Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Lupita Nyong’o in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." Nyong'o was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, for her role in the film. The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2. (Francois Duhamel, Fox Searchlight Pictures/AP)

Africa's first big Hollywood year: Are multiple Oscars in the offing?

By Sitinga KachipandeGuest blogger / 01.16.14

A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa on the Blog venue. The views expressed are the author's own. 

This year, Africans and members of the African diaspora across the globe have more of a reason to follow Hollywood film awards than any other year.

In the past, when Africans watched the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards or the Academy Awards – they hardly saw African faces, much less African nominees.

Africa itself was often represented by non-Africans. It seemed the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood runway was not  a space for Africans. In an industry where there are already limited roles for  minorities, African immigrants, children of African immigrants and Africans faced big challenges in finding roles that highlighted their talent.

In recent years, advances in the African  film industry have been noted. Africa now has large film industries such as Nollywood, many awards, and being an actor or actress is a more viable career choice then in the past. Now,  Africa is also making its mark on Hollywood.

Africa has its own film industry awards and should not be seeking validation from the global North on its top talent. The African Movie Academy Awards have made a large and lasting impact on the continent. They are in their 10th year. Yet Hollywood is a tough and competitive space for any foreigners, much less Africans, to gain visibility. So it is important when Africans in the diaspora make headway in the American movie industry.

And therefore the presence of Africa and the African diaspora at the Golden Globe Awards show on Sunday, is to be celebrated.

Africa was represented by films set on the continent and by actors and actresses directly connected to the continent.

And it is starting to be the year for Africa in Hollywood.

Africa at the Golden Globe Awards:

Take the Golden Globes. This year marked a remarkable Golden Globe moment for Africa. For the first time, there was a noticeable number of African actors and actresses at the awards.

While in the past Africans such as Sophie Okonedo (Nigeria), Djimon Hounsou (Benin), Gabourey Sidibe (Senegal), have been nominated -- Charlize Theron (South Africa) has been the sole winner from Africa. 

This year however an African and first generation African diaspora presence was clear. Among those nominated: Chiwetel Efiojor, Lupita N’yongo, Idris Elba, and Barkhad Abdi.

Let's look at them briefly: 

Chiwetel Efiojor: Mr. Efiojor was born to Nigerian parents in England. His father was a doctor and his mother a pharmacist. His sister, Zain Asher, also has a career in front of the camera where she works as a CNN financial news correspondent. Efiojor is a five-time Golden Globe nominee who began his career at Dulwich College and subsequently joined the National Youth Theater. Efiojor should be familiar to many Africans. He has starred in quality films such as Amistad (1997), Dirty Pretty Things (2002), and Children of Men (2006).

This year he was nominated for best actor in the Globes and for the Oscar, for "12 Years a Slave." He is also up for best performance by an actor for the television series "Dancing on the Edge." 

Idris Elba: Mr. Elba's father is from Sierra Leone and his mother is Ghanaian. They resided in England. His father worked in the factories and his mother worked in administration. Elba started his career working as a disc jockey until he branched off to own his own DJ company. His first acting role was in the TV series Absolutely Fabulous. Fans will recognize Elba from his role in movies such as Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls (2007), Thor: The Dark World (2013), and television shows like The Wire and Luther.

This year he got nominated as best actor for the Globes for his role playing Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." He is also up for best performance for his role in the TV series Luther.

Lupita N’yongo: Ms. N’yongo was born to Kenyan parents in Mexico. She is the daughter of Kenyan politician Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o and Dorothey Nyong’o. Her aunt, Isis N’yongo, is a leader in the tech industry and regularly appears on the Forbes list of Africa's most powerful women. She is a newcomer to the film industry and only recently graduated from Yale. She has worked on the production team in several Hollywood films. East Africans may recognize her from her role in the Kenyan TV series, Shuga.

She got nominated for the Globes and for an Oscar for her supporting role in "12 Years a Slave."

Barkhad Abdi: Mr. Abdi was born in Somalia to Somali parents. He grew up in Somalia, Yemen and later moved to Minnesota. He attended Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Abdi had no formal acting experience before starring in Captain Phillips alongside Tom Hanks. Abdi got nominated for the Globes and for an Oscar for his role in that film.

Its an Honor Just Being Nominated…

Although none of this years African nominees won an individual Golden Globe, the old cliche ‘its an honor just being nominated’ holds true.

