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IRIN - Nigeria


Shifting relationships, growing threats: Who’s who of insurgent groups in the Sahel

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 16:55:24 +0000

In the six years since a separatist rebellion broke out in northern Mali in January 2012, armed groups in West Africa’s Sahel region have grown considerably in both number and the complexity of their ever-evolving relationships with one another. Some of Mali’s armed groups signed a peace accord in 2015. But implementation of its provisions has been very slow, while insecurity - especially in the central region - continues to deteriorate with the emergence of new jihadist elements, which are also active near the borders in Burkina Faso and Niger. Meanwhile, in Nigeria and some of its neighbouring states, Boko Haram is still causing havoc almost a decade after it started its insurgency. Here’s a brief overview of the key non-state armed actors in the region: Signatories to Mali’s 2015 peace accord   These comprise two opposing camps: Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (The Coordination of Azawad Movements, or CMA) A loose coalition of former rebel movements with shared interests, such as self-determination (full independence is no longer on their official agenda). Azawad was the name given to the short-lived and unrecognised state in northern Mali in 2012 by the separatist Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA). The CMA also includes the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA), and the Haut Comité pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA).   La Plateforme des groupes armées (The Platform of Armed Groups) This is a diverse range of nominally pro-government groups, which purport to defend Mali’s territorial sovereignty and sometimes fight alongside the regular army. They also have their own individual interests. The Platform comprises the Groupe d’autodéfense touareg Imrad et alliés (Tuareg Imrad Self-defence Group and its Allies, or GATIA), a branch of the MAA, and the Coordination des mouvements et Front patriotique de résistance (Coordination of Movements and Patriotic Resistance Front, or CM-FPR). Since the peace accord was signed, clashes have frequently broken out between the two camps, delaying the deal’s implementation, worsening the plight of civilians, and playing into the hands of jihadist groups. In 2016, CMA and Platform members were implicated in 174 cases of abuses against civilians, and a further 72 in the first quarter of 2017, according to the human rights division of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali, MINUSMA. Tensions eased somewhat between two camps after they signed a ceasefire in September 2017. Non-signatories and dissidents Former rebels unhappy with the way in which the CMA is handling the peace process, especially its emphasis on the Kidal region and the Ifoghas confederation of Tuareg clans, have formed several new entities based on geography and community. Congrès pour la Justice de l’Azawad (Congress for Azawad Justice, or CJA) in the Timbuktu region Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad (Movement for Azawad Salvation, or MSA) in the Menaka region Branche dissidente de la CM-MPR (Dissident wing of the CM-MPR)   The exclusion of these new groups from some mechanisms of the peace process, despite their military strength and the portion of the population they represent, calls into question its relevance, given that the context it was signed in has since changed so significantly. In early February 2018, GATIA said it was impossible for the terms of the peace accord to solve Mali’s crisis in its current form, and called for inclusive dialogue on all of the deal’s shortcomings.   Jihadist and related groups   Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam wal-Mouslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM or GNIM).   In March 2017, the main jihadist groups in the Sahel – Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun, and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – announced they had formed an alliance under the banner of this new entity.   JNIM bills itself as the official branch of al-Qaeda in Mali. As such, it consolidates that group’s presence in the Sahel and puts Sahel players, especially Ansar Dine, firmly on the global[...]

