A Point of Departure, or a Setback?

By Professor Abdu Mukhtar (Sudan)

We – in the Third World – used to view the USA as a ‘model’ for a relatively ideal state for all nations yearning for a state of law and equal citizens. However, the recent brutal killing of George Floyd by a white policeman that triggered violent protests, along with previous several similar incidents over years, indicates that the practice might be growing into a pattern of anti-black/racist behavior that might jeopardize America as a coherent society and a stable state.

The critical point here is that what has aggravated the psychological impact on the black all over the world is the imprudent attitude of president D. Trump. Instead of feeling stigmatized and express sympathy with the victim, he turned out to talk of the use of force to crush the demonstrations.

The author visiting Freedom House during his 2019 visit to Washington, DC

Nonetheless, it is good that many white Americans have participated in the anti-racist protests. This signalizes that Americans seem to converge over their ‘melting-pot’. However, as the President represents the American nation, he is the symbol of America. But by his racist stance, he harms this symbolism. By killing a black citizen, the white policeman is killing the values of America and distorts the image of its civilization.

Thus, one may argue that America is no longer that ‘ideal’! It has for a long time symbolizes the cradle of liberal democracy, freedom, justice and equality.

Another point is constitutional or related to the legal system.  Having no death penalty encourages committing murder crimes easily particularly in a country where there is an easy access to weapons. This legal shortcoming should be tackled to maintain security.

Speaking at American University’s School of International Service in 2019, at an event hosted by the Africa Research Cluster

Finally, this ‘official’ white crime against a black citizen raises a question of the future of America’s harmony of its diverse nationalities/identities that has been holding America together over two hundred years. This also challenges some US scholars who believe that “… the United States of America constitute the one dramatic exception to the pattern of ethnic harmony” – as Howard Handelman (emeritus of politics) maintains. Hence, the US scientists have to check these postulates.

Abdu Musa is the author of 9 books, notably Darfur: from a Crisis of a State to Super Power Clashes (400 pp, in Arabic). Doha: Aljazeera Centre for Studies. He received his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at University of Khartoum.

Racism is a Pure Act of Barbarism

by M.J. Mamogale, PhD (South Africa)

The recent #blacklivesmatter demonstrations in the US against racism following the brutal death of George Floyd in the hands of white police demonstrate lack of leadership to deal with racism, not only in the US but other parts of the world. Racism by white Americans is worse because we, Africans, consider America the most civilised nation in the world. America abolished slavery and introduced democratic constitution promoting civil liberties for everyone irrespective of race, gender, etc. Unfortunately, with the continuous activities of racism in the US, the pretty image of America being the most civilised nation in the world is gone. Floyd’s brutal murder by white police is not the first case of racism in America. Many black lives have been lost in the past through acts of racism in the USA. The American President seems to not give a damn about daily inhuman treatment or even death of African-Americans in the hands of police. It is so sad that even now some white folks not only in the US, but other parts of the world still find it very hard to coexist with black race. Is it a curse to be black? How long will racism against blacks last? I am saying to America criminalise racism. Impose harsh sentences on those who practice racism.

True leadership would stand up without being pushed and strongly condemn the unjustifiable use of force/violence by police officers against civilians. The deployment of unidentifiable military personnel to deal with peaceful demonstrations (united in their diversity) against racism by Trump is unacceptable and it is tantamount to abuse of executive authority. The military should be kept above partisan politics. I believe Americans — both black and white — will reject brutal acts of racism and deployment of the army, and hold accountable those who make a mockery of the USA Constitution. President Trump cannot be allowed to behave as if he is above the country constitution.

