•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.
There is a new peace deal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the outlook is mixed.
11 countries (Congo, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) signed onto the deal at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia.
The Central African coalition agreed to provide support, including 2,500 troops, to stabilize a country that has been beset by conflict for decades.
It’s not stable yet, and many are uncertain if this negotiated deal will accomplish much.
The driving force behind the new deal was the advance of the M23 rebels. The rebels are remnants of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a group that formally integrated into the Congolese government in 2009 and whose military made the transition as well. A few hundred ethnic Tutsi, many former CNDP members, broke off in April 2012 to form the M23 rebellion under the leadership of General Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda.
M23 rebels launched attacks on Congolese forces and displaced people living in the eastern Congo. A large push by the rebels led to the capture of the main city of Goma this past November. A standoff ensued between the rebels and the Congolese government. Fighting took place outside of Goma and it later emerged that both sides committed human rights violations and that Rwandan soldiers were supporting the M23 rebels. An ultimatum from the Congolese government with the backing of regional powers led M23 to vacate Goma at the end of November.
Skirmishes continued since and leading up to the peace deal this week. Its announcement was met by a variety of reactions from people with knowledge of the situation in the Congo.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used his remarks at the signing to announce the imminent appointment of a special envoy and stressed the importance and his optimism for a solution. “The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo must remain a top priority on the international agenda,” he said. “It is my earnest hope that the Framework will lead to an era of peace and stability for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region.”
A cautious sentiment was taken by the UN mission head in the eastern Congo's North Kivu province, Alex Queval, who told Al Jazeera, ”I think it would be wrong to have too great expectations because the situation here is very difficult. The conflict has been going on for at least 19 years, so it’s not going to be solved overnight, but I definitely think that this approach can be a new beginning.”
Academic and African Monitor blogger Laura Seay took a more pessimistic stance about the outlook of the peace deal. In a Twitter interview with Mark Goldberg of the UN Dispatch, she explained why – Goma still remains vulnerable to capture by M23 and the plan requires support from the regional players.
“There’s little reason to believe that Rwanda will actually stop funding M23 or stay out. History suggests otherwise,” she tweeted.
Rwanda saw its foreign aid suspended as the result of evidence showing its support for the M23 rebellion. Ms. Seay sees its participation as an effort to restore the money. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and philanthropist Howard Buffett came to the defense of Rwanda in a recent Foreign Policy article. They warn of the costs of making aid cuts to both Rwanda and the region more broadly.
Slashing international support to Rwanda ignores the complexity of the problem within Congo's own borders and the history and circumstances that have led to current regional dynamics. Cutting aid does nothing to address the underlying issues driving conflict in the region, it only ensures that the Rwandan people will suffer — and risks further destabilizing an already troubled region.
Seay disagreed with the two in a blog post. She argued that the aid money does not detract from programming, but rather allows Rwanda to divert money that would go into social programs into its military support of M23.
Blair and Buffett also ignore the fact that having so much aid support frees up other resources for the Rwandan government to use in its military adventures in the Congo. Were Rwanda not wasting money on supporting the M23, Kigali would be able to fund many of the excellent development initiatives that were previously funded with aid dollars.
Congolese activist Kambale Musavuli rejected the idea of a peace plan without a justice element. He wrote on Facebook, “The fact that Kabila signed the UN framework agreement shows clearly that he does not serve the interest of the Congolese people, just for those who still had doubt. This is the guy, Kabila, who took 9 months to talk to his people that Rwanda had in fact attacked the Congo.” It continues by posing a series of questions regarding lingering issues that are not addressed by the peace deal.
Meanwhile, M23 is beginning to show some internal cracks. Fighting between rival groups representing a power struggle between political leader Jean-Marie Runiga and military chief Sultani Makenga left 8 people dead, reported the BBC. What remains are questions about what may be lie ahead for the Congo.
Kris Berwouts raised this point at the end of a piece for African Arguments on a Congo peace deal shortly before it was announced, writing, “So there is a lot of talk about dialogue these days here in Kinshasa. Will that bring back a bit of legitimacy or national cohesion after the failed elections and one year of M23? I doubt it. I don’t easily believe in miracles. But after all, this is Congo, where nothing ever seems to work but everything remains possible.”
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
On Feb. 22, President Obama announced in a letter to Congress that he deployed “approximately 100” US military troops to Niamey, Niger to establish a drone base to survey the Sahel and the Sahara. This base, which could eventually host up to 300 US troops, contradicts earlier administration assurances that there would be no US boots on the ground. There has been limited American surveillance of the region before, using light aircraft. However, a drone base dramatically ups the visibility – and the ante.
