Ivory Coast, Sudan referendum: Africa stories to look out for in 2011

The year 2011 will include some big developments in Africa to look out for – Sudan's referendum and the continuing strife in Ivory Coast, among others.

Pete Muller/AP
Justice Chan Reec Madut, center, the chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, discusses registration and referendum preparation issues during a press conference in Juba, southern Sudan on Monday, Jan. 3. The Jan. 9 poll will decide whether Sudan's mainly Christian and animist south can split from its mainly Muslim north.

Happy New Year! I hope it’s off to a great start for everyone.

Yesterday I looked back at some of the top stories of 2010, and today I’d like to look forward at major events expected in 2011. Last year I framed my list in broad categories; this time I’m going to be more specific. Here are five stories I’ll be watching in the Sahel and East Africa.

  1. Sudan’s Referendum: A referendum on Southern Sudanese secession is only eight days away, but it could be the biggest story in Africa – and one of the biggest stories in the world – in 2011. Independence for Southern Sudan would divide Africa’s largest country and bring all the challenges and opportunities that come with new nationhood. Southern secession could inspire demands for autonomy in other regions. Meanwhile, Southern secession would affect Northern Sudan too, potentially by making Islamic values a larger factor in state policy making. Finally, if the referendum goes sour, or gets canceled, Sudan could return to civil war. That outcome would have effects throughout the region and would present a huge diplomatic challenge to the US and other powers.
  2. Nigerian Elections: In less than two weeks, Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will select a presidential candidate. Likely it will be incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, but possibly it will be someone else. The general election in April will pit the PDP’s candidate against challengers like former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who commands significant support in Northern Nigeria. Nigeria’s election will test PDP dominance and the integrity of the country’s electoral system. The winner of the election will confront a number of issues, and could have a lot of work to do in soothing North-South tensions and dealing with security threats ranging from militants in the Niger Delta to the Islamic rebel movement Boko Haram in the North East.
  3. Aftermath of Cote d’Ivoire’s Elections: With two rivals still battling for the presidency and incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo stiffly resisting international and domestic pressure to step down, Cote d’Ivoire enters 2011 in crisis. Efforts to force Gbagbo out, whether by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN, or the international community as a whole, may succeed. But Gbagbo may stay, and a return to civil war in Cote d’Ivoire is now a real possibility. The crisis will likely continue for some time.
  4. Expiration of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)’s Mandate in Somalia: In August, the mandate of Somalia’s TFG will expire. Before then, the TFG will struggle to push back the al Shabab rebel movement in the capital, Mogadishu, and throughout southern and central Somalia. How well the TFG performs this year will help determine what form of government succeeds it. Should the TFG make gains, support for a strong central government in Somalia will increase apace. If not, advocates of other approaches to Somalia – more recognition of regional governments in Somaliland and Puntland, less backing for would-be governments in Mogadishu, and less international involvement in Somalia overall – could convert many observers.
  5. Kenya and the International Criminal Court: In mid-December, the International Criminal Court indicted six Kenyan elites on charges related to election violence in 2007. The Kenyan parliament responded by voting “overwhelmingly for the country to pull out of the treaty which created the [ICC].” 2011 will be a fateful year for relations between Africa and the ICC, with many eyes on Kenya, including those of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir who is himself wanted by the Court. If Kenya rejects the ICC’s authority, the Court will meet a huge setback in its efforts to impose accountability on African elites. Both the Kenyan government and the ICC will have to maneuver carefully in the weeks ahead, as they face a struggle that is only one part of Kenya’s complicated relations with Western powers.

Other stories to watch, some of them outside the typical purview of this blog, are the elections in Niger, Cameroon, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, along with preparations for 2012 elections in Kenya and Senegal. Radical movements like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb will continue to make headlines, as will efforts to halt drug trafficking in West Africa. And as always, the death of a key individual could change the course of events in one country or throughout a region.

My list overlaps significantly with that of Andrew Meldrum at the Global Post, and I recommend you check out his thoughts.

What are you paying attention to this year?

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University who blogs at Sahel Blog.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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