Podcast recommendation: over the past six months Travis Adkins’ “On Africa” from Washington has been a great resource

Djibouti IGAD Election Observation Mission press conference led by Kenya’s Issack Hassan of IEBC

There has been an explosion of great work in English relating to Africa in the podcast genre recently, and as an amateur I am way behind in sampling the free learning available just from time constraints. Today I want to flag the relatively new “On Africa” podcast hosted by Travis Adkins which has been a great teacher for me.

Start with Episode One, on October 4 of last year with Amb. Johnnie Carson, who has lived the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, on “Zimbabwe after Mugabe.” November 6 on Cameroon as an “Electoral Dictatorship in Crisis” with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh of NDI was especially helpful for me since I focus on East Africa and do not have much background on the unique challenges there. Dr. Fomunyoh is a native of Anglophone Cameroon but attended university in Francophone Cameroon and has been a high level fixture for many years at NDI where he is Director for West and Central Africa.

Episodes of December 19, 26 and 31 on Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page were especially good. Amb. Page has a personal background with the negotiations leading to the 2005 provisional government, served as NDI Regional Director and was appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. Ambassador following South Sudanese independence–so again, a sweep of recent history on into current events from an “insider” perspective.

Most recently for me, the February 13 episode with Zach Vertin, former diplomat now at the Brookings Institution Doha gives a 39 minute dive into the current “Red Sea Rivalries” shaking up international relations in the Horn of Africa region. Partin has a new book out on the birth of South Sudan which sounds fascinating and I have on my list.

Most of the best Africa podcasts I have been able to take time for in recent years have been more of an academic nature–what Adkins is doing at “On Africa” with accessible overviews of high level politics and diplomacy with people directly involved is a welcome addition for someone like me who wants to deepen and broaden their knowledge as an interested citizen with limited time due to other responsibilities.

Dr. Peter Pham gets new post-midterm Trump diplomatic appointment as Great Lakes Special Envoy [Updated]

Ahead of the long-overdue elections scheduled for next month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the State Department announced the nomination of Dr. Peter Pham, Africa Director at the Atlantic Council, to be Trump’s special envoy to the African Great Lakes Region.

U.S. names new envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes. (AFP)

Pham has a long background in academics and national security related policy/”think work” on Africa from the Right, which is a fairly limited universe. I became aware of Dr. Pham’s work initially as a “friend of IRI” in relation to my work on Somaliland as IRI country director in 2007-08. He was involved in publicly advising the Trump transition on Africa-related issues and was often identified as the frontrunner to be the nominee as Assistant Secretary of State. See “Trump Team’s Queries About Africa Point to Skepticism About Aid,” New York Times, Jan. 13, 2017, by Helene Cooper.

Pham and his deputy at the Atlantic Council, Bronwyn Bruton, have been prominent critics/skeptics of the initial 2006 invasion of Somalia and aspects of the subsequent “nation building” process there, and Pham has been seen as an advocate for Somaliland. Beyond that, I’m not as familiar with his background on the numerous various immediate issues in the Great Lakes, or how the election results and retirements will re-shape Congressional interests.

I will endeavor to read up.

In the meantime, I have not heard any public comment about any likely impact on a vote on the stalled nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter to replace Ambassador Godec in Kenya.

Update: I had forgotten Pham’s controversial advocacy from November 2012 in the New York Times: To save Congo, let it fall apart“. A view that could be seen as very pro-Kagame/RPF and that is certainly at odds with many considered opinions and perhaps a tough starting point for a new diplomatic posting.

See also, from Foreign Policy: Pompeo to appoint new envoy for troubled central Africa region.”

Update II: Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society on Pham last year in African Arguments:

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasized security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial. Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly. What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?

Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, not only American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience. Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

The “top ten” most shared posts from the first five years of AfriCommons

Famed Photojournalist Mo Dhillon responds to AU on ICC trials: “African Unity leading Africa toward disaster”

134 days after election, Kenya’s IEBC fails to produce results in Parliament

Was Kenya’s “Election Observation Group” or ELOG intended to be truly independent? Or was it to “build confidence”? [Update 3-30 on Further Overselling ELOG and ELOG’s use by Counsel for the Government in Court]

Ethiopian President Meles has died

Somaliland rejects UNSOM presence; Kenya reading

The U.S. “official” infatuation with Kenya in numbers

Kenya’s IEBC dangles “kitu kidogo” for political parties to avoid publishing results

Kenya’s elections: Observing the observers

The challenge for the West in Kenya’s 2012 election–and how we can learn and do better this time

What does Kenya’s High Court ruling on the civil society challenge to Uhuru and Ruto eligibility for election say about the state of Kenya’s judiciary?

It’s mid-May, do you know where you’re election results are?

 

“Rival Somali forces send in more troops”–Somaliland and Puntland

Rival Somali forces send in more troops – Africa | IOL News | IOL.co.za.

Somaliland and Puntland are continuing to deploy more troops in the disputed border regions of Sool and Sanaag.  A peaceful, mutually accepted resolution of these disputes with the support of the local population would be a gamechange for the region which has seen these conflicts and tensions periodically escalate for years.

Somaliland rejects local UNSOM presence; Kenya reading

Khat Shop Hargiesa

Khat Shop Hargiesa

The Somaliland Sun reports that the Government of Somaliland has informed the visiting head of the new United Nations Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) that Somaliland will not host a UNSOM office. Somaliland wishes to continue hosting and receiving aid through various individual UN agencies and organizations but considers the overall UNSOM mission in support of the Federal Government of Somalia incompatible with Somaliland’s independent status.

In the meantime, the questions of governance for Kismayo and the “Jubaland” region remain an immediate challenge as does the unsettled Somaliland-Puntland border. Somaliland has indicated a desire to strengthen relations with Kenya, which shares a common interest in some degree of regional autonomy for Jubaland on the Kenyan border.

Of note on Kenya:

Wachira Maina–“ICC: Kenya’s is a lose-lose strategy even if African Union has its way” in The East African.

Dr. Stephanie Burchard, “How Fraud Might (Indirectly) Promote Democracy in Africa” in the Institute for Defense Analyses’ Africa Watchdiscussing the judicial review of Ghana’s presidential election in contrast to the procedure in Kenya.

David Anderson on the Mau Mau case, “Atoning for the Sins of Empire” in the New York Times.

Wycliffe Muga on “A Brief History of Election Rigging” in The Star.

Jaindi Kisero on “There is more to the Kenya Pipeline Company saga than nepotism; is it someone’s turn to eat?” in the Daily Nation.

Paul Wafula on “Hidden pain in financing Jubilee’s bag of goodies” in The Standard.

George Kegoro, “There’s need for an independent team to probe conduct of election” in the Daily Nation.

How is IGAD’s “diplomatic observation” regarding Kenya’s election process helpful?

Africa Review reports on the statement of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) from this week’s visit to Nairobi by executive secretary Mahboub Maalim (himself a Kenyan) and others from the Addis headquarters under the headline “IGAD confident of peaceful Kenya election”:

In his statement, Mr Maalim said: “Igad has come to the conclusion that Kenya’s election is not an event. It is a process and that March 4th is not the end; it is the beginning of a process that could last till June 2013. Kenyans must therefore brace themselves for the long haul.”

Mr Maalim said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the judiciary are crucial for the success of the polls.

“The efficiency of the IEBC during the voter registration process must be lauded. We expect that the same efficiency will apply to the March 4 poll. This is critical if Kenya is to avoid petitions arising from IEBC system failure. The efficiency and believability of the Supreme Court in dealing with the presidential election petitions is also critical. This will determine whether or not the transition is successful,” the Igad executive secretary said.

He said IEBC should be encouraged to conduct a systems dry-run with peer reviewers to seal any loopholes that would affect its efficiency.

