ACAS Review (Bulletin)



Western Sahara and the United States’ geographical imaginings

By | June 2010

Recently, US official commentary has heightened in pitch with allegations linking its imagined ‘al-Qaeda’ in the Sahara to Western Sahara’s Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), accompanied by the interminable drip-drip of Moroccan official propaganda to bolster its autonomy plan and, under international law, illegal claims to territorial sovereignty of Western Sahara. As an anthropologist researching the western region of the Sahara, these problematic discourses raise personal reservations and analytical questions.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85
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Counterterrorism and democracy promotion in the Sahel under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from September 11, 2001, to the Nigerien Coup of February 2010

By | June 2010

This article sets US responses to recent events in Niger, Mauritania, and Mali in the context of changing conversations among policymakers concerning terrorism in the Sahel. After a discussion of how attitudes and policies toward counterterrorism in Africa shifted from 2001 to 2009, a second section discusses recent political events in Mauritania and Niger before examining kidnappings and other terrorist incidents in Mauritania and the Mali-Niger borderlands. I ask why US policymakers reacted differently to events in 2009 and early 2010 than they might have had the same events occurred in the 2001-2005 period. President Obama and other administration representatives state that Africa is a top US priority and stress the importance of effective governance on the continent. Yet the evolution of counterterrorist rhetoric and policy signals that the United States is retreating from an agenda that seeks to transform political systems, and is instead advancing a program of long-term military involvement in areas, such as the Sahel, where perceived US security interests are at stake.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85
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War on ‘terror’: Africom, the kleptocratic state and under-class militancy in West Africa-Nigeria

By | June 2010

The US, EU and Chinese compete to control strategic resources (oil, bauxite, uranium, subterranean water) in the Sahara, Sahel and proximate semi-arid zones as northern Nigeria, home of the young suicide bomber who failed to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 252 over Detroit in December 2009. US-NATO commands in Stuttgart and Brussels prosecute the ‘War on Terror’ to securitize ‘dangerous’ West African Muslim states (and quietly manoeuvre leases to exploit resources vital to US and EU capital accumulation). The principal cause of growing youth militancy mobilising around ethnicity and Islamic reformism is the ruling class’s failure to ‘share’ the ‘dividends of democracy’ — e.g. rental incomes from ‘traditional’ community owned strategic resources as oil, gas, gold, bauxite, uranium, water — according to subaltern clients’ expectations. So the under-class experiences as ‘bad’ the ‘democratic’ West African State’s governance. Failed expectations are reflected in some radical elements’ readiness to sacrifice their lives in fighting the war machine — sheer force — of the repressive State. ‘Bad’ governance is the consequence not of corruption but of clientelism, that is informal political relations greased by money between patrons/‘big men’ and clients/‘small boys’; this largely illegal system of power and patronage generates venality and violence, but not as yet real terrorism (Obi 2006). Ironically, Islamic militants (northern Nigeria) and ethnic sovereignty movements (southern Nigeria, northern Niger, northern Mali) drawing on subaltern discontent share with international donors the same objective of securing ‘good’ (i.e. just, efficient, clean) governance, though under-class devout Muslim youth define good governance not in donors’ secular terms but in regard to Quranic precepts. The US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) and international aid practitioners target corruption as the cause of ‘dangerous’ under-development; they strengthen security agencies and hand out anti-corruption funds that the ruling classes mis-appropriate. The militarization of ‘development’ will succeed only, as elsewhere (e.g., Afghanistan), in nourishing the growth of real terrorism among, for example, Nigeria’s estimated 40-60 million largely unemployed youth and ethnic minorities. A more peaceful strategy than US reliance on resource control by force is ECOWAS community capacity building. Subaltern classes could be empowered to strengthen management of traditional resources and land in strategic locations developed as hubs of sustainable economic growth and justice reform at the magistrate, native court, and Shari‘a court levels. Improvements in the local economy, governance and justice delivery as part of planned institution building for socially inclusive growth with equity could diminish subaltern discontent and encourage currently disempowered majorities to challenge peacefully the kleptocratic State’s reliance on force to ‘resolve’ political conflicts with and among citizens.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85
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Introduction: Securitizing the Sahara

By | June 2010

Since 2002, the US government has been pursuing a series of counter-terrorism initiatives in Northwest Africa’s Sahara-Sahel region. These measures began with the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), to ‘assist Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad in protecting their borders, thus supporting the U.S. national security interests of waging war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security’. In 2005, the United States reformulated the PSI into the half-billion dollar Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI), ‘designed to provide a regional response to terrorism by offering a balanced program of military assistance, intel[ligence] sharing, democratization and good governance support, and humanitarian aid’. The TSCTI also expanded the scope of participation, bringing Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia into the project. The 2010 budget request for the re-branded Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) was $80.3 million. In the brave new world after 11 September 2001, this is small beans for a US development-security outlay; it represents just two percent of the 2010 development budget for Afghanistan (the State Department’s side of the civil-military counter-insurgency effort) or what the Pentagon plans to spend on Iraq and Afghanistan every six hours in 2010. The TSCTP is described in US government documents as ‘a multi-faceted, multi-year strategy aimed at defeating terrorist organizations by strengthening regional counter-terrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region’s security forces, promoting democratic governance, discrediting terrorist ideology, and reinforcing bilateral military ties with the United States’. Apparently the TSCTP has been so successful that its ‘best practices’ have also been adapted to the East Africa Regional Strategic Initiative, a similar counter-terrorism program focusing on the Horn. Despite this commitment from the US government to the Sahara-Sahel, there is no consensus among policy makers, observers, regional governments and locals on-the-ground as to the ultimate rationale for these security initiatives.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85
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From GSPC to AQIM: The evolution of an Algerian islamist terrorist group into an Al-Qa‘ida Affiliate and its implications for the Sahara-Sahel region

By | June 2010

Al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Algeria’s largest and most active Islamist terrorist organization, was formerly known as the Groupe salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, and usually referred to by its French acronym (GSPC, Salafist Group for Call/Preaching and Combat). It began in the late 1990s as a splinter faction of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), then fighting a bloody insurgency against the Algerian military government with the goal of establishing an Islamic state. GSPC/AQIM eclipsed its predecessor and remains active not only in Algeria but also in the neighboring Sahelian states. Best known for its raids and bombings against Algerian military bases and convoys, the group has also perpetrated kidnappings of European tourists and terrorist attacks in Mauritania and Mali. It has likewise been linked to planned strikes in Europe, as well as to smuggling and human trafficking across the vast Sahara. This article will examine the transformation of the GSPC, whose stated goal was the overthrow of Algeria’s long-ruling secular nationalist government, into AQIM, a participant in the global jihad allegedly committed to the destruction of the “Far Enemy.”

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85
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The Western Sahara conflict: regional and international repercussions

By | June 2010

The lack of resolution of the Western Sahara conflict boils down to two main points: the conflicting positions of Morocco and Western Saharan nationalists, on the one hand, and geopolitical considerations, on the other hand. These geopolitical interests have been the main impediment to the resolution of the conflict because they strengthened the obstinate position of Morocco, which argues, thanks to external support, that it will only negotiate on the basis of ‘autonomy’ within Moroccan sovereignty. This proposal currently enjoys the implicit consent of France, the United States, and Spain, regardless of UN resolutions that refute any preconditions for the current negotiations.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85
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Review: Zunami! The 2009 South African Elections Edited by Roger Southall and John Daniel

By | November 2009

The first part of the title of this book is a play on a statement made by Zwelinzima Vavi, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary, in 2005. At the time Vavi had said that any attempt to stop Zuma, then the ANC’s deputy president as he was preparing a challenge to Thabo Mbeki’s leadership, would be like ‘… trying to fight against the big wave of a tsunami’. The editors of this volume suggest that the most recent general election in South Africa, April 2009, was mainly a referendum on Jacob Zuma. Though a number of other developments were also interesting — a decline in national support for the ANC with the exception of KwaZulu-Natal (it lost 5-10% of its vote share in eight of the nine provinces), the emergence of the new opposition party, the Congress of the People (COPE), among others— events around Zuma since 2005 dominated these elections.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 84
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Jacob Zuma’s Robben Island legacy

By | November 2009

Three of the first four South African presidents — Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and now Jacob Zuma — were incarcerated on Robben Island for substantial periods of time. (Govan Mbeki, the father of the fourth and longest-serving president to date, Thabo Mbeki, served 23 years in the island prison.) Moreover, Zuma told Motlanthe about Robben Island long before the Motlanthe’s own imprisonment, in a sense preparing the younger man for what might — and did — await him.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 84
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Tradition’s desire: The politics of culture in the rape trial of Jacob Zuma

By | November 2009

In April 2006, African National Congress (ANC) president and one-time South African deputy president Jacob Zuma appeared in court to defend himself against a charge of rape. When called to the stand and asked to recall the events of 2 November 2005, Zuma chose to deliver his testimony in his Zulu mother tongue. This was his constitutional right, the right of an accused individual to defend himself in any one of South Africa’s eleven official languages. Yet Zuma’s linguistic choice was laden with political meaning and opportunity. Speaking isiZulu within a court that had thus far proceeded in English highlighted his membership to a particular cultural group and invoked his well-established reputation as a ‘man of tradition’. Furthermore, it drew attention to the courtroom also as a specific (as well as adversarial) cultural space, with Anglophone traditions, European legal origins and an Afrikaans-speaking judge who used Latin legal phrasings in his ruling. In the context of a nation with a deeply racist history, including decades of state-sponsored ethnic management and subjugation, Zuma’s linguistic medium was part of a powerful message: that this trial was also about the politics of culture.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 84
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Jacob Zuma and the evanescent legacy of nineteenth-century Zulu cosmopolitanism and nationalism

By | November 2009

‘Cosmopolitan’ is not exactly a word that comes to mind when describing South African society — both contemporary and historical. Yet, if we take the word ‘cosmopolitan’ as implying an embrace of the globe; an unbounded vision of humanity; then South Africa has been in the embrace of the world for quite some time. Whether one is thinking of Adamastor — the Grecian-inspired mythological character invented by the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões in his epic poem Os Lusíadas (first printed in 1572) — or the indentured labourers (Indian and Chinese) who were transported to South Africa in the 1860s and early 1900, South Africa has been in the world’s line of vision for centuries and a destination for many. What has complicated South Africa’s ‘cosmopolitan’ history is its racialisation: the history of apartheid is in some way a history of the denial of the hybridity and indeterminancy created by the forced and voluntary migrations and presence of innumerable cultural influences. The search for purity — a core value of the Afrikaner Nationalists of the 1930s — was a symptom of this fear of ‘otherness’. The ascendancy of Jacob Zuma to the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) and his inauguration as South Africa’s fourth democratically-elected president has once again forced South Africans to reconsider what they understand to be the cosmopolitan values of the society. ‘Cosmpolitanism’ should not be confused with that other perennial debate in South Africa, namely, the ‘Rainbow nationalism’ debate.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 84
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