Monthly Archives: May, 2012

The KDF (finally) takes Afmadow and Kenya to (officially) join AMISOM

More than seven months into its invasion of southern Somalia, Kenya has seized the city of Afmadow. The fall of Afmadow marks the second major blow for al-Shabaab this week, having lost the Afgoye corridor located west of Mogadishu to troops from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Having controlled much of south-central Somalia since 2008, al-Shabaab has continued to execute “tactical retreats” from major urban areas, leading some Somalia-watchers to assert that the group is in its dying days. In addition to the KDF assault from the south and AMISOM’s advances to the south and west of Mogadishu, al-Shabaab is also being squeezed from the west by Ethiopia/AMISOM in Beledweyne and Baidoa. (For a good counterargument that the war in Somalia is changing but not over, see Focus on the Horn’s interview with Roland Marchal earlier this week.)

The fall of Afmadow to the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has been a long time coming – seven months to be precise. (For a timeline of Kenya’s invasion see AEI’s Timeline: Operation Linda Nchi). After all, the city is only about 90 miles from the Kenyan border. However, due to the inopportune timing of Kenya’s invasion at the start of Somalia’s short rainy season, and the unanticipated costs and logistical challenges that accompanied the invasion, the KDF has been bogged down outside Afmadow since October 2011. Now that the KDF controls Afmadow, it will be more difficult for al-Shabaab to block its advance towards the port city of Kismayo, which lies approximately 80 miles south.

According to a statement made by Kenya’s Minister of Defence Mohamed Yusuf Haji in mid-January, Kenya was unwilling to take Kismayo without international financial and logistical support. Thus, it is plausible that there is a correlation between the KDF’s progress in Afmadow en route to Kismayo and the fact that Kenya and the African Union will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will officially make the KDF part of AMISOM in the coming days. Negotiations on this matter had been taking place since December, but had been delayed – possibly due to disagreements over command-and-control and financial arrangements. In addition to Haji’s reluctance to have the KDF advance on Kismayo on its own, these drawn out negotiations may have also contributed to the KDF’s relative lack of progress since the fall. Once KDF troops are “re-hatted” as AMISOM troops, this will not only alleviate the financial burden of the war for Kenya, but also enable KDF troops to continue the momentum of AMISOM’s progress since the end of last summer, and possibly create the space necessary for the effective implementation of the road map to end the transitional period. General Julius Karangi (Chief of General Staff, KDF) now anticipates that Kismayo will be taken before the mandate of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expires in August. (One of the conditions of last summer’s Kampala Accord was that the TFG’s mandate would be extended to August 20, 2012.)

However, even if military operations against al-Shabaab are going relatively well, they could still unravel as armed groups compete for control of lucrative territories cleared of al-Shabaab. Take Kismayo as a prime example. Kismayo is currently al-Shabaab’s largest source of revenue, and Kenya seeks to disrupt al-Shabaab’s finances by expelling it from the city. According to the Report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, al-Shabaab generates between $35 million and $50 million per year from port revenues from Kismayo, and to a lesser extent, Marka and Baraawe in Lower Shabelle. For more in-depth knowledge of the clan dynamics in southern Somalia, I would strongly advise reading pretty much anything Ken Menkhaus has ever written. But for the purpose of this post, do pay special attention to the part of his paper for the ENOUGH project which discusses how Kismayo has been a chronically contested city since 1991. Highlighting the potential pitfalls of Kenya’s engagement with various clans in the region who will seek to control Kismayo, he states:

Kismayo is the prize that matters most in the region. If a durable deal can be struck on Kismayo, the rest of the region will be relatively easy to solve. The political challenge for Kenya and any other governments seeking to shape a positive outcome in Kismayo is that regional clans have all advanced very inflated claims about their rights to the port city. These disparate claims have been part of the reason the city has remained so contested for 20 years. There are two approaches to a new political dispensation in Kismayo that are likely to fail, and yet they are the two most likely to attract external support. The first is the “victor’s peace” approach: external acquiescence or support to clan domination of the city, most likely by the Ogaden represented by the Ras Kamboni militia, or a narrow coalition of Ogaden and Marehan clans. If the Ras Kamboni leadership has its way, its militia will help capture the city and will look to build alliances with selected clans, but with these two dominant clans maintaining a controlling interest in the seaport and its revenues. As argued above, this will produce armed resistance from other clans and will play into Shabaab’s hands. Kenya will be accused of supporting a narrow clan agenda linked to powerful Ogaden interests within the Kenyan government, which risks domestic problems in Kenya’s large Somali population as well.

