On Sunday, a loose rebel alliance known as Seleka captured Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, and sent the country's beleaguered president, Francois Bozize, fleeing to neighboring Cameroon. In his place, rebel leader Michel Djotodia reportedly assumed power and announced he would form a new government. Central African political expert Louisa Lombard has studied rebel leadership in CAR for several years, and writes of her own attempts to answer a question that has now taken on pressing international relevance: who is Michel Djotodia?
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Foole's No Man's Land. The views expressed are the author's own.
When the Central African rebel group Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (UFDR) announced its presence by capturing CAR's northeasternmost town, Birao, at the end of October 2006, a few different men immediately declared themselves the movement's leader. There was Abakar Sabone, formerly best known as a Chadian recruiter of men-in-arms who'd helped Mr. Bozize take power in 2003 but became disgruntled with his former ally over a perceived lack of proper payment for his services. Then there was Damane Zakaria, a counselor in the small town of Tiringoulou who was with the men on the ground.
Finally there was Michel Djotodia, who few people knew much about at all.
Mr. Sabone and Djotodia were in Cotonou, Benin at the time – locked up at Bozize's request. Though they were eventually released, they were both somewhat sidelined during the peace process, and for the next few years whenever anyone asked who was the leader of the UFDR, it was General Damane's name that was put forward.
It was Damane who I got to know while doing research among the UFDR in Tiringoulou in 2009-2010. Nevertheless, I was curious about Djotodia, so I frequently asked about him as well. Overall, the impression I got was of a polyglot, intelligent guy with outsize political ambitions.
He made it into my dissertation, but only in the form of a long footnote:
People in Vakaga [prefecture] remember [Djotodia] as a prolific practitioner of extraversion. He went to the USSR to study and ended up living there ten years, marrying, and fathering two daughters, and then finally returning to CAR with “ten diplomas” and fluency in a number of languages, which made him useful when it came to representing the UFDR to foreigners and media.
People in Tiringoulou tell of one day, long before the rebellion, when a plane of Russian hunters unexpectedly arrived. Upon hearing Djotodia’s rendition of their language, declared him not Central African but Russian and brought him along for their tour of the country. He had political aspirations, and he pursued them fervently. Twice he tried to become a deputy, and twice he failed.
The highest post he attained was Tax Director. He also worked to become close to the Sheikh Tidjani, spiritual leader for many in the buffer zone, who lives in South Darfur. At the time of the UFDR’s first attack, he, like Sabone, was in Benin, where he had friends from his Russia days. Like Sabone, he was jailed in Cotonou for his role in the insurgency.
But then he becomes harder to track. He had a falling out with the Sheikh when he tried to convince the president’s son to name him consul to Sudan in the Sheikh’s place (though technically Sudanese himself, the Sheikh occupies this post as a result of the respect and legitimacy he enjoys throughout the region). The break in this relationship has made it harder for him to claim to represent people in the area.
Damane said that he had pushed him out when Djotodia had attempted to make an alliance with Charles Massi, another sidelined politician aiming for power through the form of insurgency. Whatever the specifics of his fall, people described it as a function of his failure to properly negotiate alliances. This diplomatic capability is central to maintaining power in a place of plural authorities. People surmised that this “intellectual” is now trying his luck somewhere far away.
Well, now we know a bit more about what Djotodia was up to. He has been in Nyala, in South Darfur, cultivating working alliances with the remnants of Chadian rebel groups that have been hanging out in the area. It was these fighters from the Chad/Sudan/CAR borderlands who became the military backbone of the Seleka rebel coalition that first threatened the CAR capital, Bangui, in December.
And through these alliances, Djotodia has come out on top. Hearing the stories of his ambition during my research, I almost felt embarrassed on his behalf -- he seemed like a Jamaican bobsledder convinced he'd win gold. And yet here he is, ten years after Bozize took power, getting ready to move into the presidential palace.
Here's hoping he lives up to his intellectual reputation and does a better job than his predecessor. Goodness knows Central Africans have suffered far too much already.
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog Congo Siasa. The views expressed are the author's own.
There has been a lot of conjecture and speculation surrounding the Rwandan-born Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda's "surrender" to the US embassy in Rwanda on Tuesday morning. In recent weeks, various parties to the conflict have been purposely spreading false information about "The Terminator" – who was wanted in connection with war crimes by the International Criminal Court – which has made it difficult to parse the facts in the case. Here are my own thoughts on some of these points.
