Backgrounders

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

Combating Maritime Piracy

Authors: Christopher Alessi and Stephanie Hanson

A surge in pirate attacks off the Somali coast in recent years has prompted the deployment of an international coalition of navies. But experts say that military force alone cannot address the underlying issue of failed Somali governance.

See more in Somalia; Piracy

Expanding China-Africa Oil Ties

Authors: Christopher Alessi and Stephanie Hanson

China has increased its economic ties with Africa as it seeks to fulfill its growing energy demands. But China's way of doing business has prompted international criticism, even as its policy of noninterference faces new challenges.

See more in China; Africa (sub-Saharan); Oil

Sudan's Fractured Internal Politics

Authors: Toni Johnson and Stephanie Hanson

Experts say instability in south Sudan should be looked at in tandem with the crisis in Darfur, and some call for addressing Sudan's problems in a more unified way to help forestall an escalation of violence.

See more in Sudan; South Sudan; Peacekeeping

The African Union

Author: Stephanie Hanson

The African Union succeeded the old Organization for African Unity (OAU) in 2002. Since then, the new institution has struggled to reform governing bodies inherited from the OAU while shouldering challenging new peacekeeping missions.

See more in Africa (sub-Saharan); Regional Security

Somalia's Transitional Government

Authors: Stephanie Hanson and Eben Kaplan

Though international observers had hoped Somalia's transitional federal government would bring stability to the war-torn nation after sixteen years of “failed state” status, by mid-2008 experts said it was fraught by internal divisions.

See more in Rule of Law; Somalia

Leading Africa

Author: Stephanie Hanson

With South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya all hobbled by varying degrees of instability and infighting, experts fear Africa lacks leadership for continent-wide security and economic initiatives.

See more in Africa (sub-Saharan); Regional Security

Understanding Kenya’s Politics

Author: Stephanie Hanson

While some reports attribute Kenya’s postelection crisis to tribalism, most analysts see weak political institutions at the root of problems.

See more in Kenya; Elections