Burundi: Corruption/Dictatorship 1, Democracy/Freedom 0

Round one is over in Burundi – score:  corruption/dictatorship 1 – democracy/freedom 0

In this guest post, Veronica Crowley (Twitter @veronicacrowle1), a frequent visitor to sub-Saharan Africa for HIV-related work, urges the US to do more to defend democracy in Burundi.

In a potentially deadly turn of events, Pierre Nkurunziza has not only claimed victory in an election deemed fraudulent by the International Community, but declared his inauguration would take place six days early.  This was announced on August 20th and took place later the same day;  six days ahead of the original date of August 26th.  If the International Community allows this to stand, it sends a message that Nkurunziza can violate laws, steal power, and keep the people oppressed, abused and hopeless.

The author, during a visit to Rwanda

The author, during a visit to Rwanda

The United States has no choice now but to act.  We pledged our commitment to democracy in Africa and in John Kerry’s speech, May 2014 he said “We need to make certain that we grab the choice that seizes the future, and we need to refuse to be dragged back into the past”.  Burundi is being dragged into the past by one man and if we do not counteract his actions immediately, other leaders will see it as a green light to do the same.

The United States must solidify a united front with the EAC; the AU; the EU and the UN and publicly call for Nkurunziza to step down and demand that credible elections are held in the presence of observers from the UN, EU and AU to ensure safe and fair treatment for all parties including a candidate, a different candidate, for the CNDD-FDD.  We must be prepared to place sanctions on Nkurunziza and his inner circle if he does not step down immediately.

We have said numerous times “never again” in John Kerry’s own words in his declarative speech in May 2014 “And though we never forget — we never forget — how our first ties were forged in some of the darkest chapters of human history, we still start from a strong foundation.”

We are forgetting and history is repeating itself before our eyes.  The similarities between the Interahamwe youth militia in Rwanda in 1994 and the current youth militia in Burundi, the Imbonerakure, are chilling and cannot be ignored.  Like the Interahamwe in Rwanda, the Imbonerakure enjoys support from the ruling party.  The Imbonerakure is now facing a similar tense situation that is on the brink explosion and they are equip to unleash unimaginable destruction; like the Interahamwe did after the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane in ’94.  The US must work with the UN to disband and disarm the Imbonakure before they unleash more terror.

Let’s never forget now!   Time for round two America!

Follow Veronica Crowley on Twitter by clicking here.

Why We Need to Save Burkina’s Transition

Guest Post By Jean-Baptiste Guiatin
American University

Since its inception, Burkina Faso’s transition has been facing tough challenges, some of which are of its own making. However, the international community should help save it for three reasons. First, supporting the caretaker government will give Burkina a new democratic start, and the youth a new reason to hope. Second, supporting the caretaker government will help maintain Burkina’s stability, thereby facilitating the fight against terrorism. Finally, the international community should support the Burkina transition because it is good for investment and business.

Located at the heart of West Africa, Burkina Faso is a country of 274,200 square kilometers with a Burkina Faso mappopulation of more than 15 million. A former French colony, it gained its independence in the 1960’s along with its neighbors such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Togo, Senegal, and Benin.  As was usual in 1970’s and 1980’s in Africa, it took a turn for a Marxism-Leninism in the mid-1980’s with a group of young military officers led by Captain Thomas Sankara at its helm. In 1987, Sankara lost his life in a coup that brought Blaise Compaore, his right-hand man and second in command, to power. From that moment onwards, Burkina Faso started its long journey to liberalization, both politically and economically. Compaore’s three decade rule with explicit and implicit support from the West came to end in October 2014 when huge demonstrations of young people apparently led by well-organized civil society groups and opposition parties took place in the main cities. The main reason for this protest was Compaore’s willingness to modify the Constitution for a fifth term. A provisional government was quickly put in place to be in charge of the transitional process which should lead to presidential and legislative elections in October 2015. After almost ten months, this provisional government is sailing through troubled waters; its difficulties being so many that observers wonder if it will survive: high social demands, voting of controversial electoral rules, issues of transitional justice, the controversy over the status of Compaore’s presidential guard, rumors of coup attempts. But survive it must because any derailment of this transitional process will no doubt lead to instability and a possible humanitarian crisis at the heart of West Africa, which will be a more fertile terrain for terrorist groups already operating in the region.