Why did he surrender?
His time was up. On Feb. 24, an internal battle had broken out among the M23 rebels, pitting Mr. Ntaganda's wing against that of Sultani Makenga (for more information about Ntaganda's career and the divisions within the M23 see the Usalama Project's briefing here). While Ntaganda led a large group of soldiers – at least 500 were reported to have crossed the border on March 14 – he was short on ammunition. After weeks of fighting, he decided to run.
The larger and perhaps more important question is: Why did the M23 implode? Divisions existed since the group's creation in April 2012, driven by ethnic considerations – Ntaganda is from the Gogwe sub-ethnic group, many of Mr. Makenga's officers are Banyajomba – as well as historical differences (Makenga was close to Laurent Nkunda, whom Ntaganda replaced in January 2009), and struggles over money and power (each carried out promotions behind the other's back and set up separate tax structures).
The final straw, however, appears to have been the looming possibility of a peace deal, or at least Ntaganda's perception that one might take place. With an international arrest warrant looming over his head, and declarations by the Congolese government concerning his arrest, he knew that he would have no chance of re-integrating into the Congolese army.
Nonetheless, important questions persist. Allegations abound, for example, that Congolese President Joseph Kabila exacerbated the divisions with bribes. But which side did he bribe? Each accuses the other for having received blood money.
Rwanda's role is also curious. Reliable reports point to Rwandan backing for the M23 up until the capture of the eastern Congolese city of Goma on Nov. 20, 2012. Since then, however, support appears to have declined, perhaps also because there has been a de facto truce with the Congolese army during the Kampala negotiations.
However, if the Rwandan army had wanted to prevent the implosion, it most likely could have. Also, if it had wanted to solve Ntaganda's ammunition problem, they could have easily sent bullets and mortar rounds across the border. So why didn't it? Had the aid cuts affected its view of the conflict, and the M23 squabbles looked like a way out?
How did Ntaganda get from the eastern Congo to the US embassy in Rwanda?
It is obvious that Ntaganda thought his choice was the International Criminal Court or probable death, but at the hands of whom? And was it his choice to make?
The first version, supported by many current and former M23 soldiers, has Ntaganda crossing the border along with the rest of his troops, probably on March 14 or 15, then being arrested by the Rwandan army and debriefed. They then decided that they didn't want yet another Congolese rebel under house arrest in Rwanda – Laurent Nkunda and Jules Mutebutsi are enough of a headache and Ntaganda's ICC warrant would certainly make him a more difficult case.
But why would the Rwandan government hand Ntaganda over to the US embassy, where he immediately asked to be transferred to the ICC? The Rwandan government opposes the ICC, and is probably concerned by some of the revelations that Ntaganda could make on the stand. After all, Kigali backed the Union of Congolese Patriots armed group for whose crimes Ntaganda is now answering, as well as the the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and M23.
If this version is correct, it may be that Rwanda was not left any good options and preferred Ntaganda being sent to the ICC than having him sit around under house arrest in Rwanda (or worse). After all, Ntaganda's former UPC boss Thomas Lubanga stood trial for five years without any revelations being made about outside support to his group.
The second version, supported by ex-CNDP officers, diplomats, and Congolese and Rwandan intelligence agents, suggests that Ntaganda slipped across the border, evading detection and eventually arriving at the US embassy in downtown Kigali. According to this version, he took advantage of his contacts in the Rwandan army, as well as his ethnic kin and family in Ruhengeri, to escape arrest. There have even been reports of Rwandan intelligence agents being arrested for failing in their duties to detect him.
Hard to say – Ntaganda does have friends and family in Rwanda, as well as a lot of money. But if he wanted to hand himself over to the ICC, why not just go to the MONUSCO base in Kibati (just north of Goma), which was under his control up until the last minute? It would probably have been safer for him. And could he really escape detection by Rwandan security services, who have extensive contacts with M23 members and good control over their own country?
What will the impact be of his transfer to the ICC?
In part, it strengthens his rival Makenga's hand – he is now rid of a large faction of his officers and political leaders who had been a thorn in his side. While he has probably lost over a third of his troops to death or defection, he has rationalized his military chain of command and now has more reliable politicians to represent him in Kampala. While he is now rid of all of the officers with serious legal problems (except himself), it is unclear whether this will result in a peace deal in Kampala.