So to sum up this post, progress is being made against al-Shabaab on the military front – not only from the south (KDF), but also from the north (AMISOM) and the west (Ethiopia/AMISOM). Kenya will legally become part of AMISOM in the next few days, which implies that they should be eligible for funding for pre-deployment training, payment of troop allowances, logistic support, and the reimbursement for contingent-owned equipment (COE). One major potential pitfall is sub-state governance, that is, who will control Kismayo, and whether fights over this territory will detract from the gains made on the military front.

Kenya: Moi Ave blast marks tactical shift for terrorists

Monday afternoon, there was an explosion on Moi Avenue in downtown Nairobi. Initially, Kenyan authorities suspected that the cause of this explosion was either an act of terrorism or was caused by an electrical fault. However, it now appears that the incident is being investigated as an act of terrorism – although as of yet, no individual or group has stepped forward to claim responsibility.

If the Moi Avenue blast was indeed an act of terrorism, this marks a slight shift in recent terrorist activity in Kenya. Since Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in October 2011, there had been a handful of small-scale incidents in the border area near Somalia (near Wajir, Garissa, and Mandera), and in Nairobi and Mombasa. Assailants used grenades or opened fire during their attacks, and they had targeted venues such as bars and nightclubs, bus stations, churches, and police stations. Furthermore, these attacks were perpetrated by so-called “lone wolves,” or individuals who may have been inspired by al-Shabaab or other violent extremist groups, but were not necessarily members of said groups.

Monday’s blast marked a tactical advance in such attacks. Officials now suspect that the blast may have been caused by a fertilizer bomb, and that the perpetrators may have been affiliated with al-Shabaab. And while the Moi Avenue blast is nowhere near the scale of al-Shabaab’s 2010 Kampala bombings, it is a move in that direction – and away from previous “lone wolf” grenade attacks perpetrated by al-Shabaab sympathizers. If al-Shabaab is to blame for this bombing, this could indicate that they are either too disorganized or are otherwise incapable of launching a Kampala-sized attack in Kenya, but that they aspire to emulate the scale of the Kampala attacks in Kenya at some point in the future.

And as a segway – a shameless plug for my own research that touches on Kenya’s vulnerability to domestic terror attacks:

In the coming days, my analysis of Kenya’s invasion of Somalia last fall will be published in Vol 3, No 3 (June 2012) of PRISM. My main thesis was that Kenya did not simply invade Somalia to dismantle al-Shabaab as it initially stated, but rather invaded due to the unending conflict spillover, refugee crisis, and political deadlock in Mogadishu that precluded stability in southern Somalia. I argued, therefore, that Kenya sought stability in southern Somalia – which was an endstate that transcended dismantling al-Shabaab, and a mission for which Kenya was not militarily, economically, or politically well-prepared.

The majority of the paper focused on the military hurdles Kenya would have to overcome (i.e., logistics, mobility, poor infrastructure + rainy season, al-Shabaab’s asymmetric tactics and refusal to face Kenyan forces in battle, unanticipated cost and duration of operations, etc). However, part of the paper also discussed Kenya’s increased vulnerability to domestic terrorism in the aftermath of its invasion of southern Somalia. One of the points I raise is that, in light of the complexity of the situation in Somalia (as of late summer/early fall 2011) and its rather limited stated objectives, Kenya might have been better off focusing on better protecting Kenyan territory to make the country less of a soft target for terrorist attacks. As such, I recommend a focus on securing its border with Somalia, rooting out corruption related to cross-border smuggling and forged travel documents, and increasing domestic intelligence and surveillance capabilities to better detect external, and possibly homegrown threats. I also recommended that at sea, Kenya might have prioritized expanding its coast guard so that it not only has sufficient assets to patrol the country’s territorial waters, but is also capable of conducting maritime interdiction operations that target illicit activity in the maritime domain that potentially facilitates terrorist access to Kenyan territory.

“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times”

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is a story about a particularly miserable travel experience that ended up being pretty rewarding:

A few weeks back, some friends from college, “Amy” and “Chris” passed through town. Over drinks, we reminisced about our trip to Ghana a few summers ago when Amy had a fellowship at a teaching hospital in Accra.