First, let us remember that the October protest represents a break from a political system and practice that have outlived their usefulness: a political system marked by patrimonialism, cronyism and inefficiency. It is therefore not surprising that the youth thirsty of change has been the architect of this demand for change. Letting the provisional government boat sink will clearly imply, in the eyes of these young people, that they cannot rely on international system and its political values to have a say in the political chapter of their country, that democratic values daily praised by world leaders in leading newspapers are just empty rhetoric. And this will logically lead them to seek an alternative: getting themselves recruited by terrorist groups or any other kinds of fortune tellers.

In addition, if democracy peace theorists are right, it really makes sense to endorse the transitional process in Burkina Faso because the outcome of the process is no less than installing a political system that, for the first time, stands a big chance of being truly competitive. It cannot be otherwise because the political landscape has changed a lot: there’s a vibrant civil society dialogue of ideas, and political parties have started to compete on a level playing field. This has awakened young people, making them eager to participate in the elections and the political process. If the tide is allowed to turn against this trend, a new kind of authoritarian regime will step in with all the rigged elections, human rights violations that go with it. In his 10 July 2015 speech to the Nation, President Kafando warned of the likelihood of this chaos when he said: “If despite this pressing call, there are some adventurers, driven by evil forces, who would like to create chaos, they will answer for it before the tribunal of History and of course before the international criminal jurisdictions.” This implies more instability, more likelihood of terrorism and therefore less prospect of peace in the region which is already engaged in a political liberalization process, but has to cope with a formidable foe: terrorism.

Finally, democracy in an underdeveloped country is not only good for peace, it is also good for business. Of course, authoritarian regimes such as Compaore’s may first seem robust but in fact they are prone to instability which generally means unrest, upheavals which are very disturbing for business and investments. Newspapers have reported millions of dollars lost during this three day upheaval that led to Compaore’s resignation.  For example, a Canadian-owned mining company called TrueGold stopped operating for months. So allowing competitive democracy to take root is no doubt the only way to robustness and stability of a resource-rich country that lies in a region which is strategically important in terms of the fight against terrorism.

50 profs to Secretary Kerry: Support Peace & Democracy in Burundi

Today I joined more than 50 of my African studies colleagues from the US, Europe, and Africa on a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry about the crisis in Burundi. We collectively “urge the US government to apply all diplomatic and economic pressure to the Burundian government to swiftly and peacefully resolve the crisis.”

Between 1962 and 1993, an estimated quarter of a million people died during a series of conflicts. (See for example, Filip Reyntjens, “Constitution-Making in Situations of Extreme Crisis: The Case of Rwanda and Burundi,” in Journal of African Law, 1996.) The origins of the present crisis reside with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plans to run for a third term in office, in violation of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement that ended a violent civil war. There are a number of excellent articles about the Agreement and its power-sharing mechanisms, including Peter Uvin, “Ethnicity and Power in Burundi and Rwanda,” in Comparative Politics (1999), and “The Internal Dynamics of Power-sharing in Africa,” by Nic Cheeseman, in Democratization (2011).

There has been a rise in violence since a failed coup attempt in Bujumbura on May 13, and the country is at risk of slipping back into larger conflict. The president equated civilian protestors with coup supporters, whom he recently labeled “insurgents.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, independent national media have been destroyed or shut down. As the professors’ letter points out, “This has raised fears among the population of political violence remaining unreported, especially in the interior of the country. Many civil society leaders, media figures, and those former government officials who have spoken out against the third term have either gone into hiding or have fled Burundi due to ongoing threats.”

UNHCR map of refugee flows

UNHCR map of refugee flows

Equally worrisome, says the letter, is that the protest movement itself might radicalize in response to the government repression. The Imbonerakure, the youth movement of the ruling party, have escalated a campaign of intimidation, threatening to anybody who demonstrates against the third term, according to reports from the field. At least 110,000 people have fled Burundi to find refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Not only does this increase the risk of regional instability, it also undermines the ethnic quota system integrated in to the Arusha Accord that has provided the basis for power-sharing. Click here to read the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ strategy.


The plan of action endorsed by the signatories of the letter calls for the US to:

  • continue its firm advocacy against President Nkurunziza’s third term;
  • support the postponement of elections until they can be free and fair;
  • suspend aid to any Burundian military units in violation of the Leahy Law
  • consider appointing a Special Envoy, or ensuring the final appointment of the vacant Great Lakes Envoy position, to work with all parties to mediate a de-escalation of violence and maintenance of the Arusha Accords;
  • consider targeted sanctions against the Burundian government to supplement the political pressure;
  • support and encourage the deployment of the East African Standby Force (EASF) or another body willing to prevent or contain the eruption of mass killings if necessary.