These actors and actresses can now add ‘Golden Globe nominee’ to their resume, which in itself is an accolade in a competitive industry. These celebrities have proves that they are amongst the best in the world.  The movie 12 Years a Slave (2013) in which both Efiojor and N’yongo starred, did win a Globe in the category of “Best Motion Picture – Drama”. Although its setting was not on the continent, it bears  a torch for Africa by telling the story of Africans. The fate of enslaved Africans in America and their experiences adjusting to their new world under deplorable conditions, is the story of Africa and Africans. The movie itself, was directed by Steve McQueen, who was born in England to parents from the Caribbean island of Grenada (where large numbers of  enslaved Africans were brought).

Also representing Africa was the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) which was about one of the most famous African leaders in our time, former South African president, Nelson Mandela was nominated in two categories for the song “Ordinary Love”:

  • Best Original Song (nominee – U2)
  • Best original Score (nominee – Alex Heffes)

The Group U2, which is led by African aid advocate Bono, won in its category as well.

Africa at the Screen Actors Guild Award

All of the actors we mention above are also nominated for the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) scheduled for Jan. 18.

Joining this list of nominees are Adepero Oduye, born in the US to Nigerian parents, and who graduated pre-med from Cornell University, and was nominated in the category of "cast" in 12 Years a Slave. Also, David Oyelow is nominated for his "cast" role in Lee Daniels, "The Butler." Mr. Oyelow was born in England to Nigerian parents, and attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. 

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, visits Koluama 2 village, in Nigeria, Feb. 27, 2012. Local and international groups fighting AIDS warned on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, that a new Nigerian law criminalizing same-sex marriage and gay organizations will jeopardize the fight against the deadly disease. (Sunday Alamba/AP/File)

With anti-gay laws, Nigeria circles the wagons against the West

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 01.15.14

A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Nigerians across religious, ethnic, and regional divisions are strongly supportive of the anti-gay measure recently signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.The legislation criminalizes virtually all aspects of gay life, not just gay marriage.

There has been support from spokesmen for the Christian Association of Nigeria (the principal Christian umbrella group), the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the sultan of Sokoto (the premier Muslim traditional ruler), and Jama’atu Nasril Islam, perhaps the most important Islamic group with a national membership, as well as an outpouring of support from much of the population.

Some Nigerians appear to be rediscovering a sense of nationalism. As one said to CAJ News Africa, “For the first time in life, I am so happy to be a Nigerian!” 

Others expressed pride that Christians, Muslims, and adherents to traditional religion are united in their opposition to homosexuality.

President Jonathan is benefitting from a popularity boost. As Premium Times wrote on January 13, “for many Nigerians, accustomed to attacking Mr. Jonathan over his failure to address many of the nation’s ills and its stinking corruption, the bill’s signing, largely a popular decision, came as one of the commendable steps taken by his administration.”

In the face of criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry and US. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, some Nigerians are using the anti-gay legislation as a push back against alleged “western cultural imperialism.” As a Roman Catholic spokesman said, opposition from the American government should be no surprise because “…the West which had done everything to sell their cultures to Africa will stop at nothing to want to impose such beliefs on the African continent which is always going to the West for financial aids and loans.”

Indeed, many Nigerians see the anti-gay legislation as a reaffirmation of core African -- and Nigerian -- values.

Nigeria is challenged by an Islamist insurrection in the north. There is ethnic and religious conflict in Nigeria's "Middle Belt." There is a prospect of renewed insurgency in the Delta, along with poverty, and corruption in many disparate places. The ruling party is fragmenting. In absolute numbers, Nigeria has the second largest number of HIV/AIDS victims in the world. (The new legislation will set-back efforts to fight the disease.) And the country faces national elections in 2015 in which it is widely expected that President Jonathan will seek re-election.

Under such circumstances, Nigeria is not the only country in history where politicians have sought to rally national unity by attacking a despised minority.

Yet we outsiders should guard against excessive cynicism in ascribing the anti-gay legislation to the search for short-term political advantage. Homosexuality and a gay lifestyle is seen by many Nigerians as a challenge and threat to core African values. Resentment of alleged Western cultural imperialism is deep seated.

The Vanguard, a large daily with a national readership, on January 15 summed up the widespread Nigerian view: “Nigerians yesterday reacted angrily to US criticisms of the country over the anti-same sex bill signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan Monday, saying that Nigeria will not become the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah in the name of human rights.”