At the end of the summer, her boyfriend Chris and I joined her for a rather hectic 10-day itinerary. We’d planned to land in Accra and take an overnight bus to Tamale, which is a jump off point for Mole National Park to the west. There, we would go on a nature walk, where we would see elephants, antelopes, baboons, etc. We would then continue down to Cape Coast to see Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle before heading east towards Tafi Abuife and Tafi Atome. Our plans fell apart almost immediately.

Bus tickets from Accra to Tamale had sold out, so we decided to take the bus to Kumasi that night and then find a bus to Tamale from there. We arrived in Kumasi without incident, but for a variety of reasons (i.e., we couldn’t find the correct bus station, couldn’t ascertain when/if a bus was traveling to Tamale that day, couldn’t determine if/when the bus would fill up and get on the road before dusk, etc) we were unable to get out of Kumasi for the next day and a half. I tried to relax, but after a while it occurred to me that it was not meant to be for us to head to Tamale by bus. I proposed that we either skip the north and continue down to Cape Coast or simply hire a taxi to drive us the eight hours to Tamale. The next morning, we hired a taxi to drive us north, intending to catch a bus from Tamale to Mole that afternoon.

The drive to Tamale was like entering a whole new country; as we headed further and further north, you could really see the transition from sub-Saharan Ghana to Sahelian Ghana. When we finally arrived in Tamale, we stopped for lunch. Amy, who had spent two years in Boghé, Mauritania as a Peace Corps volunteer, ordered chicken and jollof rice. I ordered the same. I soon began to feel queasy, but shrugged it off as a side effect of being in the car all day. Plus, Amy was fine, so it couldn’t possibly be the food. (I think we all know where this is going.)

Soon, we discovered that bus tickets to Mole were sold out, so we hired another taxi to drive us the four hours towards Mole. I think in our rush to get on the road before dark, we disregarded what the travel guidebook said about needing a 4 x 4 for this road. Since we had been delayed two days, we were no longer able to stay at the Mole Hotel, so we headed to the Salia Brothers guesthouse in the town of Larabanga, a few kilometers from Mole. We had barely left Tamale when I became very, very ill. Use your imagination. We pulled into a gas station, I got myself together, and we continued on the road to Larabanga.

We quickly realized that there was a reason the guidebook said we should take a 4 x 4 to travel this route. The road was uneven, unpaved, and it was rainy season. There was literally a river running alongside the road. On top of this, we had hired a 1990s model Toyota Camry that was literally bouncing up and down the road because of all the holes. On top of that, I was literally sick to my stomach the entire four hour trip, and became utterly convinced that I was going to die. (This is a recurring theme for most of my travels abroad, since I get sick if someone even looks at me the wrong way.) And even though we’d eaten the same exact food, Amy was fine. For this, I still resent her to this very day.

We finally pull up to the guesthouse and the owner, Al-hassan Salia, comes out to welcome us. By this point, I am dehydrated and slightly delirious, but I’m able to mumble “Excuse me, kind sir. Where is your bathroom?” He points to a room in the corner of the compound. I poke my head in and see a hole in the ground. Yes, I know we’re in a fairly remote area, but can’t a girl hope for running water after being thrown about a car for several hours while vomiting into a plastic bag?

He then shows us to our room, but recommends that we sleep on the roof. Amy and Chris are game and start arranging their mattresses and mosquito nets on the roof. I take one look at the ladder I’d have to shimmy up and decide against it. Lacking the requisite energy and balance to hoist myself up, I see visions of falling to my death.

Instead, I pass out on the mattress in the room, and Al-hassan tucks the mosquito net around me. Some time passes and he comes by with some tree bark steeped in water. He tells me it’ll make my stomach feel better, so I drink it. Seeing how weak I am, he advises me against going on the nature walk at Mole the next day. But I’m like “Aw-hell-naw-I-did-not-just-survive-that-trip-just-to-miss-out-on-the-damn-elephants.”  So we compromise. Amy and Chris will rent bicycles to ride over to Mole in the morning and Al-hassan will hire someone to take me via motorbike.

The next morning, I’m still weak and disoriented, and my ride shows up at the guesthouse. I’m on the bike for a few minutes before it strikes me that not only have I never been on a bike (these were my pre-boda boda days), but I’m being driven by a 12 year old boy. But it’s okay because he’s taking me to see the damn elephants.

