John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

What Will it Take for the United States and Others to Address the Crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

by John Campbell Thursday, February 28, 2013
Congolese children gather in front of a United Nations peacekeeping tank during the global rally "One Billion Rising" which is part of a V-Day event calling for an end to gender-based violence, in Bukavu February 14, 2013. (Jana Asenbrennerova/Courtesy Reuters)

There is a useful new feature on, the Council on Foreign Relations’ website. Ask a CFR Expert invites members of the public to submit questions on U.S. foreign policy, and CFR fellows respond to questions that pertain to their own areas of expertise and research. Read more »

Violent Islamism in Africa

by John Campbell Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Ugandan soldiers, operating under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), sit on a tank as they advance towards Buurhakaba from their former position in the town of Leego, alongside members of the Somali National Army (SNA) on February 24, 2013. (Tobin Jones/Courtesy Reuters)

The Robert S. Strauss Center at the University of Texas at Austin has just published a research brief on Islamist violence in Africa; “Tracking Islamist Militia and Rebel Groups.” The author is Caitriona Dowd at Trinity College, Dublin. The brief is based on the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED), of which she is the senior research and data manager. The data covers the past fifteen years. Her discussion includes North Africa as well as sub-Saharan Africa, and she sees a “rising global consciousness among Islamist groups and Muslim populations” in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Read more »

Polls Show Kenya Presidential Contest in Dead Heat

by John Campbell Tuesday, February 26, 2013
THIKA, Kenya A policeman controls supporters of Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga, presidential candidate of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), during Odinga's campaign rally in Thika town, 40 km (25 miles) from Nairobi, February 26, 2013. (Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters).

Kenya goes to the polls on March 4 with Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga the only credible presidential candidates. The Ipsos Synovate poll shows that Kenyatta is ahead with 44.8 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 44.4 percent. Kenyatta is ahead in twenty counties while Odinga has nineteen. The polling company identifies Nairobi and three other counties as toss-ups. To win the presidency without a runoff requires the victor win 50 percent plus one of the votes. Under those circumstances, a runoff looks highly likely. Both candidates are longtime political rivals; Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, one of the early African independence leaders and Kenya’s first president. Read more »

Drones in Niger: A Fateful Decision

by John Campbell Monday, February 25, 2013
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle assigned to the California Air National Guard's 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flies near the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California in this January 7, 2012. (U.S. Air Force/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama announced in a letter to Congress that he deployed “approximately one hundred” U.S. military troops to Niamey, Niger to establish a drone base to survey the Sahel and the Sahara. This base, which could eventually host up to three hundred U.S. troops, contradicts earlier administration assurances that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground. There has been limited U.S. surveillance of the region before, using light aircraft. However, a drone base dramatically ups the visibility–and the ante. Read more »

Evolving Dynamics of Kidnappings in Northern Nigeria

by John Campbell Friday, February 22, 2013
Members of a criminal gang that kidnapped a United Arab Emirate national Mohammed Khamis al Ali, are paraded by the state security service (SSS) in Nigeria's capital Abuja March 29, 2012. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

Kidnapping is not a part of the repertoire of the radical, diffuse Islamist group called Boko Haram. Some of its alleged spokesmen have denounced the practice. However, kidnapping is common in the Sahel and ransoms are an important source of revenue for the rival criminal networks also involved with smuggling, some of which have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM has regularly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of foreigners. Kidnapping is also a well-established tactic of the criminal groups in the western part of the oil-rich Niger Delta. As in the Sahel, Delta kidnappings are mercenary, with little political content. Most of the Delta kidnappings are of Nigerians, not foreigners–though it tends to be the periodic high-profile foreign kidnappings that make international headlines. In the Sahel, the huge ransoms paid by governments or corporations ensure that most of the victims are foreigners. Read more »

Nigeria’s Boko Haram Ready for Dialogue?

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell Thursday, February 21, 2013
Crowds fill Abubakar Gumi central market after authorities relaxed a twenty-four hour curfew in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, June 24, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers. Read more »

Misconceptions About Cross Border Migration in South Africa

by John Campbell Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Zimbabweans recieve forms as they queue to apply for residence and study permits outside the Home Affairs office in Cape Town, December 31, 2010. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

South Africans often assume that since the end of apartheid, and the coming of democracy in 1994, there has been a huge wave of migration into South Africa from the rest of the continent. Stories abound of entire Johannesburg neighborhoods that are now Nigerian or Congolese–and that immigrants have taken over certain crime syndicates. There have been xenophobic riots against Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa who, with the benefit of higher education standards in their home country, are seen by township dwellers as competition for scarce jobs. Read more »

Kidnapping Comes to Northern Nigeria

by John Campbell Tuesday, February 19, 2013
People stand by the wreckage from a car bomb explosion at a church in Yelwa on the outskirts of the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi, June 3, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

Over the weekend, a radical Islamist group called Ansaru carried out a sophisticated kidnapping operation in Bauchi, northern Nigeria. The seven victims, all expats, were working for Setraco, a Lebanese owned construction and civil engineering company (none were American citizens). The kidnapping, which also resulted in the death of a security guard, appears to have been coordinated with an attack on the local police station. Ansaru, which may have links to Boko Haram, claimed responsibility in a statement emailed to state media. Read more »

What’s Happening With the ECOWAS Force in Mali?

by John Campbell Friday, February 15, 2013
Bamako, Mali Nigerian soldiers prepare to cook at the Mali air force base near Bamako as troops await their deployment January 19, 2013. (Eric Gaillard/Courtesy REUTERS).

It’s hard to get the details on the logistical arrangements, or numbers, of the ECOWAS force in Mali. The majority of Nigeria’s promised 1,200 troops are reportedly deployed to a military base in Niger, or still stationed in Bamako. However, the Nigerian media organization Premium Times reports that the Nigerian troops actually in Mali are suffering from inadequate provisions, especially food. Citing a “defense source,” Premium Times  reports that Nigerian soldiers are resorting to, in effect, shaking down their Malian hosts under the guise of making “courtesy calls.” Apparently, they ask for–and receive–food, in one case a cow and fifty bags of rice from a prefect. The story is roundly denied by a Nigerian defense spokesman who is quoted, “we have provided the contingent with enough food and funds to last them for the initial three months. Is Nigeria not bigger than that?” Read more »

The Odds on an African Pope

by John Campbell Thursday, February 14, 2013
An empty papal throne is pictured before the Ash Wednesday mass at the St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican February 13, 2013. (Alessandro Bianchi/Courtesy Reuters)

British, Irish, and Australian bookmakers will place odds on anything. They are already looking at possible successors to Pope Benedict XVI.  The odds change by the minute, but the three favorites include two Africans: Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. The bookies’ other favorite is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, of Canada. The British bookmaker William Hill gives Cardinal Arinze two-to-one odds. Coral, also British, gives Cardinal Arinze seven-to-four. An Australian and an Irish bookmaker (among others) makes Cardinal Ouellet the favorite for the moment. Read more »