Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fall Class: Religions & Politics in Africa

While I am writing my thesis this fall I may audit a class on religion in Africa.  PO 760: Problems and Issues of Contemporary Africa this fall will focus on "Religion and Politics in Africa. The politics of indigenous African religions, Islam, and Christianity. Topics include Islamist and Christian fundamentalist movements, religion and social conflict, and religious engagement on democracy, women's rights, and gay rights."

The differences in religion and the conflict they often create is something that has intrigued me while I was living in Senegal and traveling in Africa.  Senegalese political leaders courted the Mourides in Touba, but in a country where over 90% of the population is Muslim the first president was Catholic.  In March I will move to Chad where over half of the population is Muslim but there is also geographical separation where the majority of the Christians live in the South.  Chad also shares a border with Nigeria where a bloody religious war continues.  The book list seems to touch on many of the relevant issues and should be a good reading list to learn more about the subject.

There are 10 required books for the class:
- Guns & Rain by David Lan
- African Religions and Philosophies by John Mbiti
- African Christianity: Its Public Role by Paul Gifford
- Sudan: Race, Religion, and Violence by Jok Madut Jok
- Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa by Otayek
- Political Spiritualities by Ruth Marshall
- Between Terror and Democracy by Lesueur
- Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda by Tim Longman
- Between Feminism and Islam by Salime
- How God Became African by Haar

Any other books I should read?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mali's future?

In today's news, interim president Dioncounda Traore finalized his transitional government. Once he solidifies his political base, Traore hopes to open negotiations with rebels and Islamic extremists that have taken over the north part of Mali and declared an independent Republic of Azawad(1). Traore recently sidelined or diminished the powers of the interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, which will likely have political repercussions(2).   Traore also still faces interference from one-time coup leader, Amadou Sanogo, who continues to meddle in government affairs.  Counter-coups still continue to be attempted with the latest this weekend where an army officer and religious leader were arrested over the weekend.  Other counter-coups were attempted on April 30th and May 1st, but were put down by the troops that assumed power in the March 22d coup.  There are also accusations that military is disappearing their opponents(3).

If Traore is able to solidify his political base and get along with Sanogo and the original coup leaders (from the March 22d coup), he will still face many significant challenges.  First, the Forces Armées et de Sécurité du Mali are in shambles. Sanogo led his accidental coup in response to inadequate supplies, armament, and support from the government of Mali and things haven't improved.  Second, in their hurried retreat from the North the military abandoned vehicles, weapons, and fighting positions to rebels and Islamists.  Three, despite frictions between Islamist extremists and Touareg they still represent a formidable force that wont capitulate easily.  Fourth, if Traore asks for ECOWAS troops and they are approved/financed by the UN they will likely have a long hard fight.  ECOWAS troops will be seen as an invading foreign force and could generate more support for the Azawadian troops.  ECOWAS troops don't have the best reputation in West Africa after they took sides and perpetuated violence, atrocities, and profiteering in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

If Traore and the interim government are able to either negotiate a political solution with Azawad or drive them out of northern Mali with the assistance of ECOWAS troops, will Traore give up power peacefully?  Will Mali schedule elections and return to democracy?  Unfortunately, coup leaders and interim leaders have a habit of not relinquishing power or arranging elections in a way to guarantee their election.

1. Mali president finalises unity government
2. Mali's interim president sidelines PM Diarra
3. Mali counter-coup arrests 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back to Africa

Its time to start thinking about heading back to Africa as soon as I finish my Masters Degree in International Relations at BU this December.  I get to spend the fall semester writing my thesis and defend it in December before graduating in Jan 2013.  It looks like i will be heading to Chad for a one-year assignment living in N'djamena shortly after graduation.  I spent about 10 days traveling in Chad in 2011, driving up to Lake Chad and visiting several small villages around the lake so i am somewhat familiar with the country.  Unfortunately, there isn't much to do in Chad given the security situation and the lack of infrastructure.  Last time i was there expats werent allowed to run outside and the traffic and weather werent that friendly for long distance running.

One bonus is that most of the expat housing features pools inside the walled compounds, so i could have my own private pool if i wanted to maintain it.  Satellite TV is also available so if i bring a TV this time (i didnt bring one to Senegal) I can watch TV.  The internet was weak and sporadic last time i was there so I probably wont be able to video-skype with friends and family from Chad as I did extensively from Senegal.  As my house will be furnished I wont need to ship much, and since we are landlocked in a desert country I wont need the surfboards and golf clubs I brought to Senegal.  I do get to ship 1250 lbs of food since its scarce in N'djamena.  So I'll have my clothes, tv, food, and pool treatment chemicals for a year in Chad. Yay.

Another bright spot is that i get to attend quarterly conferences in Europe so I may get to snowboard in the Alps and travel to green places that have lakes and lots of water.  I can also buy some goats or miniature gazelles for pets (maybe some chickens too) for my Chadian compound.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I have been on vacation since getting back from Uganda about a month ago, hanging out and spending time in the mountains of New England.  My good friend @hoyawolf came out for a week and we attempted to hike the Presidential Traverse of the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire but we were blown out by 60+ mph winds on Mt Washington.  Then my family and I spent a week exploring Acadia National Park and have been to other sites in the region like the Robert Frost farm.

Next week it will be time to start thinking about my thesis again & travel back to Boston University to meet with my adviser and catch a Red Sox game.