By some act of God, I’m able to make it through the nature walk and am finally able to consume solid food – peanut soup and rice. Amy and Chris return to Larabanga by bicycle and I await my chariot. To my surprise, Al-hassan himself shows up on his motorcycle. He takes me to another guesthouse run by his twin brother Hussein, and we all sit and chat for a bit. They tell me the story of how they started the guesthouses in the 1990s, when Ghana was transitioning to democracy. They saw this as an opportunity to improve the standard of living in the community, and sought to benefit from the concurrent development of Ghana’s ecotourism industry by establishing guesthouses, arranging tours of the town (including the Larabanga Mosque), and arranging meals and transport for tourists to/from Mole from others in the community. Revenue from the guesthouses went into a school they had founded because there had not been one nearby before.

Al-hassan’s son amuses himself while we chat

Al-hassan and Hussein’s children are at the guesthouse as well. I notice a particular sadness about Al-hassan’s son, who entertains himself by climbing on his father’s motorcycle. In spite of his sadness, I consider him lucky for growing up in a socially conscious environment with such a kind family.

We eventually return to Al-hassan’s guesthouse, where Amy and Chris are frantically pacing back and forth. They’d left me over an hour ago at Mole and had no idea what had happened to me.

Les coming down from the roof like a pro

Having summoned the strength to shimmy up the ladder, I’m on the roof setting up my mattress and mosquito net as the sun starts to go down. We hear the call to prayer in the background as the neon lights from the storefronts across the street flicker on.

A few hours later, Al-hassan is in the corner eating a fish stew. He motions for me to join him. I’m still skeptical of food at this point, but realize it would be rude to refuse. As I plunge my right hand into the steaming bowl, he tells me about the boy.

Beautiful sunset over Larabanga

He had been married to the boy’s mother. They had been childhood sweethearts, I think. Her family had pressured her to marry another man – I can’t recall why. His son had come to live with Al-hassan’s brother and his wife a few years earlier. I think the sadness I sensed in the boy was because he missed his mother.

Later that night, Amy, Chris, and I try to ignore the music from the nightclub next door as we drift off to sleep on the roof. We have a long journey to Cape Coast via Tamale the following day, and the bus departs at the break of dawn.

The moon and the stars are bright over Larabanga, and the sky is perfect and clear. I feel so isolated under my mosquito net, yet so connected to my environment as I think about Al-hassan’s hospitality, his family, and his role in the community. Had he not nursed me back to health, I doubt I would have learned as much about my surroundings. I’d been able to connect with a kind, remarkable individual and learn a little about his community as a result of this most miserable journey north. And I think that’s what made the journey worthwhile.

If African leaders are the “glue” what happens when they leave?

Mugabe sleeping during meetings

Over the weekend, Zimbabwe’s Standard Sunday newspaper published an interview with President Robert Mugabe’s former Home Affairs and Defence Minister Enos Nkala. Nkala, who had since fallen out with Mugabe, spoke with the Zimbabwean leader last week and stated “From what we discussed, Mugabe said he is tired and wants to retire but he cannot do so now because Zanu-PF will die… He (Mugabe) was yet to find a successor within Zanu-PF, who could lead the party and keep the country united.” According to Nkala, Mugabe claimed that “factionalism was eating away at the party and, if not handled properly, could explode into a civil war.” He also said that “It’s easy for people to say Mugabe must go…but most of them do not know that he is the glue that has been holding this country together.”

Regardless of whether or not Mugabe’s statements and Nkala’s assessments are true, this story raises a concern that I’ve heard reflected in conversations about other long-serving African leaders:

Are some African leaders who have been in power for several years the “glue” that holds their countries together? If so, what are the likely outcomes if/when they depart the political scene without a succession plan?

If you’re reading this, I’d really be interested in hearing what you think about which other African leaders might be in a similar situation and what might happen to their countries when they depart.


Brazil’s growing relations with Africa through the lens of its African heritage

As I mentioned on my About Me page, I studied abroad in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil in college and researched the evolution of Afro-Brazilian identity and politics for my senior thesis. So, since issues related to Brazil’s African heritage and its growing relations with Africa have recently been in the news, I’ve decided to merge my old research interests with my more recent ones for this post.

