Hydropolitics of the Nile Basin

I just finished reading John Waterbury’s The Nile Basin: National Determinants of Collective Action. The book offers a concise introduction to the politics of international water basins as well as the various points of contention among the riparian states in the wider Nile Basin.

Here’s an excerpt:

All upstream riparians in the Nile basin, including the Sudan share varying degrees of suspicion towards Egypt and Egyptian motives in seeking cooperative understandings. It seemingly follows that Ethiopia could mobilize these fears and occasional resentments into an alliance of upper basin riparians. The British in fact tried to do just that from 1959 to 1961, as Egypt and the Soviet Union jointly pursued the Aswan High Dam project at the expense of the upper basin (p. 86).

Why would upper basin riparians care about how Egypt uses water that flows up north?

As Waterbury explains, this is because of the international norm of Master Principle of appropriation — “whoever uses the water first thereby establishes a claim or right to it” (p. 28). Therefore, Egypt has an incentive to use as much of the Nile waters as possible in order to establish a future right to high volumes of downstream flows. Increasing domestic water consumption makes it easy for Cairo to demonstrate “appreciable harm” if any of the upper riparian states were to divert significant volumes of the Nile’s flows.

This is principle is in direct conflict with the principle of equitable use that also underpins riparian regimes (which are legion, apparently. Read the book). And that is where inter-state power politics come in.

Waterbury accurately predicted the current problem bothering Cairo:

The ultimate nightmare for Egypt would be if Ethiopia and the Sudan overcame their domestic obstacles to development and to examine coolly their shared interests in joint development of their shared watershed in the Blue Nile, Atbara, and Sobat basins. Given Ethiopian and Sudanese regional behavior in the 1990s, Egypt need not lose sleep yet (p. 149).

Well, it is time for Egypt to lose sleep. Big time.

A resurgent Ethiopia is damming the Abbay (Blue Nile) and is likely to divert more of its waters in the future for agricultural projects.

What’s puzzling to me is why Egypt is not interested in cutting a deal right now. Given that Ethiopia is only likely to get economically and militarily stronger with time, why wouldn’t Cairo want to cut a deal under conditions of a favorable balance of power?

An obvious explanation is that Egyptian domestic political concerns make it harder for the government to sign a deal that diminishes claims to the Nile (Sisi doesn’t want to be the one that signed away water rights!) But this problem will only get worse for Egyptian elites, assuming that Egypt will get more democratic with time.

I am not surprised that Ethiopia is playing hardball.

Rwanda’s Kagame on the Social Construction of Ethnicity

This is from an interesting interview with the FT:

During the interview, Mr Kagame says it matters little whether there are real physical differences between Hutus and Tutsis or whether these were arbitrary distinctions codified by race-obsessed imperialists. “We are trying to reconcile our society and talk people out of this nonsense of division,” he says. “Some are short, others are tall, others are thin, others are stocky. But we are all human beings. Can we not live together and happily within one border?” Mr Kagame has taken a DNA test that, he says, reveals him to be of particularly complex genetic mix. The implication, he says, is that he, the ultimate symbol of Tutsi authority, has some Hutu in his genetic make-up.

The transcript is available here. Read the whole thing.

Also, the average Rwandese lives a full six years longer than the average African.

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Ultimately, the sustainability of Kagame’s achievements will depend on his ability to solve an important optimal stopping problem:

The problem, he says of who might succeed him, is preventing someone from “bringing down what we have built”. Above all, he says, he wants to “avoid leaving behind a mess”.

The president insists it was never his intention to stay on, but the party and population insisted. “We are not saying, ‘We want you forever until you drop dead,’” he says, imitating the voice of the people. “We’re only saying, ‘Give us more time.’”

Interesting Somalia fact of the day

This is from the Economist:

Even if elections pass off well, it is unclear that they will deliver much legitimacy. One problem is that the entire process is dominated by diaspora Somalis. Some 55% of MPs have foreign passports, and while Mr Mohamud [the president] himself has never lived abroad, almost all of his advisers are either British or American Somalis. They are not always popular.

Also, here’s a primer on Somalia’s upcoming legislative and presidential elections.

The 2016 elections will have a bigger selectorate (14,025 delegates) than in 2012 (only 135 elders), but is still far from the global norm of universal suffrage. This is probably a good thing, for now.

The EAC: A Model for Boosting Intra-Africa Trade?

