker Finnstrom, a cultural anthropologist and Uganda specialist:

A most prominent feature of the Invisible Children lobby is the making and constant remaking of a master narrative; it reduces, depoliticizes and dehistoricizes a murky reality of globalized war into a completely black-and-white story pitting the modern Ugandan government and its international partners in development who defend the noncombatant citizenry against the barbarian Lord’s Resistance Army

David Rieff, at Foreign Policy, calls the film “dangerous progaganda”.

March 15

Criticism of howInvisible Children’s finances work hit the web.

March 16: A rebuttal from IC; parodies

One of the best rebuttals to the critiques comes via Foreign Policy by Adam Finck. Indeed, one of the most popular criticisms of the video is that it misleads us into thinking the LRA are still in uganda, but as Adam points out:

Kony 2012 does portray the LRA’s movement away from Uganda into the DRC, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan (minute 15:01), and a quick look at the LRA Crisis Tracker leaves no doubt about the LRA’s current area of operation.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, it is notable that IC has created this crisis tracker tool. And it just goes to underscore how the Kony 2012 video was intended for a limited audience (young Americans) as a publicity piece.


Some of the critique, in my opinion, go a bit overboard, like this comedic one from The Juice Media (h/t Global Voices).

Global Voices has a number of other parody videos over at their blog as well, including some starring Hitler.

March 17: Things begin to go wrong in a bad, weird way for IC

Invisible Children Co-Founder Jason Russell arrested for doing some strange things in public. We now know he had a sort of stress-induced breakdown and it is expected that it will take some time for him to recover. He has a family and there is no reason for criticisms of IC to involve criticisms of him.

March 18: The Ugandan government responds with its own video

Here is Ugandan Prime Minister Mbabazi on YouTube:

The PM does a nice job providing a balanced view on the video, praising the good work of the IC:

it has been inspiring for me…. to be reminded of the innate goodness that exists at the heart of humanity…

But also correcting some of the misperceptions of Uganda that may have arisen from the publicity surrounding the Kony 2012 video:

Joseph Kony is not in Uganda

Some comments on his address are available at Global Voices.

March 19: The reactions to IC begin to broaden in focus

One meme that makes its way out there has been the “What I Love About Africa” narrative, as reported at Global Voices.

March 21 through today: And the responses continue to come.

Over at Foreign Policy, we hear from Norbert Mao, a former presidential candidate in Uganda: “I’ve met Joseph Kony and Kony 2012 isn’t that bad” He has an interesting take on Western advocacy such as this:

To those critics who say that the video was propelled by less than savory aspects of western media culture that perpetuate the mentality of the white man’s burden, I say that western advocacy matters and can make a difference. From the anti-slavery struggle to the anti-colonial struggle, voices from the West have been indispensible. The key is for Africans to influence the direction of that advocacy. We cannot stop it, but we can redirect it.

One of the least well-advised responses to this Wronging Rights’“The Definitive ‘Kony 2012’ Drinking Game” post. It goes too far (and can make you sick).

Julian Ku, over at Opinio Juris, critiques Kony critic Teju Cole and his comments about the “white savior industrial complex”, finding “much to like and dislike”:

I agree much of this “white savior complex” is real, but I don’t get what he wants to do about it. Cole believes that U.S. foreign policy is almost completely evil and hypocritical. So would he make common cause with U.S. non-interventionists like Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan? Is that road better just so he doesn’t have to watch condescending and self-regarding white “saviors” strutting around the world?

Update #2: African Union to send 5000 troops to “hunt” Kony on Saturday (Reuters, 3/23/2012)

Google Map of Kony 2012 Searches

Update #1: I fixed the formatting a bit above at “March 16”.

Africa Notes: US-African Union Relations

An interview with Michael Battle, the US Ambassador to the African Union: Africa: U.S. Ambassador in Conversation On African Union.


First, there are the necessary vague policy statements:

it is in our strategic, tactical, and vested interest to have a kind of capacity to strengthen the capacity of the African Union, to make the African Union strong where it is not so strong, to cooperate with the African Union in areas where it is strong,

Then there is the reaction to China’s donation of a modern building complex to the AU:

AMBASSADOR BATTLE: I was asked this same question when I was doing a taping with Ethiopian TV, and the person who was doing the interview said, “How are you going to feel walking into this massive building built by the Chinese?” I said, “I’m going to feel absolutely splendid and wonderful walking into the building,” for two reasons: the U.S. would never build the building. The African continent cannot afford to build the building. So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do and that the African continent cannot afford to do.

But yet, there was a great need for the African Union to have a facility that could actually house its summit, because up until this year the African Union has had to rent UNECA to have its own buildings, which was costing the African Union money, taking money out of the African Union budget, putting it into the UNECA budget. So I have zero problems – zero difficulty with much of the activity that China is doing. What I would like to see and what Assistant Secretary Carson is actively trying to see is how we can find synergies that we could work with the Chinese. I mean, the Chinese Government is not a competitor for the U.S. on the African continent, because we have strategically different orientations. They are not the bad guy; they are the people doing stuff that we are not going to do. And so I embrace it. Yeah.


Here is the key phrase in that statement, pasted again:

So China is doing some of the infrastructure development that we cannot and will not do

Which really says a lot about the differences between what the US and China are doing in Africa