People displaced by the fighting in Bor county carry their belongings after arriving in the port of Minkaman, in Awerial county, Lakes state, in South Sudan, January 14, 2014. (Andreea Campeanu/Reuters)

The South Sudan strife – followed by satellite (+video)

By the Enough Project teamGuest bloggers / 01.14.14

A version of this post originally appeared on the Enough Project blog. The views expressed are the authors' own. 

For the past month, South Sudan has been engulfed in an expanding civil war. Unlike Sudan, where the Satellite Sentinel Project pioneered its work (and with a few exceptions) South Sudan’s government has been allowing both journalists and humanitarians to operate around the country, even as violence spreads.

As a result, harrowing videos, interviews, and photographs documenting the crisis have been emerging for weeks.

The United Nations estimates that over 395,000 people have been displaced by violence, 352,000 internally, of which 60,000 have sought shelter at UN compounds around the country. Another 43,000 are refugees in neighboring countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, with an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people from South Sudan arriving daily in Uganda alone.

Although no mortality surveys have been conducted, conservative estimates suggest that thousands have died in the fighting, which was triggered by a political struggle between competing factions of the ruling party.

The Satellite Sentinel Project has just released a new report, that augments existing reporting on South Sudan's civil war, with satellite imagery of the towns of Mayom and Bor, captured from 300 miles above the earth. 

Digital Globe imagery offers independent confirmation of the scale of South Sudan's civil war with vivid evidence of the intentional destruction of civilian dwellings and market areas.

UN bases in both Bor and Bentiu are crowded with displaced people. Images of Mayom show civilians fleeing en masse.

South Sudan's crisis is not unfolding in the dark, but enhanced documentation efforts are essential to combat impunity and ensure accountability for crimes committed during the course of hostilities. The Satellite Sentinel Project will continue to monitor all parts of South Sudan experiencing violence.

In this Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 file photo, displaced people arrive with what belongings they had time to gather by river barge from Bor, some of the thousands who fled the recent fighting between government and rebel forces in Bor by boat across the White Nile, in the town of Awerial, South Sudan. (Ben Curtis/AP/File)

South Sudan: 8 key developments

By Lesley Anne WarnerGuest blogger / 01.09.14

A version of the post originally appeared on the Lesley on Africa blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

I’m in the process of transitioning from my current assignment back to The Mothership this month.

From what I can ascertain, here are some important developments unfolding in South Sudan over the past two weeks:

  • Since mid-December, 189,000 South Sudanese have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 22,600 have become refugees in neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
  • Negotiations to end the crisis have gotten under way in Addis, and are said to be focusing on a cessation of hostilities and the release of the nine remaining political prisoners held by the government of South Sudan for their complicity in the alleged coup attempt in December.
  • South Sudanese civil society organizations marched for peace in Juba this week, demanding that warring parties end the conflict.
  • In a complete surprise (sarcasm) to anyone who watches Central Africa and the Horn, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (M7)  sent the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) to “help evacuate Ugandan nationals” in late December. M7 subsequently declared that East African nations would move in to defeat Riek Machar if he did not accept the government of South Sudan’s ceasefire offer. Back in 2012 when Museveni likewise threatened to intervene in a hypothetical large-scale conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, I wrote a post explaining M7′s motivations, and I think many of these motivations are still valid today. In any event, M7 is now being asked by the Ugandan parliament why he failed to secure parliamentary approval before deploying the UPDF to South Sudan.
  • Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited Juba earlier this week. Although initial reports stated that Sudan and South Sudan had agreed to a joint military force to protect South Sudan’s oilfields, it now appears that Sudan is sending 900 technicians to help run the oilfields – positions that were likely vacated by the evacuation of foreign oil workers in December. For additional insight on Sudan’s equities in the current crisis in South Sudan, I recommend reading posts by Magdi el Gizouli and Aly Verjee.  Many of us have been wondering what role Sudan might play in the crisis given the ruling regime’s reliance on oil transport fees from the export of South Sudan’s oil on one hand, and its support for anti-SPLA armed groups from the mid-1980s until quite recently, on the other hand.
  • Meanwhile, as @SamRosmarinaptly noted, SPLM-North, which has been fighting the government of Sudan in Blue Nile state and the Nuba Mountains since 2011, has been oddly quiet during all of this. The government of South Sudan had been supporting its civil war-era brothers-in-arms and the government of Sudan had been supporting various armed groups in South Sudan – but I’m not yet sure where SPLM-North is going to come into play in the current crisis, given Khartoum’s current support of the government in Juba.
  • David Yau Yau, who had been leading a rebellion in Jonglei state since 2010 (with an amnesty period between June 2011 and April 2012), may have agreed to a ceasefire with the government of South Sudan. (Shameless Self Promotion: Read more about the government’s amnesty and integration approach to armed groups.) When instability broke out in Jonglei state in mid-December, the government of South Sudan was quick to extend Yau Yau a new offer of amnesty, possibly because it feared he would link up with the forces of serial SPLA defector Peter Gadet. This is, of course, not to assume that such an alliance would have been inevitable due to a history of tensions between the Murle (Yau Yau’s ethnic group) and the Nuer (Gadet’s ethnic group) and the fact that Gadet had been countering Yau Yau’s rebellion as part of his SPLA command until his defection in December.
  • Spurred into action by the events of December 2013, a civil society initiative, Fresh Start South Sudan, came out with its Statement of Purpose. The initiative will officially launch in March 2014, and in the mean time, you can join here.

