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IRIN - Mali


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[...]

Fact file: Unfair cop – why African police forces make violent extremism worse

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 11:16:20 +0000

Undermanned, underfunded, underwhelming: African police forces struggle to contain regular crime, and they are even further out of their depth when it comes to tackling violent extremism. The best way to identify threats to public safety is a policing model that promotes trust and collaboration with the community, say the policy manuals on preventing violent extremism, better known as PVE. A positive relationship is believed to help build resilience to radicalisation. But the reality in much of the world is that the police are viewed as corrupt, violent, and people best avoided. “In African culture the police are there to intimidate, to coerce,” acknowledged Kenyan senior sergeant Francis Mwangi. He is trying his best to change that perception. Sharp and articulate, Mwangi is the face of a new policing initiative in the Nairobi slum of Kamakunji, which aims to build a partnership with the community to help blunt radicalisation of the youth. Traditional policing – far too often based on brutality and arbitrary arrest rather than proper detective work – can create more fear of the security services than the insurgents and is clearly counter-productive. A new UNDP study based on interviews with more than 500 jihadists –  drawn mainly from Kenya, Nigeria, and Somalia­ – found that in over 70 percent of cases “government action”, including the killing or arrest of a family member or friend, was the tipping point that prompted them to join. Why is the culture of human rights abuse and resistance to reform so deeply ingrained? Citizen or subject Part of the problem is history. African police forces were set up by the colonial powers to maintain control over the local population. Independence didn’t really change that function. Their role largely remains regime protection and representation rather than serving the public. As a result, most police forces are seriously undermanned. The UN recommends a ratio of 300 officers per 100,000 citizens. It’s a rough guide – force levels are influenced by a range of factors. But Kenya manages a ratio of only 203, Nigeria 187, and Mali – another country facing an Islamist insurgency – just 38. Police forces are also underequipped. From vehicles and the fuel to run them, to paper, pens, and printing ink. The barest of necessities are in short supply, before you get to functioning forensic labs and national fingerprint databases. Unsurprisingly, conviction rates are low. In South Africa, one of the more advanced police forces on the continent, only an estimated 10 percent of murder cases end in conviction. In crimes of sexual violence, it falls to between four and eight percent. The temptation, then, is to turn to forced confessions. In Nigeria, torture has become such an integral part of policing that many stations have an informal torture officer, according to a 2014 Amnesty International report. The prevalence of shoot-to-kill policies are also a reflection of the failure of the criminal justice system, with sections of the community seeing themselves as targets of persecution. Police hit squads take that logic one step further. In the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, they are known to operate against so-called radical elements, whose deaths only serve to stoke the anger of Muslim youth, who view themselves as already marginalised. Nigeria provides a stark example of the impact of the failure of due process. In 2009 the police killed Boko Haram founder Mohamed Yusuf while he was in custody. It did not stop his movement, and his successor, Abubakar Shakau, has proved a far more brutal and implacable enemy. The impunity of the police commanders involved in the murder undermines the moral authority of the Nigerian state. Governance failure is key in the tolerance of abuse. A corrupt political system breeds corrupt cops. If states are unwilling to provide opportunities, services, and rights to entire sections of its citizens, “there is then little reason to expect national police actors to do so”, argues a report by the Global Centre o[...]