The Economist reports:

Since its resurrection in 2000, officials are more often found toasting its success. A regional club of six countries, the EAC is now the most integrated trading bloc on the continent. Its members agreed on a customs union in 2005, and a common market in 2010. The region is richer and more peaceful as a result, argues a new paper* from the International Growth Centre, a research organisation.

Many things boost trade, from growth to international deals. The researchers use some fancy modelling to pick out the effect of the EAC. They find that bilateral trade between member countries was a whopping 213% higher in 2011 than it would otherwise have been. Trade gains from other regional blocs in the continent are smaller: around 110% in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and 80% in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Planned infrastructure links over the next decade should add a positive shine to these figures.

Now if only regional integration had a similarly sanguine implication for democratic consolidation among the member countries of the EAC…

The OAU is dead, long live the AU

On Friday, the African Union approved draft plans to send troops to the conflict-ridden Burundi even without permission from Bujumbura in what could be a historic move to stop the country’s impending implosion.

The move by the AU Peace and Security Council reached on Friday despite initial opposition from the Burundi delegation invoked a rarely-used clause in AU Constitutive Act.

Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act provides for sending of troops to a member country under circumstances of war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity without that country’s permission.

More on the African Union’s 5000 strong force for Burundi here. The actual AU resolution establishing the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) is available here. Paul D. Williams, an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University, parses the text of the AU communique here.

This semester I taught a class on intra-Africa IR, mostly looking at economic and security cooperation from 1963 to the present. One of the issues we wrestled with in the class was whether the AU was any different from the OAU, despite the language of Article 4(h). The OAU was notoriously ineffectual in dealing with conflict in Africa, on account of its many non-interference clauses.

Doubts about the AU and its ability to effectively originate an intervention in the face of intra-state conflicts were reinforced by:

(i) its continued commitment to the “equality” of member states (no regional hegemons — like Nigeria, Ethiopia, or South Africa — were given any formal status of first among equals);

(ii) the the deliberate weakening of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) — which has no permanent membership (5 elected for 3 years, 10 for 2 years);

(iv) the fact that the chairmanship of the PSC rotates monthly (by country name alphabetical order), giving any one chair hardly any time to develop the connections required for effective operations of such a sensitive post in a major IO;

(v) the structure of the regional distribution of seats on the PSC which incentivizes a sub-regional logic of seat allocation, as opposed to actual efficiency of the PSC.

It is therefore interesting that 4(h) was today invoked to justify intervention in Burundi, without the direct consent of Bujumbura (Nkurunziza may yet save face by inviting the AU mission under 4(j)).

Also interesting is the fact that the troops will be under the banner of the East African Standby Force (EASF) and not the AU. This will expose the actual operations of the mission to the same EAC politics that I outlined in an earlier post here (for the two of you out there who care to know, the different (sub)regional standby forces actually have formal relationships with the AU, so they are not totally run by the sub-regional RECs but can be seen as a practical first step in the aspirational goal of a continental standby force, someday).

Who said intra-African IR is boring (or does not exist)?

Also, watch out for a draft paper on the politics of intra-Africa IR soon…

More on Burundi

A commenter, Dastan Kweka, has an interesting reaction to the post on Burundi (see below).

He contends that: (i) at the time the crisis erupted only Uganda was in a position to take up the role of mediator; (ii) Tanzania’s revealed preference for president of Burundi seems to be Nkurunziza (unless they are sure of an amenable replacement); and (iii) that the EAC is already robustly involved in Burundi and that my characterization of the body is inaccurate (“a pure invention”). Here is his reaction in full:

I have been following and researching the crisis in Burundi for a while now (more than 6 months) especially in relation to the role of the imbonerakure militias. I feel that i am in a position to make informed comments. Therefore, i will point out a few things that the author has either overlooked or chosen to ignore as follows:

1. The analysis is not situated within the context under which the crisis was born and which to a larger extent conditioned EAC`s response. When the crisis unfolded in April 25th, Tanzania was preparing for a (political) transition. Kenya was preoccupied with Al Shabab and internal corruption allegations involving senior political figures especially cabinet secretaries. Also, ICC issues especially for the deputy President. Rwanda has always been undesirable when it comes to responding to the situation in Burundi mainly because of the historical animosity. So, the only country that was relatively well positioned to respond at the time was Uganda. And it did respond through EAC. Prior to the appointment of Museveni, EAC consulted with Burundi authorities several times and asked for postponement of elections. As a result, Burundi Presidential elections were rescheduled twice. From June to July 15 then to July 21st. Museveni was appointed to lead the EAC mediation effort in mid July and was endorsed by international parties (ICGLR, AU,UN). It is quite obvious that EAC acted swiftly in a bid to address the then unfolding crisis in Burundi, although the mediation efforts, at the time, failed.
The situation changed in October when election fever engulfed Uganda, which is scheduled to hold Presidential elections in February 2016. When Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye won nominations to run for President of Uganda in the upcoming election, Museveni knew things weren`t going to be business as usual. He therefore sought to commit more time to campaigning and thus delegated mediation efforts to his Minister of Defence, one Kiyonga. Until this stage, mediation efforts were going well. Looking back, we can now agree that delegating was a strategic mistake, but it was necessitated by the context. Mr Kiyonga has failed to even obtain a single inclusive meeting of the conflicting parties. By the way, to what extent is a mediation effort led by a defense minister high-level?
Mr Opalo has argued that “EAC has avoided any kind of direct intervention in Burundi to end what is a singularly political crisis ….“. Isn`t the effort above an example of direct (political) intervention? What kind of intervention is he talking about or would he want to see? In his analysis, he tends to move (covertly) from political intervention to military intervention, without any clarity.
Current information shows that EAC has upgraded the readiness of its standby force and is carrying out necessary preparations in case a need for deployment arises. EAC/AU have military and human rights observers on the ground in Burundi and are working in collaboration with UN in putting together an immediate inclusive dialogue. There is no evidence that they (EAC members) are seeing any difficult in (military) intervention. Isn`t the intervention argument as advanced by the analyst, a pure invention?
2. Intra-regional politics. On this aspect, i somehow agree with Mr Opalo that the region does not have a consensus on the outcomes of the mediation effort. Kagame would want Nkurunzinza to go. Tanzania, i think, wants him to stay until the country can be sure about the stance of a person that will replace him (that is being able to influence his replacement). Uganda and Kenya may be neutral for not having serious interests in Burundi.
Why do i think Tanzania wants him to stay? When the crisis was about to unfold in Burundi in March, 2015, Tanzania made its position clear that the constitution and terms of the Arusha agreement had to be respected. But when Nkurunzinza decided to go ahead with the election, the country, i believe, reneged on its position and sent election observers. Many other countries and international bodies did not. I believe this move signaled a change of position. But, i think, Tanzania remains in full support of the resolution of the conflict through inclusive dialogues.
In my opinion, i think, EAC/AU – through Uganda, was responding well and had the situation under control until, at least, September. In October, Museveni`s attention shifted and mediation efforts faltered. Intra-regional politics are playing a role in slowing down the mediation effort especially as some regional forces strive to boost the position of the sides they are backing so as to, considerably, tilt the political settlement in their favor during negotiations.

Whether or not the EAC has responded “well” to the Burundian crisis, as Mr. Kweka suggests, should be judged by the outcomes. There were meetings and preparations and the appointment of a mediator, yet the body count continues to increase. The EAC should have done more.

One of the reasons for having an international organization like the EAC is so that it can address issues that individual countries may be incentivized to ignore due to domestic political considerations.

Also, it looks like the African Union has approved a possible peacekeeping mission to Burundi (subject to the invitation of the government of Burundi). This is probably a way out of the problems of intra-EAC politics that I highlighted in the earlier post. Unless, of course, Burundi decides to stall the peacekeeping mission by forum shopping between Addis and Arusha.

Why isn’t the East African Community doing more on Burundi?

The situation in Burundi is deteriorating, fast.

Armed-forces-in-Burundi-340x230There are strong signs of ethnic violence. More than 300 people have been killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully violated term limits to stay in office for a third term early this year. The ensuing violence has forced over 220,000 to flee the country, while scores remain displaced internally. Over the last week alone more than 80 people have been murdered in what is increasingly looking like a civil war rather than mere civil unrest met with heavy-handed repression. The African union has used the word “genocide” in reference to the Burundian situation.

For a background on the current Burundian crisis see here, here, here and here.

So given the clear evidence that things are falling apart in Burundi, why isn’t the East African Community (EAC) doing more to de-escalate the situation?

The simple answer is intra-EAC politics (which serve to accentuate the body’s resource constraints).

The EAC is a five-member (Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) regional economic community (REC) that is arguably the most differentiated REC in Africa. Based in Arusha, Tanzania, it is a relatively robust institution replete with executive, legislative and judicial arms.

Like is the case for most African RECs, the EAC member states conceded precious little sovereignty to Arusha. For example, the  EAC treaty does not directly empower the REC to intervene in a member country even in cases of gross violations of human rights (like is currently happening in Burundi). So far regional cooperation within the EAC has mainly focused on economic issues that do not pose substantial threats to sovereignty. It is for this reason that the EAC has avoided any kind of direct intervention in Burundi to end what is a singularly political crisis — both within Burundi and at the regional level.

That said, Article 123 of the EAC treaty provides a loophole for intervention.

The Article stipulates that the purpose of political cooperation among EAC member states is to, among other things: (i) strengthen the security of the Community and its Partner States in all ways; and (ii) preserve peace and strengthen international security among the Partner States and within the Community. In my view these clauses mandate the EAC to protect both the internal security of Burundi as well as intra-EAC security.

It is important to note that so far the norm has been to treat vagueness in African REC treaties as a call to inaction. But vagueness also provides willing interveners with a fair amount of latitude over interpretation. Furthermore, since 2000 the trend within African RECs has been to dilute the infamous OAU non-intervention clauses (see the AU treaty, for example) especially with regard to security matters.

It is not hard to see how the conflict in Burundi poses a clear and present danger to both Burundi’s internal security as well as peace and security within the EAC.

We know from history that an all out civil war in Burundi would threaten the security of the region. Burundi’s ethnic make up roughly mirrors that of Rwanda. Ethnic conflict in Burundi would inevitably elicit an intervention from Rwanda, thereby regionalizing the conflict (with an almost guaranteed knock on effect in eastern DRC). In addition, even though Kagame may not be a fan of Nkurunziza, he lacks the moral authority to criticize him given recent moves to scrap term limits in Rwanda.

If Rwanda (overtly) intervenes in Burundi, it is not clear which side Tanzania — a critical player — would take (especially because of the implications for the stability of eastern DRC). Kigali and Dodoma do not always see eye to eye. In addition, the new Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, is not particularly close to his Kenyan counterpart on account of his closeness to Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga. This may limit the possibility of collective action on Burundi by the EAC’s two leading powers.

And then there is Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni is currently the designated mediator in the Burundian negotiation process. But he is currently preoccupied in his bid to win an nth term in office (who’s counting?) His legitimacy as a mediator is seriously in question on account of his political record back home. Recall that the proximate cause of the current crisis in Burundi was Nkurunziza’s decision to violate term limits. Museveni scrapped term limits in 2005 and has systematically squeezed the Ugandan opposition into submission through heavy handed tactics that are direct violations of human rights.

Sadly for Burundians, the current state of inter-state relations within the EAC is strongly biased against any robust intervention to stop the violence that is increasingly becoming routine. Nkurunziza knows this, and will likely try to make an end run on his perceived political opponents before the wider international community begins to pay closer attention.

Lastly, the other possible interveners — the  UN and the EU — are also not likely to intervene in Burundi any time soon, despite the country’s heavy dependence on foreign aid. Europe is hobbled by the ongoing refugee crisis and the war on ISIS. As for the UN, it increasingly launders its interventions through region or sub-regional IOs (see for example AMISOM in Somalia, under the AU). This kind of strategy requires a willing regional partner, something that is lacking in the case of the EAC (or the AU for that matter).

In the next few weeks there will probably be attempts at mediation and calls for a ceasefire. But my hunch is that things are likely to get much worse in Burundi in the short term.

Stanford Biz School Seed Transformation Program is seeking applicants from East Africa

Do you run an SME? Are you interested in training and mentorship? Then apply for Stanford’s STP.

The Stanford Seed Transformation Program addresses the needs of founders/senior leaders in developing economies who lead growing, small to medium sized enterprises.

The STP curriculum is customized to address the needs of founders and senior leaders of small and medium sized companies who are committed to growing their businesses.

Over a period of six months, you will attend four highly interactive sessions—each lasting one week. Sessions cover tools and methodologies that you will use to grow and transform your business.

For example, you will learn about Design Thinking—an innovative problem-solving approach refined by Stanford faculty and its alumni—that is invaluable for identifying new products and services for your customers.

STP topics include leadership training, strategy, organizational design, business model development, operations, accounting, marketing, finance/investing, value chain innovations, governance, business ethics, and product and service innovations. 

You can apply here.

Some Africanist inside baseball

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The Kenyan Army’s Criminal Racket in Somalia

Quoting from a new report from the Journalists for Justice project:

With the death toll from al-Shabaab attacks inside Kenya rising to over 400, Journalists for Justice felt that the task of examining whether Operation Linda Nchi is actually delivering was overdue. This study looks at the conduct of KDF forces in two areas: 1) sugar smuggling and financial enabling of al-Shabaab and, 2) human rights violations.

This report presents the findings of several months of research in Somalia in Kismayo and Dhobley and inside Kenya in Liboi, Dadaab, Garissa and Nairobi. A desktop review, encompassing UN monitoring reports, academic studies, African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) communication and media reports was followed by one-on-one interviews with over 50 people with intimate knowledge of KDF activities, including serving senior KDF officers, UN officials, western intelligence officials, members of parliament, victims of KDF human rights violations inside Somalia, journalists, doctors, porters at the charcoal stockpiles, drivers on the sugar routes and middlemen in the Dadaab camp.

…. JFJ research suggests that both KDF, the Jubaland administration of Ahmed Madobe and al-Shabaab are all benefitting from shares in a trade that is worth, collectively, between $200 million and $400 million.

More on this here.

For more on the challenges facing Kenya’s security operation in Somalia see here.

On the failure of constitutional engineering in Burundi

Burundi’s post-conflict constitution provides a robust array of formal checks to personal rule. Article 164 mandates a 60-40 Hutu-Tutsi split in National Assembly and 50-50 split in the Senate in order to ensure that the majority Hutu (85%) do not violate the rights of the minority Tutsi (14%). The Batwa (1%) are also guaranteed representation in Parliament through special nomination. Burundi also has a proportional representation (PR) system with a closed list that requires political parties to nominate no more than two thirds of candidates from the same ethnic group. Article 257 of the constitution reinforces the principle of ethnic balance by mandating a 50-50 split in the military. Furthermore, according to Article 300 any amendment to the constitution requires an 80% super-majority in the National Assembly and two thirds of the Senate (this is why Nkurunziza failed in an attempt to amend the constitution in early 2014).

So how did Nkurunziza manage to overcome all these formal institutional checks on his power and engineer a technical third term in office? For answers see here.

Hint: elite consensus on acceptable bounds of political behavior matters a great deal. Looking back, the framers of the Burundian constitution probably should have focused on intra-Hutu balance of power as much as they did on the Hutu-Tutsi balance. Nkurunziza succeeded because not enough Hutu elites (within his own divided party) were willing to punish his blatant contravention of term limits on a questionable technicality. Perhaps they will stand up to him if he tries again in 2020.

How did Nkurunziza manage to stay in power even after a coup?

Ronald Rugero offers an insightful take on the dynamics of intra-elite politics in Burundi:

…… the attempted coup pitted two ideological factions against each other within the ruling party. On one side are the “progressives” represented by Niyombare, the leader of the coup and first Hutu chief of staff in the history of the country. Backed by the West, the progressives blame the current crisis on Nkurunziza’s wanting to seek a third term at all costs, contrary to the Peace Accord of Arusha and the Burundian constitution.

On the other side, the “conservatives” rally behind Nshimirimana, for whom the current crisis goes far beyond a simple difference in the reading of the constitution. A central concern of this faction is the progressives’ close ties with Rwanda, which indirectly accuses Nkurunziza’s government of preparing a genocide similar to that of 1994, utilizing the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Imbonerakure (the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD). The conservatives, and Nkurunziza, are supported by Russia and China.

Many analysts make the mistake of thinking that the departures of CNDD-FDD personalities like the second vice president Gervais Rufyikiri or the President of the National Assembly Pie Ntavohanyuma (both supported by the “progressive” wing) affect the party. As long as the majority of the military establishment, most of whom are unknown to the media, are behind Nkurunziza, the whole party and the Burundian military will support him. In light of nascent rebellions like the one declared last week on the Burundi-Rwanda border, it is unrealistic to imagine that a swift attack could remove the power of Bujumbura and drive out Nkurunziza.

You can read the whole piece here.

Quick thoughts on presidential term limits and the political crisis in Burundi

The president of Burundi is about (or not) to join the list of African leaders who have successfully overcome constitutional term limits in a bid to hang on to power. Currently (based on observed attempts in other African countries and their success rate) the odds are roughly 50-50 that Mr. Pierre Nkurunziza will succeed. The last president to try this move was Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso who ended up getting deposed by the military after mass protests paralyzed Burkina’s major cities.

Successful term limit extensions have so far happened in Burkina Faso (first time), Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, Togo, and Uganda. Presidents have also tried, but failed, to abolish term limits in Burkina Faso (second time), Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia. Countries that are about to go through a term limit test in the near future include Angola, Burundi, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Heads of State in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Sao Tome e Principe, Tanzania, and Namibia (after Nujoma) have so far obeyed term limits and stepped down at the end of their second constitutional terms.

To the best of my knowledge only Sudan, The Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Eritrea have presidential systems without constitutional term limits. Parliamentary systems in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ethiopia, and Botswana do not have limits, although the norm of two terms exists in Botswana and South Africa (and perhaps soon in Ethiopia?).

So what we see in the existing data is that conditional on *overtly* trying to scrap term limits African Heads of State are more likely to succeed than not (9 successes, 6 failures). However, this observation doesn’t tell us anything about the presidents who did not formally consider term limit extensions. For instance, in Kenya (Moi) and Ghana (Rawlings), presidents did not initiate formal debate on the subject but were widely rumored to have tried to do so. So it’s probably the case that presidents who are more likely to succeed self-select into formally initiating public debate on the subject of term limit extension, thereby tilting the balance. And if you factor in the countries that have had more than one episode of term-limited presidents stepping down, suddenly the odds look pretty good for the consolidation of the norm of term limits in Sub Saharan Africa.

I wouldn’t rule out, in the next decade or so, the adoption of an African Union resolution (akin to the one against coups) that sanctions Heads of State who violate constitutional term limits.

So will Nkurunziza succeed? What does this mean for political stability in Burundi? And what can the East African Community and the wider international community do about it? For my thoughts regarding these questions check out my post for the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post here.

Correction: An earlier draft of this post listed Zimbabwe as one of the countries without term limits. The 2013 Constitution limits presidents to two terms (with a minimum of three years counting as full term (see Section 91).

Kenya: Five Things About Al-Shabaab and the Somalia Question

Early Thursday morning militants from the al-Shabaab terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and killed at least 147 students. The second worst terror attack in Kenya’s history lasted 13 hours and was made excruciatingly horrific by the fact that many of the victims remained in communication with their loved ones until the very last moments. Unbearable images of young students laying dead in their own pools of blood in classrooms will forever be etched in Kenyans’ memories. The attack echoed the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack that killed 67 people. After Westgate many Somalia analysts insisted that such daring missions were the kicks of a dying horse, and cited successes by AMISOM and AFRICOM in taking back territory from al-Shabaab and decapitating the organization through drone strikes against it leadership.

Following Garissa, it might be time to reconsider this persistent narrative and overall Somalia policy in the Eastern African region. Here are my thoughts:

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.51.35 AM1. Regional powers do not want a powerful central government in Mogadishu: Since independence several governments in Somalia have espoused a dream of re-uniting all the Somali lands and peoples in eastern Africa (under “Greater Somalia,” see map). That includes parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and more recently the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland. A strong central government in Mogadishu would most certainly revive this old irredentist dream, despite the fact that the irredentist dreams of Somalia’s pre-Barre governments and the costly wars with Ethiopia (and proxy wars with Kenya as well thereafter) were the beginning of the end of stability in Somalia. Nairobi and Addis are acutely aware of this and that is part of the reason Kenya has for years maintained a policy of creating an autonomous buffer region in southern Somalia – Jubaland. The problem, however, is that a weak Mogadishu also means diffused coercive capacity and inability to fight off breakaway clans, militias, and terror groups like al-Shabaab.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Ethiopia and Kenya do not see eye to eye on the question of Jubaland. Addis Ababa is worried that a government in Jubaland dominated by the Ogaden clan could potentially empower the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist Somali insurgent group it has fought in its southeastern Ogaden Region.

2. The African Union and its regional partners do not have a coherent game plan for Somalia: To a large extent, African governments fighting under AMISOM are merely carrying water for Western governments fighting jihadist elements in Somalia. The West pays and provides material and tactical support; and the West calls the shots. Ethiopia and Kenya have some room to maneuver, but overall policy is driven by AFRICOM and the Europeans. The lack of local ownership means that African troops, especially the Kenyan and Ugandan contingents, are in the fight primarily for the money. Kenyan generals are making money selling charcoal and smuggling sugar (the UN estimates that al-Shabaab gets between US $38-56m annually from taxing the charcoal trade). The Ugandans are making money with private security contracts dished out to firms with close ties to Museveni’s brother. Only the Ethiopians appear to have a clear policy, on top of the general international goal of neutralizing al-Shabaab so that they do not attack Western targets.

What kind of settlement does Kenya (and Ethiopia) want to see in Somalia? (See above). What does the West want? What do Somalis want? Are these goals compatible in the long run?

3. The internationalization of the al-Shabaab menace is a problem: Western assistance in fighting al-Shabaab and stabilizing Somalia is obviously a good thing. But it should never have come at the cost of unnecessary internationalization of the conflict. Al-Shabaab has been able to get extra-Somalia assistance partly because it fashions itself as part of the global jihad against the kafir West and their African allies. Internationalization of the conflict has also allowed it to come up with an ideology that has enabled it to somehow overcome Somalia’s infamous clannish fractionalization (although elements of this still persist within the organization). Localizing the conflict would dent the group’s global appeal while at the same time providing opportunities for local solutions, including a non-military settlement. AMISOM and the West cannot simply bomb the group out of existence.

4. Kenya is the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the three key countries engaged in Somalia (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda), Kenya is the least militarized. It is also, perhaps, the least disciplined. According to the UN, Kenyan troops are engaging in illegal activities that are filling the coffers of al-Shabaab militants (charcoal worth at least $250 million was shipped out of Somalia in the last two years). Back home, Nairobi has allowed its Somalia policy to be captured by a section of Somali elites that have other agendas at variance with overall national policy. The Kenya Defense Force (KDF) risks becoming a mere pawn in the clannish struggles that straddle the Kenya-Somalia border. It is high time Nairobi reconsidered its Somalia policy with a view of decoupling it from the sectional fights in Northeastern Province. The first step should be to make the border with Somalia real by fixing customs and border patrol agencies; and by reining in sections of Somali elites who continue to engage in costly fights at the expense of ordinary wananchi. The government should adopt a strict policy of not taking sides in these fights, and strictly enforce this policy at the County level.

5. Kenya will continue to be the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the countries in Somalia Kenya is the only democracy with a government that is nominally accountable to its population and an armed force with a civilian leadership. This means that:

(i) Generals can run rings around State House and its securocrats: Unlike their counterparts in Uganda and Ethiopia, the Kenyan generals do not have incentives to internalize the costs of the war in Somalia. The cost is mostly borne by the civilian leadership. They are therefore likely to suggest policies that primarily benefit the institution of the military, which at times may not be in the best interest of the nation. And the civilian leadership, lacking expertise in military affairs, is likely to defer to the men in uniform. The result is makaa-sukari and other glaring failures.

(ii) Kenyan internal security policies are subject to politicization: With every al-Shabaab attack (so far more than 360 people have been killed) Kenyans have wondered why Ethiopia, which is also in Somalia and has a large Somali population, has remained relatively safe. My guess is that Ethiopia has done better in thwarting attacks because it has a coherent domestic security policy backed by unchecked coercion and surveillance of potential points of al-Shabaab entry among its Somali population.

Now, Kenya should not emulate Ethiopia’s heavy-handed tactics. Instead, focus should be on an honest assessment of how internal security policies in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and elsewhere are playing into the hands of al-Shabaab. What is the best way to secure the “front-line” counties that border Somalia? What is the role of local leaders in ensuring that local cleavages and conflicts are not exploited by al-Shabaab? How should the security sector (Police and KDF) be reformed to align its goals with the national interest? What is the overarching goal of the KDF in Somalia and how long will it take to achieve that goal? How is the government counteracting domestic radicalization and recruitment of young Kenyan men and women by al-Shabaab?

These questions do not have easy answers. But Kenyans must try. The reflexive use of curfews and emergency laws, and the blunt collective victimization of communities suspected to be al-Shabaab sympathizers will not work.

I do not envy President Uhuru Kenyatta: Withdrawing from Somalia will not secure the homeland. Staying the course will likely not yield desired results given the rot in KDF and the internal politics of northeastern Kenya. Reforming the police and overall security apparatus comes with enormous political costs. A recent shake up of security chiefs and rumors of an impending cabinet reshuffle are signs that Kenyatta has realized the enormity of the insecurity situation in the country (and overall government ineffectiveness due to corruption). But will Kenyans be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt? Will the president be able to channel his laudable nationalist instincts in galvanizing the nation in the face of seemingly insurmountable security threats and ever more corrupt government officials?

Meanwhile 2017 is approaching fast, and if the situation doesn’t change Mr. Kenyatta might not be able to shrug off the title of “Goodluck Jonathan of the East.”

For the sake of Kenyan lives and the Jamuhuri, nakutakia kila la heri Bwana Rais.

Rwanda, 20 Years On

Caution: This is not an apology for President Kagame and his autocratic tendencies that have resulted in carnage and death in the DRC, Rwanda and elsewhere.

At a conference last year a US State Department official told a group of us that Rwanda was so polarizing that even at the Consulate in Nairobi the DRC crowd did not get along well with the Rwanda crowd.

It is not surprising why that might have been the case, or why the present analysis on the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide remains polarized.

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If one just looks at the improvements made in advancing human welfare since President Paul Kagame and the RPF took power (see graph, data from the World Bank) it is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that ordinary Rwandese are unambiguously better off. The country is the least corrupt in the region and has also been consistently ranked top in the ease of doing business. But there is also the side of the Kigali government that most reasonable people love to hate: the murderous meddling in the DRC and the oppression and occasional murder of dissidents at home and abroad. Those who admire what President Kagame has done tend to emphasize the former, while his critics tend to emphasize his autocratic tendencies which have made Rwanda the least democratic country in East Africa (see below, data from Polity). Many wonder if the post-1994 achievements are sustainable enough to outlast President Kagame’s rule.

So is Mr. Kagame a state-builder or your run of the mill autocrat whose achievements will vanish as soon as he relinquishes power?

ImageIn my view, I think that Rwanda is the best success story of state-building in Africa in the last 20 years. I also think that this (state-building) should be the paramount consideration for those who care about the Rwandese people and want to help them achieve greater freedoms. The fundamental problem in states like CAR, Sierra Leone or Liberia has never been the insufficiency of democracy. Rather, it has been the problem of statelessness. The contrast between Rwanda and Burundi is instructive (see both graphs, the two are neighbors with similar ethno-political histories. Rwanda has historically had a stronger state, though. See here and here). Despite the latter being the second most democratic state in the region, it has consistently performed the worst on nearly all human development indicators. Part of the reason for this is that Burundi remains a classic papier mache state confined to Bujumbura and its environs.

May be I am too risk averse. But I am scared stiff of anything that could lead to a recurrence of the horrors of the early 1990s stretching from the Mano River region to the Horn. As a result I am always skeptical of activism that takes state capacity (including coercive capacity) for granted.

With this in mind, the fight against autocratic rule in Rwanda should not come at the expense of the state-building achievements of the last 20 years. The international community and those who genuinely care about Rwandese people should be careful not to turn Rwanda into “democratic” Burundi in the name of democracy promotion. Interventions will have to be smart enough to push President Kagame and the ruling elite in the right direction, but without gutting the foundations of political order in Rwanda.

Absent a strong state (even after Kagame), the security dilemmas that occasioned the 1994 “problem from hell” would ineluctably resurface.

Lastly, I think the level of discourse in the “Rwanda Debate” could be enhanced by the extension of the privilege of nuance to the case. For example, if all we focused on were drones killing entire families at weddings in Yemen or the horror that is the South Side of Chicago we would probably get mad enough to ask for regime change in Washington. But we don’t. Because people tolerate the “complications and nuance of American politics.” The same applies to less developed countries. Politics is complicated, everywhere. And those who approach it with priors of good-or-bad dichotomies are bound to arrive at the wrong conclusions. One need not be a Kagame apologist to realize the need for a delicate balance in attempts to effect political change in Kigali.

Before you hit the comment button, notice that this is neither an apology nor an endorsement of autocracy in Rwanda. It is a word of caution regarding the choices outsiders make to accelerate political change in Rwanda.

Tyranny is not the panacea to underdevelopment. But neither is stateless democracy.

For background reading on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda see Samantha Power’s Problems From Hell; Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers; and Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families.