Alex Thurston

Alex Thurston is a visiting assistant professor in the African Studies Program at Georgetown University. Follow him on Twitter @sahelblog.

Articles written by Alex Thurston

Boko Haram, Corruption Purges Put Cameroon on Edge

By Alex Thurston
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Alongside the political risks of President Paul Biya’s desire to stay in power indefinitely, two short-term problems stoke anxiety in Cameroon: the potential for destructive escalation in the fight with Boko Haram, and the ambiguous effects of an aggressive anti-corruption campaign. more

U.S. Must Strike Difficult Balance on West Africa’s Terrorist Threat

By Alex Thurston
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On June 3, the U.S. State Department announced its “first reward offers for terrorists in West Africa.” The men named are undoubtedly dangerous—but are they international threats? Groups like al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and Boko Haram merit serious attention, but real questions remain concerning the capacities, ranges and limitations of such groups. more

Security Vacuum Threatens Central African Republic’s Political Transition

By Alex Thurston
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Since late-March, when the rebel coalition Seleka took power in the Central African Republic (CAR), security has broken down in the country. U.N. Representative Margaret Vogt recently stated that CAR has entered “a state of anarchy." With Seleka struggling to turn military triumph into durable rule, CAR’s neighbors will likely see an increase in the circulation of refugees, fighters and weapons. more

For Chad, Opportunity and Challenge in Regional Crises

By Alex Thurston
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The 2,400 Chadian forces in Mali have seen some of the heaviest fighting in the war there. As France passes responsibility for securing northern Mali to African partners, Chad has positioned itself as a regional power. But different outlooks between Chad and Western powers, as well as instability in Chad’s immediate neighbor the Central African Republic (CAR), complicate Chad’s ability to project leadership. more

Nigeria’s Fault Lines Threaten Jonathan’s Presidency

By Alex Thurston
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Now nearing the midpoint of his first full term in office, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will count on the advantages of incumbency and party dominance in seeking another term when Nigeria votes again in 2015. Yet insecurity, corruption and stalled policy implementation have provoked broad criticism, and the remainder of his term is likely to be characterized by high levels of political tension. more

Senegal’s Sall Must Turn Political Dominance Into Effective Governance

By Alex Thurston
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Senegalese President Macky Sall came to power amid massive discontent with his predecessor, President Abdoulaye Wade, accused by critics of enriching himself and suppressing dissent while failing to address Senegal’s core problems. But despite enjoying a legislative majority, Sall must address Senegal’s economy and security challenges if he is to solidify the tentative mandate voters gave him last year. more

Central African Republic Faces Risk of Fragmentation in Seleka Rebellion

By Alex Thurston
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In the Central African Republic, a rebel coalition has captured at least 11 towns and cities since launching an offensive on Dec. 10.
Efforts at dialogue between the rebels and the government are underway, but both sides have presented demands on which they refuse to negotiate. Given the current impasse, talks may well fall apart, spelling trouble for President Francois Bozizé -- and the CAR. more

Strategic Posture Review: Nigeria

By Alex Thurston
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Nigeria is a diplomatic force within West Africa, a major participant in continental African politics and an important international actor. As the world’s seventh-most-populous country, its 14th-largest oil producer and home to Africa’s fifth-largest military, Nigeria possesses tremendous resources. Yet Nigeria’s internal security challenges and political dysfunction constrain its role on the regional, continental and world stages. more

With Eye on Mali, Niger Adopts New Strategy for Tuareg North

By Alex Thurston
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On Oct. 1, Niger launched a $2.5 billion, five-year development and security initiative targeting six of the country’s eight regions. The project is part of Niger’s ongoing efforts to prevent the kind of chaos that has gripped its neighbor Mali, where a Tuareg uprising in January touched off a domino effect that included a coup in the south and the seizure of northern Mali by armed Islamists. more

Northern Stalemate Opens Space for Islam in Mali's Politics

By Alex Thurston
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Mali's latest transitional civilian government, announced on Aug. 20, pointedly excluded representatives of the Islamist coalition that controls much of the country’s north. The new government has made fighting the Islamist rebels a top priority. However, the government faces barriers to success on the battlefield, leading to some diplomatic ingenuity on the part of Mali’s civil society. more

