The Saharan Al Qaeda – Cocaine has finally hit the North American domestic news with the much trumpeted arrest by United States agents of three Malians who they allege “the direct link between dangerous terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, and international drug trafficking that fuels their violent activities”.
I have a feeling we’ll be repeatedly discussing these arrests in the future. But at first blush these men are likely not involved in the large scale West African drug trade that has recently been in the papers, nor are they any part of any recognized AQIM groups connected to Algerian militants scattered in the Malian Sahara.
Admittedly we have very little to go on at the moment. Three Malian men, said to be in their mid 30s, were arrested by the US in Ghana, and flown to New York. Here they were disposed before a judge on drug smuggling and terrorism charges. We have the New York Times and wire articles, based entirely on the press release and a copy of the actual deposition provided by the US government. I await the reaction of the Malian press especially.
No end is yet in sight for the Nigerien political crisis, begun when President Tandja Mamadou, facing the end of his term-limited mandate on 22 December, decided to scrap the constitution of the 5th Republic, and grant himself three years grace period in which to create a 6th Republic. The alienation of most of the political class was expected, but the severity of ECOWAS rhetoric was likely not. Niger’s rulers would have expected this to be wrapped up by now, with the previous legal deadline for a new president to pass with a shrug. But the personal interest of current ECOWAS chair Nigeria — Niger’s massive neighbor and largest African trade partner — has meant that President Tandja has been excluded from the body, branded as a coup leader, and placed alongside Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara as a poster child for what’s wrong with West African governance.
And while Blaise Compaore, assigned mediation duties in Guinea, seems intent on finding a way for Dadis to stay in power despite his wholesale slaughter of his own people, Yar’Adua’s government has kept an unusual concentration of pressure on Niamey. [see Niger:Piling on the Pressure for details] Sadly, this has far exceeded any pressure the remarkably unified internal opposition has been able to bring to bear internally.
Should effective ECOWAS pressure escalate as they promise, seconded by sanctions by crucial donors like France, the EU, and the US, Niger’s new 6th Republic can’t carry on indefinitely. Current Chinese projects don’t fill the gap with direct payments. While uranium and oil revenue continue to flood in, too much of that has gone to support a small group of businessmen around Tandja to enable the government to balance the budget with it. Wages will not be paid, loans will not be forthcoming, the military will miss their trips to Fréjus, and there will be trouble.
But if Tandja is toppled or forced to give way in this manner, it will be an inside job by the political and military leadership who aided his new constitutional order.
A hunger strike in Lanzarote is turning into a serious crisis in and between Spain and Morocco. Center stage is occupied by Western Saharan human rights leader and pro-independence activist Aminatou Haidar. This former prisoner-of-conscience, “desaparecido”, and mother of two, has been a major name in Sahrawi politics since May 2005, when a picture of her smashed into a pulp by Moroccan police officers went viral, as the kids say, among Sahrawi activists. The photo of her in her blood-drenched melhfa became, for them, the first iconic image of the Sahrawi independence struggle, waved as both memento of Moroccan cruelty and as a stand-in for the banned flag. To add insult to injury, she was jailed after the abuse, but eventually released after heavy foreign pressure. Displaying a rather remarkable steel in her spine — whatever you think of her politics, there’s no doubting her courage — she’s been charging in a one-woman full frontal assault ever since, campaigning publicly and frequently meeting foreign politicians and the press, in what seems to be a deliberate gamble to raise her profile and make her untouchable. So far, it’s been working all right. She’s been monitored, harassed, made unemployable and had her family placed under perpetual pressure, but the government hasn’t really had the stomach to touch her personally again since HRW and Amnesty aimed their spotlights at her; remember that Morocco’s overarching strategy is to keep the Saharan front as quiet as possible.
At `Aqoul, The Lounsbury has a great post up on an expected takeover of Djezzy, a huge cell phone operator owned by Orascom (an Egyptian firm) which led the telecom revolution in Algeria. A French company has teamed up with two businesses each representing a slice of the Algerian elite: Cevital (local business giant Issad Rebrab’s all-purpose corporation) and Sonatrach (the state oil company, a.k.a. the ATM of the pouvoir) to push out the Egyptians. That’s the sad state of Algeria for you: a giant, violent redistributory machine, moving capital from productive sectors of society to Swiss bank accounts.
Not that I feel much sympathy for Orascom’s owners, crooks as they undoubtedly are too, but it seems to me one more sign that the just-recently moderately promising outlook for Algeria is dimming fast. At this stage, Bouteflika appears to have more or less given up on liberalizing the economy, to leave the country on a positive trajectory. And I think that’s what he will be remembered for: unexpectedly and brilliantly centralizing power, partly through fortifying the rentier state, only to then miss the opportunity to use all that power to transform the country. Sooner or later, the old man will die, and there will be no one (?) there to catch the reins except the officers and their civilian props, all jostling for sole possession — and back we are to square one.
I don’t have time to get into any detail here, or to find comparable up-to-date figures, but I’d just like to throw you a thought that has been with me for a while, which I hope someone more competent may carry further. Here’s what the European Journalism Centre has to say about Algeria’s printed-press landscape:
Algeria has about 50 daily or weekly publications. Most of them circulate 15.000 copies, roughly estimated. Only four newspapers are estimated to boast circulation greater than 50.000 copies: Arabic- language El Khabar (530.000); Le Quotidien d’Oran (140.000-198.000) Liberté (120.000- 150.000) and El-Watan (70.000-90.000) in French.