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Revolutionary Winds From North to South of the Sahara

Revolutionary Winds From North to South of the Sahara

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Published by David Shinn
Remarks by David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, titled "Revolutionary Winds from North to South of the Sahara: Wishful Thinking?" at the University Club, Washington, D.C., on 10 June, 2011.
Remarks by David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University, titled "Revolutionary Winds from North to South of the Sahara: Wishful Thinking?" at the University Club, Washington, D.C., on 10 June, 2011.

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Published by: David Shinn on Jun 11, 2011
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1Revolutionary Winds from North to South of the Sahara: Wishful Thinking?University Club, Washington, D.C.10 June 2011The Horn of AfricaDavid H. Shinn, Adjunct Professor Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
In assessing the impact on Sub-Saharan Africa of the political upheaval in North Africaand the Middle East since the beginning of the year, it is essential to be careful aboutgeneralizing. Although this analysis looks at six countries in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia,Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia), only Djibouti and Sudan have experienced protests that can be linked to the Arab Spring.For a variety of reasons, including relatively democratic leadership and a strong economyin some Sub-Saharan African countries, the Arab Spring has had no impact on the vast majorityof countries and, in my view, will not have any significant impact on the overwhelming majority.There have been and may continue to be a few exceptions.Political transitions, especially from autocratic to more democratic regimes, tend to bemessy. Once opponents and potential protestors residing in Sub-Saharan Africa that haveautocratic regimes observe up close the unpleasant aspects of political change in North Africaand the Middle East, they may have second thoughts. While this would be an unfortunatesetback for expanding democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is probably a realistic conclusion.This messiness will also reinforce efforts by existing autocratic leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa to be even more repressive as they put down threats to their regimes and try to remain in power.Tunisia has made a generally peaceful transition from autocracy to more democratic rule but faces growing Islamic fundamentalism. Morocco may institute enough reform to avoid aserious challenge to the government; the other examples in North Africa raise more seriousquestions. Algerian leaders have cracked down hard on protestors in order to stay in power. Theoutcome in Egypt may eventually be a big improvement but it has touched off serious incidents between the Christian minority and elements of the Muslim majority. The Muslim Brotherhoodand Salafi groups may end up as one of the most powerful political blocs and the damage toEgypt¶s economy may set back the country for a decade or so. And then there is Libya.Increasingly, it looks like Libya is becoming mired in tribal conflict just as one of Qadhafi¶s sons predicted at the outset.African leaders and their opponents, especially those in the Horn of Africa, are alsotaking into account developments in the Middle East where the future of democracy in countries
2such as Syria, Bahrain and Yemen is even in greater doubt. African leaders and even some of their opponents probably have little interest in replicating the situations in these countries.The fact that an election has taken place, often one in which there was little politicalspace available to the opposition, rarely results in a more democratic regime. There have also been too many cases in Africa over the last decade when an elected leader subject to term limitssubsequently manipulated the political system to eliminate term limits, thus ensuring more timein office. Transparent elections that provide a reasonably level playing field for a strong or atleast viable opposition are a realistic measure of democratic progress. Unfortunately, too manyelections in Africa have not met this test.
Let me turn now to the Horn of Africa. Although Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan and SouthSudan all have more or less regular national elections, the governments in all of these countriesoperate in an autocratic fashion with minimal, but varying, space for the political opposition.Eritrea is an autocratic government that does not hold national elections. Somalia, a failed state,is a special case. The only democratic government in the Horn is Somaliland. It is not part of this analysis nor does any government recognize Somaliland. Theoretically, therefore, all of thegovernments in the Horn except for Somaliland are candidates for the kind of protest that hasoccurred in North Africa and the Middle East. I believe that the leadership in all of the countriesof the Horn with the exception of Somalia, which is preoccupied by a civil war, was deeplyconcerned that the Arab Spring might have serious implications for their regimes.The Horn has important ties geographically, historically and culturally to the Arab world but with the exception of parts of northern Sudan and isolated pockets in several other Horncountries, the region is not Arab ethnically, culturally or in its way of thinking. Three of thecountries²Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia²are members of the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference. All of the countries in the Horn are predominantly Muslim or havesignificant Muslim minorities. Northern Sudan is heavily Muslim while the new South Sudanhas a Muslim minority. The government in Khartoum claims South Sudan has an 18 percentMuslim minority, although the percentage may be lower. Somalia and Djibouti areoverwhelmingly Muslim. Eritrea is about 50 percent Muslim and 50 percent Christian whileEthiopia is predominantly Christian but has at least a 35 percent Muslim minority.
Sudan is one of two countries in the Horn that actually experienced some protestsreflecting developments earlier this year in North Africa and the Middle East. On the face of it,Sudan would seem to be the most likely candidate for repeating Tunisian or Egyptian stylerevolutions. In fact, on two earlier occasions²1964 and 1985²just this kind of popular proteston the streets of Khartoum overturned the Sudanese government. One could argue that Sudanwas actually the precursor of the Arab Spring.
3In late January, a Facebook group called ³Youth for Change´ urged Sudanese to followin the steps of their Tunisian and Egyptian brothers. Thousands of young Sudanese, includingmany university students, went to the streets in Khartoum, Omdurman, El Obeid and Kosti toexpress grievances over rising prices and political repression. The police responded forcefully, beating protesters and arresting others. The protests ended quickly.The traditional power centers in Sudan (Umma, Khatmiya, and Hassan al-Turabi¶sIslamic faction) are a shadow of their former selves. Young Sudanese are looking for a new political identity and new political leaders, but this leadership has not yet evolved. In March,demonstrations occurred again in Khartoum, this time organized by leaders of the smallSudanese Communist Party and the Unionist Nasserist Party. The goal was to topple thegovernment. Anti-riot police and plain-clothed agents of Sudan¶s National and IntelligenceServices put a quick end to the demonstrations.There are several reasons why the Arab Spring will not be replicated in Sudan in theforeseeable future. First, the military is not only loyal to the government, but it is thegovernment. Second, the political opposition is weak and divided. Third, street protests inSudan generally occur as a result of a major deterioration in the economic situation. Althoughthe economy is getting worse, it has not reached a point where it will lead to large numbers of  people to protest on the streets as happened in 1964 and 1985. Fourth, and perhaps mostimportant, Sudan is undergoing so much change at the moment with the secession of SouthSudan on 9 July 2011, and Sudanese are so preoccupied with problems related to this change thatit is just not the time when Sudanese want to spend energy on trying to topple the government.There has been one tangible response from Sudan as a result the Arab Spring. Agovernment spokesman for President Omar Bashir, who seized power in a military coup in 1989,announced in February that Bashir will not run for office again after his current term ends in2015. I believe Bashir will comply with this announcement. Although the spokesman said theannouncement had nothing to do with popular revolts taking place in the Arab world, the timingof the statement belies this denial.
uth Sudan
South Sudan will not even become a nation until July 9 and there is no prospect it willexperience the kinds of protests that have occurred in the Arab world. The euphoria of independence alone will sustain the ruling Sudan People¶s Liberation Movement (SPLM) for some time after independence. On the other hand, the SPLM has built a record as anauthoritarian organization and there are already dissident militias operating in South Sudan as aresult of political marginalization. These groups, which predate the Arab Spring, threaten futurestability. The SPLM will need to change its ways if it expects to maintain the support of asignificant majority of the people in South Sudan.

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