For general background on the crisis, read the International Crisis Group’s May 29 report, “Peace Sacrificed?

The professors hope to meet with Secretary Kerry in the coming weeks to share their concerns and provide updates.  The complete list as of June 16 is below.

Cara E. Jones, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Mary Baldwin College
Katrin Wittig, PhD candidate in Political Science, University of Montreal
Beth Elise Whitaker, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Jessica Piombo, Associate Professor, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School
Kris Inman, Research Faculty, National Intelligence University
Alies Rijper, PhD candidate in International Affairs, Durham University
Stephanie Schwartz, PhD candidate in Political Science, Columbia University
Laura Seay, Assistant Professor of Government, Colby College
Rachel L. Ellett, Associate Professor of Political Science and Mouat Junior Professor of International Studies, Beloit College
Ryan Sheely, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University
Rachel Strohm, PhD student in Political Science, University of California at Berkeley
Amy E. Harth, PhD student in Interdisciplinary Studies, Union Institute & University
Dominika Koter, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Colgate University
Jennifer Brass, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Indiana University
Cameron Wimpy, Researcher, Fors Marsh Group
Lyn S. Graybill, Independent Scholar
Nic Cheeseman, Associate Professor in African Politics, Oxford University
John Clark, Professor of International Relations, Florida International University
Amy Poteete, Associate Professor of Political Science, Concordia University
Adrienne LeBas, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, American University
Anne Pitcher, Professor of African Studies and Political Science, University of Michigan
Warigia Bowman, Assistant Professor, Clinton School of Public Service, University of Arkansas
Justin Schon, PhD Candidate in Political Science, Indiana University Bloomington
James R. Scarritt, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado
Lahra Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science, Georgetown University
Kim Yi Dionne, Five College Assistant Professor of Government, Smith College
Nelson Kasfir, Professor Emeritus of Government, Dartmouth College
David Throup, Professorial Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, and Senior Associate, Africa Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Zoe Marks, Director of the MSc in African Studies Program and Co-Director of the Global Development Academy, University of Edinburgh
Robert Mortimer, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Haverford College
Fredline M’Cormack-Hale, Assistant Professor, School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University
Grant Gordon, PhD candidate in Political Science, Columbia University
Stephen Orvis, Associate Dean of Students for Academics and Professor of Government, Hamilton College
Carl LeVan, Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University
Abangma James Arrey, Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Buea (Cameroon)
Lisa Ann Richey, Professor of International Development Studies, Roskilde University
Fodei J. Batty, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Quinnipiac University
Majuta Mamogale, PhD candidate, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand
Timothy Longman, African Studies Center Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Boston University
Milli Lake, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University
Ashley Leinweber, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Missouri State University
Barbara Lewis, Professor Emerita of Political Sciences, Rutgers University- New Brunswick
Megan Hershey, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Whitworth University
Hannah Britton, Associate Professor of Political Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas
Karen Ferree, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California at San Diego
Keisha Haywood, Program Coordinator, Institute for Developing Nations, Emory University
Jacqueline Klopp, Associate Research Scholar, Center for Sustainable Urban Development, Columbia University
Henry Kam Kah, Faculty Member, Department of History, University of Buea (Cameroon)
Guy Grossman, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Mamoudou Gazibo, Chair of the African Politics Conference Group and Professor of Political Science, University of Montreal
John Heilbrunn, Associate Professor of International Studies, The Colorado School of Mines
Michael Byron Nelson, Assistant Professor of Government, Wesleyan University
Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Peter E. Haas Faculty Co-Director of the Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University
Midjèou T. Beranger Avohoueme, Consultant for the World Bank (Benin)
Lydia Apori Nkansah, Head of Department of Commercial Law, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana)
Arka Abota, Lecturer, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia)
Devra C. Moehler, Assistant Professor, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Bruce A. Magnusson, Chair of Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Politics, Whitman College

Now Buhari’s Real Challenge in Nigeria Begins

Note: I participated in the National Democratic Institute’s Election Observation Mission, but the views contained here are strictly my own. Click here to read NDI’s preliminary report.

