Apr 18 2014

Predictable Causes and Prospects of the Current Political Crisis in South Sudan

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Samson Wassara examines the historical roots of the current political instability in South Sudan.

The political crisis of 15 December 2013 is the tip of an iceberg that remains to be dealt with in the immediate future or over a relatively longer period of time. The causes of the crisis are rooted in historical legacies of the long civil war that seemed to have ended with the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005. However, the cosmetic reconciliation between the SPLM/A leading to the signing of the CPA did not heal the wounds of the 1991 rift. Origins but not causes of the current crisis can be traced back to that event. But causes of the current crisis are associated with the past. What is significant is the indifference of third parties, both national and international, which contributed to the outbreak of untold violence in Juba that is spreading rapidly in the Greater Upper Nile region.


A truck of SPLA soldiers drive in Juba on 21 December Credit: Reuters/Stringer

The Issue

In the first place, the failure of institutionalization of the political system and disregard for the rules of the game are the immediate foundational causes of the crisis. The Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) was established on a weak foundation. The establishment of institutions was based on ethnic aggregation and personality cults. The political system entrenched institutionalized mistrust where political leaders had more faith in ethnic protégées than in national institutions enshrined in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (TCRSS). Established institutions were highly politicized without taking due note of rules and regulations governing them. Conversely, where there were such rules and regulations they were relegated to the margins of the modus operandi. These structures were inherited by the government of South Sudan at independence on 9 July 2011. Further, little attention was paid to national reconciliation. Political leaders missed the opportunity to promote post-conflict peace building among people and institutions after the unity of South Sudan demonstrated during the Referendum vote of January 2011. Continue reading

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Apr 17 2014

Book Review: The Force of Obedience: The Political Economy of Repression in Tunisia by Béatrice Hibou

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Matthew Partridge reviews The Force of Obedience, a book on the corruption and corporatism at work in Tunisia, and how the rhetoric of “modernisation” has in some cases been used to justify policies that have increased the power of the state.

The Force of Obedience: The Political Economy of Repression in Tunisia. Béatrice Hibou. Polity. June 2011.

In 2008, a U.S. State Department official sent a dispiriting cable back to Washington D.C. entitled “Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours is Mine”. It began, “According to Transparency International’s annual survey and Embassy contacts’ observations, corruption in Tunisia is getting worse. Whether it is cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumoured to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants”. However, according to Béatrice Hibou’s The Force of Obedience: The Political Economy of Repression in Tunisia, this institutionalised theft was not just a consequence of Ali’s dictatorship, but was one of the many means by which he used economic controls to ensure political dominance.


In particular, Hibou argues that this “corruption” did not just extend to the bribes and expropriation that other students of Tunisian politics have focused on, but also encompassed a wide-ranging series of discretionary interventions that enabled the regime to set up what she describes as a “policing state”. Under this system the rule of law was replaced with “a whole series of micro-decisions which foster the meshing of logics characteristic of Tunisian modes of government” and “make the control and individual surveillance of everyone possible”. Continue reading

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Apr 16 2014

Monday, bloody Monday in Nigeria

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Boko Haram has been waging a campaign of terror in northern Nigeria for some time. In the aftermath of the bus station explosions in Abuja, Saratu Abiola explains the impact of this attack.

Yesterday morning, my colleague got into his car to begin the hour-long commute from Nyanya to our office in downtown Abuja. Ten minutes into the drive out of his estate, he heard a loud explosion about 150 metres from where he was. At the sound of the explosion, he and other drivers slammed their brakes and almost veered off the road. His ears were ringing. The loud boom echoed in his head like a bell. Soon, the screams started. Then, people were running, scattering really, the usual purposefulness of ordinary Nigerians trying to make a living suddenly unrecognisable. The earth beneath him seemed to be shaking, and his entire body was shaking in tandem. The screaming mass of people had now blocked the road. From where he was, he could not yet see blood or destruction or destroyed buses or the crater that marked the spot where the bomb had hit. He clambered out of his car, then did what everyone else was doing: he ran towards the bus park ahead. He joined the early morning commuters as witnesses. He joined them in their despair.

Burnt out vehicles at the scene of the Nyanya bus station explosions in Abuja Photo: Reuters

Burnt out vehicles at the scene of the Nyanya bus station explosions in Abuja Photo: Reuters

“You know how busy Nyanya is in the mornings, especially Monday,” John told us when he finally made it to work an hour and a half later. It was 9.30am. “Can you imagine all those people, all of them trying to enter buses? There must have been like 200 or even 300 people there trying to make their way to their various places of work. There was so much blood. There was so much death. It was like a bad dream. I had to take pictures because even I didn’t believe my own eyes.”

He showed us his pictures, and it was just like he had said. So much blood. So much death. Like a bad dream.

Continue reading

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Apr 16 2014

Old Powers in a New Poll

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With a mix of old-guard and marginal opposition candidates, it is unlikely that a leader with fresh ideas will secure power in Algeria’s April 17 presidential elections, argues LSE’s Nabila Ramdani.

