The Insiders’ Newsletter [free preview]
African Arguments is creating a new, weekly newsletter, bringing you concise analysis of the week’s most important developments. It will highlight underreported issues and angles, and put the news in context with a special emphasis on constructive solutions and future directions. Our team of experienced journalists and researchers will examine the major stories coming from Africa and find the best articles from around the web so you don’t have to.
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Here’s edition #1 of the Insiders’ Newsletter. Don’t forget to forward it to your colleagues and friends, and please give us feedback by commenting below.
1. What everyone is talking about:
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was dispatched to Africa – his first trip to the continent during his 14-month tenure – in part to shore up support for the United States. But instead, his trip might have served only to reinforce the Trump administration’s lack of interest in the continent. The US president reportedly fired Tillerson just two days into what was meant to be a six-day visit. The former secretary ended up cutting his trip short and was officially fired upon his return.
Amongst other things, Tillerson’s sacking undercuts one of his key messages: that African leaders should push back against China’s encroachment. In a speech before departing for Africa, Tillerson claimed to lay out a “new framework” for US-Africa relations. In fact, he only promised the continuation of several existing programmes and expressed hope that African countries would align more closely with the US on foreign policy and economic issues but without offering any clear incentives to do so. While Tillerson highlighted security cooperation, America needs the buy-in of African leaders at least as much as they need US soldiers and intelligence.
Even before news leaked that Tillerson had been fired at the journey’s outset, it was not clear the trip had been a success. The top US diplomat had only visited key allies, but even that did not shield him from some uncomfortable moments.
At a press conference in Chad, for example, Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene Cherif said that Trump’s outburst – in which he reportedly referred to African countries as “shithole nations” – had “shocked almost all Africans.” However, for the most most part, the leaders Tillerson met with emphasised a willingness to overlook – if not forget – the incident and move forwards.
It’s not clear the US will share that sentiment, especially if CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whom Trump has tapped, takes over as Secretary of State.
While Tillerson had not been a particular champion for Africa, he voiced support for programmes such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The Trump administration has proposed cuts to this as well as other aid efforts. On the day Tillerson was fired, Trump said he was looking for a replacement whose views aligned more closely with his own.
Meanwhile, African leaders are left to figure out what to make of the latest slight by the Trump administration. Instead of amends, they got to share the last days of a lame duck.
- The BBC on Tillerson’s firing, including a timeline on when he was told that he would have to leave
- The tweet that President Trump used to announce Tillerson’s firing
- Transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s speech on U.S.-Africa relations and links to the transcripts of all remarks made during the Africa trip
- The Council on Foreign Relations has a blog post summarising a study on the development of U.S.-Africa relations under Trump (by @JohnCampbellcfr). The full study (by John Stremlau) was published last year by the South African Institute on International Affairs
- Reuters offers a quick reaction from key analysts on the continent to the news of Tillerson’s firing (by @edwardcropley).
- Though a year old, a relevant piece on what would happen if the Trump administration cuts PEPFAR funding (by @edyong209).
Compiled by @_andrew_green and @PeterDoerrie
2. What we are talking about:
The persistent crisis of the Central African Republic
With about 2,000 deaths, the last 12 months have seen CAR slide into depths of political violence last seen during the 2012-2013 civil war. That conflict served as the backdrop for the ethnic cleansing and large-scale violence that took place in 2014.
While elections in 2016 finally restored a constitutional government under President Faustin Touadera, the government never managed to expand its control beyond parts of the capital. The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, which currently has 12,700 military personnel, has proven to be incapable of keeping the various armed groups in check, especially after France withdrew its own intervention force in 2016.
With the complete disintegration of the state, the conflict has also fragmented. It is now as much centered around armed communities as it is a confrontation between distinct political/military entities. No serious effort has been made on the part of the government or international community to recognise this complex reality. This has contributed to the failure of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
Equally unaddressed is the issue of tensions between Muslim and Christian communities, which has its roots in pre-colonial times as much as in more recent contests. The government is continuing to label rebels and militias from the predominantly Muslim north as “foreign fighters,” questioning the political legitimacy and citizenship of parts of the population. All this comes at a time of decreasing international engagement.
Amidst increasing regional instability, political violence in CAR will only worsen if allowed to continue. Government efforts to signal to Muslim communities that they are part of Central African society and that the government is willing to invest in long-neglected parts of the country would begin to address some root cause of tensions. At the same time, mostly Christian communities in the west would have to be reassured of their security.
To counter the influence of armed groups, both the government and international forces should also address the conflict economy, which expresses itself most clearly in the form of dozens of checkpoints on every major road. The factions of the former Seleka rebels alone generate about $7.4 million in annual revenue from these. Regional and international actors must speak with one voice and develop a coherent agenda underpinned by a strong and lasting presence.
- African arguments on the failures of Central African political leadership(by @EnriPicco) and secual violence targeting men and boys as a weapon of war (by @zackbaddorf)
- The Crisis Group has in-depth reports on political violence and the root causes of the conflict
- IPIS does fantastic conflict mapping in CAR, for example on roadblocks and natural resources and armed group activities
- ACLED offers statistics on political violence and fatalities
- The Institute of Security Studies on the risks of continuing destabilisation in central African countries (by @FontehAkum and @ZachDonnenfeld)
- What’s in Blue about briefings on CAR to the UN Security Council and discussions about targeted sanctions
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
3. Hear this Word!
International Women’s Day edition
Let’s start with the wonderful: “I really put everything into writing. So for this to happen is unbelievable.”
This is the reaction of Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi to winning Yale University’s Windham Campbell Prize, mainly for her debut novel Kintu. The novel was first published in Kenya, after a British publisher rejected it for being “too African”.
The news hit the wires on International Women’s Day and was widely celebrated. But it is also part of a larger trend of African women stepping into the international limelight. This includes several feminists writers. Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “We should all be feminists,” is maybe the prime example, but she is only the tip of the iceberg. This may be because, as Ghana’s Theo Sowa argues, “African feminism has always been more fun than other types of feminism or other types of social change”. This is, she says, because of the unique perspective it offers from the intersection of gender with race, class, and social and economic injustice.
But IWD offers of course other, less positive reasons to focus on Africa. According to the stats, African women are disproportionately impacted by conflict, poverty, discrimination and practices such as FGM, child marriage and domestic abuse.
There are reasons to be hopeful, however. African countries have not only given the world some of the most influential voices in shaping the global discourse around gender relations, reaching back to Mali’s late Jacqueline Ki-zerbo, but are actively pioneering experiments to change the state of affairs going forwards. Four countries on the continent feature national parliaments made up of more than 40% women, more than in any other part of the world.
- African Arguments on how African feminism changed the world (by @ailitripp)
- The African Feminist Forum’s video series “Know your African feminist”
- okayafrica’s list of 100 outstanding African women
- Our World in Data has, you guessed it, data on SDG 5 (gender equality) from around the world
- IRIN offers a look at the conflict trauma burden carried by women in Uganda (by @ssantoshini) and profiles a woman’s voice countering Boko Haram’s radicalization (by @linusunah)
- The BBC on Makumbi’s award of the Windham Campbell Prize (by @musiciany)
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
“Hear this Word” is named in admiration of “Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True”, a play by Ifeoma Fafunwa and highlights women’s voices on African affairs.
4. Chart of the week:
Source: Our World in Data
Extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.25 a day) may be slowly declining in sub-saharan Africa, but as the above chart shows, the story changes if you look at some of the other poverty thresholds. The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day has been essentially stable and that of people living on less than $3.10 – still not a meagre sum – has been increasing.
In proportional terms, the picture looks a bit better, with the share of the African population earning less than $3.10 decreasing steadily since about 2002:
And some countries made much more progress than others. Botswana now has almost 30% of its population living on more than $10 a day, after steadily improving poverty rates since at least 1981, a development that is similar to China.
For some more analysis, look at this blog entry on Our World in Data (and follow them at @OurWorldInData).
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
5. Tweet of the week:
President Museveni of Uganda says 'Africa is so rich, then how does this poverty come about? It is because of sleep.'
In Africa there is a lot of oversleeping, the @DailyMonitor quotes him as saying pic.twitter.com/PFzRKXAjBc
— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) March 13, 2018
The obvious irony aside that there are quite a few photos of Museveni himself taking a nap during work hours, these statements obviously brush over his own responsibility for the moribund economic development in Uganda despite ruling since 1986.
On a more serious note, South Africans (the only country for which we found comparable data) actually sleep almost one hour more than the average OECD citizen. But the factual basis for Museveni’s assertion doesn’t get much more support. Chinese people, after all the great role models for many African governments, only sleep slightly less than South Africans and overall there is little correlation between sleep time and economic development. President Museveni will have to look for another culprit to take responsibility for his own failings.
- OECD data on average sleep times around the world
- Daily Monitor article on Museveni’s comments (by @OketchBill) and a 2015 article in the same paper, citing the President with similar statements
Compiled by @PeterDoerrie
6. What else you should be reading:
- @ethuin remembers the murder of UN experts Zaida Catalan and Micheal Sharp one year ago and highlights the severe shortcomings of the UN inquiry into their deaths
- National Geographic’s Editor in Chief @susanbgoldberg details the magazine’s racist past in painful detail, hopefully clearing the path for a more conscious future
- @lynseychutel of Quartz Africa has a great report on the loss of jobs and cultural heritage in DR Congo’s textile sector, once known for the outstanding quality and design of its wax prints
- The Institute for Security Studies has this great look at the relationship between Ethiopia and Dijbouti (by @simonallison) in the context of Ethiopian investments into alternatives to the Djibouti port
- The Daily Maverick offers this interesting take on South Africa’s foreign policy posture during and after the Zuma administration by @Mzukisi_Qobo
- @freyntje analyses a transcript of Rwandan President Paul Kagame interacting with members of his own administration, illuminating his confrontational approach to governance on African Arguments
This week’s editorial team: @PeterDoerrie, @_andrew_green, @chris_mungai and @jamesjwan