M23 delegates say that they can't accept the terms proposed by President Kabila, which amount to integration with almost nothing in return. In particular, they insist on good ranks, political positions, the return of refugees, and generous amnesty. As one of Makenga's officers told me today, just before a meeting of the officer corps, "Alituambia: vita ingali. Kungali njia mrefu." (He told us: there is still war. The road is still long).
On the other hand, Rwanda emerges with a boost to its reputation. While it isn't clear what role it played in Ntaganda's surrender, at the very least the country signed off on the implosion of the M23, which makes it look like their are more part of the solution than the problem.
In recent weeks, the World Bank has disbursed $50 million of the previously cut aid, and other donors may soon follow suit.
What will happen at the ICC? Ntaganda is reportedly more of a slam dunk that other cases currently being tried. Given his direct involvement in military operations, there is strong evidence against him for the crimes of rape, recruitment of child soldiers, murder, and pillage. In addition, the prosecutor will seek to add charges related to his time as chief of staff of the CNDP (2006-2009).
So, in sum, Ntaganda's arrest won't bring peace to the eastern Congo, but it does spell a victory in the battle against impunity and the dismantling to one of the barriers to a peace process in the country.
• A version of this post originally appeared on the author's blog. The views expressed are his own.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga filed a court petition last Saturday challenging the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect – with 50.07 percent of the vote to 43.28 percent – after elections earlier this month.
In the petition, Mr. Odinga cites a host of factors that, in his view, significantly compromised the integrity of the election – including an unstable voter register, inconsistencies and errors in final vote counts, and failures in the electronic tallying system.
In a rally in the coastal city of Mombasa this week, Odinga claimed to have won the election with 5.7 million votes to Mr. Kenyatta’s 4.5 million.
With the filing of the petition, the country’s attention has now shifted to the Supreme Court. The court is constitutionally mandated to issue its ruling within two weeks from last Saturday. That gives them until Mar. 30 at the latest.
Should the court find in favor of Odinga’s petition, Kenyans will have a re-run election in late May, with a possible runoff a month after that. The law says that in case of irregularities the court has to nullify the entire presidential election. It is unclear if the judges can rule on limiting the re-run to a runoff between Kenyatta and Odinga, rather than the entire slate of candidates. If the judges dismiss the case, however, Kenyatta will be sworn in on April 9.
It is obvious that the ruling will be as political as it will be legal. Six judges (see here) will hear the case as the nominated deputy chief justice is yet to be confirmed by the National Assembly.
Under normal circumstances five judges would have heard the case to avoid a tie, but since the selection of the five would have tilted the case one way or the other all six will be present. Should there be a tie the status quo will hold and Kenyatta will be sworn in early next month.
So how might the judges vote?
Based on my conversations with people in the know, it appears that the swing justices will be Chief Justice Willy Munyoki Mutunga and Justice Mohamed Ibrahim. The two are largely expected to adhere the most to the legal merits and implications of the petition. The eventual ruling will therefore partly depend on the ability of the two to persuade their colleagues. As president of the court, Mr. Mutunga will be under pressure to be on the winning side of the ruling.
A tie would be the worst of possible outcomes as it would suggest that the court – by far the most trusted Kenyan institution – is just as divided as the rest of the country.
The court’s only other ruling before this was on affirmative action to increase the proportion of women in the Kenyan parliament to a third. They voted against (arguing for a gradualist achievement of the same), with Mutunga the sole dissenter.
On the left-right spectrum Mutunga is the most progressive member of the court (and the highest rated public official, despite Kenya’s socially conservative bent). Justices Ibrahim, Smokin Wanjala, and Njoki Susanna Ndungu are considered centrists, while Jackton Boma Ojwang and Philip Kiptoo Tunoi are considered conservative.
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide NGO. The views expressed are the author's own.
In a startling development Monday, Rwandan-born Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda turned up unannounced at the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, asking to be transferred to the International Criminal Court.
Wanted by the ICC since 2006, Mr. Ntaganda, who is known as “The Terminator” for his ruthless tactics – including recruitment of child soldiers, murder, and sexual slavery – has been elusive ever since international pressure mounted for his arrest in early 2012. Protecting Ntaganda and his lucrative links to eastern Congo’s illicit minerals trade is seen as a key rationale behind the formation of the rebel group M23, which he headed, in April 2012.
What might explain his decision to give himself up? Ntaganda, a Congolese Tutsi born in Rwanda, once served in the Rwandan army alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame and is implicated by the United Nations Group of Experts to have maintained links to President Kagame's government through various roles commanding rebel groups in eastern Congo.