Dr. Mamogale wrote a chapter on state-level politics in South Africa for the book, African State Governance (2015)


Kenya’s response to the Coronavirus has been mixed (like America’s). It imposed restrictions early, but then over-zealously enforced curfew rules, and some returning expatriates were corralled into quarantine until they paid bribes. Kenya’s pastoralists from the Maasai ethnic group, who are often isolated or underrepresented in politics, have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Fresh water to wash hands, from a MAGSA project during the 2020 pandemic

Maasai Good Salvage Outreach, known as MAGSA, is thus making an urgent appeal. Every year MAGSA raises money from speaking tours in the United States and other efforts. My school, American University, has hosted Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko (and friends) ten times since 2007, inspiring dozens of my students to study Africa and practice solidarity in new ways. Students in the School of International Service have raised money for water cisterns, the construction of community libraries, and to pay teacher salaries. MAGSA’s inability to travel this year thus gravely compounded the effects of COVID-19 in their area of the Rift Valley. Pastoralists often lack face masks and hand sanitizer – in addition to the usual challenges of seasonal drought and encroachment on their land by development.

Chief Joseph, me, environmental activist John Parsitau, and Prof. Clarence Lusane in 2013

Since the government suspended education in March, the National Human Rights Commission estimates that a quarter of all Kenyans who are typically enrolled in schools are not engaged in any home learning. Not only does this put children in danger of falling behind, it increases the risk of violence for many children, especially girls. With MAGSA’s success negotiating girls out of child marriage arrangements and getting them into school, these issues are all to familiar to Chief Joseph’s community.

That is why I want you to join me in making a donation via this Go Fund Me set up by one of his many friends in the U.S. Any size donation helps – and will go DIRECTLY to the Maasai people in the Ngong Hills. Thanks!

Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko in one of his community's libraries, built with donations.
Chief Joseph in one of his libraries, supported by American University students in 2011

The “Last” Dictator of Sudan Has Been Toppled

The Sudanese People are fighting for Emancipation
Guest post by Professor Abdu Mukhtar Musa
Political Science Department, Islamic University of Omdurman, Khartoum

For his thirty years in power, Sudan’s General Al-Beshir has ruled by military force and cracked down on his people. On June 30, 1989 the then Brigadier Omer Hassan Al-Behsir, toppled a democratically elected government of Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi. Supported by the Muslim brothers, led by the late Hassan Abdallah Al-Turabi, General Al-Beshir deposed all those who are not Muslim brothers. This purge included the civil service as well as all regular forces – particularly all members of security, besides the top-ranking officers of the army and police. In addition to this he created his own militias. Over time, members of the Islamic Movement controlled all institutions, including civil service, the regular armed forces and financial institutions. They excluded all other segments in the state – even those who are not partisans.

Protest in prayer, outside the military headquarters, April 19, 2019

Thus, a “deep state” was being built, paralleled by Al-Turabi’s hosting of many elements of radical Islam – notably Osama Bin Laden. This was manipulated by the Muslim brothers, who are widely known as the Islamic Movement. Later on they hid behind the only political party, the National Congress, when all other parties were banned throughout the first decade of its reign.

Since December 19, 2018, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and some other 25 towns of the 18 states of the country demanding the termination of Al-Beshir’s 30-yeare militarized Islamic rule. Tens of demonstrators were killed by the security forces and hundreds were injured. Some of the killers are said to be Armed Forces, in civil suits and veiled, affiliated to the Islamic Movement (led by the late Alturabi) – described as ‘militias’.

On April 6, trade unions – mainly the federation of the professionals – called upon the people to join the protesters to be million in number – to start a sit-in at the headquarters of the Sudanese army in Khartoum. The date coincides with the commemoration of April 6, 1985 when a popular uprising succeeded – with a support from the army – in terminating a 16-year military rule by Generl G.M. Numairi. A prompt response brought the number to more than what was expected reflecting how far is the dramatic decline of Al-Beshir’s popularity – taking into account the fact that the regime’s militias uses firearms to disburse the demonstrations. This also proves how fud up the Sudanese people are with the president’s continual pledges of reforms and economic recovery while living a reality of increasing corruption and no accountability. Social media frequently published news about the huge wealth being accumulated by Al-Beshir’s family and relatives. Such allegations were proven when – after being toppled by some army officers on April 11, the military intelligence – under emergency laws – found more than $112 million in Al-Beshir’s house after he was taken to the central prison of Kober (Khartoum north).

