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IRIN - West Africa


New Sahel anti-terror force: risks and opportunities

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 17:14:24 +0000

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are teaming up to take on Islamist militants with the launch of a the 5,000-strong "FC-G5S" force in the restive Sahel. But are more boots on the ground the answer? UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, which votes today on whether to fund the nascent multinational military force, that supporting it was “an opportunity that cannot be missed” and that failing to back it would carry serious risks for a region where insecurity has become “extremely worrying”. The Security Council “welcomed the deployment” of the force in a resolution adopted in June, but put off a decision about financing. The resolution's wording was the subject of a prolonged tussle between France – the G5 force’s main proponent – and the United States, which didn’t believe a resolution was necessary, sees the force’s mandate as too broad, and, as the world body’s biggest contributor, isn’t convinced the UN should bankroll it. On Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Washington wants to know “what the strategy would be, how they see this playing out, what’s involved in it, before we ever commit to UN-assessed funding”.  France has been working hard to win over the United States. On a visit to Washington last week, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said the former colonial power had no desire to become the “Praetorian Guard of sovereign African countries”. Existing forces In 2013 and 2014, France’s Operation Serval drove back militants in Mali’s northern desert from some of the towns and other sanctuaries they had taken. With attacks nevertheless continuing and having spread beyond Mali’s borders, 4,000 French troops are currently deployed under the banner of Operation Barkhane across all the G5 states. Mali is also home to the 14,000-strong MINUSMA force, one of the UN’s most expensive peacekeeping missions. It has come under frequent attack by militant groups such as the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qaeda-linked coalition forged last March. Some 86 blue helmets have been killed in militant attacks since MINUSMA was established in July 2013.   Meanwhile, efforts by civil society groups to negotiate with some jihadist groups have come to nought, while parties to a 2015 peace agreement between Mali’s government and two coalitions of domestic armed groups – a deal that excluded the jihadists – are embroiled in violent divisions among themselves. Some of these domestic groups are also responsible for attacks against the state.  These divisions have dimmed hopes of forging any kind of common front against the jihadists, and even of properly implementing the 2015 accord. The government’s failure to address widespread political and economic grievance further undermines its position. Sylvain Liechti/UN Photo The MINUSMA Camp in Kidal was targeted by intensive rocket and mortar fire Humanitarian fallout All this insecurity comes at a high price for Mali’s civilians. At the end of the 2016-17 academic year, 500 schools were closed, up from 296 the previous year, while the numbers of refugees and internally displaced reached a record 140,000 and 55,000 respectively. Acute malnutrition among children under five has reached “critical levels” in conflict-affected areas around Timbuktu and Gao, according to UNICEF. The agency predicts that 165,000 children across the country will be acutely malnourished next year. “Repeated criminal acts” prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend its operations in the northern Kidal region in mid-October. Funding concerns The primary mandate of the G5 force will be to secure the bloc’s common borders and fight “terrorist” and criminal groups. The force’s headquarters were established in September in the central Malian town of Sévaré, but its financing has yet to be secured. “Estimates still vary; nothing has been settled,” said a diploma[...]

Land clashes test Côte d’Ivoire’s fragile security*

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 07:12:35 +0000

Fresh clashes over land in western Côte d’Ivoire, following a spate of army mutinies, attacks on police stations, and jailbreaks, represent a growing challenge to the country’s nascent and hard-won stability. Côte d’Ivoire descended into civil war in 2011 after Laurent Gbagbo, who had been president since 2000, refused to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a run-off election. About 3,000 people were killed in the conflict, mainly in clashes in Abidjan and in the west of the country, before French forces arrested Gbagbo in April 2011. Last week, seven people were killed and 5,000 fled their homes as rival communities clashed over a 9,000-hectare cocoa plantation inside a protected forest in the Cavally Region. In the end, the army had to intervene to put a halt to the fighting. Most cocoa in top global producer Cote d’Ivoire is grown in the west, where various armed bands – largely leftovers from a 2002-2004 civil war – roam beyond the reach of state security forces. Insecurity here has long been driven by the politicisation of ethnic identity and land, including a pervasive tendency to categorise people as either indigenous or migrants (from other parts of the country as well as neighbouring states). This is especially so in the cocoa-rich yet relatively undeveloped west, which witnessed some of the worst violence in the crisis that followed the disputed presidential election in 2010, and where sporadic clashes over land have taken place almost every year since. Elders in Guiglo, the seat of Cavally Region, explained that the current round of land violence erupted there in early September before spreading to villages near the Liberian border. “The problem is these groups of individuals are heavily armed in the forests, doing as they please with impunity,” local resident Georges Sanh told IRIN, calling on the army to step up its presence in Guiglo. Risk conflict will spread According to Sylvain Guezon, a prominent citizen in Bloléquin Department, also part of Cavally Region, there have been at least 100 cases of land occupation since 2013. He warned of a lot more to come. “These matters used to be managed by local authorities who managed to end these little quarrels. But recently the situation has exploded and the disputes have become unmanageable,” he said. “If nothing is done in this conflict, there is risk of all of the west being affected and it will become beyond control for a long time to come.” A Monday editorial in Connectionivoirienne, an online publication, urged all citizens, “in the name of national unity, to put pressure on the government to find a fitting solution that imposes peace on everybody. “Above all, we must not weaken and allow the continuation of this conflict, which could contaminate neighbouring regions that also suffer from the same pressure on arable land.” Other issues The army, meanwhile, has its own problems. A series of mutinies between January and May led the government to fork out $24,000 each to some 8,400 former rebels who had been integrated into the army since 2011 – more than $200 million in total. Recent major security incidents include: On 3 September, nearly 100 prisoners escaped from Katiola prison in the centre of the country. Later that day, a gendarmerie post near the economic capital, Abidjan, came under attack and weapons were stolen. On 26 September a similar attack was mounted on a police station in Abidjan and a large weapons cache was found in a different part of the city. On 7 September, the government announced the arrest of 35 people, most of them military officers, accusing them of taking part in recent attacks on security installations. The government also accused figures loyal to Gbagbo – now on trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed during the 2010-11 post-election crisis – of planning the attacks. “While the government is a long way from being weakened by all of this, it does show that full control of the army eludes it, or that it is full of people beyon[...]

Togo unrest a test for West African leaders

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 07:49:48 +0000

Political violence in Togo claimed more victims this week. On Wednesday at least four people were shot dead in clashes between security forces and protestors in the West African country’s two biggest cities. On Tuesday, two soldiers and a teenager died. The deaths came amid unrest following the arrest of an imam with close ties to the opposition, and against a backdrop of months of anti-government protests. Demonstrations calling for political reforms began in August, at the instigation of the opposition Parti National Panafricain, and have since taken place on an almost weekly basis in the capital, Lome, as well as in Sokodé and towns such as Kara and Anié. More than a dozen other opposition parties, civil society organisations and elements of the diaspora have allied themselves with the calls for change. The numerical and geographical extent of the protests against the government of Faure Gnassingbé, which have taken place in all regions of Togo, including the historically pro-government north of the country, and in several capital cities across the world, is virtually unprecedented. The tens of thousands of Togolese who have taken to the streets want an end to the Gnassingbé dynasty. The current president came to power in 2005, when the army installed him after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who had ruled since 1967. Ever since Faure Gnassingbé came to power 12 years ago, the opposition has called for the restoration of a two-term limit for heads of state, which is in line with the rest of West Africa and with a revision made in 1992 to the country’s constitution. This limit was abolished in 2002 and Gnassingbé is currently serving his third term. The way the opposition sees it, the reintroduction of the limit would mean he would have to leave office immediately. According to a 2015 poll conducted by Afrobarometer, 85 percent of Togo’s population favour the reintroduction a two-term limit. Other demands include the restoration of a two-round system for presidential elections, and the release of political prisoners. The government has reacted mainly with repression – breaking up demonstrations, banning them outright on weekdays, and cutting internet connections on protest days. Its efforts to make concessions have been unilateral and have failed to appease the opposition. In September, it put draft constitutional revisions, including the restoration of the two-term limit, to parliament. But without making the restriction retroactive, that could mean Gnassingbé would stay in power, and even run for re-election in 2020, and again in 2025. Opposition legislators boycotted a vote on the revisions, so they failed to win the four-fifths majority needed for constitutional amendments, leading the speaker to announce the proposed changes would be decided in a referendum. For the opposition, the referendum is a red herring – all that matters now is a change of president. Regional response Amid this increasingly fraught impasse, international bodies such the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, have failed to bring the protagonists closer together or ease tensions. On the contrary, the three organisations appeared to alienate the opposition with a 4 October joint statement which lauded the proposed referendum as “an important step in bringing Togo in conformity with democratic norms reflecting best practices in West Africa”, and urged the opposition to take part. (A subsequent joint statement released on Wednesday to condemn the latest violence and call on all parties to exercise restraint and pursue dialogue made no reference to the referendum.) If the unrest continues, the credibility of ECOWAS (and to a certain extent that of the AU and UNOWAS as well), which won praise for its role in Gambia’s crisis early this year, would be dented. In the months ahead, Togo could face at best intermittent instability and at worst a serious crisis which could af[...]

Cameroon's descent into crisis: the long history of anglophone discord

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:04:39 +0000

Cameroon’s anglophone crisis reached a new low at the weekend when at least 17 people were shot dead by security forces and 50 wounded, according to Amnesty International. Protesters had gathered in towns across the country’s two English-speaking regions to mark a symbolic declaration of independence, and were confronted by police firing tear gas and live ammunition in running battles. There has been an 11-month trial of strength between the authorities in the majority francophone country and English-speaking protesters, who are angry over alleged discrimination, and the marginalisation of their two regions – North West and South West Cameroon. Mbom Sixtus/IRIN Anglophone protesters and the security force response The agitation has deepened from a demand to return to a long-abandoned federal system, to increasing calls for outright secession. In the confrontation at the weekend, protesters hoisted the blue-and-white flag of the self-styled Republic of Ambazonia. The crisis began last year with protests by lawyers and teachers over the influence of French in court rooms and schools. The root of the grievance includes anger over the region’s under-development, its lack of political representation, and the perceived erosion of an anglophone cultural heritage. The government has labelled the demonstrators terrorists. It has tried to snuff out dissent with hundreds of arrests. Earlier in the year it cut the internet to western Cameroon for three months, arguing that social media was being used to fan the unrest. The response from the protesters has been to declare a weekly one-day business stayaway as part of a broader civil disobedience campaign, which has included school boycotts. Text messages sent by the Cameroonian government directly to citizens' mobile phones width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allowfullscreen=""> Text messages sent by the Cameroonian government directly to citizens' mobile phones For more see: Non, merci: English-speaking Cameroon rises up, wants Republic of Ambazonia Language of peace hard to find as Cameroon crisis festers       Those tactics have served to further impoverish the west. The so-called “ghost town” stayaways are also increasingly being enforced by violence.     President Paul Biya, 84, who has been in power for 35 years, has described anglophone activists as “extremists” and any division of Cameroon as non-negotiable. As positions harden, there is narrowing space for dialogue. On Monday, a day after the clashes, shots could still be heard, with the government declaring a day-time curfew in the city of Bamenda, the capital of the North West region. The country’s linguistic divide dates back to 1961, when the British-administered Southern Cameroons united with Cameroon after it gained independence from France in 1960. It was a federal state until 1972. Here’s a timeline of the ensuing discord: Cameroon's descent into crisis: the long history of anglophone discord mbom_1_flag.jpg Mbom Sixtus News Conflict Politics and Economics YAOUNDÉ IRIN Africa West Africa Cameroon [...]

The foreign invader costing African farmers $3 billion

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:32:49 +0000

My brother is a Zimbabwean farmer who has done pretty well for himself, but is now a worried man.   Last season he lost a significant amount of his maize crop to a single, voracious pest, and he fears for the worst when the new growing season begins in November.   Fall armyworm, or FAW, is new to Africa but has made an immediate impact. The caterpillar, originally from Latin America, was first detected in Nigeria in January 2016. By January 2017 it had reached South Africa – spreading officially to 24 countries within a year on a lightening journey down the continent.   It’s a ravenous feeder, with an appetite for more than 80 plant species – including maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, millet, and cotton. If left untreated, it can cause crop losses of up to 50 percent, munching its way through a hectare within 72 hours.   A foreign invader   My brother, Sipho Mpofu, like virtually all farmers in southwestern Zimbabwe, grows maize, and in the last few years has added drought-tolerant sorghum and millet in response to the country’s drying climate.   He received his land from the government under its land reform programme that subdivided and redistributed fertile commercial farms to landless subsistence producers. He has seen his yields steadily improve and has been able to expand his farm, investing in new buildings and equipment.   Over the years, like other farmers in Mashonaland West Province, Mpofu would get occasional outbreaks of African armyworm, which marched over from East Africa several decades ago.   It’s a cousin to the FAW, almost as rapacious, with a particular fondness for maize. But having been around for many years, farmers now know how to deal with it.   Last year Mpofu encountered FAW for the first time. He assumed it was the usual armyworm (the difference is in the markings) and tackled them with the recommended tried-and-tested pesticides. To his dismay, they didn’t work.   Fortunately, the government was quick to recognise the new threat and recommended alternative pesticides. “That saved many farmers from certain ruin,” said Mpofu.   But he still lost about 20 percent of his maize crop. “There was a significant percentage [of armyworm] which was not affected by the pesticides,” he said, possibly because heavy rains prevented follow-up applications, or the caterpillars had burrowed deep into the plant. Foster Dongozi/IRIN Sipho Mpofu (foreground) inspects his maize Impact on Africa   According to a the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, Africa stands to lose $3 billion worth of maize this coming year as a result of FAW.   This will be a dramatic setback for small-scale family farmers who grow the bulk of Africa’s maize. With limited access to inputs and services, they also receive low prices for the maize they do sell – and need all the support they can get to combat FAW.   David Phiri, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's coordinator for southern Africa, expressed his deep concern over “the emergence, intensity, and spread of the pest”.   As a moth, they are good flyers – averaging about 100 kilometres a night. They also multiply at a prodigious rate, with a female laying around 2,000 eggs in her 10-day caterpillar lifespan.   Climate change may also be an ally. Drought, followed by lots of rain – as southern Africa experienced last year after an especially strong string of El Niño seasons – seems to give them a boost.   “FAW has come to stay and it must be managed,” said Phiri. But farmers and agricultural extension officers in Africa are still learning how to identify the pest and understand its biology and ecology in order to manage it.   Mpofu has done his own research and is not optimistic. “I am worried by several issues,” he said. “The first one is that it is difficult to eliminate FAW, even using the recommended pesticides.” [...]

Success against salt: Senegalese farmers battle a major climate change threat

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:19:37 +0000

Climate change makes life harder for Senegalese farmers in many different ways: shorter rainy seasons, more frequent and longer dry spells and droughts, a lower water table, floods, coastal erosion, destruction of mangroves, and disruption of fish stocks. But most pernicious of all is the salinization of soil across large tracts of coastal and riverine farmland. In the village of Dioffior, some 150 kilometres southeast of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, residents have mounted a protracted battle against salt: an enemy that contaminates their land, decimates their crops and, as agriculture is the mainstay of the region’s economy, drives up poverty and food insecurity. Rising sea levels brought about by climate change have greatly increased the salt content of the nearby Sine River. In the vast Sine-Saloum delta, between 700,000 and one million hectares of land have been affected over the last 30 years. The Fatick region, where Dioffior is located, and which is the birthplace of President Macky Sall, has suffered more than most. “For decades in Sine-Saloum, the soil, which used to be known for its quality and productivity, has been badly damaged by climate change, which has led to the salinization of the waterways of the delta,” explained Seydou Cissé, who works at Senegal’s National Institute of Pedology (the study of soils). Other problems Unfortunately, soil salinization is just one of several harmful effects of climate change in Senegal. In a thesis for his master’s degree in climate change and sustainable development, Charles Pierre Sarr, who now works for Senegal’s environment ministry, noted reduced rainfall and rising temperatures around Dioffior and predicted further decreases of rainfall of 5.4 percent and 12 percent by 2025 and 2050 respectively. Senegal is “perpetually confronted with the adverse effects of climate change because of its 700-kilometre coastline which is impacted by the rising level of the sea, with the corollary of coastal erosion, the saline intrusion on farmland, the salinization of water resources and the destruction of infrastructure,” Sarr wrote. “Because agriculture is primarily rain-fed, climate change risks compromising efforts to fight poverty and efforts to reach food self-sufficiency.” Dioffior residents say the rice fields around the village were abandoned some 30 years ago. Since then, locals have worked tirelessly, carrying endless baskets of sand and rock to build dykes that turn lost fields into arable land again. The dykes keep the salty river water at bay and protect bodies of fresh water. Among those involved are some 200 women, members of an association called Sakh Diam, (“sow peace” in the Wolof language) who have recovered more than 100 hectares of land. They have their eyes set on a much larger area: in 2015 the local authorities allocated them 1,000 salty hectares of farmland. Sakh Diam has won financial support for its endeavours not only from the government of Senegal but also from those of Belgium and Japan. “These rice paddies used to be tans,” Marie Sega Sarr, the group’s president, told IRIN as she worked away in her paddy, using the Wolof word for salty land. “Nothing grew here until the Support Project for Small Local Irrigation (PAPIL) started. The anti-salt dyke you can see over there is Baboulaye 1. Where we are now is Baboulaye 2. There is another one at [the nearby commune of] Djawanda. In all, there are nine dykes around Dioffior built to combat the salinization of our agricultural land.” PAPIL was set up in the early 2000s by Senegal’s government, with help from partners such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Islamic Development Bank. PAPIL ran until 2015 and has been replaced by the Multinational Programme for Resilience to Food and Nutritional Insecurity in the Sahel region. The many objectives of the programme include reclaiming thousands more hectares of salinised la[...]

Development deficit feeds Boko Haram in northern Cameroon

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 12:48:20 +0000

One of the main reasons Boko Haram has been able to gain a foothold and recruit thousands of young people in the Far North Region of Cameroon is its relative lack of development and employment opportunities. Since Boko Haram began to launch attacks in northern Cameroon in 2014, more than 2,000 people have been killed and at least 155,000 forced to flee their homes. While the Far North Region has always been poorer than most of the rest of the country, it until recently boasted a vibrant cross-border livestock trade and a burgeoning tourism industry. The onset of conflict led to the closure of the Nigerian border, slashed the price of cattle in half, scared tourists off, and, because of large-scale displacement, badly affected agricultural productivity. The government’s failure to make good on promises to boost development as a way to deter people from joining the insurgency risks perpetuating instability in the north, experts say. “People are disappointed,” a researcher at the University of Maroua, the main town in the Far North Region, told IRIN, referring to the glacial pace of change. He asked not to be identified by name for fear of repercussions resulting from criticising the government. Projects supposedly underway include: a 78.9 billion CFA franc ($143 million) territorial development programme announced in 2014 for the three regions in the north of the country; a three-year national emergency plan unveiled in 2015 with a budget of 925 billion CFA francs of which just 42 billion francs was earmarked for the Far North Region; a 5.3 billion CFA franc plan to rebuild schools and hospitals in the region, also unveiled in 2015; and a 102 billion CFA franc project targeting young people across the country, announced by President Paul Biya in December 2016. Aside from a few new classrooms, feasibility studies, surveys and some construction material for road projects, and the arrival in Maroua of several contractors, there’s little evidence of progress. “Sometimes people just say things to calm things down,” the researcher said. “In the long term, this can only radicalise people – as they understand that the promises were just tricks – not necessarily to [join] Boko Haram but to oppose the government.” Boko Haram had already established logistics bases and begun recruiting in the Far North Region in 2011, gathering “support among disaffected youth… through the use of ideological indoctrination, socio-economic incentives and coercion,” the International Crisis Group said in a report published last November. While the government has enjoyed significant military successes against Boko Haram, “the weak point of Cameroon’s response remains the lack of commitment to development initiatives” as well as a lack of counter- and de-radicalisation programmes, the report said. “Poverty, low levels of literacy and school attendance pushed people to join Boko Haram. They became easy prey. It was just a like a job for them,” Ariel Ngnitedem, an economist and lecturer at the University of Yaounde II Soa, told IRIN, adding that young will remain vulnerable to recruitment if the government fails to deliver. “[The] government has been promising to offer more than Boko Haram,” Ngnitedem said. “If it fails, the youth will likely join any other radical groups that may emerge after Boko Haram is conquered. The youth fighting for Boko Haram have no political agenda.” Stalled projects According to a recent evaluation conducted by a monitoring committee, local contractors in the Far North Region failed to deliver 50 construction projects awarded to them in 2016 and in the first quarter of 2017. “Projects are awarded through tenders,” explained the university researcher. But “the bidding process is not often transparent and projects are awarded to companies that lack the capabilities to execute them.” The follow-up committee, headed[...]

Why I’m proud to be African today

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 21:34:06 +0000

It’s not easy to get a sitting president to leave office. In some cases, corruption, violence, and institutional inertia have conspired to keep some African presidents in office for decades.   In other cases, the sheer weight of going up against a person who knows the system, has the theoretically unlimited resources of the state at their disposal, and to whom political appointees owe their allegiance is often too much for opposition parties.   So, elections are held, but there is rarely a surprise. Hence why today’s annulment of the election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta by Kenya’s supreme court is such a landmark moment.   Change certainly can happen at the end of a constitutional term in office. But the power of incumbency means that it is rare for a sitting president to be turfed out if he or she is not ready to retire.   But in the last three years some significant shifts seem to be occurring. A quick survey of the status of incumbency across the continent suggests a growing political maturity – not in African voters, who have always turned out in big numbers to make their voices heard – but in African politicians who are increasingly willing to accept defeat.   In a world where generalisations and trends about Africa tend to be negative, this resurgence of democratic spirit is an important one to note.   Steps forward   It began in Nigeria in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari beat then-president Goodluck Jonathan in a hotly contested poll. Given Nigeria’s chequered political history there was real apprehension over whether Jonathan would concede. But he not only conceded, but congratulated Buhari for his win.   Then John Dramini Mahama became Ghana’s first one-term president. He happily handed over to Nana Akufo-Addo in 2017, that man he defeated in the 2012 vote.   A slightly different set of circumstances led to an unexpected transition in the Gambia. Self-proclaimed ruler-for-life Yahya Jammeh surprisingly accepted electoral defeat after 22 years in office.   Granted Jammeh did try and walk back his concession after the opposition threatened to prosecute him for crimes committed in office, but in the end he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea.   And then in Somalia, Mohamed Farmaajo took over from Hassan Sheikh Mahmood in February this year in a peaceful transition that defied the logic of the country’s ongoing civil war.   Status quo   Of course, it’s not all been smooth sailing. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza’s tampering with the constitution to stay in office has thrown that country into chaos. In Gabon, Omar Ali Bongo needed one of those last-minute 99 percent turnouts in his home constituencies in order to secure his stay in power.   Elections in Chad and in Guinea led to violent boycotts that did nothing to shift the status quo, while in Angola, although Jose dos Santos is nominally stepping aside, his hand-picked successor is about to slip into his shoes.   And while the victories of perennial presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) were never in doubt, there was still a measure of disappointment that neither made any serious effort to at least sustain the illusion of democracy.   In Uganda, perpetual oppositionist Kizza Bessigye has been repeatedly detained and harassed, while Diane Rwigara, one of Kagame’s challengers, has lately gone missing.   Asante Kenya!   That’s what makes the news from Kenya so astonishing, and the court’s judges such unlikely heroes.   The commission that runs the elections had declared incumbent Kenyatta the winner of the 8 August election – despite loud protest by the opposition party, NASA. The opposition insisted that though the vote had been free and fair, the tallying of the results had been fiddled with.   So certain was NASA that it would not get a fair court hearing that it initially refused to lodge a petition[...]

Boko Haram – the fear, the conspiracy theories, and the deepening crisis

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 15:04:59 +0000

The fear is palpable in northeast Nigeria as Boko Haram intensifies its war on civilians. The military’s regular claim that the jihadists are on the run is patently false, and provides no comfort to anyone.   Instead, this is the reality.   – Since January, there have been at least 83 suicide bombings by children – a figure four times higher than last year.     – Of the four roads leading out of Maiduguri, the main city in the northeast, only the Maiduguri-Damaturu-Kano road is adjudged safe.   – In rural areas, people are not able to venture more than four kilometres out of the main towns in each local government area because of insecurity.   – In Maiduguri’s mosques, people now pray in relay. As one group prays, another keeps watch to guard against suicide bombers.   The death tolls are startling. In the last two months, high-profile Boko Haram raids have included:   – An attack on oil workers and soldiers prospecting in the Lake Chad Basin in which more than 50 reportedly died.   – The shooting and hacking to death of 31 fishermen on two islands in the Lake Chad Basin.   In response to the rising tempo of attacks, acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the deployment of all his military chiefs to Maiduguri in July. It hasn’t stopped the violence.   The insecurity has undermined farming in the northeast, resulting in serious food shortages in pockets of the region. Boko Haram has taken to seizing food and goods from communities in Damboa, Azir, Mungale, ForFor, Multe, Gumsiri – to mention just a few.   The military are also accused of threatening communities that do not vacate their villages and move to the poorly serviced internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.   Those that stay behind risk not only being plundered by Boko Haram, but also the confiscation of their goods and produce by the army, on the grounds that they are in league with the insurgents.   In the Lake Chad Basin in particular, Boko Haram is moving into the traditional fish and bell pepper trade. It not only helps finance their insurgency, but muddies the identification of who is a combatant.   Nowhere seems safe – even Maiduguri. In recent months there have been bomb blasts at the Dalori IDP camp, Maiduguri university, a general hospital, and a major coordinated gun attack on the city itself.   Know your enemy   The military not only appears powerless, but lacks the operational intelligence to thwart the attacks. That lack of awareness – over both the nature of the threat and how to deal with it – led the army’s head of public relations, Brigadier General Sani Usman, to accuse parents of “donating” their children to Boko haram as suicide bombers.   The raid by the military on the UN’s headquarters in Maiduguri in August was another example of woeful intelligence. The army said it was conducting a cordon and search operation for high-value Boko Haram suspects, and did not know it was entering a UN building because there was no insignia.   But the incident does point to the level of distrust over the work of humanitarian agencies. The word on the street in Maiduguri the morning of the raid was that the leader of one Boko Haram faction, Abubakar Shekau, was in UN House - along with a secret store of ammunition. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="600" id="datawrapper-chart-7fxsy" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> Conspiracy theories abound and aid workers are implicated. A common allegation is that they provide food, fuel, and drugs to Boko Haram under the guise of delivering humanitarian aid.   An additional gripe is that what aid is being d[...]

Freetown’s mudslides and the slippery slope of urban risk in Africa

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 11:57:23 +0000

On Monday 14 August, the world awoke to reports of devastation caused by large-scale mudslides and localised flooding in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s rapidly urbanising capital.   The death toll rose within a few days to approximately 500, with several hundred more people reported missing and thousands displaced. The full extent of this disaster and the exact losses are not immediately known and may never be fully investigated.   As harrowing images drew in global sympathy, predictable post-disaster patterns ensued: sporadic inputs of disaster relief, political speeches and tours of affected sites, and a few days of “declared” national mourning.   However, beyond this short-term intervention, the persistence of African urban risk and frequent disaster events raise issues that require urgent attention.   Many other African towns and cities such as Accra, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Monrovia, and Dakar have recently also experienced small- and large-scale disasters including floods, large structural collapse, fire outbreaks, and disease epidemics, often following a repetitive seasonal or yearly cycle.   Much can be learnt from the recent disaster in Freetown, which was caused by multiple interrelated factors: weak and fractious planning, inadequate governance and disaster preparedness, lack of affordable land leading to extensive land use change, deforestation, and land-grabbing in hazardous locations.   This situation is characteristic of many rapidly urbanising contexts in West Africa and beyond marked by widespread poverty, weak local governments, and high levels of informality.   Zooming in   Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is one of the most rapidly urbanising regions in the world. By 2040, it is forecast that more people will live in urban areas than rural areas, amounting to approximately 854 million urban dwellers.   In the context of widespread poverty, climate change, and limited capacity to plan and manage rapid urban growth, towns and cities across SSA are becoming increasingly vulnerable to and impacted by a wide range of hazards. These range from everyday perils (infectious and parasitic diseases, road traffic injuries), to small disasters (structural collapse and flash floods), to major disasters (tropical storms, earthquakes, and floods).   Beyond catastrophic events, the impacts of everyday events can have a considerable and in some cases even higher aggregate impact on human health and wellbeing. This leads to cycles of risk accumulation that trap individuals and communities in conditions of vulnerability, which need to be better understood and properly addressed.   The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNISDR, categorises large-scale disasters as high-intensity events associated with major hazards in which at least 30 persons are killed and/or at least 600 houses are destroyed. Small-scale disasters have impacts below these two thresholds.   The idea of “everyday risks” speaks of systemic, characteristic, and high-frequency conditions and hazards that people and communities are continually exposed to, and could lead to losses that may not only be related to mortality or the destruction of property and may even become normalised phenomena. These include: protracted periods of illnesses from endemic infectious and parasitic diseases (not epidemics), motor accidents, isolated cases of domestic fires, persistent air pollution and poor waste management, and frequent flash flooding.   It is small-scale disasters and everyday risks that are the cause of much premature death, injury, and impoverishment in urban Africa, and not always the media headlining large-scale events.   Changing priorities   With the shocking events and images from Freetown fresh in our minds, pressing questions arise as to what can be done to prevent recurre[...]