But as this connection proved increasingly awkward for the Rwandan government, Ntaganda’s decision to go underground suggests he questioned the strength of that loyalty. Ntaganda would have considered all his options before deciding to turn himself in to the US embassy, so he may have felt his best chance for survival was to surrender to people he believes can ensure his safety.
Ntaganda's decision to surrender is a consequence of a profound crisis within M23. During recent weeks, the group has been consumed by infighting. Early Saturday morning, Ntaganda’s rival in the M23 and leader of its competing faction, Sultani Makenga, seized control of the town of Kibumba – 30 kilometers north of the provincial capital of Goma – from Ntaganda’s forces.
Meanwhile, Ntaganda's political head, Jean-Marie Runiga, fled into neighboring Rwanda with over 700 combatants, where Rwandan authorities said they have been detained. Two eyewitnesses at the Congo-Rwandan border crossing in Kibumbu told the Enough Project that they had seen Ntaganda cross into Rwanda along with his affiliates Colonel Charles Muhire, Colonel Seraphin Mirindi, and Innocent Zimurinda (allegedly wounded and carried on a soldier’s back).
While all eyes will now be on the fate of Ntaganda, the handling of his affiliates will also have a significant impact on efforts to stabilize eastern Congo. The United States government and the UN Security Council have enacted sanctions on Mr. Runiga, Mr. Ngaruye, Mr. Kaïna, and Mr. Zimurinda.
The UN Framework agreement signed by regional heads of state in Addis Ababa three weeks ago should obligate Rwanda to break with its tradition of providing a safe haven for people wanted in eastern Congo, such as Colonel Jules Mutebutsi and General Laurent Nkunda. (Read more about the framework and its uncertain future.)
Rwanda must comply with Congolese and international efforts to prosecute all Congo war criminals in refuge on its territory. Kinshasa has already requested Rwanda to extradite Runiga, who, in turn, requested for Rwandan authorities to deport him to Uganda.
Rwanda’s potential role in the surrender of Ntaganda and cooperation in holding the others accountable is still unclear. Colonel Olivier Hamuli, spokesman for Congo's army in the province North Kivu, asked: "Is it an arrest or are they hiding him [Runiga] away?"
If Runiga is extradited to Kinshasa, Congolese authorities must provide for a fair trial and not set suspects free in exchange for a temporary "peace" deal with the M23.
What implications does Ntaganda’s surrender and M23 infighting have for the peace talks currently held between the government of Congo and the M23 in Kampala, Uganda? As of yesterday, the talks are suspended for a week but until they resume, uncertainty prevails.
In pursuing further peace talks with the M23 – and seeing the potential end of the group suddenly close at hand – Kinshasa must not settle for a shady deal with a wanted war criminal such as Sultani Makenga or offer him amnesty.
One week into his tenure as China’s president, Xi Jinping is already stressing his country’s ties to the African continent and the interconnected future of the world’s developing economies, in what may be an effort to highlight China's growing economic clout.
"No matter how international landscape may change, China will continue to support and promote Africa's efforts to achieve peace, stability, prosperity, and development, seek strength through unity and participate in international affairs on a basis of equality," Mr. Xi told a group of reporters from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – gathered in Beijing Tuesday.
The timing of the announcement may be key. That seemingly magnanimous declaration comes on the heels of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s announcement Monday that the new president will make his first trip to Africa beginning later this week, visiting Tanzania and the Congo Republic and attending a BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa.
At that summit, the BRICS countries are expected to announce the creation of a new global development bank, a World Bank-like financial institution to be based, for the first time, in the so-called global south.
The bank is meant to increase the economic clout of the world’s developing economies whose stature in global financial institutions has trailed behind their explosive economic growth. By 2020, the combined economic output of just three of the BRICS – Brazil, China, and India – will overtake that of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Canada combined, according to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Report.
Despite this potential rising economic power, however, no BRICS leader has ever run the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund.
"These are 20th century institutions dealing with 21st century realities," says Khalid Malik, lead author of the UN report.
BRICS leaders say the new bank will be a significant step in realigning the orientation of global economic power. And for the world’s most aid-dependent countries, which are disproportionately concentrated on the African continent, the bank would continue the growing trend of looking east – not west – for development.