It is time to end the child soldier stereotype

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 12:30:45 +0000

From Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Myanmar and Nigeria, countless children remain trapped in armed conflict.   The UN Secretary General’s 2017 Report on Children and Armed Conflict names 56 non-state armed groups and seven state armed forces in 14 countries that recruit children.   Escalating conflicts have led to a spike in child recruitment in several regions. Deepening unrest in Congo saw more than 3,000 child soldiers recruited in 2017, levels in the Middle East have doubled, while the shocking scale of recruitment in South Sudan was laid bare again this month by Human Rights Watch.   “In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics,” a UNICEF statement declared in December.    Child soldier myths   Sadly, the use of child soldiers is nothing new, but the recent spotlight placed on Nigeria’s “Chibok girls” and the “Caliphate Cubs” of so-called Islamic State has drawn global attention to the problem.   The abduction of the 276 schoolgirls from the Nigerian town of Chibok by Boko Haram militants in 2014 raised awareness of the harsh reality faced by girls in some armed groups – from sexual abuse to their increasing use as suicide bombers.   The brutal indoctrination of children recruited to fight under IS, and their prominent use in propaganda materials, illustrates both the vulnerability of children and the lengths some armed groups will go to exploit them.       Child soldiers have always played many roles during armed conflict, as porters and cooks, messengers or spies, while sexual, physical, and psychological abuse is also common. Many are kept away from the front lines.   But child soldiers are still too often reduced to stereotypes. A Google search of “child soldier” shows children bearing arms in all but four of the first 50 images, and 47 of them are boys.   The UN estimates up to 40 percent of child soldiers worldwide are in fact girls, who often encounter serious difficulties when returning home.   Another misconception is that once they are freed from an armed group, former child soldiers will return to a normal life and be welcomed with open arms by their communities.   In reality, rejection and discrimination by family and friends is commonplace. Child Soldiers International conducted research in Congo in 2016 that brought to light the hardships endured by returning girl soldiers.   Of 150 girls interviewed, a majority had suffered horrendous sexual abuse, with several taken as “wives” by their captors. Their experiences were compounded when they returned home, as many were ostracised by their families.   Practical support   This is one reason why global efforts to improve the reintegration of child soldiers must intensify, and should be tailored to local environments and the individual needs of children.   For example, we found that the overriding wish of the girls in Congo was to return to education, to help them take on a positive identity and achieve redemption in the eyes of the community. Involvement in agricultural initiatives – the most common source of occupation in eastern Congo – also helped significantly, as well as bringing positive benefits to the broader community.   We also found that engaging community leaders to involve the girls in social activities helped strengthen relationships and change the way family and friends viewed them.   Upholding rights, providing funds   To ensure that reintegration support for these children is effective, there needs to be a more concerted effort to back appropriate programmes.   According to a recent report, while total Official Development Assistance amounted to $174 billion in 2015, only 0.6 percent was spent on projects fully or partially designed to end violence against children. It is crucial the international community recognises the importance of reintegration, and while many programmes [...]

Peace in northeastern Nigeria requires justice for military crimes not just Boko Haram atrocities

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 18:01:20 +0000

One day the Boko Haram insurgency will come to an end. When it does, there will be a painful time of reckoning. But for lasting peace to come to northeastern Nigeria, one important fact must be acknowledged from the start: there are perpetrators and victims on many sides. After eight and a half years of conflict, no one knows when the guns will fall silent. Government declarations of victory are still routinely followed by the jihadist group committing yet another violent outrage. Boko Haram is proving hard to defeat. It has survived a split between Abubaker Shekau (the ranting leader seen on the YouTube videos) and a rival faction led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi that is aligned with so-called Islamic State. It has weathered the food shortages that have affected rural communities across Borno State. And it has resisted a sustained offensive by the Nigerian military targeting its strongholds in the Lake Chad region and the Sambisa Forest, further south. The brutality of Boko Haram – its killings, torture, rapes, and abductions – are well known. But the Nigerian military and a pro-armed forces vigilante group called the Civilian Joint Task Force, or CJTF, are also accused of committing human rights violations – well documented by Amnesty International. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has identified eight possible cases of crimes against humanity in relation to the conflict in northeastern Nigeria. These include six possible cases against Boko Haram and two against the Nigerian security forces.  There have been various negotiation efforts between the government and elements within Boko Haram. This has involved talking to both factions of the insurgency, and has resulted in the release of two batches of the Chibok school girls. Justice for whom? If these negotiations were to go a step further and result in a ceasefire and peace agreement, or if somehow the Nigerian military finally found the skill and commitment to “win” the war – what would peace look like? There would certainly be a demand for accountability and justice, but justice for whom? The challenge of transitional justice in Nigeria is illustrated by a scoping paper by the Centre for Democracy and Development. It identifies the several categories of victims and perpetrators – and the issue is complicated. Appearing on both sides of the ledger – as both victims and perpetrators – are the Nigerian military, the CJTF, Boko Haram ex-combatants, government officials, and civilian collaborators. Within the military, for example, the rank and file see themselves as not only victims of Boko Haram, but also of corrupt government officials and senior officers who have lined their pockets with the resources that should have been spent on fighting the insurgency. In researching the report, I asked a lot of people in the three northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa what transitional justice should entail on the day peace returns. Can’t trust Boko Haram What was clear is that there is a great deal of anger towards Boko Haram. That includes those the government is trying to reintegrate through its Operation Safe Corridor demobilisation programme. The overwhelming opinion was that all insurgents – even those who have surrendered – should be prosecuted. It’s a powerful emotion, especially among the displaced. The sentiment commonly heard amounts to this: “we are suffering in IDP camps, with little food and only basic services, while the perpetrators are in a rehabilitation camp, drinking bottled water and sleeping under mosquito nets.” Many believe the ex-combatants are not at all repentant: they surrendered merely out of hunger, or to save their lives – because they had run afoul of their Boko Haram commander or been out-gunned by the military. The common denominator was: “Boko Haram can never change, they cannot be trusted.” Army crimes The armed forces and the CJTF are also clearly seen as complicit in rights violations and should be held to accou[...]

A dozen shades of khaki: counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 14:19:36 +0000

In 2011, several African states warned about the likely consequences of an international military intervention in Libya aimed at toppling Muammar Gaddafi. Now, six years after his death, security in the Sahel region has never been worse. In a domino effect, from 2012, the spillover from the Libyan crisis bolstered the Tuareg rebellion in Mali, which in turn facilitated a jihadist incursion, which, after briefly being halted by France’s Operation Serval, arose from the ashes stronger than ever and spread across neighbouring states. “Mali’s roots were rotten, it just needed a breeze to make it collapse,” summarised a former Malian minister recently. In Mali, the state is now hardly present across much of the country. In mid-December, barely a quarter of state agents were in their posts in the six northern and central regions. According to an opposition party tally, 2017 was Mali’s most deadly year since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power in 2013. Yet the Sahel region has never been so militarised; it is rife with insurgencies and counter-insurgency forces of various stripes. Relative veterans from France and the United States have recently been joined by troops from Italy and Germany, and by a new regional coalition, as well as by forms of warfare new to the region. Presented as solutions by their political masters, the military missions detailed below are seen by others as pouring fuel on the fire, and as simplistic responses to complex problems. United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Created in April 2013, this UN mission, now consisting of 13,000 troops, was supposed to stabilise northern regions of Mali after the lightning assault launched against jihadist groups there three months earlier by France’s Operation Serval (see below). Instead, MINUSMA faced a resurgence of these groups outside major urban centres and found itself exposed to mobile and seasoned guerrillas. They proved to be beyond the mission’s capabilities to control, and, arguably, peripheral to its mandate. “The UN deployed [here] without a peace accord, which is normally a precursor for a peacekeeping mission,” MINUSMA chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif told IRIN. “On the other hand, the idea that MINUSMA came here to fight terrorists has always been a major misunderstanding between Malians and MINUSMA, and unfortunately one that still exists.” Annual revisions of the mission’s mandate aimed at making the force more reactive have failed to silence critics. Both within and outside Mali, questions have been raised about the utility of spending more than a billion dollars in a single year when the mission has proved unable to fulfil its core tasks of protecting civilians and defending human rights. The killing of civilians during demonstrations by peacekeepers and accusations of rape have helped to sour pubic opinion of MINUMSA. The mission’s relations with the Malian government have frequently been strained, not least over the neutrality MINUSMA has shown towards certain rebel groups, a stance Bamako viewed as impeding the state’s recovery of its sovereignty over the entire country. The force’s limitations have frequently been highlighted. The latest report on Mali by the UN secretary-general, for example, noted that, “the lack of armoured troop carriers, especially of vehicles protected against landmines, remains a major obstacle to the mission's operations”. The previous report, issued in September, said MINUSMA’s civilian protection mandate had been compromised by the “absence of adequate air assets”. Both publically and in private, MINUSMA officials have made no secret of their frustration at being used as a punching ball and cash cow by Malian politicians. Harandane Dicko/MINUSMA Another prominent component of the force’s mandate is to oversee the implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. MINUSMA itself is p[...]

New e-book released: IRIN’s reporting on climate change and food security

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 07:59:16 +0000

Over the last two decades, 200 million people across the world have been lifted out of hunger. But as climate change brings more frequent and severe weather shocks such as droughts and floods, and makes rainfall patterns less predictable, these gains are under threat. Throughout 2017, IRIN has been exploring the impact climate change has had on a large group of people who are extremely vulnerable to its effects and yet play a negligible role in causing it: smallholder farmers in Africa. Agriculture is Africa’s biggest employer. But mean temperatures are expected to rise faster in the continent than the global average, decreasing crop yields and deepening poverty. IRIN has now completed a reporting project – conducted with support from the Open Society Foundations – to outline the challenges that global warming is triggering, and to explore what local communities are doing to adapt and reduce their vulnerability. The project covers four countries – Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zimbabwe – with the goal of sharing lessons learned so that small-scale farmers everywhere can be better supported as their challenges multiply. It provides a platform for policy discussion, and for the voices of those men and women on the front lines of climate change to be heard. We have compiled all the articles into an e-book, which you can download here. It contains field reporting on: climate-related problems and threats such as desertification in Nigeria, soil salination in Senegal, and the lack of technical support available to smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe; the range of responses and solutions adopted by farmers and governments; and how livestock-raising communities in the Kenyan county of Turkana are facing up to one of the worst droughts in living memory. The document also includes three fact files full of key information about how adaptation finance works; the relationship between climate change, food security, and adaptation; and the specific climate challenges faced by pastoralist communities. am/ag maize_oxfam.jpg Special Report Solutions and Innovations Climate change Food New e-book released: IRIN’s reporting on climate change and food security IRIN PARIS Africa West Africa Senegal Nigeria Southern Africa Zimbabwe Kenya Français [...]

A hard row to hoe for Nigeria to reach food self-sufficiency

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 09:37:46 +0000

On the outskirts of Nigeria’s northern city of Kano is bustling Dawanau, West Africa's largest grain market. Fortunes change hands here daily, with sacks of millet, sorghum, and cowpeas loaded onto trucks for delivery to countries as far afield as Chad, Mali, and Senegal. But away from the hubbub of Dawanau, the smallholder farmers who produce more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s food face an uphill battle to maintain that supply. Northern Nigeria’s vast plains are ideal for agriculture – and rice is an especially lucrative crop. The staple is a must-have at any social event and a cornerstone of some of the country’s most popular dishes, including the ubiquitous spicy favourite, “Jollof”. Nigeria is both the largest rice producer in Africa and the continent’s biggest importer. The supply shortfall is made up with imports – mainly from Thailand and India – valued at more than $8 million per day. As with rice, so with wheat, maize, and other grains: Nigeria, with a population of 190 million, is a significant producer, but also a net importer. So given its abundant arable land, why can’t Nigeria support its farmers to grow more food and plug the foreign exchange drain? The answer lies in the dominance of oil. Until the country’s oil boom in the 1970s, agriculture was Nigeria’s economic mainstay, able to meet both local demand as well as generate export earnings. Crude oil changed that. With staggering amounts of easy money sloshing through the political system, agriculture languished. Today, Nigeria’s annual food import bill is around $20 billion. But a combination of dwindling oil revenues and dollar shortages has persuaded the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to make agriculture a priority again. Grow-your-own Under the slogan of “We must produce what we eat”, the government is encouraging agribusiness as a way to drive economic growth, and as the path out of poverty and food insecurity for millions of smallholder farmers. The government has set ambitious targets of becoming self-sufficient in rice production by 2018, and turning a net exporter by 2020. To create incentives for domestic production, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has restricted the allocation of dollars for the importation of a series of food items, and hiked import duties – from 10 to 60 percent in the case of rice. It has also restricted imports across land borders to crack down on smuggling. When Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, announced earlier this year that he was making a $1 billion investment in Nigeria’s rice production, it seemed to vindicate the government’s approach. The Dangote Group plans to produce one million tonnes of parboiled milled rice over the next five years, equivalent to 16 percent of domestic demand. Other big players have also jumped in, including the Lagos-based conglomerate TGI, which opened a rice mill in August with a capacity of 120,000 tonnes, and Olam Nigeria, part of Singapore-based Olam International, which plans to boost its existing rice output. A number of government initiatives are in place to promote small-scale agriculture. They include the CBN’s $300 million Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, introduced in 2015 to provide cheap loans and input subsidies for hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers. The World Bank is also supporting the government’s agricultural transformation strategy with a $200 million loan to support small- to mid-scale rice production. The government’s grow-your-own push seems to be working. Cereal production has increased, despite the impact on farming of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, and rice yields are also up, helped along by higher rice prices. ILRI/Stevie Mann Mixed crop and livestock farmer Hard work with little help But most Nigerian farmers still struggle, noted Mahmoud Daneji, managing director o[...]

The flawed logic of forced slum evictions

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 15:38:47 +0000

If the goal of urban development is to improve the cities we inhabit, then we must first address the needs of the majority of us who live on the margins.   Continuing to hope that illegally demolishing informal settlements will somehow eradicate them is at best a delusion, since the only thing continuous forced evictions guarantee is that we will have slums in our cities forever.   Citing the security risk they supposedly represented, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced his intention in October last year to “clear” all informal coastline settlements.    A month later, around midnight on 9 November, state security officers oversaw the first of what turned out to be a series of demolitions in Otodo-Gbame, a fishing village on the edge of a newish, upscale neighbourhood.   By April 2017, the entire area – once home to 30,000-plus indigenous Lagosians – had been forcefully emptied of people and property.   A few short months later, as the land was prepared for construction, a prominent land-holding royal family was named on a signboard as the joint venture title-holder.   “If you no get money, hide your face” is the opening line to one of the biggest Nigerian pop hits of 2017. It underscores the widely held idea that allows this kind of state-backed land grabbing to be openly conducted.   Lagosians are generally fairly comfortable with violence, including violence directed at poor people and bolstered by the manic kleptocracy that has enshrined “Money as God” in our culture.   Poverty is criminal, and this global maxim takes on a distinctly Nigerian flavour in the face of the impunity of our political class.   To be not-rich, not-influential, not-connected to the “right” people is considered a moral failing, generally understood to be a shameful indictment on those unfortunate enough to be thusly described.  Justice and Empowerment Initiative Demolition of Otodo-Gbame on 17 March 2017   Injustice, inequality   The uptick in forced evictions in Lagos over the past five or so years has seen state and private actors repeatedly exploiting our deeply entrenched classism to worsen the city’s already marked inequalities.   Lagos State is the smallest entity of the Nigerian Federation by land size; a small string of lagoonal islands connected by bridges to an increasingly packed mainland.   But by population density, nothing in West Africa compares with the anthill-like living conditions here.   The poorest parts are the indigenous settlements or enclaves that have organically sprung up around industries.   These areas often have no connection at all to what little infrastructure there is in the city. They are also usually the places where the thousands of people who daily migrate into the city via means other than our international airport are most likely to attempt to find shelter.   Largely unplanned and spreading senselessly out from its major roads, modern Lagos has evolved at the whim of its various mostly short-sighted and self-interested leaders, with the provision of housing rarely being a priority.   The combination of murky regulations around land ownership, economic opportunity, scarce land, and abundant looted funds has proved disastrous for the land and housing markets in the city, and in particular for the people with the least economic power.   Lagos State has one of the most expensive housing markets of any city in Africa, and, as the rich increasingly use property as a store of value, poor people – especially those who live around wealthy neighbourhoods – are at greater risk of losing their homes.   Powershow   The distribution of wealth (see also: political power) in Lagos is skewed to the point of obscenity in favour of a minute elite, a significant chunk of which is constituted by land-holding families.   Des[...]

“Let's eradicate poverty, not poor people”

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:51:18 +0000

In November 2016, a relentless government-owned bulldozer cost Celestine Ahisu his home, his business, and his peace of mind in one fell swoop.   Until then he’d been one of 30,000 residents of the Lagos fishing community of Otodo-Gbame. That is before the police arrived one night and evicted everyone, putting an end to the shanty settlement.   Otodo-Gbame was the ancestral home of the Egun, who migrated from neighbouring Benin Republic and Togo more than half a century ago; a melting pot of many ethnicities, like its parent city of Lagos.   Its curse is the desirability of its lagoon-front location, sandwiched between the upmarket Lekki Phase 1 development and the well-heeled Elegushi housing estate.   After the bulldozers did their work, people with nowhere else to go tried to return but were cleared again in March, and then again in April. The police seemed determined to make that last visit final, firing off volleys of teargas and live rounds as people scrambled into canoes to escape across the water. They were also accused of setting fire to the shacks and razing the settlement to the ground, although the Lagos State government claimed it was the residents who were the arsonists.   An estimated 11 people died in these cumulative evictions, with many more unaccounted for in the ensuing chaos and panic.   Rich versus poor   Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode justifies the demolitions on the grounds that the neglected settlements along the city’s creeks and waterways harbour criminals and hoodlums.   The reality is that Otodo-Gbame’s community of fishermen and traders are the latest victims of an unequal contest between the landless poor and a wealthy business and political elite with a vision for a shiny new and prosperous Lagos.   The centrepiece of that ambition is Eko Atlantic, a multi-billion dollar residential and business development on 10 square kilometres of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean – touted as Nigeria’s answer to Dubai.   A year after the destruction of Otodo-Gbame, the diggers and graders are tearing up its white sands to build Periwinkle Estate, a high-rise property development that will be part of the new skyline.   Forgotten in this quest for progress are Otodo-Gbame’s former inhabitants. They are still trying to come to terms with their evictions, a trauma that ripples through their lives.   Homelessness is one problem: many still camp with relatives and friends. Joblessness is another: the bulldozers flattened a community that was already vulnerable. Justice and Empowerment Initiative Destruction in Otodo-Gbame in March 2017 “Many of the young people from Otodo-Gbame who volunteer with us come around with a change of clothes in their bag,” said Olutimehin Adegbeye of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, an NGO that works with the community. “They may have plans to stay with a friend or relative for that night, but they do not know for sure where they will sleep. That’s how things are.”   Ahisu, a former community leader, is yet to get back on his feet. For a month he slept rough on the streets after he sent his family to live with relatives in Ibadan, 135-kilometres north of Lagos.   They are back with him now, squeezed into the home of a cousin and his family. Ahisu was an electrician, but his tools were destroyed and his business has now gone.   “It is difficult to cope now, my brother,” Ahisu told IRIN. “Sometimes we struggle and manage to eat just twice a day, and my children are out of school because I can’t afford it.”   Roseline Alphonse’s husband, the father of her six children, was missing for months after the eviction. She sells tomatoes and pepper in the market, and her children hawk in the streets to get by.   “I am responsible for all of us,” she said. “We[...]