Al Beshir’s Islamist military regime has cracked down on the people whose country is very rich in natural resources and has significant deposits of minerals – notably gold. Despite this Sudanese people have been suffering very much from low standard of living, poor infrastructures, spiral inflation (scored three digits), indebtedness, poor services and 46% of the population below poverty line. The sole reason for this is mismanagement, corruption, crises and civil wars is wrong and rash policy of the Militant/Islamist regime of Al Beshir.

Mismanagement could be categorized into three aspects or dimensions: (1) mismanagement of resources; (2) mismanagement of ethnic diversity; and (3) mismanagement of foreign relations.

The first type of mismanagement is a product of two factors: (A) exclusion of the competent elements from the state machinery or the bureaucracy in general and replacing them with the members of the Islamic movement – the majority of them lack the appropriate qualifications and expertise. This has led to deterioration in the public service and services in general. Many developmental projects broke down. Agriculture and industry (factories) have been damaged. This immediately impacted exports and reversed the balance of trade to acute deficit. Consequently, imports exceeding exports resulted in a dramatic deterioration in the Sudanese currency, the pound, from SDG 12 against $1 when this regime assumed power in 1989 to 90,000 by late 2018. (B) The government embarked on loans from abroad. But projects are given to incompetent companies as schemes are not subject to open tenders but rather secretly allocated to definite companies because officials take big money in terms of ‘commissions’. So the loss is double – money goes to corruption and projects allocated to those incompetent companies failed. In one of the most productive states (Al-Jazira) about more than 300 factories stopped production and sacked the workers and staff.

The government’s mismanaged diversity existed on several levels. Apart from deposing elements in civil service, security, police and the army at all ranks – who are not prone (or Islamist) – exclusion also took place in ethnic basis. Elites in marginalized areas proved willing allies in mutinies, and this led to more spending in defense and security at the expense of the general spending for wages and services. In effect, this means the government has been fighting in multiple fronts: The South (which seceded in 2011), Darfur, South Korfoan, and the Blue Nile region. Most areas are not treated on equal terms. This has triggered racial discrimination, tribal conflicts along with the armed rebel movements who sought support from regional and international forces – escalating conflicts and internationalizing the crisis.

Third and finally, with respect to mismanagement of foreign affairs, the militant Islamic regime has had a bad image in the international community since its advent. It adopted radical Islamic slogans and cultivated itself as a safe haven for extremism and terrorism. Under Al-Turabi, one of the main figures of political Islam, the regime harboured many extremists and hardliners such as Osama Bin-Laden, Hamas, and Carlos (later on jailed in France). A failed attempt to assassinate the ex-president of Egypt, M. H. Mubarak, and the embrace of anti-Western slogans resulted in regional and international isolation and sanctions. This has aggravated the already war-ridden economy of a country sucked by greed and corrupt elite. Moreover, sanctions have directly impacted the vital projects which constitute the nerve of the Sudan’s economy including Al-Jazira, the largest agricultural scheme, which was established by the colonial British administration in Sudan with an area of 2.2 million feddans along with dams in 1925. Other sectors of the economy damaged by the sanctions and Al-Beshir’s mismanagement include: the Sudanese airlines (among the first to be established in Africa), Sudan railways, Sudanese Sea transport line, and Nile Transport Company. Some projects were stopped due to lack of spare parts from the Western states, while others suffered from mismanagement and corruption.

Protesters completely rejected the presidency of General Ibn-Oaf after only one day in office, a newly formed transitional military council, led by General Abdulfattah Al-Burhan, is now waiting for civil associations to submit their candidates for a civilian cabinet to run the state for a two-year transitional period. A thoroughly demilitarized transitional regime has been the core demand of people who have maintained a sit-in at military headquarters in Khartoum for over two weeks. They are also asking for the arrest of all members of the former regime, and filing suit of corruption as well as of killing civilians over the last four months of protests (December 19, 2018 – April 11, 2019).

Queries & Questions from Nigerians on “Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror”

During my visit to Nigeria during the 2019 elections, I gave three presentations on my new book about Nigeria’s 2015 elections, Contemporary Nigerian Politics: Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror. I encountered the most rigorous, interesting and challenging set of questions I have ever faced from public audiences. To get a sense of the discourse, watch the video of my presentation at Nextier SPD consulting in Abuja.

Here is a sampling of some of the questions. I hope my answers here clarify and elaborate on my previous answers, and contribute to the formation of a new research agenda on electoral politics in Africa. My apologies for any abbreviations or potential misrepresentations; please comment to continue the dialogue. For those of you considering the book for course adoption, this list can serve as a resource for developing your lectures.

  • I am not convinced that you demonstrate that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) engaged in “coup proofing” after the 1999 transition.

The concept of “coup proofing” is used by Jonathan Powell in his article, “Determinants of the Attempting and Outcomes of Coups d’etat.” It refers to the idea that reassuring the military is an important part of many regime transitions. This is important to my study since I write about “pacts” – explicit, though not necessarily formalized, elite agreements that shape the boundaries and rules of governance.

The case against coup proofing might note President Obasanjo’s firings and forced retirings in 1999-2001. This would suggest that the new civilian regime was reigning in the military. As a former war hero and military dictator, Obasanjo had unique credibility with the military and thus some political latitude.

However, Chapter 2 documents how the incoming PDP, as part of a “dual policy” toward the military, also gave the generals important reassurances. This included neglect of important, huge corruption cases, a weak truth and reconciliation committee (whose top pick was apparently assassinated), the promotion – rather than prosecution – of high level individuals implicated in abuses, and an increase in the military budget from about $790 million dollars in 1998 to over 2.2 billion dollars in 2002. Furthermore, Obasanjo promoted nearly 900 officers just weeks before his second oath of office. Taken together, these actions provide a good basis for coup proofing. It worked…but it imposed costs on democracy, which I explore in Chapter 6.

  • Why didn’t you look at party manifestoes? How important is a candidate’s personality?

Party manifestos can provide information about party ideas. There’s some good new research on manifestoes in Nigeria, including Political Parties and Democracy in Nigeria, edited by Olu Obafemi, Samuel, Egwu, Okechukwu Ibeanu, and Jibrin Ibrahim (Kuru: National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, 2014.) It generally suggests that the manifestos don’t amount to much. By documenting what the parties actually talked about in 2015 in chapter 3, I think we get a better sense of how they set their priorities. And since there is a high level of conformity across the elites within each party in the coded responses, we have a decent basis to believe they coordinated their messages. Plus, that’s basically what several state party leaders and activists told me in interviews. Regarding personalities, a charismatic candidate obviously has advantages, but it’s also likely that a good party structure can help compensate for a candidate lacking such strong appeal.

  • There are too many unheard voices in politics. Should Nigeria have a proportional representation (PR) system?

2019 turned into a surprisingly bad election year for women, and I can see something like PR perhaps helping a women’s party into the National Assembly. However, it is also quite likely that it would produce a Shiite party, and a Biafra party, and….you get the idea. Moreover, it is difficult to have PR with a presidential system because the executive has to cobble together a coalition across parties for every legislative initiative; we know this from comparative research on Latin America, for example. To fix that, you could have a parliamentary system. Nigeria tried that with the First Republic, and it didn’t go so well. A trend after the collapse of the Soviet Union was for some countries to have it both ways, with some legislators chosen through PR and others based on geography. That might be something to consider.

Meeting with the Paramount Ruler of Uyo, February 2019.
  • You have a very narrow western view of the state. You reference ideology, but ideology is a function of material conditions.

I can appreciate that there were alternative modes of governance in Africa. Nonso Obikili has a good chapter on state building in my new co-edited Oxford Handbook of Nigerian Politics, which describes some of those histories and their linkages to modern Nigeria.  Katherine Baldwin’s recent book convincingly shows that traditional rulers remain very politically relevant in Africa; the old state models are still around. But scholars such as Jeffrey Herbst (2000) argue that African leaders explicitly bought in to the modern, Weberian state and the Berlin Conference borders when they got together and formed the predecessor to the African Union. When the Nigerian military tries to reclaim local governments taken by Boko Haram, it is asserting control over space and people in ways consistent with a “western” notion of a state.

It is also interesting to consider the variety of sources of ideology, which is quite often not a function of material conditions. Salafism comes to mind (see Alex Thurston’s recent book), as does the rise of “post-materialism” in developed countries. This latter idea, explored in the work of Pippa Norris and Robert Inglehart, shows that once people reach a certain level of material well-being, they are much more likely to care about the environment, secularism, and other issues. Different ideologies are then based on demographics and other characteristics.

  • What is your theory of the demographic shift? You suggest that it contributed to the decline of the PDP, but you don’t really show that.

It’s part of the story of the decline of the PDP told in Chapter 2: Nigeria has a young population with one of the highest growth rates in the world, but the average age in the House and Senate increased with each successive election since 1999. It’s one data point that makes sense alongside other factors, such as the suffocated ambition that contributed to the massive wave of party defections in 2014. I hope that it is an invitation to new research on “slow moving” variables such as inter-generational change in Nigeria. I did meet with YIAGA and youth groups as part of my research. But I can’t say we have much of a theory yet about demographic age gaps and their broader political impacts yet.

  •  Didn’t PDP lose in 2015 because of ethnicity, because they ran a southern candidate?

Maybe. That’s the obvious counter-factual, and it is a compelling one since President Jonathan was a southern Christian and many northerners felt it was their “turn” to rule. But I’m not sure that the hypothetical northern candidate would have had broad appeal across the south, which would have been necessary to win. It’s also somewhat encouraging to look at the map of states in Chapter 5 which shows the distribution of states where the candidate got at least 25 percent. Finally, it is interesting that the survey data shows that 14 percent of Muslims voted for Jonathan – and that there are more Christians in the north than anecdotal knowledge suggests.

  • Your content analysis ignores informal campaign structures.

Not exactly. The coding of campaign comments by party elites covers a broad range of topics, which are then aggregated into five main issues. If party elites were not talking about issues at all, I did not to code the comment; the methodology is explained in the book. Two things are important: first, after dropping these comments, the PDP had less media coverage compared the APC. Second, the PDP lost in 2015. So the informal campaign strategies – attending funerals and weddings, or ranting about colonialism in the opinion pages – were not very effective for the PDP. They would have been better off talking about reducing gender disparities in school enrollment or highlighting recent economic diversification.

  • Your content analysis is not accurate because it does not include local radio or social media.

This has come up a lot. I did a content analysis in 2010 (in Africa Today) that included radio and print, so it is possible. But when you are talking about a presidential campaign, it is reasonable to assume that when the candidate makes a comment, that comment is quoted across different mediums. This would not be the case if we were talking about a lower profile person. Nor does my analysis necessarily exclude local issues, such as coded local language meant to appeal to a region. For example, Jonathan might go to the Niger Delta, the oil producing region, and say “resource control.” But because we talking about a national campaign, those comments become smaller data points in the overall picture because the goal is to win a national office: the presidency.

Finally, I think 2,390 articles from three different newspapers produced a representative sample of the campaign content.

  • Would this analysis of campaigns hold at the state level?

Probably not, and that would be a great project. Michelle Kuenzi and Gina Lambright did a rigorous and unique study of gubernatorial rhetoric in the 2007 elections. Governors have to talk about different things to get elected, and after 20 year of democracy, we still know little about their actual linkages to the center. The topic is ripe for research. I would start with a good empirical analysis of coattail effects to see how running on the same ticket as the president affects the governor’s likelihood of winning. But even that would be hard because of “split ticket” voting in Nigeria, where a voter votes for one party for governor and another for president. This was common in 2003.

  • What does your analysis tell us about which kinds of communication are actually effective? How would your research design differ if the book was about 2019?

Evaluating effectiveness of different rhetoric techniques would probably require some sort of additional “discourse” analysis. The brief discussion of #BringBackOurGirls in the book suggests that the PDP’s rhetoric and messaging were both ineffective and counterproductive.