Here’s a few readings that have come highly recommended to me over the past few days. Full disclosure: since I haven’t yet gotten through all of these, consider this more of a “What I’m Reading” List:

Man, I have A LOT of reading to get done!

Angry residents shout accusations at French soldiers as they depart, after a shooting disrupted a meeting between the commander of the Sangaris forces and Muslim community leaders, in the Kilometer 5 district of Bangui, Central African Republic, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Chaos in Central African Republic is about power, not religion

By Emily MellgardGuest blogger / 01.07.14

This post originally appeared on the Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

The growing violence and chaos in the Central African Republic (CAR) has returned to the front pages of the media in recent weeks.

The Seleka (“Alliance”), a group of numerous different militia groups, mostly from the north of the country, which is predominantly Muslim, launched a campaign in December 2012 to overthrow the government of Francoise Bozize. They seized Bangui in March 2013.

Subsequently, national elections were held on April 13, 2013, and Michel Djotodia was elected as interim president -- with Seleka support. He subsequently dissolved Seleka.

Once disbanded, Seleka fighters proved to be uncontrollable. There have been credible claims of human rights abuses (including rape, murder, and possibly the use of child soldiers among others) documented by Human Rights Watch.

In response, communities formed militias, broadly labelled anti-balaka (or anti-machete), to protect themselves from ex-Seleka fighters. These anti-balaka militias are largely Christian and have targeted civilians, normally Muslim, as well as ex-Seleka forces. The rhetoric used by the anti-balaka fighters is often religious and anti-Muslim.

Commentators are increasingly casting the conflict in religious terms. The country is at least 50 percent Christian, evenly divided between Protestant and Catholic, approximately 35 percent traditional religions, and 15 percent Muslim.

The Muslims live mainly in the north of the country, perceive themselves to be marginalized, and have never held the presidency. There are accounts of former president Bozize’s presidential guard, and other members of the security sector, committing human rights abuses among Muslim communities.

The roots of the current conflict are, however, less religious than they are economic and political.

Militias are engaging in sectarian violence, attacking other communities rather than protecting their own.

Religious leaders stressed to Human Rights Watch that the violence was not religious but political. An imam in a village attacked by anti-balaka fighters claimed that they were loyalists to Bozize and had military weapons.

The BBC supported the assertion that Bozize loyalists were among the anti-balaka fighters. They attacked Bangui on December 5.

So far however, Mr. Djotodia remains in nominal control as interim president.

This violence appears to be  predominantly political and sectarian and makes use of existing religious differences and rhetoric.

What is going on in the CAR is neither a jihad nor a crusade. It is rather a struggle for political power with Bangui as the prize.

Ms. Mellgard is research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.

Evacuating the US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan Jan. 3, 2014. Sgt. John T. Kelly, a radio operator with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, calls in a status update during the evacuation. (Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III, US Marines/REUTERS)

Is S. Sudan's ruling-SPLA coming apart?

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 01.06.14

A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

South Sudan president Salva Kiir and ex-vice president Riek Machar have sent delegations to the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa to try to negotiate a ceasefire to the recent outbreak of hostilities.

In the meantime, a humanitarian crisis looms, with hundreds of thousands displaced persons. There are fears that the conflict is spiralling down into a civil war. 

