Eritrea joins Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war after inducements

Sanction-laden Eritrea is expected to receive a huge cash and fuel payout from Saudi Arabia for the use of Eritrean air space, an air base, a seaport, and 400 troops in Yemen, according to a report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The country is just a short hop away from southwestern Yemen. Neighboring (and opposing) Ethiopian media reacted very negatively to the report. The findings were summarized as follows:

Recent reports show that Eritrea is officially involved in the Yemeni crisis allowing the Saudi-led Arab coalition to use its Assab port, airspace and territorial waters in fighting the Houthi rebels.

 
Eritrea now joins fellow African states Sudan, Egypt, and Morocco in the Saudi quagmire in Yemen, along with several Gulf states.

Flag_of_Eritrea

Ending Kabilaland

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

Flag_of_the_Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo

This is the latest quick update in my series on multi-termism trends in Sub-Saharan Africa this year.

Can President Joseph Kabila, son of President Laurent Kabila, be persuaded to step down soon in DR Congo?

If tiny Burundi is turning into a nightmare, chronically unstable DR Congo risks returning to its apocalyptic horrors of the civil war years if President Joseph Kabila delays elections by several years to extend his term. By contrast:

If Kabila can be convinced to allow an orderly transition of power in the DRC, it will make clear that such an improbable feat can be done just about anywhere — in Burundi, in Rwanda, and across the river in Brazzaville.

 

Burkina Faso presidential campaign kicks off after transition

Just over a year after a street uprising and military coup ousted the longtime regime of President Blaise Compaoré — and less than two months after a short-lived, violent coup attempt against the transitional government — Burkina Faso is heading to the polls for what it hopes will be its first free presidential election after decades of strongman and military rule. It has been a bumpy ride to get to this point.

Despite a ban on ruling party candidates, France24 reports that:

Seven of the 14 candidates played important roles in the fallen regime, without backing Compaore to the end.

 
Sort of inevitable when there is single-party/one-man rule for decades. Anyone who goes into public service ends up working for the regime at some point. And here they are:

Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Zephirin Diabre, considered the frontrunners, are both former government ministers.

Kabore worked with Compaore for 26 years, serving as prime minister and then speaker of the National Assembly. He also ran the CDP for more than a decade, but quit the party in disgrace 10 months before Compaore was ousted.

Diabre, an economist, long opted for an international career, but also served at home as minister of the economy and finance. He also joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with support from Compaore.

 
burkina-faso-map

Burundi appears to be sliding into full-blown meltdown

2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis

Until recently, a major African ally of the United States and a purported model for other African nations. Now, a mass exodus from the capital, daily body dumps of assassinated figures, and a fracturing military.

burundi-map

“Burundians flee capital over fears of violence” – France24, November 6, 2015:

Thousands of residents have fled the Burundian capital of Bujumbura in recent days over fears of escalating violence as the United Nations warned there was a risk that the central African country could slip back into civil war.
[…]
Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) also drew attention to dangerous “hardline rhetoric” in Burundi, drawing parallels with the hate-filled climate that led to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

 
United Nations statement, via AllAfrica.com, November 7, 2015:

The statement said the Secretary-General is alarmed that in recent weeks, the discovery of the bodies of civilian victims, many apparently summarily executed, has become a regular occurrence in several neighbourhoods of Bujumbura, where just today, Welly Nzitonda, the son of prominent Burundian human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was found dead following his arrest by the police in the morning.

Further, Mr. Ban in the statement also condemned public statements that appear to be aimed at inciting violence or hatred towards different groups in Burundian society.

“Inflammatory rhetoric is reprehensible and dangerous; it will only serve to aggravate the situation in the country. [The Secretary-General] calls for accountability for those who have engaged in publicly inciting violence,” the statement said.

 

The ethnically mixed military from the 2005 peace accords, even in the face of a renegade coup attempt in May, had largely been a lone rock of stability in the face of mounting ethno-political tensions earlier this year. Less than a month ago, reports emerged that that too looks increasingly precarious…

“Burundi: Cracks Widen Within Burundi’s Army,” IRIN, October 12:

A recent post on a Burundi news blog by Thierry Vircoulon of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said the [integrated military] was “dangerously close to rupture.”

IRIN’s interviews with more than a dozen people, including leading Burundian civilians, analysts and members of the military, indicate that a faction of former Hutu rebels has embarked on a campaign of harassing, abducting, detaining, and in some cases killing, members of the army’s old guard, as well as others perceived to oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza, himself a former rebel leader.

 
This October assessment marks a stark contrast with International Crisis Group’s prior assessment that institutional divisions designed in by the Arusha Accords of 2005 “could ironically help the army stay together.”

One wonders if it could, after all, go the way of South Sudan’s “unified” military which has now splintered back into rival ethnic groups from the former rebel factions before independence.

The United States suspended military cooperation and its major training program in Burundi back in July. In August, the president openly announced his intention to expand “patriotic” teenage death squads.

Complicated former longtime president of Benin dies

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil's president.

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil’s president.

One of Africa’s most unusual and complicated leaders — Pastor Mathieu Kérékou of Benin — has passed away at age 82. The former radical military dictator and later civilian democratic president led Benin through several major transformations in its history, eventually earning him the surprising nickname “father of democracy.” BBC News:

Mr Kerekou had two spells as president totalling nearly 30 years, first coming to power as the head of a Marxist regime in 1972.

But he then accepted the idea of multi-party democracy and organised elections, which he lost in 1991. […]
He stepped down in 1991 after losing to Nicephore Soglo in a multi-party poll, but returned to power in 1996 having beaten Mr Soglo at the polls and then went on to win a second and final five-year term in 2001.

 
From 1972 to 1991, Kérékou served as the country’s military president, pursuing a radical new nationalism in his first two years and then a hybrid of nationalism and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, backed by the Soviet Union. Much of it was marked by totalitarian violence and incompetent policy management. Over the course of his first presidency, the economic doctrines would grow less and less radically leftist and more moderate, eventually moving even to the center-right by the late 1980s.

During the early period, however, he renamed the country from Dahomey to Benin, in an effort to shed the French colonial legacies and avoid favoring one ethnic group over another, although both labels applied to pre-colonial African states in the area. Eventually, after facing down many coup attempts and amid growing economic stagnation and political unrest, he realized that his days were probably numbered if he clung to power — particularly with the Soviet Union’s fading influence and then disintegration — so he accepted a transition to multi-party democracy when it was demanded by a 1990 National Conference to fix the unraveling domestic situation.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Kérékou did not fight or cancel this transition when it became clear he would not be kept in power democratically, and he gracefully exited the political stage, even asking for forgiveness on national TV for whatever errors and crimes his regime had committed. He was permitted to remain president (albeit with an outside prime minister) through the 1991 elections, which he contested but lost by a landslide. 1991 in Benin became sub-Saharan Africa’s first successful direct handoff of power by a free election since the end of colonialism. This peaceful and stable transition likely helped spark or reinforce the coming wave of democracy in West Africa during the 1990s.

The onetime Marxist and atheist (rumored possibly also to have dabbled with Islam) staged an impressive comeback one term later, in 1996, this time as an evangelical Christian pastor, to become the second civilian president of Benin. This political comeback itself set its own precedent whereby former African military rulers would rehabilitate themselves as wise and experienced civilian candidates for the offices they once held by force.

Kérékou served two five-year terms as a civilian, from 1996 to 2006, before retiring again. Announcing, in 2005, his planned departure from the presidency per the constitutional term limits, Kérékou explained that a lifetime of high-level service had taught him one lesson many times: “If you don’t leave power, power will leave you.” Once again, he was strengthening democracy in Benin and the region.

His successor, President Thomas Boni Yayi, now nearing the end of his own second term had widely been rumored to be considering trying to remove the term limits provision but seems to have bowed earlier in 2015 to similar pressure to leave power before it leaves him. This decision to retire was likely reinforced by the Burkina Faso revolution in 2014 over an attempt to lift presidential term limits and the chaotic political violence in Burundi after the president sought a third term on a technicality. For now, the unexpected legacy of Kérékou, born-again democrat not totalitarian dictator, will live to see another day.

US to send military advisers & recon to Cameroon

cameroon-map

NBC News:

The Obama administration says it expects to deploy about 300 U.S. service members to the African nation of Cameroon to help stop the spread of Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups.

Roughly 90 U.S. service members are already en route to Cameroon to conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region.

 

Background from our prior briefing reports:

Cameroon, which is located next to Nigeria (Boko Haram’s home base) and shares a difficult-to-monitor 300-mile border with it, announced it was going to war with Boko Haram back in May of 2014 when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid. This decision triggered a wave of Boko Haram incursions into Cameroon (including high-profile kidnappings) and retaliatory ground and air operations by the Cameroon Armed Forces.

President Paul Biya next month will celebrate his 33rd anniversary as president (after 7 years as prime minister before that). The Cameroonian military (some parts competent and some parts rickety) could probably use the U.S. military assistance, but there will be concerns as to whether the U.S. is again militarily aiding and training a military force in an autocratic African country after more than a few recent instances of political trouble or repression involving U.S.-trained local military forces.

Cameroon — a country once carved out of colonial remainders by Imperial Germany and then split at random by France and Britain before re-merging itself after independence — now finds itself as an unusually stable dictatorship wedged between the rising conflict in northern Nigeria and the aftermath of the recent genocidal civil war in Central African Republic, exposed along lengthy borders on both sides. The populations in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon have long had cultural and economic interchange, since the border was an arbitrary colonial one crossing through an existing society.

Short-lived Burkina Faso coup had very little support

Previously: 2015 Burkina Faso Coup

burkina-faso-flag
Good news: Not only did the regular Army quickly intervene to eject the Presidential Guard and restore the democratic transition, compelling the putsch leader to apologize publicly (also admitting a serious unforced error that will likely doom the Guard to demobilization) and surrender, but also the people of Burkina Faso very broadly and decisively rejected the coup.

This is explored in Brian J. Peterson’s analysis at African Arguments entitled “After the coup in Burkina Faso: unity, justice, and dismantling the Compaoré system”:

Among civil society, there was no pro-coup faction to speak of, aside from reports of a few fake protesters (identified as RSP members in plainclothes). Even Diendéré’s own home village turned against him. Aside from the labour unions, the grassroots movement Balai Citoyen, the youth, traditional leaders (such as chiefs, hunters associations, and the Moro Naba), and the heralded broom- and spatula-wielding women, all rallied to the cause of opposing the coup.

(Additionally, not one political party besides the pro-Compaoré party supported it.)

The way in which the people and the transitional government handled this worst of all political nightmares on the eve of an election should give the Burkinabé people greater confidence in their belief that they can shape their country’s destiny. Through this whole process, the people have also discovered a newfound courage to speak their minds.