Africa Notes: ECOWAS acts in aftermath of coups

Regional cooperation in West Africa is such a unique thing. Where else do you see cooperation on economic matters appear to be so much more difficult that you switch to cooperating on security? Wasn’t the EU built on precisely the opposite logic?

BBC News – Ecowas to send troops after Mali, Guinea-Bissau coups.

Anyway, BBC (and others) are reporting what we have known would likely happen: ECOWAS is sending troops to deal with the aftermath of coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Doing this in Mali makes a lot of sense to me. The situation is such a mess (political struggles over both regime transition and secession). And we can hope, based on its past, that Mali could return to a peaceful and democratic path once these issues get sorted. Not that this will be easy!

But I wonder if Guinea-Bissau might be a harder case. On the one hand, G-B’s problems are a little more straightforward: this is “just” a coup. But on the other hand, the prospects for a peaceful and democratic path are really pretty bad here. No president has ever finished their term in office. And, as Lesley Anne Warner notes, G-B is indeed quite coup-prone. The country has had twice as many coup incidents (10, including failed and alleged plots) as any other country in Africa since 2000. And that doesn’t even include the assassination of President Vieira in 2009! Reuters has a nice timeline of just a few of the events in their violent past.

All of that leads me to wonder: how will ECOWAS gauge success here? What is the exit strategy? Or are West African leaders trying to send some sort of hard signal to the elites in G-B that business-as-usual (coups every few years) cannot be tolerated? I just don’t quite know at this point.

By the way, in case you are wondering whether Africa has gone “coup-crazy” this year, Jay Ulfelder has a nice analysis that shows that, statistically, we are still within the norm (Dart-Throwing Chimp).

Africa Notes: Mali Update

Update: Just saw this link to a nice timeline of the conflict in northern Mali since 1891 on IRIN. (h/t Sahel Blog).

Things still look rather grim in Mali, though the situation is in constant flux. It might be useful to look at the situation from different vantage points:

The people of Mali
It is probably no surprise that in coups and wars much is done in the names of various peoples, but at least in the short-term, the peoples of Mali seem poised to suffer. While County and Peterson find that some in Mali may welcome the coup as an opportunity to introduce democratic reform, as Bonicelli suggests at Foreign Policy, the lessons for the impatient citizens in Mali might be the wrong one. Coups should not be normalized as a way to bring about democratic change.

Also unfortunate for the Mali people, and perhaps most immediately threatening, is a looming famine crisis.

And violence + famine = refugees here. The largest group outside of Mali is apparently in Mauritania (48,033) but at least 100,000 are internally displaced and others have fled to Burkina Faso, Niger, and elsewhere in West Africa. (IRIN)

The Azawad State
The rebels want their own state and even have a name for it (see Thurston’s comments at Sahel Blog). But what does it take to create a new state? What is required for secession to count? Lesley Warner’s take is that the Azawad rebels have “not been able to check the necessary boxes for international support” (h/t Sahel Blog). Indeed, ultimately statehood does rely on international recognition. So far, they seem quite far from getting it.

Over at Wronging Rights, they add a little more depth, citing the only document we have on what a state is, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States.

The Government of Mali
The coup leaders did step down. But the new interim President, Dioncounda Traore, does not seem to want to keep things calm. As has been wildly reported, he is threatening “total war” on the rebels in the north.

West Africa
West Africa has a strong tradition of tending to its own political crises, via African mediators and its own unique regional organization, ECOWAS. All of this is happening here. President Compaoré (Burkina Faso), opened talks on Saturday between Mali’s politicians and military. Notably absent: the Tuaregs.

Meanwhile, ECOWAS’ Mediation and Security Council recommended a regional force be deployed should mediation by President Compaoré fail. However, that force is not intended to deal with the coup so much as it is to deal with the rebels in the northern part of Mali. This is an important sign that the Azawad state lacks the regional allies it would need.

The International Community
The French are clear about their interests. Sarkozy:

…we must do everything to prevent the establishment of a terrorist or Islamic state in the heart of the Sahel. (Reuters)

Gregory Mann notes that in Paris, however, there are lots of views on the streets about the events in Mali (“Bamako-sur-Seine”).

Also, UNESCO is worried about the cultural treasures of Timbuktu.

And So…
And so things continue to move. I shouldn’t try to predict but… my best bet is that we will see a gradual return to constitutional rule in the southern part of the country followed by a slow and torturous attempt to regain control of the north. ECOWAS will play a key role in this and a year from now we will barely hear anything more about it. But I really hope I am wrong about the torturous bit. I would much prefer that this become an opportunity for national dialog about how to better serve the needs of the Tuareg populations in the north.

News and Comment: Paris, China, Kabila, Zuma, and ECOWAS.

The BBC reports that the liberation of Paris in 1944 was carefully orchestrated to be “whites only”.  Apparently, this was an American idea. So when De Gaulle wanted to have a French division lead the liberation, he had to remove the West African soldiers (which reportedly formed 65% of Free French Forces) from the division and even had to rely on some Spanish soldiers to have adequate numbers.

China is reducing its investments in Africa, the New York Times reported last week.  But this news should not be exaggerated.  Deals are still being made and it is unlikely that China will withdraw that much from Africa. Among other activities during the last couple of weeks, Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE increased its ties with Ghana, Nigeria and China signed a pact for cooperation with satellites, brought a trade delegation to Cote d’Ivoire, and promised to build a malaria research center in Cameroon. So, while it is true that China–like just about everywhere else in the world–may be reducing its demand for certain African commodities, it is not at all the case that China will withdraw.

The New York Times also published an interesting portrait of DRC President Joseph Kabila. There was a time when people hoped that his Western-educated background would allow for new and enlightened rule of the DRC. Unfortunately, the DRC remains as troubled as ever.

South African prosecutors have apparently dropped charges against Jacob Zuma.  This should strengthen his hand considerably in the upcoming election. It may also help him if other parties are being intimidated from participating, as the BBC reports.

One random piece of news: Apparently there was a bomb threat at the Italian embassy in Ghana. I would be interested to know more about this if anyone has a clear idea.

And finally, ECOWAS proves it is still alive and attempts to insert its voice in the on-going crisis in Guinea Bissau (BBC: Guinea-Bissau army ‘beats ex-PM’; Reuters: UN urges international help for Guinea-Bissau polls) . ECOWAS has issued a statement expressing its concern about human rights violations there.