What is going on here?

President Kiir claims that the crisis was provoked by an attempted coup by Mr. Machar. Machar denies there was a coup attempt, and claims that Mr. Kiir has been moving against his supporters. Machar is demanding that Kiir step down.

Commentators are seeing the conflict as one between the Dinka and the Nuer, the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan. Salva Kiir is a Dinka, while Riek Machar is a Nuer.

Perhaps the focus should be on Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). This was the liberation movement that led South Sudan’s separation from Sudan’s Khartoum government. It included Salva Kiir and Riek Machar and Dinka and Nuer in a context of constantly shifting alliances and betrayals.

But the SPLA was a liberation movement, not a political party. Beyond independence and “development,” it has no coherent political program.

With little capacity to absorb it, the country is awash with cash from oil and development assistance, and corruption is reported to be ubiquitous. Against this background, and with separation from Khartoum achieved, the SPLA appears to be degenerating into something approaching warlordism, with warlords appealing to ethnic identities.

Many, including other African nations, enthusiastically supported the independence of South Sudan from Omar Al Bashir’s Islamist and racist Khartoum government.

Yet, beyond getting out from under Khartoum and with a nominally Christian majority, South Sudan has little internal coherence. Perhaps it is a misnomer to call it a nation-state.

What might be the next steps forward?

First, of course, must be an end to the fighting. That will require patching up relations between Kiir and Machar, perhaps involving some type of power sharing arrangement. There are signs that African leaders are prepared to bring pressure to achieve this. Once a ceasefire is in place, the international community must move to address the horrific humanitarian consequences of this latest round of fighting.

Over the longer term, allies of the young nation should prepare themselves for extended involvement with South Sudan, with many bumps in the road as it seeks to transform itself into a nation, a process likely to take generations and made no easier by oil riches.

Lamentation from S. Sudan diaspora: We want peace not 'self-destruction'

By Akshaya KumarGuest blogger / 01.04.14

A version of this post originally appeared on the Enough Said blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

On December 15, political infighting within South Sudan's ruling party mutated into an ugly and violent confrontation on the dusty streets of South Sudan's capital city.

Since then, violence and displacement has touched almost every part of the already heavily militarized country.

Former rebels came out of retirement and defected from the national army.Riek Machar and his alliance claim to now control at least a third of the country, including its oil producing regions. A country that was broadly at peace with itself returned to war.

Now, the warring factions have sent delegations to Addis Ababa to begin negotiations, but the fighting persists.  Almost 200,000 people have been displaced by spiraling violence that is increasingly moving along ethnic lines. Political leaders on both sides of the conflict are using divisive rhetoric to mobilize their core constituencies, which come from South Sudan's two largest ethnic groups.

Although no mortality surveys have been conducted, conservative estimates suggest that thousands may have died in just three short weeks.  As a result of decades of brutal civil war with Khartoum, many South Sudanese were forced to flee their native land as refugees.

Now, they comprise one of the most broadly dispersed diaspora communities on the planet. Every day these communities are being rocked by news of death and destruction back home.

However, instead of contributing to further polarization, many have taken to the internet to speak out against the violence unfolding back home and call for peace.  Eva Lopa pioneered the My Tribe Is South Sudan movement on twitter, urging South Sudanese to look beyond their tribal identity and to embrace national social cohesion. (The tweets for the hashtag are at: #MyTribeIsSouthSudan)

Chris Kwoji has also been working with her to advance a message of peace. His Facebook page, iChoosePeace, hosts testimonials from a broad range of voices, all calling for peace.  Another group of fifteen members of the diaspora issued a scathing statement directed to "the leaders in South Sudan who are at this moment bringing self-destruction down on our nation."

Without mincing words, the statement holds South Sudan's political elites responsible for the recent return to violence, as follows: 

Our deepest desire is to help our people of South Sudan, the country of our birth, the land we love so dearly. Not as Dinka or Nuer or Shilluk or Acholi or people of one tribe or another, but as people of our one nation. 

And now, YOU, the leaders that we and all South Sudanese have counted on to bring our nation to life.  Instead, you have brought us to the point where we are killing our own innocent people, our mothers and fathers, our old people and our children.

Our enemies were never able to break us apart.  They were never able to turn us away from our great cause of bringing our nation to life.  But what our enemies could never do to us, YOU are doing to us now.