I do show in Chapter 3 that the parties systematically talked about different things. The statistical analysis in Chapter 4 then shows that the party that got more votes across states – the APC – actually emphasized those same clusters of issues: the economy, corruption, and electoral integrity.

A study of the 2019 elections would require a rather different research design. I would likely want to look at social media’s “amplification effects” rather than the content of campaigns. And maybe how different sources of news shaped voter preferences differently.

Voting in Lagos, 2019
  • Illiterate people tend to vote on ethnicity or religion. Their understanding of politics is simple and issues don’t really matter to them.

From the slums of Port-au-Prince to the forests of Adamawa State, that has not been my experience. Poor people may operate on different “information shortcuts” and they might use simple language. But they often have relatively sophisticated ideas about politics.

Chapters 4 and 5 show that lower income people overwhelmingly voted for Buhari in 2015, as did people with more negative perceptions of economic performance over the previous year. This is consistent with a study that I did with Matthew Page and Yoonbin Ha, published in Review of African Political Economy, using slightly different data.

The big question in Nigeria is where the new middle class stands, and what it is willing to tolerate from the current political class.

  • What about “group think”? It seems to be a missing link in your causal story.

Great point. With regard to the tests on insecurity, I do draw from social psychology research and ideas of “affective intelligence theory,” which suggests that traumatic incidents create a heightened sense of political awareness or scrutiny. (We might observe these effects, for example, with increased voter turnout or incumbent vulnerability.) This is less explicit with regard to the hypotheses examining economic voting, but given the winning candidates’ consistent messaging, group think of some kind is a reasonable idea.

  • How did the two major parties in 2015 approach gender differently?

It’s hard to say without going back and re-reading what they said, with that question in mind. My main point for now is that it is an unclaimed issue. I believe a coherent party agenda around women’s issue priorities, and the recruitment of more women mainstreamed into the party, can help that party win. Neither party in 2015 understood this, and PDP made a mistake by not sufficiently emphasizing the progress Jonathan’s administration made in girls’ education and several other gender indicators.

Looking to the future, I would also hope to see research about how Internally Displaced Persons are likely to disrupt conservative social structures in the northeast. There are millions of women and girls who have now practiced leadership through the necessity of survival, often without the usual patriarchical structures around. What will they do with these skills and expectations once the war is over? Research by Hilary Matfess raises important questions along these lines.

  • You assume that the Independent National Electoral Commission was transparent. I disagree.

I do not think INEC was or is sufficiently transparent. The law requires all the electoral results to be published down to the polling unit level. Where are they? And why haven’t the donors (or civil society) made post-election information management a higher priority for technical assistance?

I do discuss two important things: in Chapter 3, I show that the APC promised better and more transparent primaries, and it campaigned on electoral integrity more than the PDP. Other scholars such as Darren Kew had already noted this; I provide some additional empirical evidence. Second, in Chapter 5, using a statistically sampled nationwide survey, I show that PDP supporters were less skeptical of INEC. The APC’s skepticism corresponded with its promises for electoral integrity.

  • Can there be a “third force” in politics? Does Nigeria need one?

It’s hard to imagine an independent candidacy or a third party being successful for the foreseeable future. The two largest parties got 95 percent of the vote in 2015, and this is the culmination of a long trend in that direction. I know many people in Nigeria support independent candidates. But who would be viable? A really, really rich person. I also think the constitutional requirement to have a presence across the states is a good one, and hard requirement for an independent candidate to meet.

I think popular movements such as #BringBackOurGirls or campaigns like #NotTooYoungtoRun are the building blocks of reforms. If such movements can build real momentum, with a nationwide presence and the ability to make vertically integrated decisions with a grassroots base, I can see them pushing their way into a party and shaping it. But they also have to identify new winning issues.

  • I am running for president in 2023. Does populism win?

It does for now. But as we have seen in Venezuela, and as we will soon see in the United States, it is hard to sustain. Don’t formulate your platform yet.

The question and answer session at Nextier Abuja, during the book launch for “Contemporary Nigerian Politics: Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror”