The forgotten coups

Dino Mahtani reports for FP today from Guinea -- some of the most insightful and investigative journalism done there since the December 2008 coup. That dearth of information got me thinking about Africa's other recent, forgotten coups and how they have (or haven't) progressed. Here's a quick coup update from my favorite continent:


The coup: Just over a year ago, a coup unseated the president and installed a new, young, ex-DJ strongman as head of state. France, South Africa, and former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano  have been working behind the scenes to try to sort things out, and for months, it was to little avail. But then on May 14, the new president, Andry Rajoelina, announced that he wouldn't sit for the next presidential election. He also set forth a timetable for the next presidential vote, to be held by Nov. 26. 

The mischief: Political resolution will be a relief for everyone, if the timetable indeed holds. Among other ills, the coup opened up a window of lawlessness for loggers to illegally ransack the forest for the country's timber. The transitional government finally passed a moratorium on the logging late last month, but questions remain about whether the government can actually enforce it.

Why it matters: Madagascar has been a big test for the "responsibility" of several players to deal with the crisis -- the African Union, which suspended the country's membership and later imposed sanctions; South Africa, which has been trying to broker a deal and would rather that things stay quiet in Madagascar during the World Cup; and France, who was rumored to have supported the coup's leader, at least tacitly, to some embarrassment later. (Paris would surely like the problem and the resulting awkwardness to go away.)


The coup: The more-recent military takeover in Niger,  which ousted an aging president, was met with surprisingly little uproar -- in part because the junta seemed relatively benign and no one was praising the former government. Elections are promised before the coup's year anniversary, in February 2011.

The mischief: The junta looks stupendously ill-prepared for the famine that is looming in the country. Radio reports recount how hundreds have been traveling from Niger into Northern Nigeria in hopes of finding more food. NGOs and aid groups are piling in to meet a 30 percent food deficit.

Why is matters: Aside from the humanitarian disaster, Niger's coup is the final coup in the three-makes-a-trend theory for West Africa (Mauritania and Guinea have also had recent coups.) That's would be an alarming trend if it caught on any further.



What's appropriate for a foreign leader to say in Congress?

Speaking of U.S.-Mexico relations, I see that some lawmakers weren't happy that Mexican President Felipe Calderon criticized Arizona's new immigration law in his speech to Congress yesterday:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that Calderon's statements about American laws were out of bounds. "I don't think we should have some foreign leader come in here and criticize the statute of a state, where they are implementing a federal law on a state basis," Hatch said of the Arizona immigration law.

He also chafed at Calderon's call on the U.S. to revisit the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. "We don't need someone coming in here and telling us how to handle an explicit clause of the Constitution," Hatch said. "I like President Calderon. I know him, I like him, he has a very difficult job. But it was inappropriate to say what he said."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), whose state shares a border with Mexico, rejected Calderon's assertion that the Arizona law allows racial profiling. "It was inappropriate for President Calderon to lecture Americans on our own state and federal laws," Cornyn said.

The senators are certainly entitled to voice disagreement with Calderon on this or any issue, but I think they doth protest too much about the "appropriateness" of what the president said.  American leaders -- inlucing senators -- lecture foreign governments on their laws all the time. Do they senators also think it was inappropriate when the Vice President stood up in the Bosnian parliament and said the country must join the E.U. or "descend into ethnic chaos that defined your country for the better part of a decade." (Well...  maybe that one was actually a little inappropriate.)

In any case, these senators are no shrinking violets when it comes to calling out foreign governments on human rights violations. They're free to disagree with Calderon but they seem a little oversensitive when they assert that they shouldn't have to listen to him.

This wasn't Muammar Qaddafi, it was the president of Mexico. Two allied democracies should be able to have a grownup discussion about important issues -- including the Mexican military's appalling human rights record -- without the unecessary umbrage-taking. 

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