Domestically, Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld the legality of university admissions based on affirmative action for students of African descent (Afro-descendentes). Internationally, the country’s Minister of Development, Industry, and External Trade (Fernando Pimentel) was tasked by President Dilma Rousseff to lead an “Africa Group” to expand upon Brazil’s economic ties with African countries. Pimentel stated that Brazil’s economic and political ties with African countries had become “strategic.” This statement isn’t the first Brazilian governments have made about the country’s growing engagement with Africa; such statements echo former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s efforts to expand commercial and cultural ties across the continent. Brazil’s recent efforts to expand its relationship with African countries can be understood in terms of:

  • Brazil as an example of an emerging global power that was once a developing country;
  • Brazil’s desire to increase South-South cooperation; and
  • Brazil’s ethnic and cultural affinities as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, historical affinities due to colonialism, and linguistic ties with Lusophone Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Cape Verde).

Because of the research I conducted several years ago, I also tend to understand Brazil’s growing relations with Africa in the context of the evolving role of the country’s African heritage as a distinct element of its broader national identity. Let me elaborate.

In the years leading up to Lula’s push for stronger political and economic ties with African countries, the dialogue on race and African identity underwent substantial changes. In the 1990s, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was not only the first president to publicly acknowledge that racism existed in Brazil, but he was also the first president to acknowledge that he had a “foot in the kitchen” – a reference to his own African heritage. Such statements flew in the face of decades of the marginalization of African identity.

In the aftermath of the abolition of slavery in 1888, Republican-era (1889-1930) Brazilian elites believed that the newly freed Afro-Brazilian population, which was assumed to have retained its “backward” culture, would impede Brazil from taking its place among the developed industrial nations of the world. At the same time, theories of scientific racism were infiltrating Brazil, and Brazilian elites sought to “whiten” the country’s population – an ideology best captured in Modesto Brocos y Gómes’ 1895 painting A Redenção de Cam (The Redemption of Ham – from the Bible’s Book of Genesis). This painting depicted embranqueamento (whitening) – the ideal that through European immigration and miscegenation, every Brazilian generation would become whiter.

A Redenção de Cam by Modesto Brocos y Gómes

Cardoso’s statements also flew in the face of the subsequent promotion of the myth of racial democracy, which originated with the 1933 publication of Gilberto Freyre’s The Masters and the Slaves. This book asserted that the institution of slavery encouraged racial tolerance and intermingling so that Brazilians inherently had no racial prejudice, contrary to what the author had observed in Europe, the United States and Africa. Freyre emphasized how Brazil’s three races contributed to formation of the nation, giving them a reason to feel proud of their unique, ethnically mixed tropical civilization. Brazil’s embrace of this ideology promoted the notion that all Brazilians lived in racial harmony, and that any discrimination Afro-Brazilians suffered was a function of social class, not of race. This has historically deprived several Afro-Brazilian civil rights movements of their solitary target for mobilization.

By the time Lula became president in 2003, Brazil had a wider aperture for discussions of racial discrimination and the role of African heritage within Brazil’s broader national identity. Due to its initial electoral failures, Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores was compelled to broaden its appeal to include a wide variety of social movements that emerged during the country’s return to democracy in the 1980s. The PT’s promotion of internal democratic debate encouraged the contribution of smaller social movements to the construction of the party’s electoral platform. Within the PT’s quest for social justice for all marginalized Brazilians, Afro-Brazilians became the focus of government programs and special initiatives as the party gained power in the legislature, and eventually won the presidency in 2003.

During Lula’s tenure as president, the government created the Special Secretary for the Promotion of Policies to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR) and the National Council for the Promotion of Racial Equality, founded the Parliamentary Front in Defense of Racial Discrimination and the Intergovernmental Forum for the Promotion of Racial Equality, and designated 2005 as the Year to Combat Racism. Internationally, Lula presided over an unprecedented political and economic engagement with Africa. He doubled the number of Brazilian embassies in Africa, and visited the continent 11 times, hitting 25 countries. In 2010, 52.7% of Brazilian investments in international development went to Africa – more than the amount devoted to Brazil’s fellow Latin American countries. Trade between African countries and Brazil was $4.3 billion in 2002, and by 2011 it had jumped to $27.6 billion – with main areas of Brazilian investment in Africa being agribusiness, mining, infrastructure, gas and deep-sea oil drilling.

When we see reports of Brazil’s investments and development initiatives in various African countries, one element to consider is that these expanding ties are also a manifestation of a long evolution of the country’s dialogue regarding its own African identity. Without the acceptance of the country’s African heritage as a distinct element of its broader national identity, there might have been less of an impetus to expand upon its ethnic, cultural, and historical ties to the African continent.

%d bloggers like this: