Wednesday, May 25, 2016


More interesting developments in Gambia (the last time I wrote about Gambia it was on the president declaring the country an Islamic Republic, but without any changes in the constitution).

Gambia has only had two leaders in its history - President Dawda Jawara, who led the country from independence in 1965 until he was overthrown in a coup in 1994, and the man who overthrew him, Commander (now President) Yahya Jammeh.

Jeffry Smith and Maggie Dwyer at the Monkey Cage describe the parallels between the situation leading up to the 1994 coup and today - "an increasingly vocal and inspired political opposition, popular protests demanding change, and armed forces with low morale (including reports that senior officers have refused recent orders). Jammeh also confronts rising international isolation ..." One difference, however, is the security forces - they are larger today, report directly to Jammeh, and engage in repressive action such as "arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture and unlawful killings of government critics and dissidents", enabling Jammeh to repel up to eight coup attempts. However, there are now cracks in the military's senior levels.

One thing political science tells us about militaries in government is that if they are forced to choose between unity in the military and control of the government, they will generally choose unity, leading them to often step down from office when faced with popular protests. 

If the military leadership is split, sustained protests have a fair chance of bringing an end to Jammeh's rule. What would follow is difficult to predict - the outcome from the last leadership change wasn't anticipated.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sierra Leone sees the light

From The Economist:
Until this month, Sierra Leone had not seen a real traffic light in more than 14 years. They were all stolen and sold for scrap during a civil war that lasted, off and on, from 1991 to 2002. During that period rebel armies rampaged through the country, terrorising civilians and sometimes chopping off their hands. Hungry for booty, they grabbed whatever they could carry off, from livestock to diamonds, aid shipments, televisions, cars—and traffic lights.
So Sierra Leone’s first post-war traffic light, which now stands proudly at a busy crossroads in downtown Freetown, is more than just a tool to ease congestion. The president’s spokesman, Abdulai Bayraytay, says it represents “a transformation. ..."

Benin's love affairs with outsiders

Donald Trump is highly unusual in American presidential politics in that he is not a politician (nor a war hero, which is the historically most common exception). 

In Benin, however, outsiders are a regular feature in presidential politics. Claire Adida gives a summary in her post about Benin's election. Apart from Kerekou, who led Africa for almost 20 years before democratization and 8 years after democratization, all of Benin's presidents since democratization have been economists, and now it has a businessman.

The March election was, in Adida's terms, a campaign between Zinsou, "The Wrong Kind of Outsider" (too French), and Talon, "The Ironic Outsider" (Benin's wealthiest man, who made his fortune in part through connections with political insiders).