China & Civic Architecture in Africa

China just finished a 150 million Yuan four-year project to build Burundi a new presidential palace in Bunjumbura. This is but one of many installments of China’s ongoing influences on civic architecture on the Continent. The Burundian presidential palace is grand, and sitting on an elevation appears to have been designed to project the occupant’s power. While likely not the best use of that much money in Burundi, it is an important investment in the physical manifestation of Burundian stateness.

Other major civic buildings on the continent funded and (to be) built by China include the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the ECOWAS headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar.

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The Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal

Concerns over costs (and espionage) aside, one of the under-appreciated effects of Sino-Africa relations in China’s continuing influence on African architecture. From train stations, to hotels, to high-rise apartment blocks, to libraries, China’s influence is making an indelible mark on Africa’s landscape. At the moment much of this appears to be cut-and-paste jobs with little, if any, African influence. But it is ineluctable that over time many of these foreign designs will be infused with local sensibilities and tastes in the continuing process of architectural evolution on the Continent (no more fake marble and chandeliers please!).

It is fair to say that the state of civic architecture in many African states is wanting. Many civic structures exist as physical embodiments of the malaise afflicting the African state.  The last golden age of public buildings died with the independence generation. The era’s designs focused on function, but also the implicit desire to project state power — Dar es Salaam’s austere public buildings with their long hallways and exposure to the elements (for ventilation) quickly come to mind. The economic crises of the long decade (1980-1995) virtually stalled much of the region’s architectural evolution as far as civic buildings were concerned.

The current iteration of Sino-African relations is changing this. More capitals (sub-national, national and regional) are seeing the construction of civic buildings befitting their stature. The influence of these developments will likely travel beyond their aesthetic impacts on Africa’s architectural landscape. Civic buildings are also monuments to the idea of the state.

 

East African Community Facts of the Day

This is from Charles Onyango-Obbo in The EastAfrican:

eactrade.pngIn the year 2000, Ugandan exports to Rwanda were worth $9 million. By the 2017/2018 financial year, this figure had shot up to $197 million, against imports of $20 million, giving it a surplus of $177 million, despite the icy relations currently prevailing.

In the same period, in a reversal of fortune, Uganda for the first time registered a $122 million trade surplus with Kenya, with exports worth $628 million and imports worth $505 million.Though Uganda hardly invests any serious money in agriculture, the country is now the EAC’s bread basket.

Kenyan business people travel as far as the remote parts of western Uganda to villages whose names they can’t pronounce, and put a deposit on food crops before they are harvested. None of this happens as a result of state policy, but rather the invisible hand of integration. The magic happens in that “invisible” East Africa.

Despite the circular firing squad that is the relationship between East Africa’s heads of state, the economic incentives for ever greater integration in the EAC remain strong.

Next in line to join might be the DRC. Then perhaps Somalia. Ethiopia might be interested, too.

Is Kenya prepared to go to war with Somalia over a disputed maritime territory?

Dzl_1dDXQAAJ3kdOn Saturday the Kenyan foreign ministry recalled the Kenyan ambassador in Mogadishu and asked his Somalia counterpart to leave the country. This followed an alleged London auction of oil blocks in a disputed maritime zone by the Somalia government.

A Kenyan official characterized the auction as an “unparalleled affront and illegal grab at the resources of Kenya” that would “not go unanswered”.

The government of Somalia has since disputed the charge, and in a well reasoned letter asked the Kenyan government to reconsider its actions. Earlier, a Kenyan foreign ministry official had sought to de-escalate the situation by clarifying that the two ambassadors were merely asked to touch base with their respective governments in order to facilitate consultations.

19550580_401Kenya and Somalia hold rival claims on a triangular maritime territory in the Somali Sea (see image). The matter is currently under consideration by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

It is worth noting that Kenya and Somalia have not had the best of historical relations. In the 1960s Mogadishu supported an irredentist movement in northeastern Kenya. The rivalry cooled down during Somalia’s years of civil war. During the same period Kenya stumbled upon a policy of supporting any and all efforts to keep the conflict and instability on the Somalia side of the shared border. The latest expression of the policy has been to support the state of Jubaland, a matter that goes against the interests of Mogadishu. Jubaland State President Sheikh ‘Madobe’ Ahmed visited Kenya in December 2018, likely on a mission to strengthen intra-clan alliances and support from Nairobi. Kenya is a troop contributing country (TCC) under AMISOM, and for a variety of reasons remains to be a weak link in the fight against Al-Shabaab, the terror group.

The dust up between Kenya and Somalia reflects larger geopolitical contests for influence in Mogadishu. It is reasonable to assume that the dispute over the oil exploration blocks will not be restricted to the two countries. In addition to interested Western private energy firms (and their home governments), Mogadishu is likely to get support from its friends in the Gulf and Turkey. Meanwhile, Kenya’s primary leverage will be its important role in AMISOM. A fallout with Nairobi would likely cause serious problems for Mogadishu, and pose a serious challenge to Somalia’s territorial integrity — Jubaland may find support to sue for independence from Mogadishu.

For now, both Kenya and Somalia have expressed public commitments to respect ICJ’s ruling regardless of the outcome. This is encouraging. Existing research suggests that states are less likely to escalate tensions if they commit to legal means of settling territorial disputes.. Indeed, Nigeria and Cameroon provide a good example of two countries that managed to settle a border dispute in a potentially oil-rich area amicably.

All to say that I don’t think Kenya is going to war with Somalia any time soon.

 

Why does Al Shabaab target Kenya?

Ngala Chome, PhD candidate at Durham University, has a great review of Al Shabaab recruitment and attacks in Kenya since 2011, and why the group has been able to stage a lot more attacks in Kenya (96.4% of recorded attacks between 2008-16) relative to other troop contributing countries engaged in Somalia (see map):

Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 10.50.23 AM.pngKenya may have suffered these attacks since it is considered a key ally of the West. But why is Al-Shabaab (an Al-Qaeda affiliate) targeting Kenya more than it is other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Uganda, which also have close ties with the West and have fought Al-Shabaab in Somalia? To what extent does Al-Shabaab attack Kenya for the reasons it publicly gives? Will Al-Shabaab, for example, stop targeting Kenya if the Kenya Defence Forces pulled out of Somalia?

…. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) recorded 14 more attacks before September 2011, and then 49 in 2012, 35, in 2013, 80 in 2014, 42 in 2015, and 45 in 2016. While the GTD is yet to provide figures from 2017, existing evidence shows that of the 302 trans-border attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabaab from 2008-2016, 3 occurred in Ethiopia, 5 in Uganda, 2 in Djibouti and 291 in Kenya. Brendon Cannon and Dominic Pkalya, in a recent article, have argued that beyond sharing a border with Somalia, Al-Shabaab targets Kenya more than other frontline states because of the opportunity spaces linked to Kenya’s international status and visibility, its relative free and independent media that widely publicizes terrorist attacks, a highly developed and lucrative tourism sector that provides soft targets, expanding democratic space and high levels of corruption. In sum, these variables play into Al-Shabaab’s motivations and aid planning and execution of acts that aim to fulfil the group’s quest to survive – as it losses more ground in Somalia – by maintaining its relevance on the global stage.

Read the whole thing here. For more on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON), Paul D. William’s new book looks fascinating (I haven’t read it yet).

For a broader understanding of the dynamics driving insurgency in the Horn, check out Michael Woldemariam’s Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa: Rebellion and its Discontents and Inside Al-Shabaab by Harun Maruf, Dan Joseph and Christopher Anzalone.