Dr Kimani said the recent party nominations in Kenya were inclusive, open and transparent and that it was what the rest of the region had expected.

Igad brings together six countries in the Horn of Africa – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda – for development and drought control in their region

“Party nominations were inclusive, open and transparent”. Wow, that is certainly a unique perspective that contradicts the reporting in the Kenyan and international press, the reporting of Kenyan civil society umbrella KPTJ, and, for example, the reporting of the Center for Multi-Party Democracy-Kenya which is a well established and leading presence in Nairobi on these matters. So who is right here? Might it be relevant that IGAD is an organization of governments that are all far more “challenged” in terms of democratic practices in general, and elections specifically, than even Kenya in the wake of power-sharing and the debacle of 2007, along with the Government of Kenya itself?

I am all for whomever exhorting peace, although I am substantially skeptical that official pronouncements of this type have actual impact on ultimate behavior. Likewise, I am all for encouragement, hope and reasoned, well-grounded optimism in the context of pushing for the best election possible from where things really stand today. But this type of statement about the primaries is a “diplomatic” position rather than an observation or representation of fact. It undermines the credibility of whatever else is said in the same statement as being connected to the facts. At best it is unhelpful–it might be dangerous.

Somaliland Update

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Britain warns of “specific threat” to Westerners in Somaliland and urges its citizens to leave. This is sad; I found Somalilanders to be most welcoming and especially appreciative of the interest and attention of Western visitors. Likewise, during 2007-08, Hargeisa just felt safer than Nairobi, or Addis or Khartoum for that matter.

Former Ambassador David Shinn recently gave an interview with the Somaliland Sun that will be reassuring to Somalilanders wondering about the impact on them of the U.S. decision this month to give formal recognition to the new Somali government:

While I don’t speak for the U.S. government, I doubt that the formal recognition of the new Somali government will have any significant impact on Washington’s interaction with Somaliland. I believe the U.S. government will continue to work with Somaliland as it has in recent years. While there may not be public references to the two track policy, the separate administration in Somaliland remains a reality and I believe Washington will treat it as such. It is up to the leaders of Somalia and Somaliland to determine the nature of their relationship. I see no indication that the United States has abandoned any commitments reached in last year’s London conference. Nor do I expect this development will change in any perceptible way U.S. policy on combatting piracy in the region.

See David Shinn’s blog here.

Red Sea

Election Day in Somaliland

Ministry's Murals
MINISTRY OF TOURISM AND CULTURE

[Update: Polls have now closed. Here is a VOA story with interview with Dr. Steve Kibble of Progressio.]

Voters in Somaliland will chose local officials around the country, and the results will determine the three officially recognized political parties for the next ten years under the Somaliland Constitution. Kulmiye, UDUB and UCID have been the three parties, and will face competition from recognized “political associations”. The three parties will then compete in the future parliamentary and presidential elections.

Here is the link to the “From the Ground” blog from Progressio, which is leading the international monitoring.  Also follow the hashtag #SomalilandElection.

From the Somaliland Press:

Here in the capital voting started around 7 a.m. in most of the 404 polling stations including Ga’an Libah, where President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo cast his vote. He was joined by first lady Amina Sheikh Mohamed Jirde and members of his cabinet including minister of presidency, interior, minister of finance and members of the ruling Kulmiye Party.

The president expressed a sense of opportunism and congratulated the people of Somaliland for their commitment to democracy and stability.

He urged everyone to vote peacefully and respect the electoral officials, volunteers, observers and the outcome of the result.

An international observation team of 56 from 15 countries is on the ground monitoring the elections. They see this as a crucial step in the democratization of the whole Horn of Africa region. Two teams from Puntland and Mogadishu are also there to observe and discover their neighbour’s voting system.

The polls close 6 p.m. and results might not be known until the weekend. . . .

Fighting was reported with militias in the town of Hudan in Sool, in the uncertain eastern border region with Puntland.