In this photo, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, left, shares a light moment with Deputy President William Ruto, right, at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya in October. The two have been indicted in connection with the bloodshed surrounding the 2007 elections. Now prosecutors are having trouble collecting evidence. (AP Photo/Kenya Presidency)

ICC: Is witness intimidation derailing President Kenyatta's trial?

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 12.30.13

A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

 On Dec. 19, International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the judges to adjourn the trial date of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta because one of the prosecution’s witnesses is now declining to testify and another has confessed to giving false evidence. She is asking for the adjournment to give her more time to seek other evidence before proceeding with the trial.

She said: “Having carefully considered by evidence and the impact of the two withdrawals, I have come to the conclusion that currently the case against Mr. Kenyatta does not satisfy the high evidentiary standards required at trial. I therefore need time to complete efforts to obtain additional evidence, and to consider whether such evidence will enable my office to fully meet the evidentiary threshold required at trial.”

Kenya’s President Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto have been indicted in connection with the bloodshed surrounding the 2007 presidential elections.

At that time, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides. Kenyatta was a leader of the Kikuyu ethnic group, while Ruto was a leader of the Kalenjin ethnic group. The two ethnic groups have long been bitter enemies. The origin of the enmity appears to be dispute over land in the Rift valley.

However, political figures on both sides have previously fanned the enmity in pursuit of their own agendas. It looks like that might have happened in 2007. At least 1,200 people were killed, and the international community, led by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan intervened.

In 2013, however, Kenyatta and Ruto reconciled their personal differences and led a united national ticket for the presidency against Raila Odinga.

The Kikuyu and Kalenjin groups found themselves on the same side. They won in elections that most Kenyans decided were credible. Yet that victory means that Kenya’s president and vice president are both under ICC indictment.

Since the elections -- and even before -- ICC officials, including the prosecutor, Ms. Bensouda, have complained of witness intimidation and general Kenyan non-cooperation. Kenya has sought Africa Union support against the ICC, and the Kenyan parliament has called for withdrawal from its jurisdiction.

Under these circumstances, as the years go by, it is likely that it will be increasingly difficult for Bensouda to make her case against Kenyatta.

However, Ruto’s case, generally regarded as the stronger of the two, started in September 2013, and is going forward.

Should the ICC case against the Kikuyu Kenyatta go away, and should the Kalenjin Ruto be convicted, it is unclear whether that would re-ignite the ethnic conflict between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, up to now held in abeyance by the Kenyatta-Ruto alliance.

A forklift truck today moves shipping containers in a United Nations compound which has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, in Juba, South Sudan. (Ben Curtis / AP)

South Sudan: Strife more about personal power than tribal hate?

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 12.27.13

A version of this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Editor's note: As this was published Dec. 27 the South Sudan government agreed to end hostilities; however, no word had been heard from the principal opposition figure, Riek Machar, whose group did not attend talks in Juba.

The current crisis in South Sudan escalated on Dec. 15, when President Salva Kiir accused his long-time political rival former vice president Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

Since then, there has been widespread fighting between the supporters of the two, with “thousands” killed and yet more thousands displaced. 

Foreign governments, including the United States, are evacuating their nationals, many of whom have fled to UN encampments. The fighting is likely to impact on South Sudan’s oil production, though thus far it does not appear to have spooked the international oil markets.

Mostly Christian South Sudan’s struggle for independence from al-Bashir’s repressive, Islamist government in Khartoum has long been a popular cause, especially in the developed world but also in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

In the two years since South Sudan’s independence, international donors has greatly expanded their assistance levels, and there are now significant numbers of expatriates working on various aid projects. Accordingly, there has been the usual hand-wringing and official statements by leaders of the UN Security Council and countries that have citizens on the ground in South Sudan calling for a cessation of this round of fighting.

The European Commission is sending a special envoy, Alex Rondos, to South Sudan. He was scheduled to arrive yesterday. Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta are already there. The goal is to organize and facilitate negotiations between the two warring factions.

However, Mr. Machar has said at various times that he will enter negotiations only after Salva Kiir releases the former’s supporters held captive. At other times, Machar insists on Salva Kiir’s resignation as a precondition. Getting genuine negotiations underway will likely be a challenge.

In the meantime, on Christmas Eve, the UN Security Council voted to increase the number of UN peacekeepers from 7,000 to 12,500 and the international police in South Sudan from 900 to 1,300.

The troops and the police, all from sub-Saharan African countries, will be pulled from UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Abeiyi, the territory disputed by Sudan and South Sudan.

Commentators place the fighting in an ethnic context, conflict between the Dinka, led by Salva Kiir, and the Nuer, led by Machar.

That there is now an important ethnic dimension to the killing is undeniable.

However, Andreas Hirblinger and Sara de Simone, in “South Sudan: What is “Tribalism” and Why does it Matter,” places the ethnic struggle in a sophisticated context. They argue, inter alia, that “ethnicity provides a lens through which power struggles have been framed throughout most of South Sudan’s recent history.”

They show how personal and factional rivalries within the presidential guard spread to the armed forces, and how the threat of ethnic conflict can further an often personal agenda.

As external involvement in South Sudan intensifies, Hirblingier and Simone are essential reading. Their article appeared December 24 in African Arguments.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan addresses the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 24. (Richard Drew/AP/File)

Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan faces first significant political crisis

By John CampbellGuest blogger / 12.24.13

A version of this post originally appeared on the Africa In Transition blog. The views expressed are the author's own. 

On Dec. 2, former Nigerian President Obasanjo sent a letter to current President Goodluck Jonathan cataloging the shortcomings of the latter’s administration.

Eighteen pages in length, it is a thoroughgoing indictment of the Jonathan administration, cataloging shortcomings ranging from security to corruption to the president’s leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. 

Altogether, Mr. Obasanjo’s letter is a familiar critique of Nigerian governance under Jonathan, if perhaps more bluntly stated than is usual in public among Nigeria’s establishment.

RECOMMENDED: Africa's Hot Spots

Though ostensibly private, the letter soon appeared in the media, and it looks as though it was Obasanjo’s intention that it should eventually become public.

In a letter dated Dec. 20 that appeared in the media on Dec. 22, Mr. Jonathan replied. While Jonathan said he would not provide a point-by-point response, his reply is lengthy and detailed. His bottom line: “…you have done me grave injustice with your public letter in which you wrongfully accused me of deceit, deception, dishonesty, incompetence, clannishness, divisiveness, and insincerity, amongst other ills.”

The two letters, read together, constitute a debate on the state of Nigeria.

There are very few points of agreement between the two men. Jonathan flatly denies some of Obasanjo’s most pointed accusations, e.g., that the sitting president has developed a “security watch list” with a thousand names on it.

Jonathan notes that Obasanjo’s claim that almost $50 billion in oil revenue is unaccounted for is “spurious,” and based on a letter from the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, that (per Jonathan) its author now says is “misconstrued.”

Jonathan also claims that many of Nigeria’s problems began before he entered office: he dates Boko Haram from 2002 and the first major kidnapping for ransom in 2006. Jonathan lists what he sees as his security achievements in the northeast: The re-organization of the security forces, a “carrot and stick” approach to Boko Haram that leaves the door open for negotiation, and even the establishment of numerous new universities in the north to address the education deficit.

As for the troubles within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Jonathan says they are largely the result of the run-up to the 2015 elections, and that they have been fomented by politicians pursuing their own agendas – including Obasanjo.

A point-by-point analysis of these letters, with their accusations and refutations, is far beyond a blog post.

In the short term, it is clear that the break between Obasanjo and Jonathan is profound. It is also evident that the superficial unity among Nigeria’s hitherto competing but also cooperating elites is gone.

The political structures of post-1999, when civilian government was constituted, will need to be rebuilt. That will be a challenge.

According to the Nigerian press, the new, big opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is putting out feelers to Obasanjo. In response, Nobel Laureate Wole Soynka on December 22 warned of a “Shipwreck Ahead.”

Mr. Soyinka quotes Lagos state power broker and a leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, as saying that the APC had resolved to rescue Nigeria, and appealed to Obasanjo to lead the mission: “We’re resolved and determined to rescue Nigeria. We want you as navigator.”

Soyinka, long a bitter critic of Obasanjo and the Nigerian political establishment, added, “If [Tinubu’s] attribution is correct, may I urge you, as an urgent public service, to advise families to begin the stockpiling of life-belts for the guaranteed crash. Don’t forget to alert the coastguards – ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African states), AU (African Union), UNO (United Nations Organization) etc. – to be on the alert for possible salvage operations.”

RECOMMENDED: Africa's Hot Spots

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!