“I believe the proposed BRICS-led bank … provides the opportunity to mobilize funding for infrastructure development, which is needed in most emerging markets, and in particular in South Africa at present, and which would benefit the wider region as well,” said Anil Sooklal, South Africa’s BRICS ambassador, in an interview with Voice of America.
All BRICS are not created equal, however.
The gap between Xi’s China, the world’s second-largest economy, and South Africa, the 27th, is cavernous. According to a report by South Africa’s Standard Bank, each of the BRICS would be expected to pay $10 billion into the new bank. For China, that’s well under 1 percent of its gross domestic product – for "little bric" South Africa it’s about 3 percent.
But whatever balance of power the BRICS strike with its new bank, China under Xi will likely continue its blitz of private and public investment in the African continent. Over the past decade, China has sped past the US to become Africa’s largest trading partner, and its direct investment in the country rose from $200 million to $12 billion between 2003 and 2011.
Whether that investment is, as Xi claims, strengthening Africa’s ability to “participate in international affairs on a basis of equality,” however, is contested.
“Africa must shake off its romantic view of China and accept Beijing is a competitor as much as a partner and capable of the same exploitative practices as the old colonial powers,” wrote Nigerian central bank governor Lamido Sanusi in a recent Financial Times op-ed. “China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.”
China’s ministry of commerce flatly denied that charge.
"I suggest the governor carefully study the history of colonialism," said ministry spokesman Shen Danyang at a press conference Tuesday. "The trade and economic cooperation between China and Africa has nothing to do with colonialism."
Slowing to a stop at an intersection in the developing world, it’s not uncommon to look out the car window and see children – often clad in tattered clothes or without shoes – buzz into traffic to solicit donations.
The West African nation of Senegal is no different, except that many of these youngsters are "students" at informal religious schools called Daaras – and their begging is said to be a part of their Quranic education.
It is a system that is deeply ingrained in the country's Muslim history and culture, but while some say begging teaches humility, others argue it is simply a way for religious leaders to exploit poor children for their own monetary gain.
“The ... phenomenon is ancient, it is religious education,” says Senegalese President Macky Sall, who was in Cambridge, Mass., this month as part of Harvard University's African Development Conference. “But it is very informal and has not been supported by the government, which has led to some abuse.”
This abuse is an issue that President Sall, who is one year into his term, has already had to confront.
Called talibés, from the Arabic word for student, these boys are generally between 4 and 13 years old and come from poor families throughout the country and neighboring Guinea Bissau. They spend a large portion of each day begging for money and food on the streets – with scant time spent in a classroom under adult supervision. Begging is an accepted way to teach the Islamic tenet of humility, something that is well understood in a nation that is 95 percent Muslim (though wealthier families don’t turn to Daaras to teach these lessons).
Living conditions for talibés are dismal, often consisting of cramped quarters, flaps of cardboard for beds, and unsanitary surroundings.
The extreme day-to-day reality faced by these young boys was once again brought to the fore this month when a fire ripped through a Dakar-based Daara housing scores of youth, killing nine of the children.
“This is a tragedy…. It is something we regret,” Sall told The Christian Science Monitor just days after the deadly fire.
Human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced Daara-related abuse: Seven children killed in the March fire were locked in their room, unable to escape. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report called their conditions “akin to slavery,” noting that, based on interviews with 175 former and current talibés, the children are “forced to endure often extreme forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by the teachers, or marabouts, who serve as their de facto guardians.”
“[Talibés] are at the center of an intense and longstanding social debate” in Senegal, says Leonardo Villalón, associate professor of African Studies at the University of Florida and author of “Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal.”
“It comes down to human rights issues. Is this child abuse or is it not?” Mr. Villalón says.
Villalón says the fire was awful, but he worries that some people, particularly outside of Senegal may “jump from there to say Islamic schools are bad.”
Daaras are “very legitimate,” he says, noting that the vast majority of Senegalese seek some form of religious instruction. The state incorporated religious education – typically Islam, due to the population breakdown, but Christianity as well – into public education in the early 2000s. “The conditions [of Daaras] are a real problem, but it’s a problem rooted in … poverty.”
“Boys are often sent to Daaras in urban centers [by families] believing they are providing their children with an opportunity to learn the tenets of Islam,”
Mohamed Chérif Diop, a child protection specialist at the Senegal-based, international nongovernmental organization Tostan, says via e-mail. The children are able to receive an education without having to pay for food or fees for school, and many parents feel they are helping their child create a brighter future for himself by sending him to a Daara.
