Wednesday, May 2, 2018 

The Insiders' Newsletter #8

Buhari visits Trump, South Sudan Peace Deal postponed and the next female African president

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What everyone is talking about:

Why Buhari likes Trump

Buhari and Trump meeting with their delegations and aides in the White House. Trump's people clearly left it to the Nigerians to provide diversity.

President Muhammadu Buhari became the first leader from sub-Saharan Africa to be received by Donald Trump in the White House, more than 15 months after the US president’s inauguration. Trump has in the past labelled African nations as "shithole" countries, included several of them in various travel ban orders, called Namibia "Nambia" during a meeting with African leaders, and has been openly critical of development aid and migration from Africa. With Nigerians being the largest African migrant community in the US and Nigeria one of the largest recipient of US aid in Africa, the visit of Buhari, a Muslim, was anticipated with great interest.

As all things related to Trump, the visit had its share of absurd, amusing and telling moments. It was notable that the only women present at a high-level meeting were from Nigeria’s delegation, while it was interesting that it was Buhari rather than Trump that emphasised the commitment of both countries to "a democratic model of governance”. Trump instead focused his remarks on his pet topic of "fair" trade relations and the killing of Christians in Nigeria.

From what we know about actual discussions on the working level, Buhari's visit focussed on three issues: securing greater US assistance and investment, especially in agriculture; demanding greater support in recovering Nigerian funds that left the country through corruption; and cooperation in fighting Boko Haram.

Buhari took pragmatic approach, refusing to get baited into criticising the US president for his past gaffes. At least on military cooperation this tactic has shown positive results, with Trump greenlighting a $500m arms deal that includes several Super Tucano aircraft that have long been on the military’s wish list.

From Nigeria’s perspective, Trump's presidency is likely much less of a problem than it is for many others. With considerable opportunities for US exports, Nigeria can take advantage of Trump's bilateral approach to trade negotiations. Meanwhile, security assistance to African countries has intensified, not least because human rights are of little concern to this US administration. Buhari, it seems, has come to the conclusion that Trump may not be a terribly knowledgable or cordial partner, but one that he can work with.

Compiled by @PeterDoerrie

Photo credits: @BashirAhmaad


What we are talking about:

What’s gonna happen in South Sudan?

Pity the negotiators scrambling to coordinate South Sudan's peace talks.

Negotiations to end the four-year conflict, overseen by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), are on the brink of collapse again. This follows the government’s growing intransigence. President Salva Kiir has rejected calls to step down as part of a settlement, while his administration is threatening to move forward with elections despite warnings from virtually every international body that they would have no legitimacy and only entrench the opposition.

Meanwhile, that opposition continues to grow, making the task of wrangling all the different demands ever more difficult. Kiir's former army chief of staff is the latest to join opposition ranks, announcing the formation of a new party last month. The developments were too much for IGAD negotiators, who are postponing negotiations scheduled to start later this month.

IGAD’s latest efforts were already drawing some concern for bringing little new to the table. Negotiators seem intent on brokering a power-sharing arrangement despite the earlier failure of a similar effort. And that's when there were fewer parties involved.

As talks falter, the situation in South Sudan deteriorates. No one is even able to count the civilian dead, though at least two million people are internally displaced and another two million have fled the country. The Red Cross brokered the release of ten aid workers kidnapped by an armed opposition group earlier this week, but three others were killed. At least 100 humanitarians have now been killed since the conflict started.

At this point, it will likely take pressure from regional leaders to get the talks back on track. Kiir’s administration has shown relatively little concern for criticism from – and sanctions by – Western powers or the UN. But neighboring leaders helped mediate a previous deal and continue to have influence over Kiir. If he will listen to anyone, it is likely to be them.

Compiled by @_andrew_green


Hear this Word!

Africa’s next female president: where & when?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been awarded a $5 million prize for excellence in African leadership and said she will use it to establish a centre for women’s empowerment. Sirleaf, 79, stepped down as president of Liberia early this year after two terms in office.

This episode prompted debate of when and where Africa’s next female president would be elected. Since Ameenah Gurib-Fakim resigned from the presidency in Mauritius, Africa has had no female head of state or government.

Nanjala Nyabola@Nanjala1

We are trying to think of the next African country that will have a female leader. We estimate it will take at least 20 years. Can you think of a country that might get there faster?

April 27, 2018
So who might be next?

Namibia is a possibility. According to Africa Confidential, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, foreign minister and vice president of the ruling party, is “perfectly positioned to become the next head of state at the end of President Hage Geingob's second term in 2025, or earlier, should his health fail.” (Geingob is 76; three years ago his personal physician declared he was the “healthiest 47-year-old” he had ever seen.)

Malawi is another contender. Former president Joyce Banda returned to Malawi this weekend after a four-year self-imposed exile. She lad left Malawi in 2014 after losing an election to current president Peter Mutharika, in the wake of the so-called Cashgate corruption scandal. Local media have reported a possible deal between Mutharika and Banda ahead of next year's elections.

Beyond that, it is difficult to see other clear possibilities. Africa currently has four women deputy or vice presidents: Tanzania (Samia Suluhu), The Gambia (Fatoumata Tambajang), Liberia (Jewel Taylor) and Zambia (Inonge Wina); in theory they are second-in-command in their respective countries. But in terms of actual political power, the picture is very different. In much of Africa, women tend to get stuck in the “deputy” role; there is now broader consensus for women in leadership, but party machinery in most countries is not willing to propose a woman for the top job. And even when women do ascend to leadership, it tends to be in an appointed role.

Sirleaf’s 2006 election as Africa’s first female president provides some clues on the context that breaks barriers for women. One of them is conflict. Societies that have gone through the devastation of war are often more willing to experiment with the more stereotypically peaceful and less militaristic approach associated with female leadership.

One hopes it will not take conflict though for Africa to see its next female leader.

  • More on the unusual circumstances and synergistic forces that produce women in top political leadership roles in Africa, by @cobbo3

  • A 2015 list of the some of the many women who have tried - and failed - for president in Africa; some of the names are familiar, many more are not

Compiled by @chris_mungai

"Hear this Word" is named in admiration of "Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True", a play by Ifeoma Fafunwa, and highlights women's voices on African affairs.


Chart of the week:

Africa’s best and brightest are often host countries’ best and brightest too

Source: Quartz Africa

This is not a terribly new insight: In contrast to populist rhetoric, migrants to industrialised nations, including from African countries, tend to be well educated and skilled. But a Pew Research study found some interesting discrepancies between Western host countries. Key takeaways:

  • Host countries with relatively open migration policies like America’s diversity visa programme or ties based on colonial relationships like the UK, France and Portugal correlate with a highly skilled African migrant population.

  • Highly-educated native populations correlate with highly-educated immigrant populations from Africa.

  • Pew theorises that this is due to the fact that in countries with a long histories of African migration and well-educated native populations both attract higher-skilled migrants and offer more opportunities for them to attain higher education

This echoes a study from Germany, where immigrants are more likely to study at a university than natives. But there are also some blind spots to Pew's data: namely the situation of illegal migrants and how migrants and natives without a college degree compare to each other in terms of education or skills.

Overall, studies like these should encourage policymakers to spend less time on populist anti-migration rhetoric, and more effort on structuring migration and integration policies to benefit all. Unfortunately, win-win politics continues to be an underappreciated sport in these times.

Compiled by @PeterDoerrie


Tweet of the week:

The sounds of religion

Quartz Africa@qzafrica

•Lagos closed churches for excessive noise.
•Kigali banned mosques from using loudspeakers.
•Accra wants mosques to use WhatsApp to call members to prayers:

How religion is clashing with efforts to tackle noise pollution in Africa. https://t.co/8tJhW5b0PO - @qzafrica

April 25, 2018
Many African cities have amazing and sometimes overwhelming soundscapes. Religion (or to be more exact: religious congregations) contributes significantly to this and not always in a pleasant way. So it is encouraging to see that noise pollution is getting attention from politicians and it will be interesting to see how they manage inevitable resistance to change.

Compiled by @PeterDoerrie


End matter:

What else you should be reading

This week's editorial team: @PeterDoerrie, @chris_mungai, @_andrew_green, @jamesjwan