It is much more significant than the 100 US forces helping east and central African governments try to overcome the Lords’ Resistance Army. The drone base, and the US military and other personnel needed to support it, will be located in one of the poorest countries in the world. “Mission creep” is probably inevitable, not least because the lack of infrastructure will require the Americans to provide high levels of support for their military personnel.
The drone base is likely to get bigger, even if its mission remains surveillance only.
This decision associates the US directly with regional governments that are weak – and in many cases alienated from the people they ostensibly govern. The region is also the venue for frequent military coups. Further, there are no historical ties between the US and the region – unlike France – and there are no significant American interests in the conventional sense.
Why did the administration take this step? Those of us outside the government can only speculate. The French, who are much closer American allies around the world than American popular opinion acknowledges, probably encouraged it. The government of Niger probably welcomed it. The recent spate of kidnappings in the region probably added urgency.
But the fundamental motivation for the drone base appears to be US fear – there is no other word – of the quasi-criminal networks that have adopted the Al Qaeda brand. These groups struggle amongst themselves for control of smuggling routes, and the popular support they have seems to reflect popular alienation from bad governance. They are primarily the product of local circumstances and, up to now, have posed no threat to the United States.
That may change. The drone base associates the US in a highly visible way with the corrupt governments of the region. It will be easy to represent the them as yet another element of the alleged American war against Islam.
Now that there are boots on the ground, it is difficult to foresee an end to the US presence any time soon.
So it was a nice PR boost for the country Sunday when an uplifting South African story, “Searching for Sugar Man,” took home the Academy Award for best documentary feature.
The film tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, an American folk singer whose first album fizzled in the United States, only to become a runaway hit in apartheid South Africa – entirely without his knowledge.
Almost thirty years later, a couple of South African fans track down the reclusive musician, who has spent the intervening decades working as a house builder in inner city Detroit. They clue him in to his South African celebrity – one of them claims he was "bigger than Elvis" – and eventually help send him on a sold-out stadium tour in South Africa in 1998.
It’s a story ready-made for Hollywood, and watching the film, it all seems almost too good to be true.
That’s probably because it is.
To be sure, the part about Rodriguez's American obscurity is all fact. When asked how many copies of his album sold in the US, a producer for his record label said only slightly facetiously, “In America? Six.”
But it turns out Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul left out a few details in the rags-to-long-belated-riches story – notably the fact that Rodriguez was a minor hit in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1970s, and both toured and released a live album there. In 1981, he was the opening act for the Aussie rock superstars Midnight Oil – hardly the gig of an industry nobody.
As The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw griped in his review of the film,
“It gives the audience the impression that after Rodriguez was dropped by [his American] label, he simply collapsed into non-showbiz obscurity until his South African fanbase was mobilised. But…a rudimentary internet search shows that Rodriguez's musical career did not vanish the way the film implies, and the film has clearly skated round some facts, and frankly exaggerated the mystery, to make a better and more emotional story.”
And Rodriguez’s Australian fame is not the only issue that Mr. Bendjelloul airbrushes in his film. He also makes a confusing attempt to conflate Rodriguez’s popularity in South Africa, chiefly among young and liberal whites, with a kind of growing social consciousness in the country.
“Really the first opposition to apartheid, they’ll tell you they were influenced by Rodriguez,” said Stephen Segerman, a record store owner and one of the South Africans responsible for tracking down the musician, in the film.
That may be something of a stretch, given that by the time Rodriguez’s LP landed in Johannesburg and Cape Town in the early ‘70s, a movement had been fighting the country’s white minority rule and rigid segregation laws for decades. And it was hardly being led by white college students.
These omissions and molding of the facts in “Searching for Sugar Man” were all the more disappointing to many critics because the core of the singer’s story was – and remains – remarkable. The fact that Rodriguez's music could circulate so widely (selling 500,000 copies by one estimate) in South Africa without anyone there knowing who he was speaks to the country's terrific isolation in the '70s and '80s. And there is serendipity to the idea that a talented musician who missed out on fame in his own country could find it, half a life later, on the other side of the world.
"The story was so compelling," wrote one reviewer, "that they didn't want to spoil it."
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, China Africa News. The views expressed are the author's own.
An increasingly common complaint emanating from the African media is that Chinese immigrants in Africa are having a negative impact in their host economies.
