Remembrance/Armistice/Veterans Day shout out for WWI in Africa Project

Depending on what part of the world you live in, today is Remembrance/Armistice/Veterans Day. As a kid, I remember my mother telling us stories of my Trinidadian great uncle who fought for the Commonwealth during either World War I or World War II. (We’re still trying to figure out which one it was…) As a result, I’ve always been interested in learning more about the troops – outside of the major powers – that played a role in either World War.

Accordingly, I’d like to call attention to the WWI in Africa Project, organized by Jacques Enaudeau (@jacksometer) & Kathleen Bomani (@KateBomz) to shed light on an overlooked theater of World War I – Africa. You can find additional information on the project below:

The curators of the project have also written articles detailing their work, such as The World War One in Africa Project: What happened in Africa should not stay in AfricaWWI’s untold story: The forgotten African battlefields, and African resistance and rebellion: The other side of World War I.

All of the links I’ve included in this post will lead you to rarely seen photographs and histories of the role of Africa, and Africans, in World War I. I highly recommend taking a look to gain a greater understanding of the less mainstream aspect of the war. I’ve found it highly educational and hope you will too!

Burkina Faso: Coup or No Coup? What Security Assistance Might be at Stake

Was there or was there not a coup in Burkina Faso? The answer to that question is “Yes.” As of Monday, the United States was yet to determine whether the weekend’s events actually constituted a coup, which led to an interesting Egypt-circa-July 2013 exchange during the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing:

State Dept Daily Press Briefing (Nov 3, 2014)

By calling for a civilian-led transitional government, the U.S. government appears to be following suit with the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), which have called for a return to constitutional order. (See the AU statement and the ECOWAS statements here and here.) Meanwhile, the military has been given a two week ultimatum to transition to civilian rule, and if this deadline is ignored, it might make the line between Coup and NotACoup clearer for regional and international actors.

My determination is that then-president Blaise Compaoré’s resignation on Friday should have set in motion Article  43 of the country’s 1991 constitution, which gives presidential powers to the President of the Senate in case of vacancy, until a new president is elected within 60 to 90 days. The fact that both Compaoré and the military’s Chief of Staff, General Honoré Traoré, had each dissolved the government last Thursday created ambiguity as to whether or not these stipulations in the eventually-suspended constitution could still be enacted after Compaoré stepped down on Friday. Regardless, I would argue that if a coup took place in the past week, it occurred when the Burkinabé military – through Traoré and then through Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida – put themselves forward as the interim head of government, thereby ignoring the guidance laid out in the constitution. 

On the U.S. side of things, if the determination is eventually made that there was a coup, the language in Section 7008 of the Foreign Assistance Act becomes relevant:

“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree, or a coup d’état or decree that is supported by the military: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office…”

If the military fails to cede power to a civilian-led transitional government, it will impact U.S. security force assistance to the Burkinabé  military. State Department assistance would be cut off as a matter of law, and Department of Defense assistance would be cut off as a matter of policy until a transition to civilian rule.

Given the current level of uncertainty as to whether the military will indeed step down, I though it would be interesting to provide some relevant facts about the U.S. relationship with Burkina Faso’s security forces:

  • One of the recent self-proclaimed leaders of Burkina Faso, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida of the Presidential Guard, received military training in Morocco, Taiwan, Canada, and Cameroon. As it turns out, he also received 17 days of U.S. military training in 2012: a 12-day counterterrorism training course at MacDill Air Force Base and a 5-day military intelligence course in Botswana funded by the U.S. government. (Recall that the leader of Mali’s 2012 coup, then-Captain Amadou Sanogo, participated in several iterations of U.S. training, including basic infantry officer training at Fort Benning, English-language training through the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, an intelligence course at Fort Huachuca, and study at the Marine Corps Base Quantico.)
  • Burkina Faso was slated to receive $250,000 in International Military Education and Training funds, according to the FY14 Estimate and the FY15 request in the FY 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. Burkina Faso did not receive any Foreign Military Financing in these years. With 1,984 personnel (as of the end of September 2014) across seven United Nations peacekeeping operations, Burkina Faso is also a partner in the Africa Contingency Operations and Training Assistance (ACOTA).
  • Burkina Faso has been part of the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership since 2009. (Learn more about what DoD and non-DoD programs were taking place in Burkina Faso under TSCTP by reading The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism).
  • Burkina Faso has received Section 1206 (Counterterrorism Train & Equip) funding, but I don’t know how much & when. A number I have from my notes last year is $5.8M to support a CT company (100-150 soldiers) in the army. I was also told that the U.S. could only work with designated units in the military for TSCTP – the Presidential Guard and the 25th Parachute Regiment.
  • Burkina Faso had been receiving the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) since 2011, which covered hostage negotiation, crime scene investigation, surveillance detection, and airport security for the national police, gendarmerie, and customs. Burkina Faso also stepped up border security in response to the situation in Mali by dedicating a rapid-response counterterrorism company along its common border.
  • Burkina Faso hosts a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment (JSOAD), which is mostly for airlifting logistics or casualties and providing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) in the Sahel. (More info on the ISR part in the Washington Post. Note: these are not drones flying out of the JSOAD, but manned aircraft.)