In a few weeks, Nigeria will swear in Muhammadu Buhari as president. The defeat of Africa’s largest political party, the People’s Democratic Party, will bring the All Progressives Congress (APC) into power after barely two years of organizing, mobilizing and coalition building. Buhari will enter office with a strong mandate from the voters, having won four out of the country’s six geopolitical zones, and the APC will enjoy a comfortable majority in the Senate. Though a northern Muslim from Katsina, his support included the predominantly Yoruba southwest, where President Goodluck Jonathan recent delivered bags of cash to traditional rulers according to news reports and where the militant Odudwa Peoples’ Congress launched a wave of thuggery in recent weeks. Even before the results were announced, voters in the north reacted with jubilation, and militant groups including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta began surreptitiously re-arming in the creeks of the south. Sources I met with over the weekend in Rivers State say they have seen caches of weapons in camps backed by militants such Ateke Tom and others.

Unsealed ballot boxes I saw in Rivers State on Saturday. In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation centers. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.

Unsealed ballot boxes I saw in Rivers State on Saturday. In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation centers. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.

Buhari has a mandate, and his most urgent challenge is to neither misinterpret nor abuse it. According to an Afrobarometer poll released 23 March, 40% of Nigerians say the president “should be allowed to govern freely without wasting time to justify expenses,” and 25% say the president should “pass laws without worrying about what the National Assembly thinks.” 68% are “not very” or “not at all” satisfied with the way democracy is working.

The last time Nigeria elected a former dictator, Obasano in 1999, he spent his first term battling the National Assembly and quelling violence in the region that largely voted against him. But he also began building institutions, and establishing trust with his skeptics. The last time Nigerians had Buhari at the helm, the jubilation quickly gave way to frustration, repression, and economic failure. I detail the episode in my book, Dictators and Democracy in African Development: the Political Economy of Good Governance in Africa.

With the Mandate Comes a Tough Mission

Buhari’s “honeymoon” will therefore be critical, and probably even shorter lived than his memories of 1984. He will need to do more than make grand rhetorical gestures to democracy; he’ll need to practice it and educate his own supporters about the advantages of the justice and fairness it offers, even where the cost may be the kind of efficiency the Afrobarometer respondents appear to be longing for. How could Buhari repair bridges and capitalize on this fleeting moment of opportunity?

(1) Go south – this would send a valuable message to northerners that he is everyone’s president. This trip could also include a clear transition plan or policy for the status of the ongoing amnesty program for the Niger Delta militants, who need reassurance that they do not need an Ijaw president in order to have “resource control” taken seriously, or to have environmental cleanup and developmental needs addressed. The sooner and more clearly they hear this message, the less likely will be the the re-ignition of the Delta rebellions.

Voter queuing up in Rivers State on Saturday

Voter queuing up in Rivers State on Saturday

This is also important because in a country partly divided along religious lines between north and south, Afrobarometer reports that trust in religious leaders at 29% is higher than the National Assembly, governors, local governments, or even traditional rulers (16%). International observation missions and civil society groups repeatedly expressed concern about the new and dangerous religious discourse in the 2015 campaign; Christian Igbos in the east (who overwhelmingly rejected the APC) and minorities in the south need to know they can trust Buhari, and he needs their cooperation to govern peacefully and practically.

(2) “Reset” national security strategy – this may include replacing key members of the national security establishment. While some continuity may help preserve institutionalized knowledge, particularly with regard to the recent “surge” against Boko haram, the mishandling of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping reduced confidence in the national security team, and the pressure applied to the electoral commission prior to the election delay has contributed to the perception that some soldiers and many advisers are partisan.

Additional steps could include establishing a new, civilian liaison unit with victims and IDPs with adequate resources and an accountable mechanism for receiving private voluntary donations from around the world. During the campaign, Buhari also pledged strong commitment to women; he could live up to that quickly by committing new resources to the generation of girls (and boys) — hundreds of thousands — who are displaced and not in school because of the insurgency.

Boko Harm has been displaced (hence the recent attacks in Gombe State) but not defeated. This means a credible counter-insurgency strategy is needed, including (a) sustained high-level interactions with the multinational coalition partners, and a repairing of bridges to the US, UK, and other allies with a stake in Nigeria’s peaceful prosperity; (b) permitting increased access to the region by the foreign and domestic press; (c) the termination of any agreements with private security contractors working in the northeast; (d) a serious commitment to non-military components to encourage defection of Boko Haram and to re-build the northeast.

When Obasanjo arrived in 1999, he embarked on a massive military reshuffling and retirement campaign. IF such steps are deemed necessary to restore confidence in the military, they could be linked to corruption investigations and human rights accountability. Security sector reform is a sleeping giant of the 2015 campaign.