Images of a frail old man insisting he is fit to govern will do little to persuade Algerian voters that Abdelaziz Bouteflika is the president to lead them forward into a democratic future.

There have been few pictures of the indefatigable 77-year-old over the past few weeks, but those that do appear smack of desperation. He is campaigning for elections on April 17 by proxy, mainly through his former prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal. Bouteflika does not attend public meetings and only informed his fellow citizens he was standing for a fourth term by letter.

Abdelmalek Sellal campaigns for the incumbent Algerian President Bouteflika

Abdelmalek Sellal campaigns for the incumbent Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Bouteflika has now held the top job for 15 years, after already stamping his mark on his country’s turbulent history; yet he insists he needs more time. He admits that his “heavy responsibilities” have, in part, affected his health but thinks he can put a recent stroke behind him to triumph. Continue reading

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Apr 15 2014

The new shock doctrine: ‘Doing Business’ with the World Bank

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LSE’s Jason Hickel anaylses a yearly World Bank report that encourages countries to undertake extreme deregulation.

One of the problems with neoliberal economic policy is that it’s tough to get countries to agree to it; especially democratic ones. It has often required quite extreme measures, such as invasion – the classic example being the US-backed coup against Chile’s democratically elected president – or debt bondage and structural adjustment led by the International Monetary Fund.


Both are effective ways of forcing countries to deregulate their markets. But neither of these methods has been very popular. It turns out that most people don’t like it when sovereign nations are invaded for corporate gain, as the global protests against the Iraq war made clear. And structural adjustment proved to be so damaging and inspired so many riots that the IMF was forced to step back from it – at least ostensibly – in the early 2000s.

To avoid these messy PR nightmares, the latest approach has been to get countries to impose neoliberalism on themselves. Enter the World Bank. In 2003 the World Bank published the first Doing Business Report, which ranks the world’s countries based on the “ease of doing business” in them. For the most part, the fewer regulations a country has, the higher they score. The report has become the Bank’s most influential publication, and the ranking system is recognised as a powerful tool for compelling countries to initiate regulatory reforms, driving a quarter of the 2 100 policy changes recorded since it was launched. Continue reading

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Apr 14 2014

(In)security Groups and Governance in Gulu, Uganda

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Holly Porter & Rebecca Tapscott[1] examine the operation of security groups in Gulu, northern Uganda.

Last November, at three in the morning, a man was murdered on the street not far outside Gulu Town. There were tens of witnesses, yet there was no investigation, no prosecution, and no compensation provided to the victim’s family. A common reflection on the event was that the victim “did good to die”.

People recount the story in different ways: one version describes the victim as a notorious and unrepentant drug dealer and crook. On the night he was finally caught, a mob of frustrated neighbours banded together and beat him with a machete, resulting in his unintentional, if not surprising, death. Another version explains that the murdered man was a petty thief and marijuana smoker who made enemies with a community leader. That night, he either burnt the kitchen of the leader or was framed for arson.  The more powerful man responded immediately, taking the law into his own hands and brutally murdering the victim in public, thereby asserting authority over the jurisdiction.


Such stories of people taking justice “into their own hands” are common in northern Uganda. This particular instance happened just outside Holly’s house. In the past two weeks, as we have looked closer at local responses to community insecurity, people have recounted other recent events of citizen-driven violence. Among these stories, there is wide variation in the victims’ personal details (professionals to lay-people, men and women, adults and youth) and originating crime (theft, prostitution, over-drinking or drug abuse, violating curfew, etc.). Some can be categorized as “mob justice” or “mob violence”— they share a collective, spontaneous, and potentially fatal, beating. Continue reading

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Apr 10 2014

Book Review: The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square by Steven A. Cook

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Steven Cook‘s master-class in Egyptian political history since the military coup in 1952 is essential to understanding the political tensions between militarists, Islamists, and democrats which persist up to the present day, finds Matthew Partridge. Essential reading following the election of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. Steven A. Cook. Oxford University Press. September 2011.

Although the first dictator in the region to depart in 2011 was Tunisia’s Ben Ali, no country epitomises the changing narrative around the Arab spring more than Egypt. It was Mubarak’s resignation in the middle of February that prompted London, Washington, and Paris to break with their previous policies of public silence on the behaviour of incumbent regimes. However, as the protests showed, the final destination of the Egyptian transition remained in the balance for months, with continued military rule, an Islamist coup, or a genuine move to democracy all possible outcomes. This weekend the Arab Spring entered its next chapter however, as Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared Egypt’s first democratically elected president.


Steven Cook’s The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square doesn’t attempt to make any definite predictions about Egypt’s political future. Instead, he argues that an understanding of Egyptian political history since the military coup in 1952 is essential to understanding the political tensions between militarists, Islamists and democrats, which have persisted up to the present day. With the exception of the thirty pages of the first chapter, which delivers a potted history of Egyptian politics from the nineteenth century to the “Free Officers” coup d’etat, the focus of the six remaining chapters is strictly on the last fifty-nine years. Continue reading

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