Recent studies suggest that the population of Chinese in Africa now stands at close to 1 million. The chief concern is that Chinese small businesses, often run by Chinese families, are capitalizing on their better access to Chinese markets, more advanced techniques, or superior access to capital, to make profits in key industries in which Africans seek employment – namely petty trading, agriculture, mining, and building work.
Migration has long been a popular route for poorer Chinese workers and traders hoping to make their fortunes. This has resulted in the establishment of Chinese communities throughout Southeast Asia, who often set up industries with close connection to the Chinese economy. This model – which has been playing out for hundreds of years – has allowed the Chinese economy to vent excess labour out into the peripheries of its sphere of influence, creating durable linkages with other markets and, more recently, easing the political pressure created by rural poverty and urban unemployment.
This has been a catalyst in the growth of a number of economies in Southeast Asia while also garnering disquiet as local inhabitants complain that Chinese migrants take their opportunities.
Recently there have been moves in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia to curtail which industries Chinese immigrants are allowed to work in – especially in the realm of market traders. Chinese market traders have a poor reputation in much of Africa because of widespread complaints over counterfeit and poor quality goods.
Their advantage over African traders stems from their superior access to Chinese markets and capital, sometimes earned through working on large Chinese building projects on the continent. In other industries such as building, agriculture, and mining, Chinese laborers and small businesses often bring with them skills and experience lacking in many African markets.
The question of whether these small scale Chinese businesses and labourers benefit African economies comes down to how far they integrate. Some Chinese entrepreneurs set up in Africa to make their fortune, but use the wealth they accrue to support their families in China or to build up sufficient capital to move home and set up a business there. This is akin to outsourcing industries like petty trading and agriculture to China, because in this case most of the wealth created leaves the country.
However, in other cases Chinese entrepreneurs build up successful pockets of industry, employing local people and transferring skills to the local economy. This is especially useful when considering industries which are not well developed in Africa such as manufacturing. If Chinese entrepreneurs using skills learned in China can successfully set up manufacturing for export in Africa, it could provide a huge boost to the African economy.
The problem for African governments in knowing which immigrants are going to be productive members of the economy, and which will take opportunities away from locals or transfer their wealth back to China. Considering the generally weak bureaucracies in many African countries this is a real challenge. In order to make progress here African governments will need to enlist the support of their Chinese counterparts to help limit the flow of unskilled immigrants, and to send home those who are not creating employment or investing in the local economy.
Henry Hall is the founder and editor of China Africa News, a website and blog covering China’s growing relationship with countries in Africa.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Congo Siasa. The views expressed are the author's own.
If all goes well, eleven heads of state (or their delegates) will soon gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to sign the snazzily-titled: "Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region."
What can we expect for this framework? An early copy I have seen suggests that it provides more questions than answers, although it does raise hope and expectations. (The copy is here.)
The 2-1/2 page deal rests on two pillars – reforming the Congolese state and ending regional meddling in the Congo. It then creates two oversight mechanism to make sure the eleven signing countries take these imperatives seriously, with four organizations (The United Nations, The African Union, The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICLGR), and the Southern African Development Community) as guarantors.
As such, it marks an improvement in engagement in the current conflict in the eastern Congo: there is a recognition that violence in the North and South Kivu regions of eastern Congo is deeply linked to national and regional developments. The agreement also allows for neutral arbiters to hold the signatories accountable. Perhaps most importantly, we now have the formal involvement of the UN and several other eminent organizations in an official deal, which should mean there will be follow-up at the highest level.
So is this a peace process? I have often complained that, while violence has escalated over the past years in the Kivus, the last genuine peace process – with a comprehensive peace deal, a strong mediation, and good donor coordination in support – ended in 2006. Will this agreement mean a new peace process?
Not really. Or more precisely: we don't know yet. The agreement is more a statement of principles than a concrete action plan. And some of the principles seem to make that action plan difficult. For example, the oversight mechanism for Congolese state reform in early drafts of the agreement included civil society and donors, but is now only made up of the Congolese government. Donors merely provide support to the government, and civil society is not mentioned at all. Will a Congolese government that has hitherto been reluctant to reform its institutions be able to oversee itself?
On the regional mechanism, as well, details are lacking. The agreement merely says: "A regional oversight mechanism involving these leaders of the region ... shall be established to meet regularly and review progress in the implementation of the regional commitments outlined above, with due regard for the national sovereignty of the States concerned." No mention of how we are supposed to know whether Rwanda or Uganda are providing aid to the M23 – the Congelese rebel group at the center of the latest wave of militancy – or if the Congo has renewed ties with the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group in the eastern Congo, for example.