Six major humanitarian challenges confronting the UN General Assembly

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:15:00 +0000

Hype over what President Donald Trump may or may not say dominated the media build-up to this week’s UN General Assembly. However, US funding cuts and the apparent absence of American authority on key global issues weigh more heavily over world leaders beset by a host of daunting humanitarian challenges.   It’s the first UNGA since Trump was elected president. He’ll make his debut on Monday in hosting a meeting on UN reform, ahead of his maiden speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. It’s also the first year at the helm for UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His speech opening high-level week on Tuesday will be closely watched, as will his handling of Trump’s US administration.   The US decision on the eve of the General Assembly to halve its diplomatic presence in New York doesn’t augur well for those concerned that US cuts and retreats from international agreements are creating a dangerous vacuum at a time when the General Assembly has so many global crises to address.   Here’s our guide to the major humanitarian issues:   Climate Change   The UNGA is always a vital forum for the world’s developing countries, particularly those facing down climate change. The new General Assembly president, Miroslav Lajcak of Slovenia, identified grappling with it a priority for the UN’s 72nd session. Catastrophic flooding in South Asia and two record-setting hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean and the southern United States will lend added gravity to sessions this week.   A high-level meeting convened by Lajcak and Guterres on Monday will focus on Hurricane Irma, which ploughed through the Caribbean and into Florida earlier this month. The UN’s regional response plan for the Caribbean calls for $27 million to help up to 265,000 people affected. For the first time in 300 years, no one is left living on Barbuda, according to Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US.   Notably absent from the expected speakers list are any Americans. Trump this year announced he would pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, angering world leaders and giving an opening to countries like China to take more of a lead on the issue. After word leaked that the US might be changing its position once more, the White House confirmed on the eve of the UNGA that it still plans to renege unless drastic changes are made. On Tuesday, heads of state will meet for a roundtable on climate change. By then, a new hurricane, Maria, will be running over some of the same Caribbean islands hit by Irma, possibly reaching Hispaniola by the end of the week. NGOs hope that attention will rub off on the sustainable development goals more broadly, with warnings that countries are falling behind.   Famine   More than 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria are still at risk of famine, and their lot will be the focus of aid agencies and diplomats. The UN’s just-released State of Food Security report warns that “the long-term declining trend in undernourishment seems to have come to a halt and may have reversed.”   Shortfalls in funding persist across the board, and the aid community will be applying further pressure on donors to follow through on their promises. The week’s main event on famine response and prevention is on Thursday. It will provide an opportunity for some new faces – recently appointed World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley and Mark Lowcock, the new top UN relief official – to set out their stall.   Yemen’s long humanitarian crisis, deepened by years of war, is now considered the world’s most dire: more than 20 million people are in need of assistance; seven million are severely food insecure; two million children are acutely malnourished; the worst cholera outbreak in memory has infected more than 660,000 people and claimed 2,100 lives. There’s no sign the warring parties are any closer to ending the civil war. On Monday, UN, EU and Gulf Cooperation Council representatives will host a [...]

What can save Mali?

Mon, 29 May 2017 09:16:41 +0000

Hamidou Barry has come to Bamako to find his son. His village of Ikerena, in the rural heart of Mali, is a long way from the capital, but this is where he’s been told that men detained by the security forces are taken.   Barry rented a room in the home of a very distant relative. The city is expensive: He’s running out of money and he still hasn’t made contact with anyone who can shed light on the whereabouts of his son, also called Hamidou.   Witnesses told Barry that Hamidou, 38, was arrested in mid-December at the hospital in Douentza where he had taken his friend for treatment. For some reason the police took an interest in the two Fulani men. They found a sermon by Fulani Islamist extremist Hamadoun Koufa on Hamidou’s phone, but Barry insists that does not make his son a jihadist.   Koufa is a marabout (preacher) from the central Malian town of Niafunke. He is also a protégé of the veteran Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghali, who heads Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-linked militant group. Dialogue instead of more foreign troops might yield an answer What can save Mali? img_9597.jpg Amanda Sperber Special Report Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics TIMBUKTU IRIN Africa West Africa Mali Rebels with a cause? The connection between the two men is just one of a web of overlapping conflicts and shifting alliances the Malian government is struggling to contain, even with generous Western military support.   Koufa fought in northern Mali with Ansar Dine and allied jihadist groups in 2012, rapidly overrunning the region’s main towns. He then led his men south. That advance, threatening Bamako, triggered a French and African Union intervention that scattered his forces.   Koufa re-emerged in 2015 as the head of the newly-founded Macina Liberation Front (FLM), a movement that seeks the revival of the 19th century Macina Empire, a Fulani-led Islamic state based in the central Mopti and Segou regions of present-day Mali.   FLM recruitment has stoked and exploited community tensions, especially between Fulani pastoralists and Bambara farmers over land and access to pasture. The Bambara have turned to government-backed Dozo self-defence militia, and there is now an unbroken tempo of tit-for-tat killings of civilians, along with more formal executions of government officials by the FLM. Central Mali has taken over from the north as the country’s most lethal region.   “It’s a toxic mix of intercommunal violence, jihadist activities, and abuses by government forces together fuelling this vicious circle,” said Héni Nsaibia, an analyst at Menastream, a risk consultancy firm that covers the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel.   But the violence is not just narrowly sectarian. A Human Rights Watch report documenting testimonies earlier this year from both communities included the account of a Fulani youth leader who pointed out: “We, the Peuhl [Fulani], were the jihadists’ first victims… we’ve also lost imams, mayors, and chiefs at the hands of the jihadists, but no one talks about that.”   Both sides have condemned the government’s failure to provide justice for the killings and to hold its own security forces accountable.   A Bambara leader was quoted by HRW as saying: “Since 2015, so many of our people have been gunned down in their farms, at home, or on their way to market. We have reported this to local and Bamako authorities, but what we hear are excuses for why they don’t investigate – the rain, the danger, insufficient vehicles. But in the end, there is no justice and the killings keep happening.” Hearts and minds When the government does act, it is heavy handed. HRW has recorded a number of arbitrary arrests by the security forces, especially around Douentza, where Hamidou was picked up.   [...]

Why there’s no need to panic on UN peacekeeping cuts

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:47:28 +0000

Fears are growing that the UN will be forced to drastically cut peacekeeping missions at President Donald Trump’s behest. Fortunately, it's a lot more complicated than that. First, Trump has to get his proposed budget through the US Congress and then, even if he does, where and when to cut the presence of blue helmets around the globe relies on tricky diplomatic manoeuvring and careful navigation of the UN's bureaucratic roadblocks.  The current UN peacekeeping budget, for the year ending 30 June, 2017, is $7.78 billion. The US provides 28.57 percent of this budget, followed by China and Japan at around 10 percent, then Germany, France, and the UK. The budget officially proposed by the Trump administration would significantly reduce financing to the State Department, international aid, and the financing of international organisations, including the UN. The so-called “skinny” budget contains only a few lines that directly reference peacekeeping. Namely, the US “would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs”. However, the US Congress already caps American’s peacekeeping assessment level at 25 percent. To meet its marginally higher existing obligations, that cap must be waived every year. “Trump is not creating this – it exists already,” pointed out Paul D. Williams, associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University. Recent reports suggest that the Trump administration wants to cut far deeper than the 25 percent ceiling, ripping as much as 40 percent from the $2.2 billion annual US contribution. A decrease from 28.57 percent to under 25 percent amounts to around $280 million. Incidentally, this is almost precisely the figure a 2014/15 UN Board of Auditors’ report identified as the total amount funded but not being spent by missions. A 40 percent cut would take roughly $1 billion from the UN's peacekeeping budget and reduce the US share, at existing levels, to more like 17-18 percent. The UN has often faced threats from American politicians, but this time the White House has telegraphed a clear intent to follow through on its promises: “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to various foreign aid programmes,” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director. “We should look at all 16 of them,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said at her confirmation hearing, referring to the number of blue-helmet missions around the world (14 are funded through the assessed peacekeeping budget). Haley will chair a 6 April meeting at the UN Security Council about the future of those peacekeeping missions. A letter she sent to Council members asks: "are current missions still 'fit for purpose?'" "Council members are encouraged to review missions and identify areas where mandates no longer match political realities and propose alternatives or paths towards restructuring to bring missions more in line with achievable outcomes," wrote the US mission. The letter, obtained by IRIN, asks many of the same questions already being posed by Council members – what to do "where there is no political process to support"; how to guard against mission creep; or whether it is "advisable, or even possible, to operate a mision without the strategic consent of the host government". Even if a far larger proposed cut does emerge when Trump’s more detailed budget is released in May, the reality is that it is Congress that ultimately decides the budget, not the White House. Many Republicans already balked at the proposed cuts, especially at the State Department, and the president is already locked in a major congressional battle over healthcare reform. "I do not anticipate that Congress will approve the UN-related provisions in the president’s budget without major revisions,” Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation told IRIN. "There are many congressional champions who appreciate peacekeeping, and want to ensure full-funding." Experts reser[...]

Editor’s take: Can UN peacekeeping be fixed?

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 17:18:18 +0000

Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki is in disgrace. The Kenyan commander of the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan was sacked this week by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after a special investigation found there was a "chaotic and ineffective response” to protecting civilians during fighting between government and opposition soldiers in the capital, Juba, in July.    But Ondieki’s departure will not solve the wider deficiencies and challenges hobbling UN peacekeeping. Ondieki inherited many of those shortcomings: he had only headed the UN Mission in South Sudan for two months before the Juba clashes.   A furious Kenyan government, accusing the UN of scapegoating, has said it will withdraw its 1,000-strong contingent from UNMISS. It has also backed out of a planned, more robust, 4,000-man Regional Protection Force.   The significance of walking away is that Kenya is the region’s point person for South Sudan’s battered peace process.    What the UN’s special investigation found was certainly shocking. Peacekeepers abandoned their posts. No contingent was willing to participate in a rescue mission to help aid workers and civilians whose hotel was raided by government soldiers a little over a kilometre from their base, even though a senior government officer offered to accompany the reaction force.   Problems from the start   The panel pointed to a grave lack of leadership. But Ondieki may well be feeling aggrieved: the bar that UNMISS could operate at was never set particularly high.   From the start, UNMISS has struggled to attract enough troops to reach its mandated strength. Command, as in other UN missions, is also complicated by “caveats” – hidden restrictions whereby the different national contingents apply their own rules of engagement, or refer direct orders to their home governments who make often delayed decisions on compliance or refuse them.   When the country degenerated into civil war in December 2013, the peacekeepers had little choice but to pull back into their bases. The idea was that they would provide protection to the civilians around them, but the reality was that UNMISS was intimidated by a government that publicly accused it of supporting the opposition.   frameborder="0" height="650" src="" width="100%"> Duck and cover A bunkering mindset meant UNMISS chose not to patrol aggressively or challenge the restrictions placed on its free movement – even though those restrictions violated the status of forces agreement the UN had agreed with the government.   In Mongatan, just outside the Juba Tongping base, civilians were being killed by government forces within earshot of the UN troops when fighting first broke out. Between January and April 2014, there were massacres in Leer, Malakal, and twice in Bentui, towns where peacekeepers were bivouacked.   Even the UNMISS bases themselves have not been safe for the sheltering civilians. In Akobo, 43 Indian peacekeepers, defending a fortified position, equipped with armored personnel carriers, surrendered to a mob who executed at least 20 people in the base. In Bor, 43 were killed in the IDP camp defended by UNMISS; in Malakal this year, 30 died when government soldiers broke in.   The 12,000-strong UNMISS force, without proper medevac support or air cover, has preferred not to confront a government army or rebels who have shown little compunction in killing peacekeepers or downing UN helicopters. The international community has applied limited pressure on Juba and done little else to try to change this equation – and, in truth, may lack leverage.   A global problem   South Sudan is just one example of the challenges and setbacks faced by UN peacekeeping. Throug[...]

Trouble in the heart of Mali

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 06:38:36 +0000

The Algiers Accord isn’t dead, but a year after the peace agreement was signed between the government and two coalitions of armed groups in northern Mali, it is badly bruised. The Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) takes its cue from the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA), drivers of the Tuareg insurgency in January 2012 and still pursuing a quasi-separatist agenda. The other group, the “Platform”, is a loose collection of armed movements, broadly described as pro-government, but from diverse constituencies and driven by different, local agendas. Both before Algiers and since, there have been localised conflicts and a relentless war of words between these northern factions. But Jean-Hervé Jézéquel of the International Crisis Group has noted a rapprochement of late, with both CMA and the Platform directing verbal fire less at each other and more at the government, criticising its slow progress in addressing the north’s political and economic exclusion and the stalled Demobilisation, Disarmament, and Reintegration process. Much will ultimately hinge on the tactics adopted by these rival blocs, but Mali watchers are also concerned by two developing trends: the growing reach and changing tactics of jihadist groups, and the unrest erupting in previously peaceful central regions. Read also The dangers of a new Libyan intervention Is Ivory Coast attack the new normal? AQIM incident map   Ibrahim Maiga has tracked the formation of new movements in northern and central regions of the country, studying their origins, internal rifts, shifting alliances, and respective stakes in the peace process. “The situation is now even more complicated than it was at the time of Algiers,” the expert warned bluntly. New armed groups In the central regions of Mopti and Ségou, small-scale skirmishes are beginning to hint at a potentially bigger problem. They may not be directly related to the larger conflict in the north, but the humanitarian consequences can be significant and they add to the country’s general instability. It was noted at the time of Algiers that absent from the peace process was any real representation from the central region of Mopti, the focus being much more on the northern regions of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu. This also meant that the concerns of Peul communities, both pastoralists and sedentary farmers, were not addressed. Peul activists, notably through the Tabital Pulaaku organisation, have complained of wholesale human rights abuses by both government and Tuareg rebel forces during and after past rebellions. Tabital Pulaaku President Abdoul Aziz Diallo has warned: “As long as we are not associated in the process, it will be difficult to obtain peace.” The National Alliance for the Safeguarding of the Peul Identity and the Restoration of Justice – known as ANSIPRJ – announced its emergence as a military force earlier this month. Its leader is Omar al-Janah, a 27-year-old former teacher, reportedly of Tuareg and Peul parents. Al-Janah has claimed 700 fighters at his disposal. In an interview with Paris-based Jeune Afrique, he denied being either a separatist or a jihadist. There are also reports of a second group emerging in the central region: the Macina Liberation Front, which takes its inspiration from the Macina Empire of the 19th century and is led by radical preacher Amadou Koufa. Land and alienation Mali expert Boukary Sangaré suggests the growing violence in the region is rooted in both traditional land disputes and the aftermath of the rebellion of 2012.   Sangaré says Peul leaders are being punished for an alliance they formed with the nominally faith-driven Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – better known as MUJAO – once the dominant power in Gao. He sees the alliance as not fundamentally one of shared ideological conviction, but one forged out of a joint hostility towards the MNLA [...]

The dangers of a new Libyan intervention

Mon, 28 Mar 2016 11:57:30 +0000

NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, coming shortly after the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, was hailed at the time as a “humanitarian intervention.” It was, at least according to the UN Security Council resolution used as authorisation, intended to bring about a ceasefire and end attacks against civilians that “might constitute crimes against humanity.” Gaddafi is gone, as are the foreign fighter planes, but Libya is far from stable. There are two rival governments – one in Tobruk and one in Tripoli – and the so-called Islamic State has been making major gains in the embattled and now chaotic country. Foreign powers have been expressing concern about the group’s expansion in the oil-rich state, and although US Secretary of State John Kerry has ruled out another military intervention, there are signs that such action may be on the cards. Some Libyans, forced to flee IS or live under its rule, are themselves beginning to discuss intervention as the only way forward. Abdelkader Abderrahmane, an independent geopolitical researcher and analyst on African security, discusses the dangerous repercussions he believes intervention would have for the continent. More than five years since the Arab Spring was sparked in Tunisia, history is about to repeat itself. Despite statements from leaders like Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni that his country will not intervene in Libya without the request of a national unity government, Western powers are urging the formation of such a government and quietly preparing to step in. But they should think twice: a new intervention would have dramatic consequences for Africa, already suffering under the weight of Islamist radicalisation. With a budget of billions and an estimated fighting force of anywhere between 52,000 and 275,000, according to various estimates, the so-called Islamic State has the finances and the manpower to take a firm hold in Africa. Rather than destroying IS, a military intervention is likely to send it into a dangerous flight that will resonate in the rest of the continent. If forced to make a getaway, IS fighters – not to mention those from other groups with a presence in south Libya like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – will have no trouble crossing the Sahel and Maghreb’s porous borders, finding safe haven further south. African spread Intelligence reports suggest 30,000 foreign fighters have joined IS, with no less than 5,000-7,000 of them in Libya. If ousted from the country, these men are likely to return home or find a place elsewhere with their newly acquired arms, ammunition, and fighting expertise. Locals are not exempt from the draw of IS: in January Algeria arrested some 300 Moroccans attempting to cross into Libya – the suspicion is they were planning to join the 1,500 Moroccans already among the group’s ranks. Once outside Libya, IS may form stronger ties with other militant groups that are on the rise in Africa, such as al-Shabab, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Boko Haram. Perhaps a worse (and more likely) scenario than unity is that the differences between these groups will lead them to compete for who can draw the most blood. These groups are already piling up quite the death toll in Africa: AQIM and its affiliate al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for a January attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso’s Ouagadougou that killed at least 30; Ansar Dine copped to killing 5 UN peacekeepers in a February attack in northern Mali; al-Shabab killed 14 civilians when they attacked a Mogadishu hotel later that month; and AQIM hit again in mid-March, killing at least 16 people on an Ivory Coast beach. And these are hardly the only examples of Islamist militant action in the region. Read more Briefing: The new Jihadist strategy in the Sahel What a difference 5 years makes But it’s Tunisia[...]

Is Ivory Coast attack the new normal?

Mon, 14 Mar 2016 14:59:00 +0000

The attacks that killed 16 people yesterday at a beach resort in Cote d’Ivoire were shocking and brutal, but not entirely unexpected. Security experts had been warning that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was a growing threat outside its traditional stronghold in northern Mali. The group, and its affiliate al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for attacks that killed 30 people in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, in January, and 21 people in the Malian capital, Bamako, in November. In a comprehensive briefing last month, IRIN found the two attacks likely to be the beginning of a trend that would continue in 2016. See: Briefing: The new jihadist strategy in the Sahel   Authorities in Cote d’Ivoire were well aware of the threat and had prevented several attacks recently, said William Assanvo of the Institute for Security Studies, a South African think tank. But there’s only so much they can do to prevent attacks that do not require sophisticated planning and are relatively easy to carry out. “You can’t have security personnel everywhere at every time,” he said on the phone from the Senegalese capital, Dakar. In a statement posted to social media in Arabic, Spanish, French and English, AQIM said three of its members “were able to storm the tourist resort” in Grand Bassam in south-eastern Cote d’Ivoire, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups. The Ivorian government said six gunmen killed 14 civilians and two soldiers at the popular resort area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 40 km east of Abidjan, the country’s largest city and commercial capital. The United States and France have offered to help with the investigation. The best bet to prevent future attacks is better intelligence gathering, Assanvo said. But he warned that such attacks are likely to reoccur in the region as AQIM aims to expand its influence outside of northern Mali. “Now the threat is permanent,” he said. Here are some key take-aways from IRIN’s in-depth look at the recent spread of AQIM and its affiliates in West Africa: Militant groups are working together. The Burkina Faso attack was carried out by a group called al-Mourabitoun, which had pledged allegiance to AQIM.   AQIM has changed tactics from attempting to hold territory in Mali to flexing its muscles regionally and attacking countries collaborating with the West, particularly the US and France, which have military operations in West Africa. Ivory Coast is a strong ally of France and home to a logistical base for French forces.   AQIM has its roots in an insurrection against the French-backed military of Algeria, which annulled the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in 1992. Militants later took shelter in northern Mali, where the government had little control.   In addition to using an extreme interpretation of Islam to motivate its recruits, AQIM taps into discontent amongst poor, local communities resentful of rich and corrupt political leaders, and distrustful of Western countries.   Leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso have formed the G5, a regional organisation to strengthen cooperation on development and security in the Sahel. But they have been criticized for prioritizing border security over the provision of social services, the lack of which is thought to fuel militancy. jf/ha Maradi, Niger.A formation of Nigerien soldiers from the 322nd Parachute Regiment march to a training site where they will learn combat skills from U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) home-based in Stuttgart, Germany News Conflict Is Ivory Coast attack the new normal? IRIN West Africa Burkina Faso Côte d’Ivoire Mali Français [...]

Briefing: The new Jihadist strategy in the Sahel

Thu, 04 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Security has been intense over the last few weeks in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, with police and soldiers on the streets, vehicle searches, and round-ups of alleged Islamist militants. It’s the response to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attack in Burkina Faso on 15 January that left 30 people dead. Until the assault on the Cappuccino restaurant and the Splendid Hotel, next door on Ouagadougou’s trendy Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, Burkina Faso, like Senegal, felt safe from the jihadist violence that has destabilised other countries in the region. “We thought we were not really concerned by terrorism, that we were shielded by our armed forces and our diplomacy,” Ousmane Ouedraogo told IRIN outside his cellphone shop on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue. “But now we know we are vulnerable.” That vulnerability stems from the political instability in Burkina Faso following the youth-led toppling of Blaise Campaore after nearly three decades in power.  But there is a more fundamental fragility that has its roots in the legitimacy and authority of governments across the Sahel region, which AQIM, AQIM-linked groups, and, more recently, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) are seeking to exploit. The Burkina Faso attack was carried out by the militant group al-Mourabitoun, which had recently pledged allegiance to AQIM. The targets were popular with Western aid workers, businessmen, and soldiers serving with Operation Barkhane, France’s regional counter-insurgency mission. The raid put together a team of young men based in Mali (AQIM named three but there are suggestions three escaped); at least one of the identified men seems to have been Fulani – a pastoralist ethnic group that spans West Africa; and their cars had Niger license plates. It was, then, a fine example of regional militant integration.  It followed an earlier al-Mourabitoun attack in November that killed 21 people at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako. It’s a fairly safe prediction that these two events are the beginning of a trend that will continue in 2016. “Three years ago, AQIM’s plan was to hold territory in northern Mali. That has changed,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, the senior Sahel analyst at the International Crisis Group, told IRIN. “The new strategy is that instead of managing territory, they want to show they can impact a much larger area by attacking the capitals of countries collaborating with Western forces.” Why should Senegal worry? The heightened security in Dakar is a recognition of how tempting a target it is. It’s the regional base of scores of international organisations. Senegal is a pro-Western partner, especially of France and the United States, and Dakar has provided troops to the French-backed African Union military intervention in Mali. More than 500 people have been picked up in the current crackdown.   Photo: Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN The spread of militancy There is ample evidence of Senegalese recruitment to various jihadist causes. Senegalese are among IS forces in Libya; a small group of Wolof speakers (an almost exclusively Senegalese language) were believed to have fought alongside Islamist militants in northern Mali; men speaking Wolof were among the kidnappers of Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler in Niger in 2008; young militants from the large Senegalese diaspora are believed to be with IS in Syria; and there have been periodic arrests of individuals, most recently four activists detained for alleged ties to Nigeria’s IS-linked Boko Haram.  But Senegal is also a traditionally tolerant and democratic society. Although 90-percent Muslim, for the first 20 years of independence it was ruled by a still well-regarded Catholic president, Léopold Senghor. Four popular and powerful Sufi brotherhoods dominate religious practice. The brotherho[...]