Nigeria's Jonathan Could Pay Political Cost for Religious Violence

By Alex Thurston
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Recent violence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria's Plateau state is the latest outbreak in a cycle of conflict dating back to 1994. though Nigerian authorities have depicted the conflict as primarily local, it aggravates Muslim-Christian relations across the country and undermines the credibility of President Goodluck Jonathan at a time when he was trying to restore his reputation on security issues. more

With or Without Bashir, Sudan's Status Quo Unsustainable

By Alex Thurston
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In June, Sudanese university students began protesting against austerity measures enacted by the government of President Omar al-Bashir. Security forces have responded forcefully, drawing international concern and leading observers to wonder whether Bashir might be forced to step down. Even if Bashir endures these protests, though, their intensity demonstrates the unsustainability of Sudan's status quo.
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Unrest in Mauritania Could Constrain Regional Security Role

By Alex Thurston
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Mauritania has important implications for the trajectory of secret U.S. military operations in Africa, but its domestic politics has sometimes constrained America’s role there. Today, instability in neighboring Mali means that Mauritania’s significance to the U.S. military is once again increasing, raising the question of how Mauritania's domestic politics will affect the Sahelian equation this time. more

ECOWAS Targets West Africa's Coups

By Alex Thurston
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A series of recent crises in Mali and Guinea Bissau have put the Economic Community of West African States in the spotlight, demonstrating the organization’s potential to shape West African politics, but also the limitations on its ability to do so. Through political pressure and threats of military efforts, ECOWAS is attempting to push West African coups beyond the boundaries of political acceptability. more

Niger Braces for Regional Turbulence

By Alex Thurston
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Since returning to civilian rule in April 2011, Niger has achieved a measure of political stability. But though recent successes are encouraging, Niger’s progress is increasingly threatened by regional crises originating from neighboring states that include political discontent among Tuaregs, violence and refugee flows. The combined effects of these crises threaten to make life in Niger even harder. more

Nigeria's Fuel Protests Speak to Larger Unease

By Alex Thurston
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This week, a general strike has paralyzed much of Nigeria’s economy while anti-government protests have occurred across the country. The protests were triggered by the government’s decision to remove a subsidy on fuel on Jan. 1. But they also encompass broader concerns that speak to a widespread lack of faith in President Goodluck Jonathan's ability to meet Nigeria’s challenges. more

Zambia's Sata Has African Incumbents, and China, on Edge

By Alex Thurston
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On Sept. 23, Zambia announced that opposition leader Michael Sata had won the country's presidential election. Sata's victory is notable for two reasons. First, African incumbents like outgoing President Rupiah Banda seldom lose elections. Second, Sata's anti-China rhetoric has made Beijing nervous about whether Zambia will now spearhead an African backlash against Chinese economic activities on the continent.

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Senegal's Wade Must Choose Between Stability and Power

By Alex Thurston
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In Senegal, popular anger over chronic electricity shortages and the autocratic behavior of President Abdoulaye Wade have produced several waves of protest since last summer. The same anger flared again on June 23, when protesters took to the streets to denounce Wade's plans to amend the constitution and lower the threshold necessary to win in the first round of next February's presidential election. more

Conflict and Resolution in Central Africa: Part II

By Alex Thurston
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While Chad and the Central African Republic are dismantling rebel groups and moving toward greater stability, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are continuing on a violent path. Internal rebellions within south Sudan in the run-up to its independence are complicated by ongoing tensions with north Sudan. Meanwhile, electoral tensions in the DRC are accompanied by ongoing military conflict. more

Conflict and Resolution in Central Africa: Part I

By Alex Thurston
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On June 12, the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and the country's last major rebel force signed a peace agreement. The following day, Chad reached a peace deal with a CAR-based Chadian rebel group, capping a year of deals and arrests that progressively weakened Chad's armed insurgencies. For Chad and the CAR, peace and stability seem closer in 2011 than in 2008, when rebels terrorized both countries. more