Should the CAR fold up shop?

This is the argument Louisa Lombard, an Anthropologist doing fieldwork in the Central African Republic, toys with. And she makes some very good points: the state there helps no one outside Bangui: “Life expectancy in CAR drops by six months…

CAR: Coup, or election, foiled by government?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Image by Getty Images via Daylife"]KABO, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC - DECEMBER 17: ...[/caption]

The French press initially reported midday Sunday (14 March, local time) that the Central African Republic government had foiled plans for a coup attempt, set to take place between the 15th and the 20th. No one does coups quite like Bangui, usually with the French government pulling the strings: they’ve had a lot of practice. Jules Bernard Ouanda, the Minister of National Security and Public Order, recorded an announcement for Radio Centrafrique, passed on to the press, and since confirmed.

Ouanda claims that on Friday, the government of President François Bozizé obtained a “Plan of Action” made by the coup plotters, whom they refused to name, but described as “several political and military figures.” Ouanda red from a detailed plan: a “special form” dated March 8, subtitled “Preparations for coup from the period from March 15 to 20.” The government notations on the plan describe it as (according to a brief glimpse by reporters) “hatched by elements KAMIKAZE commandos, mercenaries, militias and expatriates in the pay of former President Ange-Félix PATASSE” Ouanda repeatedly refused to name names, but did read a portion of the “plan” that included orders to “reinforcement elements in the home of AFP.”

Reporters also spoke with former President Ange-Félix Patassé who in his thirty years of political leadership has been more than once a coup plotter, like current President Bozizé who ousted the President Patassé on 15 March 2003. Patassé told reporters “I phoned the minister. He told me that it was not me” who was blamed for the coup plan. He added that he expected it still might be an attempt to “eliminate” him from the scheduled 12 and 23 April two round Presidential elections.

Another such rival, Charles Massi was a Minister under both Patassé and Bozizé, in 2008 left political life to become the respectable front on the northeastern CPJP. When I first saw report in the CAR expat press and on the CPJP website around Xmas saying he was “kidnapped in Chad and turned over to the CAR”, I assumed this was infighting or overreaction. I was wrong. Sometime around January 9, Massi was tortured to death by the CAR government in Bossembele prison, a fact which the government admitted last month.

Lord preserve the CAR from political leaders, near and far. It brings to mind a Brecht poem a friend of mind often repeats:

Empires collapse.
Gang leaders Are strutting about like statesmen. The peoples
Can no longer be seen under all these armaments.

See Also: Centrafrique: When a neocolony collapses (17 December 2009)

Niger: Communities at odds in the north

I’ve warned that, given the poor harvests and pastures, we can expect many incidents of communal and ethnic tension across the Sahel this year. The end of the formal insurgencies in both Niger and Mali last year also leaves a residue of unemployed armed men and grudges between communities.

One example of these risks is reported in Agadez‘s “Aïr Info journal” n°108 dated this week. On page 5 is the story of an attack by armed youth from Tchi-n-Tiguit (“Tchitintagatte”, about 50km south of Arlit, coincidentally in the middle of the new AREVA Imouraren mining concession) on their neighbors at Sekkiret (“Sikirat”, about 30km west of the famous Dabous Giraffe carvings).

Earlier this week, armed young men arrived at Sekkiret, firing in the air and chasing women and children out of their homes, but left before anyone was hurt. Sekkiret youths having returned home to frightened families, set off for revenge. The paper reports it was only the intervention of two former ministers (one from each community) and the local chieftaincy which ensured security forces were quickly dispatched to calm the situation.

The cause: Sekkiret youths had reputedly harassed Tchi-n-Tiguit two years ago during the insurgency. There is no indication here of ethnicity, but that history, and the name Tchi-n-Tiguit, suggests a community of Tamasheq speakers some Tuareg caste, subgroup, or related community). Some towns in the area – like Ingall – are populated by Songhai speakers, dating back to the time when they were outposts of the Malian and Songhay Empires. Others are made up of former Tamasheq bonded communities who still bear grudges against some higher caste communities. These groups are normally peacefully intermixed, along with other groups, tribes, caste communities, and Tuareg confederations. But in times of stress, as we’ve seen from Sarajevo to Jos, people do find enemies even among neighbors.

Aïr Info concludes: “The inhabitants of these villages, brothers since time immemorial, have now become two blocs that risk, if we do not take care, of turning on each other! The state must quickly find a solution to this problem which has already gone on too long!”

Niger: Who’s in and out in the Regions?

As I noted on the 10th of March, the CSRD junta in Niger has replaced all the civilian Region Governors with military men to administer local affairs during the transition. We now have the full list, and while I for one hate to see any military governing, a careful look at the men (all men) coming and going in Niger’s Regions gives us an opportunity to examine what’s going on behind the scenes, and what it augurs for the future.

More …

Niger: A notorious baron tries to woo the junta

Zakou Djibo, or "Zakaï" as he is known, reappeared this week like a bad penny. Zakaï, a Zarma businessman and political funder, was at the center of the 2006 "MEBA Affair" that brought down PM Hama Amadou, along with the equally shady Himadou Hamani of "Sirignéré". Zakaï had been a powerful force under the later Baré Maïnassara regime, but reoriented after the 1999 coup, returning to earlier support he had given to Hama and the MNSD. He reappeared again last year as an influential "Tazartché" supporter of the Tandja power grab.

This week he was identified as under investigation, following an arms shipment coming into the country under his name (probably from before the coup). Now are reports he had a "offering" of several 4x4s to the new CSRD junta returned, with the suggestion he sell them to pay the back taxes he owes.

While a class maneuvre by the Army, one can't but think that power always corrupts in Nigerien politics, and when it does, Zakaï will be back!