One of the gaping silences of the agreement is on armed groups, the reason this august assembly was called in the first place. What of the ICGLR talks in Kampala with the M23? What about other armed groups? There is no mention of whether the Congolese government will engage in talks, or whether the UN or anyone else should mediate – leaving in suspense the ailing Kampala negotiations. The document does mention deferentially the ICGLR on several occasions, probably as an indication that this new process will not automatically supplant existing ones.
Finally, the facilitation, which was initially supposed to be given to the UN, through the offices of a new special envoy, has now been converted into four guarantors: the previously mentioned AU, ICLGR, SADC, and the UN. It is unclear from this deal who among these four will take the lead.
If the proof of this process is in the pudding, will too many cooks spoil the recipe?
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
South Africans often assume that since the end of apartheid and the coming of democracy in 1994, there has been a huge wave of migration into their country from the rest of the continent. Stories abound of entire Johannesburg neighborhoods that are now Nigerian or Congolese – and of immigrants taking over certain crime syndicates. Over the past five years, there have been multiple waves of xenophobic riots against Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa who, with the benefit of high education standards in their home country, are seen by township dwellers as competition for scarce jobs.
But how many immigrants does South Africa really have? That depends on who you ask.
The country's Human Sciences Research Council once estimated that there are 4 to 8 million undocumented migrants in South Africa, but later withdrew the figure. Those numbers nonetheless still make their way into the press – and the public consciousness – despite the fact that Statistics South Africa, a government agency, estimates undocumented persons in the country to be somewhere in the range of 500,000 to 1 million.
Using other demographic data, however, a team of academics at the Forced Migration Studies Program (FMSP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg has produced their own set of statistics. They estimate that the overall foreign population in South Africa ranges from 1.6 to 2 million, or 3 to 4 percent of the total population. They also report that there are between 1 and 1.5 million legal and illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa.
Because of its stability, highly developed infrastructure and first-world amenities, many elites from Nigeria, Congo, and other African countries travel to South Africa, and the wealthiest often have houses there. They are a population of high visibility. So too are the receptionists and others, born in Zimbabwe, who deal with the public. But South Africa has a total population of more than 50 million, and the numbers of these highly visible migrants are relatively small. Most immigrants, on the other hand, work in low-wage and informal sectors of the economy, filling the ranks of the country's security guards, street hawkers, and domestic workers.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
Over the weekend, a radical Islamist group called Ansaru carried out a sophisticated kidnapping operation in Bauchi, a city in northern Nigeria. The seven victims, all expats, were working for Setraco, a Lebanese owned construction and civil engineering company. The kidnapping, which also resulted in the death of a security guard, appears to have been coordinated with an attack on the local police station. Ansaru, which may have links to Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram, claimed responsibility in a statement emailed to state media.
There is media speculation that Ansaru carried out the kidnapping for ransoms to fund its operations in Nigeria, and perhaps elsewhere in the Sahel. Kidnapping for ransom is common in southern Nigeria and in parts of the Sahel, but it is rare in northern Nigeria – if not unknown. Elsewhere in the Sahel, European governments and private companies pay large ransoms that account for a significant part of the income of groups operating in the region.
Ansaru has claimed responsibility for other, recent terrorist attacks, while Boko Haram has been silent.
Ansaru may be an off-shoot of Boko Haram, but its relationship to the broader movement is unclear. Unlike Boko Haram, which has been focused on domestic Nigerian issues, Ansaru appears to have a more international scope. It may have run training camps in Algeria, and its statement justifying the recent kidnappings referred to “the transgressions and atrocities done to the religion of Allah … by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali.” It also denounced the French government’s ban on veils in schools.
Ansaru’s official name, “Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan,” is translated as the “Vanguard for the Aid of Muslims in Black Africa.” Khalid al Barnawi, who was previously designated a 'global terrorist' by the US government, may be a leader. There is little open-source biographic information on al Barnawi. He is described as a Nigerian in his mid-thirties who comes from the northern city of Maiduguri. Some press reports that he is allied with Abubakar Shekau, often identified as the local head of Boko Haram in the area.
Recent Ansaru activities may indicate that the wider Boko Haram movement is evolving from a movement focused on specifically Nigerian issues to one with a transnational character. If so, links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could become more important than in the past.
Boko Haram has not specifically attacked non-Nigerian targets (with the possible exception of the UN headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, although that might have been a target because of its close ties with the hated Abuja government). The Ansaru kidnapping may be an indication that that the character of Islamism in northern Nigeria is changing. However, there are few expatriates in northern Nigeria and there are many more potential targets in the south, where Boko Haram has not carried out operations.
In addition to their work in Bauchi, the Lebanese company Setraco is the lead contractor in the construction of a new road from Port Harcourt to Lagos, an important development project that is part of Abuja’s efforts to pacify the oil-rich Niger Delta. It remains to be seen if the northern kidnapping will impact other Setraco operations hundreds of miles away.
•A version of this post appeared on the blog A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
Kenya held its first ever presidential debate on Monday, a historic event.
The eight candidates gathered in Nairobi to debate the most pressing issues in the first of two televised debates. Candidates from minority parties with no chance of making a dent on election day stood side by side with the frontrunners. Represented were favorites Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, along with Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth, James ole Kiyiapi, Paul Muite, and Mohammed Abuda Dida. The event went over its scheduled two hours – lasting nearly 3-1/2 hours when all was said and done.
However, it was not because the candidates were wasting time or talking too much. An efficient tandem of moderators – NTV’s Linus Kaikai and Citizen TV’s Julie Gichuru – moved the conversation along, kept the candidates to their time limits, interrupted them when the question asked was not answered, and provided immediate follow-ups when necessary.
Twitter followed along with the hashtag #kedebate13 and became a worldwide trending topic (Reminder to Jimmy Kimmel: Kenyans do tweet). Kenyan activist and lawyer Ory Okolloh assembled a list of tweeters who would be fact checking the claims made by the candidates.
The opening topic was related to the issue of the post-election violence and the tribalism that fueled it. Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga, who come from different tribes, described their previous experiences working together in the government to prove that they were unifying leaders rather than divisive tribalists. Other candidates took on the question rather than deny it being a problem.
“We need to look Kenyans in the eye and tell the truth. We must break historical bondage we have been tied to for the last 50 years,” Mr. Kenneth said.
The issue is important because it was used to create the divisions during the 2007-08 post-election violence, whose aftermath Kenya has struggled to deal with over the past five years. Roughly 1,100 people died and 650,000 were displaced. An agreement was made between Odinga and Mwai Kibaki with the two sharing power as Prime Minister and President, respectively. The Inter Press Service reported that some 75,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were still awaiting return to their homes in Rift Valley Province, citing corruption and hostility towards the IDPs as the reason for the stalled return. Justice was equally slow with only 14 convictions for serious post-election crimes.
The violence that followed the Kenyan presidential elections in 2007 stemmed from the belief that the incumbent, President Kibaki, stole the election from Odinga, his former ally. Major political figures were accused of fanning the flames of hatred and even helped to plot some of the attacks.
They were referred to the International Criminal Court, which is now pursuing charges against prominent figures including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, member of Parliament William Ruto. In March, Kenyans will decide a new president. Eight candidates are running, but it is primarily a contest between the man who lost the presidency in 2007, Odinga, and a pairing that could very well end up jailed by the ICC, Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto.
Zingers and lighter moments
Things turned when the proverbial elephant in the room was addressed. Moderators asked the candidates about the issue of justice and specifically the ICC. Kenyatta was pushed to talk about how he would be able to govern if undergoing a trial at the ICC with the potential of a conviction.
He answered, “If I am elected, these challenges don’t prevent me from undertaking my responsibilities. If people elect me, they have confidence that I can still handle my problems and still discharge my duties as president. The job that I seek is going to be given by the people of Kenya.”
Other lighter moments came from fringe candidate Mohammed Abuda Dida who, along with Paul Muite, was added at the last moment to the debate. The two men flanked the main field with different podiums set slightly off the main stage. When it came to the question of healthcare, Dida offered this perplexing answer:
“If you want to be healthy eat when you are hungry. I do not know who brought these eating schedules with lunch and dinner. When you are hungry you do not fill up your belly with food – you need a third of food, a third of water then the other third is breathing space.”
What lies ahead
Topics including national security and state sovereignty were covered and the audience had the opportunity to ask questions as well. Social issues like education and maternal mortality were raised with the candidates disagreeing on both the problems and solutions.
For his part, former education minister James ole Kiyiapi offered a plan to expand schools and teachers. “I will take 3 billion Kenyan shillings and go to 300 day schools and build classrooms which in total will take in 150,000 pupils. I would like to hire 20,000 teachers every year,” he said. Kenneth disagreed, saying it was a problem of distribution, not the number of teachers.
He argued, “We have a problem of distribution of teachers. We have to have polytechnics in every constituency. We have not invested in education using the money we have borrowed.”
Despite there being eight candidates on the stage, the only candidates who stand a change of winning are Odinga and Kenyatta. This fact was apparent in the first half of the debate when Mr. Kaikai made sure that the leading candidates had ample time to discusses the issues at hand while the rest were given only 30 second opportunities to interject.
(This article was edited after first posting to make two corrections. Around 1,100 people died in post-election violence, not 13,000; there are eight candidates for president, not six).
On Feb. 8, unidentified gunmen killed four health workers and injured three others at a site in the Kano state of northern Nigeria, according to the media. In what may have been part of a coordinated attack, at about the same time a separate set of gunmen killed an additional five health workers at another site. The health workers were all involved in a polio vaccination campaign.
In a third incident in the same time frame, gunmen killed three foreign medical doctors in Yobe state. One physician was beheaded, and all three had machete wounds. The three medical doctors were identified as North Koreans living in Yobe as part of a state-sponsored technical exchange. Press reports do not indicate whether the three were also involved in the polio immunization campaign.
In the aftermath of these killings, the inspector general of police has ordered “special security” for those involved in the polio immunization campaign.
Commentators, including Senator Bukola Saraki, a former governor of the western Kwara state and former chairman of the Governors Forum, and the national chairman of Journalists Against Polio, see the murders as inevitably setting back the polio immunization campaign. Kano has the largest number of polio cases in Nigeria, which is itself one of only three countries that still have a reservoir of the virus.
According to the press, security operatives believe the Islamist militant group Boko Haram is responsible for the murders. However, following the usual pattern in the aftermath of attacks over the past several weeks, no one has claimed responsibility.
Opposition to the polio vaccination is longstanding on the basis that it is a Western and Christian plot sponsored by the Nigerian federal government in Abuja to limit Muslim births. It is a radical Islamist cause that builds on opposition dating back to controversial pharmaceutical trials by the American company Pfizer in the 1990s.
There are anecdotal reports that many mothers continue to avoid vaccination for their male children. In 2003, an earlier World Health Organization vaccination campaign was halted because of popular outcry when minute traces of estrogen were found in the vaccine. The campaign only restarted a year later when an “Islamic” source of vaccine was identified (Malaysia) and pressure was exerted by Saudi Arabia, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and Western donors, including the United States.
While the vaccination campaign was suspended, polio of Nigerian origin reportedly spread to seventeen countries previously free of the disease, including Indonesia. More recently, Kano governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso has strongly supported the polio vaccination campaign. Even so, progress towards eradication remains slow. Nigerian commentators are right when they say that the campaign will surely suffer set backs as a result of the murders.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Sahel Blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Hissène Habré, a French-educated political scientist, rebel commander, and politician, took power in a coup in 1982 and ruled Chad until rebel forces led by Idriss Déby overthrew him in 1990. Habré has been living in Senegal ever since. Pressure to put him on trial has come from numerous forces: groups within Chad, officials in Senegal and Belgium, the United Nations, the European Parliament, the African Union, and others.
For years, however, some observers felt that Senegalese authorities were stalling on the question of whether they would try Mr. Habré. Human Rights Watch has a chronology of the case here, an overview here, and a Q&A here.
Last week marked an important event in the case: the inauguration of special tribunal called the Extraordinary Chambers, in Dakar. There are a number of points to be made about this event. For one thing, as Voice of America reports, “this will be the first time a world leader is prosecuted for crimes against humanity by the government of another country.” The case will have major ramifications for future attempts to try former heads of state.
Second, there are questions to ponder about how Senegalese politics interacted with the trial. VOA quotes Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, framing the shift in Senegalese authorities’ behavior on the case as a result of the change in administration from President Abdoulaye Wade – in office 2000-2012 – to new President Macky Sall.
“In 10 months, Macky Sall and [Justice Minister] Aminata Toure and the government of Senegal have moved this case more than Abdoulaye Wade had done in 12 years. Finally, the tenacity and the perseverance of the victims is being been rewarded by this government,” [Brody] said.
What happens next? It’s hard to tell – AFP says that no details are publicly available about when the trial will start. RFI (French) gives a broad timeline: fifteen months (maximum) for investigations; seven months for the trial; and five months for appeals. That could mean that there is no final verdict until May 2015. In the meantime, this will be an important case to follow.