Why was Rivers State such a hot battleground in the 2015 elections?

Read my paper prepared for the Western Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting, April 2.


(3) Visit the United States and the United Kingdom as soon as practicable – In both countries, Buhari will be greeted by a diaspora that was frustrated with the PDP, but that needs reassurance he will listen to their concerns as Nigerians, especially where southerners in the diaspora have had the loudest voices. This will be important in the US, where leadership in Congress has interpreted Boko Haram as a war against Christians, rather than a complex insurgency with many different victims and deep historical and socio-economic roots. Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted.

(4) Wake up the somnambulant EFCC – Anti-corruption investigations helped get Nigeria’s economy back on track during Obasanjo’s tenure and raised confidence in politicians and institutions. What have the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission been up to lately? Nobody knows. Under competent leadership with sufficient resources, a high profile and clear independence, foreign investors would be reassured and citizens would disassociate Buhari’s War on Indiscipline (in 1983-84) from his commitment to clean, democratic politics.

(5) Pick a credible, competent and diverse economic team – In early 2014, the government of Nigeria (along with the World Bank and others) highlighted trends in economic diversification. The near crisis triggered by the decline in oil prices since then suggests either these claims were overstated or much more work needs to be done. Buhari could reform the refinery and oil importation mechanisms, commit to publishing all of the federal governments revenue transfers to subnational units each month (like it used to), and pick a combination of experts from academia, the private sector, and the bureaucracy to get the economy back on track. A few obvious steps would go a long way: Reaffirm the independence of the Central Bank (whose governor was replaced last year), stabilize the currency, and consult the National Assembly about budget plans and fiscal crises.

The rest is up to the Nigerian people, who spoke on March 28. Voting was just the beginning.

More to come.

Displacement and Demolitions in Abuja

The aftermath of demolitions near Idu, outside Abuja (March 2010)

The aftermath of demolitions near Idu, outside Abuja (March 2010)

Government demolitions have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory since the early 2000s. While this is neither unusual in Nigeria nor in Africa more generally, Abuja is the fastest growing city in West Africa and its unusual property laws and the potential for  unrest warrant greater scholarly attention. In  “I am Here Until Development Comes: Displacement, Demolitions and Property Rights in Urbanising Abuja,” published in African Affairs (July 2014), anthropologist Josiah Olubowale and I argue that this housing insecurity is not simply the result of urbanization, population growth, or wealth disparities. We attribute it instead to a property rights

A picture I took of Abuja in 2000, from atop the high hill next to the city gate. Most of these areas are now developed.

A picture I took of Abuja in 2000, from atop the high hill next to the city gate. Most of these areas are now developed.

regime that perpetuates discrimination by providing special land rights for the area’s early inhabitants. We also show how, as indigenes have been short-changed by policies to relocate and compensate them, their interests have aligned more closely with migrants seeking improved housing security. By pursuing the shared goal of housing rights for migrants and indigenes alike, new coalitions — both within particular slums and across them — have helped defuse tensions that could otherwise be conducive to conflict.

Organizations working for housing rights in Abuja’s slums include: Women Environmental Programme, the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre, and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions.

We describe the origins of Abuja in the post-civil war policies of Nigeria’s military regimes, which sought to both integrate the nation and insulate the government from popular pressure centered in the coastal city of Lagos. Next, we integrate research from urban studies with literature on civil society, property rights, and civil conflict. This multi-faceted perspective sheds light on the persistence of a seemingly inefficient (and arguably unjust) land law, and demonstrates why the cooperation we documented runs counter to common expectations in social conflict research. We then describe how various governments adopted policies that generate incentives for indigenes to refuse resettlement, and to profit from

A property in Lugba, Abuja, marked for demolition by the Federal Capital Development Authority in 2012.

Property in Lugbe, marked for demolition by the Federal Capital Development Authority in 2012.

migrants. What can residents do to protect their rights? We describe residents’ strategic repertoire for responding to housing demolitions and the rise of new housing rights networks based on an alignment of interests between indigenes and migrants. Tenants and many indigenous landlords have come to share a common narrative of victimhood stemming from Abuja’s housing laws. We conclude that insecure tenancy gives Abuja’s poor no incentive to improve properties and note with concern the role of large estate developers. In the words of indigenous activists, ‘When development comes’ it brings displacement and disempowerment.