“coup season”

That’s what FP blogger Elizabeth Dickinson writes in her post “Has anyone else noticed there was just a coup in Niger?“, referring to a recent accretion of military coups in the region. The coup in Niger on Thursday – which resulted in the removal of Nigerien President Tandja from power by the military, the dissolution of political institutions and the installation of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy –  appears “textbook”, according to African politics scholar @texasinafrica. Steve Bloomfield, Monocle’s Nairobi correspondent (btw – what a great job that must be), riffs on this theme with a step-by-step guide to a successful military coup.

These tongue-in-cheek comments reveal an uncomfortable truth about West Africa: there’s a dearth of sound democratic leadership. The region has been experiencing democratic failings, ranging from Nigeria’s Yar’Adua’s disappearance from the political stage; Guinea’s leadership vacuum since the Sept 28th massacre; Laurent Gbagbo’s maneuvering to stall long awaited elections in Cote d’Ivoire; or the ongoing grumblings of bad governance in Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. ECOWAS, the regional organization, continues to be relatively useless in resolving political conflicts: Niger’s leadership has been condemned several times by ECOWAS, the African Union, the US and the rest of the “international community”, but no substantive action was actually ever undertaken by ECOWAS or any other body to resolve the deadlock in that country.

During a summit in Abuja this week, outgoing ECOWAS President Mohammed Ibn Chambas said “the summit should take firm decisions to resolve those problems confronting some countries in the region, so that our region can be fully integrated into the global political, social and economic system.” President Wade of Senegal has been appointed to mediate the crisis – I wonder if he’ll do any better than Blaise Compaore (yet another glowing example of “democratic” leadership in the region) did in his mediation attempts with Guinea. As far as I’m concerned, ECOWAS is not instrumental in resolving political issues in the region. This is unsurprising, given the organization’s lack of “teeth”, or ability to implement any genuine actions beyond sanctions. Niger will likely have to navigate this crisis without much genuine international support.

The coup in Niger, however, seems to be receiving popular backing: the BBC reports that thousands of people have been demonstrating in support of the military’s takeover of power, and celebrating the removal of a president they did not trust. “It’s a hell of a way to resolve political deadlock”, wrote Dickinson. Perhaps Niger could be made into an “example of democracy”, as claimed by the leaders in the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy in the televised statement below:

I’m going to keep an open mind about this one, even though I think there is something fundamentally contradictory about wanting to restore democracy through a military coup. Niger, a uranium exporter, could also easily remain trapped in a cycle of poor governance, with neighboring countries and the rest of the world standing idly by, at a loss for solutions.

Mediation: Fail ?

Since arriving in Liberia, I haven’t been following the news as much as I’d like to – I blame the painfully slow internet, which allows me to do the bare minimum in terms of emails/uploading. Prior to this, however, I had been following the events unfolding in Guinea since the September 28 massacre closely. Skimming through the 1000+ articles on my Google Reader, I was stunned to read the following headline on Bloomberg: “Guinea Mediator Wants Junta to Lead Transition, RFI Reports

Stunned because, since September 28, the international community, the Guinean opposition and essentially every single official and civilian voice outside the ruling military junta has been calling for Captain Dadis Camara to step down, and making his departure from the government a pre-condition for setting up a transitional government and moving towards free elections.

Now, Blaise Compaore, who, as I described in a previous blog post is not exactly a model of democratic leadership, recommends for Dadis to remain in power for an additional 10 months, starting in December; for a prime minister to be appointed from the opposition; and, as sole condition for running in the elections, would-be candidates (including Dadis) must leave the government four months prior.

I just cannot understand why Compaore would make this recommendation? Not only is this way more than Dadis ever hoped for, but it also flies in the face of every single diplomatic effort thus far to have Dadis leave power immediately. The 10 month time frame also seems an unnecessarily drawn out interim period. A spokesperson for Dadis announced yesterday that the junta leader’s candidacy was “not negotiable”, nor would they “discuss the break-up of the CNDD (the junta)“.

That is frankly fascinating: Dadis originally came to power claiming that he would quickly call for free and fair elections, elections in which he would not run. Now, not only has he reneged on these original promises which won him a fair amount of popular support, but he has now completed a complete 180 – and the man supposed to resolve the deadlock between the junta and the opposition is showing signs of partiality towards Dadis. The African Union had an October 17 deadline by which Dadis was supposed to commit – in writing – to not running in a presidential election in Guinea. The AU let the deadline expire, while Dadis was calling for the question to be turned over to the Burkinabese mediation. I don’t want to make unsupported allegations, but it seems that Dadis knew very well what he was doing, putting the fate of his regime in the hands of Compaore…

Francois Grignon, of The International Crisis Group, wrote a piece last week entitled “Guinea: the junta must leave“:

Notwithstanding the international pressure, Dadis Camara’s behavior remains unequivocal. The military junta has denied  any responsibility in the massacre and has refused to release those who were  arrested during the September demonstration. Dadis remains the Head of State despite calls for him to step down and the public administration has been militarized. All but three of 33 prefects have been replaced by military officers since 2008. Pro-junta support groups and youth organizations have been created throughout the country. The situation is particularly worrying in Guinea Forestière, where Camara’s supporters play on the resentment of local communities against Malinkés, Fulanis or Sousou, three ethnic groups that are seen as beneficiaries of previous regimes. Now idle, former militias are ready to take up arms to fight again, adding to the general tension.

The United States, France, the European Union, the African Union and ECOWAS have all imposed sanctions and embargoes on the junta, and have been joining Guinean opposition leaders in calling for Dadis to step down, over and over, since the fateful September day. For example:

The solution to the Guinean crisis is the departure of the military junta” – Mamadou Mouctar Diallo, Nov. 3 (Guinean opposition)

The United States wants you [Dadis] to step aside and we want you to allow the transition that you called for earlier to go forward” – William Fitzgerald, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

While the Guinean opposition initially rejected Compaore’s proposal, declaring it “partial and biased“, they are softening their stance, and have issued a counter proposal, in which they insists that Dadis’ departure is “not negotiable”, and that none of the members of the ruling junta should be allowed to run in the presidential election. More negotiations are scheduled to take place in Ouagadougou this week.

While Compaore noted that his proposals were “merely a preliminary phase of the negotiation“, I still find it astounding that he would put forward recommendations that so clearly refute the consensus expressed by the international community and the Guinean opposition.

I agree with former Guinean Prime Minister Sidya Toure, who said in response to President Compaore’s proposal, that the internationally appointed mediator “needs to try again.”

No compromise?

Ever since the dreadful events of September 28 in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, where at 157 people were killed and dozens of women raped in broad daylight during a pro-democracy political rally, the country’s social and political climate has been increasingly tense. Amid the resignation of three cabinet ministers and a communications advisor, Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara, the head of the military junta who took power in a bloodless coup in December 2008, has been under growing pressure to step down, install a transitional government, and prepare for the free elections he promised the people of Guinea in January 2010.

Yesterday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), imposed an arms embargo on Guinea: “In view of the atrocities that have been committed … the authority decides to impose an arms embargo on Guinea under the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons.” The ECOWAS decision comes a week after the International Contact Group on Guinea (ICG-G), composed of ECOWAS, the African Union, the EU, the UN and the 5 UN Security Council members [note: China has never attended an ICG-G meeting], issued a position statement setting out the list of measures to be taken to allow Guinea to resume her transition process. These measures incorporate many of the recommendations made by the Guinean opposition coalition, the Forces Vives de Guinee, composed of various political parties, unions and civil society groups.

Meanwhile, the African Union today extended an October 17 deadline for Dadis to declare in writing that he would not run in the elections. Dadis did not respect the deadline, and instead asked for the question to be “assigned to the mediation of Burkina Faso.” The African Union is delaying its decision to impose targeted sanctions on Dadis and senior figures of the military regime in order to consult with ECOWAS-appointed mediator Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso.

In spite of all the diplomatic hullabaloo around Guinea, it seems that the international community is choosing not to match action with rhetoric. Admittedly, I’m not in a position to know what would be better than an arms embargo and a travel ban on senior regime officials. Yet, I feel that this is somewhat of a tepid response, particularly given the strong reaction the events in Guinea elicited among foreign governments, international organizations and human rights groups.

Over the course of the last few weeks, Guinea’s military junta has been the object of severe condemnations from various members of the amorphous “international community”. The International Criminal Court is launching a preliminary investigation to determine whether crimes falling under the Court’s jurisdiction were perpetrated. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also just announced an international inquiry, headed by the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Haile Menkerios, into the events of September 28 “with a view to determining the accountability of those involved.”

Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, and State Deparment officials – including Hillary Clinton – have repeatedly called for Dadis to step down, and have adopted a very firm stance…at least rhetorically: Kouchner said this weekend:

“The international community’s message is simple: murderers and rapists must be identified, judged and punished, just like the ones who ordered these acts.”

The U.S. even sent a high-ranking State Department official for direct talks with Dadis. As noted above, regional mediation efforts are also underway – Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso, was dispatched to Conakry in early October to begin a dialogue with Dadis and the opposition.

Recent events in Guinea are clearly showing that the country’s stability is at stake, and, as Nigerian president and chair of ECOWAS Umaru Yar’Adua noted “the instability in Guinea poses a real threat to the peace, security and stability of the region.”

Dadis, who was once hailed as “Obama Junior“, has apparently lost support within the ranks of the junta, as several ministers have resigned over the course of the last week, citing moral concerns as the main reason for their decision to leave the government. To complete this chaotic picture, foreign as well as local journalists have been threatened and rumors of ethnic manipulations have emerged.

Meanwhile, Guinea allegedly signed a mining deal worth $7 billion with a Chinese private company, the Hong Kong based Chinese Investment Fund, which also involves Sonangol, the Angolan oil company. This, of course, happened in the middle of this unfolding crisis, leading analysts to call out China on poor timing and a ruthless appetite for natural resources [note: Guinea is the leading supplier of bauxite and is thought to have at least a third of the world’s known reserves of the mineral, which is used to make aluminium]

Guinea’s future remains uncertain. The breakdown of law and constitutional order does not bode well for the organization of free and fair elections, and I worry that the international community will once again fail to prevent an illegitimate government from taking root. In some sense, particularly with regards to ECOWAS, it feels  a bit like a case of the blind leading the blind. Let’s take a cursory glance at the governance situation in West African countries. President Yar’Adua of Nigeria, who is currently at the head of ECOWAS, is not exactly a model of democratic leadership.

Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso, took power in 1987 through a coup during which his predecessor Thomas Sankara was assassinated. He stood (unopposed) for election in 1991 – and was reelected twice since. He will run again for election next year. Beautiful example of democracy, isn’t it? And while Compaore has garnered the support of the international community, I have doubts whether he’s in any position to advocate for a democratic transition in Guinea, as well as in Cote d’Ivoire, where he is also playing a mediation role.

The arms embargo imposed this past Saturday is, I hope, only the beginning of actual pressure on Dadis. The potential mining deal with the Chinese firm may allow Dadis to isolate himself and his country further – revenues from natural resource extraction have allowed dictators to remain in power in Guinea for the last 5 decades. I find worrying that the African Union let the Oct.17 deadline slip by, and even though Dadis is said to be cooperating with the UN investigation, he is obviously not ready to step down. The fact that he’s even still considering running in the election makes clear that he is not heeding calls from the international community, preferring, instead to string the whole of them along.

Through blogs and news sites, Guineans  have expressed a lot of concern over the current situation in their country, and, in my opinion, the supposed “intense” international pressure is not sufficient. I understand that the principle of sovereignty and non-intervention in a state’s affairs prevails, but really, is an arms embargo – the effectiveness of which depends on the political will to enforce it thoroughly – the most appropriate response at this stage? Are endless strings of UN and ICC investigations that lead nowhere really going to help the situation?

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the current chair of ECOWAS, used unusually strong language to condemn the “arbitrary and irresponsible” use of power by Guinea’s military junta.

At this stage, diplomatic efforts seem formulaic at best and useless at worse.  Dadis clearly is unfit to be leading Guinea, and the international community should be much firmer about having him step down. This is the man who once received a journalist barefoot, in the middle of the night, and then proceeded to harass her, asking her to marry him and saying things like “Dadis loves you! Dadis wants you! You make me crazy, come be with me and I will give you everything.”

Point of View – Rony Brauman

My new life has so far not afforded me quality time for thinking/blogging – I need to refocus my energy! I’ve been reading a lot though, and feel constantly inspired to share thoughts with all (2 or 3) of you – after blogging about the ICC and Bashir’s indictment last week, I read this great piece written by Rony Brauman, who was the head of Doctors Without Borders (as you might know, one of my all time favorite NGOs).

He also happens to be a former professor of mine, whose analysis and vision of the world had a profound impact on me. He is one of those disheveled guys that you would probably not think much of at first glance – but he is an amazing thinker (dare I say philosopher??), and is held in the highest regard by field practicioners who have worked with him.

This piece definitely characterizes his controversial take on most issues – his views are almost always counter-intuitive, but he is extremely convincing. His views on genocide are absolutely worth reading about – if this piece piques your interest, I strongly encourage you to look further into his work (drop me an email if you’d like some recommendations)

Apart from the judicial inflation to which it gives rise, the major problem with this perception of armed conflicts as “genocides” (the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, and undoubtedly more to come) is that it removes them from history and politics, in order to subject them instead to a purely moral judgment. To qualify a war as genocidal is to leave the terrain of politics, of its relations of force, of its compromises and contingencies, in order to situate oneself in some metaphysical beyond in which the only conflict is between Good and Evil: fanatics versus moderates, blood-thirsty hordes versus innocent civilians….

Read the full piece here.

Meanwhile, African Union soldiers are wearing blue plastic bags on their helmets to indicate they now operate under the UN… Boy, do we care about the situation in Darfur or what?? Very unsatisfactory state of affairs – as much as I am a huge supporter of strengthening international law, I am even more a believer in putting your $$ where your mouth is… Which, quite unfortunately, most countries, most leaders fail to do, time and time again.