Median Ages in Africa + Leader Tenure in Power

There’s nothing like a political crisis to get me blogging again. Following last week’s mass protests in Burkina Faso that resulted in the resignation and exile of Blaise Compaoré, who had ruled the country since 1987, I thought it would be cool to juxtapose the median ages African countries with the tenure in power of Compaoré and the seven other African leaders who have been in power longer than he was. The result is the graphic below:


For many of the youth in these countries, the sitting (or recently deposed) president is the only head of government they have ever lived under.

(Photos courtesy of Wikipedia & Africa graphic courtesy of Global Post)

Compaoré is gone, but Burkina Faso is gripped by uncertainty

(Originally published in Al Jazeera America on November 1, 2014)

On Oct. 30, protesters calling for the ouster of Burkina Faso’s longtime leader, President Blaise Compaoré, torched government buildings, stormed radio stations and burned the homes of government officials in the capital Ouagadougo and the country’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso. The protests followed months of heightened speculation that Compaoré was planning to have the parliament revise Article 37 of the country’s constitution, which stipulates presidential term limits, to seek another term in the November 2015 elections.

Under public pressure, Compaoré announced his resignation on Friday and left the capital for an undisclosed location. Several protesters were killed and others injured in clashes with the military earlier this week. Despite Compaoré’s ouster, there is still a palpable fear that the military could crush the uprising, inflicting further human rights violations and increasing their incentives to preserve the status quo ex ante.

(Read the rest of the article on the Al Jazeera America website)

The time Africa came to DC (Well, some of it.)

Today marks Day 1 of the inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which is being held in Washington, DC from August 4-6, 2014. Yours truly will be observing the Summit’s events from afar, as my invitation appears to have gotten lost in the mail…

In the weeks leading up to the Summit, there were concerns that the event might not contribute to advancing the Obama Administration’s objectives in Africa, to which Amadou Sy offered counterarguments as to why the Summit was ‘far from bungled’ and Mwangi Kimenyi articulated five indicators of a successful Summit.

Most African heads of state or government and the Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have been invited to DC, but the Presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone have cancelled their trips to deal with the Ebola outbreak in the Mano River region, which has killed over 700 people since March of this year. (Btw, check out Kim Yi Dionne’s very informative take on the limits of local and international responses to the disease.)

Countries that have not been invited are the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, which are not in good standing with the United States and the African Union for various reasons – transitional governments, sanctions, war crimes, etc.

Yet, some of the countries to be represented, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, are currently restricting the space for political dissent and have attempted to adopt anti-homosexuality legislation, as Sarah Margon highlights in “Human Rights Shouldn’t be Sidelined at Africa Summit.” Furthermore, as Jeffrey Smith and Todd Moss write in “Obama Should Embrace Africa’s Democratic Standard-Bearers,” leaders who have been in power for over two decades are expected to be in attendance – including Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who celebrated 35 years in power on Aug 3, Cameroon’s Paul Biya (in power since 1982), and the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh (in power since 1994). Acknowledging the complexity of U.S. relations with such states, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield had previously stated “You cannot change people if you do not engage them. You have to engage them, and this [Summit] will be that opportunity.”

The Summit comes on the heels of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) (now renamed The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders), whose fellows had been in the U.S. since June studying at 20 top American universities. This year’s class consisted of approximately 500 young leaders, selected out of an applicant pool of 500,000.

Before this year’s program wrapped up, the fellows convened in DC, where I had the true pleasure of meeting some of them last Wednesday, when the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) hosted fellows from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan for a candid two hour discussion. You’re probably aware that I tend to focus on death, destruction, and world domination for a living, so it was a pleasant change of pace to witness the exchange of human and social capital between Mandela Fellows and DAWN members. As we discussed our respective career paths, we covered the challenges of leadership, institutional access, conflicting identities both within and across the diaspora, and common aspirations. The evening ended with Mandela Fellows asking for DAWN – and the diaspora in general – to be available for collaboration, motivation, two-way mentorship and skills transfer.

In anticipation of the first U.S.-African Leaders Summit, DAWN partnered with FEMNET and Oxfam America to create a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Social Media Guide, with the purpose of amplifying the need for continued civil society engagement in shaping U.S.-Africa bilateral relations and providing general guidance on using the event as a social media platform for pushing for a wide range of policy recommendations. This way, those of us who haven’t been invited to the Summit (sniffle) can share ideas and visions for the future during the #USAfricaSummit with #TheAfricaWeWant.


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