"It is the families who make the decision to send their children to the Daara, choosing a particular marabout [teacher] because of family connections or because of a marabout’s reputation for being a good teacher," Mr. Diop says.
There are already laws on the books in Senegal to curb begging by minors, such as a 2005 law passed by former President Abdoulaye Wade that carries a maximum five year sentence and fines for sending children out to beg. The law – which was reinforced in 2010 – clearly hasn’t been effectively enforced, though, and some ask whether or not the government must target the Daaras themselves.
No law has yet been passed that lays out minimum standards for all Quranic schools, but Sall says the government has made the decision to stop “this kind of institution, and help the [country’s] rightful religious schools educate in better conditions and give children a better environment” in which to learn.
“We’re working very hard on that,” says Sall, who worked in President Wade’s 12-year administration before defeating him with nearly 66 percent of the vote in a runoff last March.
What “better conditions” means exactly is yet to be seen. Sall says the government will close the Daaras based on investigations carried out by the police and ministry of welfare, and will involve religious associations.
“It will be very important work [involving] social dialogue to find an appropriate solution,” Sall says.
The government’s program to modernize the Daaras could eventually be a solution to the many problems associated with these informal schools and religious education, Diop says. But all levels of society must be involved in the process.
“Collaboration and mutual support for the protection of our children are essential at all levels – from the government to the grassroots – to create sustainable social transformation.”
•A version of this post first appeared on the author's blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
Western journalists were rightly criticized for the overall level of coverage surrounding the Kenyan elections.
However, it is a case that is a part of what seems to be the rule rather than the exception when it comes to how Western reporters will tell stories from the African continent. (Read about how Kenyans reacted to foreign coverage of their election with the Twitter hashtag #tweetlikeaforeignjournalist)
The image of a western journalist interviewing a "traditional African" may seem like a trope of the past, but look no further than this linked image from a PBS MediaShift report.
Cornell University English professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi makes the case in on the blog Africa is a Country that Western journalists in Africa continue to fail to “tell the whole story of humanity at work.”
He says that American reporting on tragedies that took place in the United States, for instance, show dignity of the victims and tell stories of heroism and triumph during tragedy.
A three paragraph article in Reuters offered the choice terms “tribal blood-letting” to reference the 2007 post-electoral violence, and “loyalists from rival tribes” to talk about the hard-earned right to cast a vote. Virtually all the longer pieces from Reuters on the elections used the concept of tribal blood-letting. CNN also ran a story in February of this year that showed five or so men somewhere in a Kenyan jungle playing war games with homemade guns, a handful of bullets and rusty machetes – war paint and all.
Such stories do not make it into the coverage of tragedies from Africa. However, Mr. Ngugi neglects to recognize the constraints on foreign correspondents or journalists who report on Africa. Page space for stories about Africa is few and far between these days.
This is not to excuse poor reporting. Rather I point it out to say that it is far more challenging than domestic news. Major tragedies in the United States feel like they are over covered as the press corps descends upon the location of the event and tries to pump out every story possible.
Conversely, a similar tragedy in Sierra Leone may only get one or two articles in a paper like The New York Times. The one reporter who is likely not based in the country, but has to cover it, is going to try to get as much information in as possible. The unfortunate outcome is that the gruesomeness of the violence is often played up for the lack of ability to add in any real stories. As Ngugi writes,
But when it comes to writing about Africa, journalists suddenly have to make a choice between the extraordinary violence and ordinary life. It should not be a question of either the extreme violence or quiet happy times, but rather a question of telling the whole story within an event, even when tragedy is folded within tragedy. There are activist organizations in the Congo standing against rampant war and against rape as a weapon. The tide of the post-electoral violence in Kenya in 2007 turned because there were ordinary people in the slums and villages organizing against it.
There are different rules applied to reporting stories from Africa than from the United States. It is problematic.
However, addressing these problems also requires the admission that the two are not even on the same playing field. Domestic reporters have the length of a soccer field to completely develop a report. Meanwhile, reporters in Africa are stuck on the penalty line trying to score on a hockey goal with a soccer ball.
•A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
Friends of Africa often anoint selected leaders from that continent as heroes “for the moment."
Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Congo’s Mobutu Sese-Seko, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame have all enjoyed that status at one time or another. Often the “hero” immediately follows a tyrant–or chaos.
Mr. Obasanjo followed a generation of military rulers, and his immediate predecessor was the “tyrant” Sani Abacha who resorted to judicial murder; Mr. Mobutu emerged from Congo’s domestic chaos and civil war and promised inoculation against the Communists; Mr. Mugabe followed the racist regime of Ian Smith and promised racial reconciliation; and Mr. Kagame “ended” the genocide in Rwanda.
The pattern is that these “heroes” fall from grace as they wrestle with monumental problems of governance or with their personal devils – or both. Hence, Obasanjo tried for an unconstitutional presidential third term with the suspicion that he intended to become president for life, Mobutu established a kleptocracy, Mugabe resorted to racism and destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy for a time, and Kagame has been implicated in the Rwandan looting of the eastern Congo.
Reluctance to relinquish power is a widespread problem among African chiefs of state. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for an African chief of state who pursues good governance and voluntarily steps down from office when his term ends has not been awarded for the past three years because of the lack of a credible candidate.
Nelson Mandela is an exception to this pattern. Anointed a “hero,” his policies of reconciliation, political skills, and genuine devotion to democracy and human rights precluded a fall from international grace. History shows that genuine heroes are few, and there is often ambiguity. In our own history, George Washington was a land speculator, Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, and Abraham Lincoln was slow to embrace abolition.
As for Africa, too often, exaggerated international hopes and expectations for the African “man of the hour” are disappointed and the “hero” evolves into a “big man” in the eyes of Africa’s foreign friends.
Simukai Tinhu, in a thoughtful article, argues that this process of heroic designation followed almost inevitably by disappointment, is at present underway with respect to Morgan Tsvangirai, the major opposition leader to the fallen hero Robert Mugabe. Mr. Tinhu posits that Mr. Tsvangirai is likely to be the next president of Zimbabwe if the elections later this year are genuinely free and fair.
But Tinhu discusses episodes in Tsvangirai’s past that cloud his democratic and human rights protestations. Tinhu sees the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Tsvangirai’s leadership as increasingly intolerant of criticism and not democratic in its inner workings. And his private life has been marred by scandals that raise questions about his personal judgment. In short, Tsvangirai is no Nelson Mandela.
As Tinhu observers, Zimbabwe under Tsvangirai might not be so different from Mugabe’s rule. Tsvangirai’s election does not guarantee a fundamental change in Zimbabwe’s political system. Outsiders, especially, underestimate Mugabe’s popularity with the poor and hitherto landless.
Mugabe might well win a genuinely free and fair election. However, he is unlikely to take any risks.
Is Africa ready for an African pope?
CNN recently put that question to 20,000 Africans in 11 countries.
Unsurprisingly, they said yes.
While it’s hard to imagine a western news outlet asking Americans if they felt the United States was ready for an American pope, CNN reported Tuesday that 82 percent of the Africans they polled via cellphone felt that Africa was ready for a pope from the region, while 62 percent rated the Vatican itself as “ready for an African pope.” And 86 percent of respondents believed that an African pope would increase support for Catholicism in Africa.
These are bland answers to bland questions, but luckily they’re not the only views we have to gauge the continent’s reaction to the papal selection process, which began behind the Sistine Chapel’s closed doors Tuesday.
Almost since the moment that Joseph Ratzinger – known by his papal name Benedict XVI – announced he would resign on Feb. 11, a wide variety of Africans have weighed in on the possibility of an African successor and the future of the church on the continent.
And those speculations aren’t simply important for African Catholics. With the western church beleaguered by dwindling attendance and clergy sex abuse scandals, the African church is growing at a clip of 4 percent per year. There are now 186 million African Catholics – triple the number 30 years ago, and Catholics from Latin America and Africa now make up nearly half the church’s adherents worldwide.
As the New York Times reports,
With 16 percent of the world’s Catholics now living in Africa, the church’s future, many say, is here…. While the number of priests in North America and Europe declined [in the last seven years], in Africa they grew by 16 percent. The seminaries, clerical officials here say, are bursting with candidates, and African priests are being sent to take over churches in former colonial powers.
So could the next pope be African?
“Why not?” said Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, considered a leading contender for the position, nonchalantly in a 2009 interview. “If God would wish to see a black man … as Pope, thanks be to God!'”
In a similarly diplomatic statement, South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, also seen as an outside shot for the role, has said that an African pope would be a “great honor.”
"I think we would have a better chance of getting someone outside of the northern hemisphere this time, because there are some really promising cardinals from other parts of the world," Cardinal Napier said in a press interview. "It's a question of where is the kind of [and] the quality of leadership evident at the moment: coming from a growing background rather than a holding or a maintenance background?"
Elsewhere, however, African observers who aren’t actually in the running for the papacy have been less measured in their opinions.
"With the black community's representation in the larger Catholic community, it is legitimate that we have a black pope," said Rene Legre Hokou, who runs the League of Human Rights in Ivory Coast, in an interview with Uganda’s Daily Monitor. "An African pope could give more vitality to the Catholic Church in the black world. It would demonstrate the universal character of the religion.”
But some on the continent have also made the point that an African pope may not signal the radical departure from tradition that it seems. For one thing, there have been popes from Africa before, albeit more than a millennium ago. And while individual African church leaders like Turkson have taken a critical stance towards western institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), by and large the church in Africa is characterized by deep social conservatism.
Indeed, some 50 percent of those CNN surveyed about African pope readiness said they believed an African pope would make the church a more conservative institution. In a freeform comment portion of the survey, many respondents weighed in on what an African pope might do for the church’s barometer on social issues.
"The Catholic Church will be ultra conservative with an African pope," said one Nigerian woman.
"It would spread the faith with stringent Catholic doctrines," a Ugandan man responded….
"The [African] pope would fight against homosexuality in Africa," said one Ghanaian man, while another from Rwanda said "it could be the time to fight" against homosexuality.
As one Nigerian bishop put it, for many African Catholics the issue is not so much if the next pope himself is an African, but rather what he does to safeguard the church's traditions on the continent.
Many in the world "would wish a Pope that will support abortion, contraceptives, the culture of death, women ordination, and gay marriages," said Nigerian Cardinal Anthony J.V. Obinna. "The Pope we need to get will be the one that continues in the noble, holy, truthful tradition that Christ bequeathed to us."
A version of this post first appeared on the author's blog, Lesley on Africa. The views expressed are the author's own.
As US Africa Command (AFRICOM) prepares to transition from the leadership of General Carter Ham to that of General David Rodriguez, it faces some critical decisions on how to develop a more robust posture to conduct crisis response operations while also bracing itself for the impact of sequestration.
This fundamental tension was apparent during General Ham’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last week regarding the programs and budget needed to meet the command’s current and future requirements. (Watch an archived webcast of the hearing here and read General Ham’s prepared testimony.)
Here are some of the salient points:
At times, the testimony felt like another round of inquiry about what happened during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, and what assets were or could have been nearby to help save the lives of the four Americans that were killed. But I think the takeaway – not just from this hearing, but from the political fallout from the attack more generally – is that there is a clear demand for AFRICOM to have a more robust crisis response posture so that it is better able to protect US citizens and US interests on the continent. Accordingly, Ham highlighted several ways in which AFRICOM was building a theater response capability to improve the Command’s ability to respond to crises across North, East, and West Africa. These included:
•a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP-MAGTF) that would be specifically tailored for crisis response operations and presumably based in Europe; and
•an Army Regionally-Aligned Brigade based in Fort Riley, KS that could be activated for crisis response with the permission of the Secretary of Defense. (However, the day-to-day purpose of the regionally-aligned brigade would be to deploy in small teams across the continent to train African security forces.)
Of course, all the discussion of a more robust posture for crisis response operations begged the question of how the Department of Defense will be able to resource these requirements.
When asked how AFRICOM could increase response time while maintaining a relatively small footprint, Ham responded that we are much better at prevention than response. He further stated that prevention is much cheaper, but necessitates a better understanding of the operating environment – hence the preoccupation with increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
Earlier in the hearing, Ham had been asked about reductions in flight hours that have already resulted from sequestration, and have impacted the Command's ISR capabilities. In his response, he mentioned that most operations are funded by the services – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Special Operations – and that the Air Force and Navy components have had to constrain their flight operations due to funding challenges. General Ham further explained that he'd asked the Air Force commander to maintain the component's transport aircraft in a heightened alert posture so that they could move crisis response forces more readily. This, however, requires that the component sustain flight crews on a heightened alert posture, which cuts into normal training and sustainment flights. As a result, the component was having trouble funding both requirements. Similarly, the Navy has had to decrease the frequency of some of its operational reconnaissance flights – again because of the inability to fund its normal flight operations.
As the hearing suggested, the issue of how AFRICOM plans to improve readiness to respond to crises as we simultaneously enter sequestration means that the incoming commander, General Rodriguez, certainly has his work cut out for him.