Cameroon government ‘declares war’ on secessionist rebels

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 10:56:12 +0000

The secessionist crisis in Cameroon’s western region is deepening, with the government promising to crack down hard after anglophone militants shot dead four soldiers and two policemen last week. The soldiers were killed in an ambush on a military convoy outside the town of Mamfe on 29 November in Cameroon’s anglophone South West Region. The policemen were killed the following night in the nearby town of Eyoumojock. The secessionist Ambazonia Defense Forces, the armed wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Ambazonia is the name anglophone separatists have given to the homeland they hope to carve out of western Cameroon in this majority French-speaking country. The shootings bring to 10 the number of security forces killed since last month. Promising action, Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo said on Saturday that “measures will be taken immediately” to “eradicate this inconvenient situation”, without elaborating further. State radio was blunter. "[President] Paul Biya has declared war on these terrorists who seek secession,” it announced. Widening war There are now fears of the start of a far more serious conflict that could drive a surge of additional refugees into neigbouring Nigeria, where Cameroon’s government says some of the militants are sheltering. What began last year with civil society-led demonstrations over the alleged marginalisation of the regions of North West and South West Cameroon now risks spinning out of control. The initial demand was for a return to a pre-1971 federal system of government and greater autonomy for the anglophone region. But a heavy-handed response by the security forces has generated support for what was initially a fringe secessionist movement. Over the past year security forces have shot dead several civilian demonstrators and carried out mass arrests. In a major confrontation on 1 October, at least 17 people were killed and 50 wounded as the blue and white flag of the self-styled Republic of Ambazonia was hoisted in towns across the North West and South West regions to mark a symbolic break from Cameroon. Anglophone parliamentarians have tried to raise the issue of human rights violations and the region’s underlying concerns of underdevelopment. AllAfrica Anglophone protesters confront security forces In chaotic scenes in parliament on 23 November, the main opposition party threatened to halt further business in the house until the ‘anglophone crisis’ was tabled for debate, amid chants of “How many people Paul Biya will kill?” There have been widespread calls for dialogue, to which the United Nations has added its voice. But there appears little appetite for talks on either side. "How can we maintain dialogue with an interlocutor whose only ideology is the partition of a state that is legitimate and recognized as such by all international bodies?" Cameroon's communications minister Issa Tchiroma said last week. The government had earlier sent emissaries from the ruling CPDM party who hail from the English-speaking regions to try and broker talks, but they received a hostile reception. Militancy is running high in what activists refer to as “Southern Cameroon”, a historical nod to the territory administered by the British after World War I, which voted to unify with French-speaking Cameroon in 1961. A civil disobedience campaign includes a weekly “ghost town” shutdown of all businesses, which at times has been violently enforced. Schools have also been ordered closed, and those that do open risk being firebombed. Patience tested But the opposition is split over the use of armed violence. The hard-line leader of the Ambazonia Defence Forces, Lucas Cho Ayaba, argues that resorting to insurgency is a legitimate response[...]

Briefing: Nigerian farmers can’t fight desertification alone

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 15:51:27 +0000

When Abbas Gandi lost a large portion of his crops to the combined ravages of desertification and drought a few years ago, he was so disillusioned he considered abandoning his 10-hectare farmland. “It came as a shock; very terrible year. Instead of getting at least 200 bags of yield, I got between 25 to 30 bags,” the 68-year-old farmer said, beads of sweat running off his weathered forehead. “I would have stopped farming if I hadn’t been used to winning and losing.” The father of 13 lives in the village of Gandi in northwestern Nigeria’s Sokoto State, close to the Sahara desert. The mean annual rainfall here is less than 600 millimetres compared to over 3,500 millimetres along the coast in the south. Eleven states in the north, including Sokoto, are threatened with desertification, the process by which dryland ecosystems are continually degraded by the removal of tree and plant cover, mostly by human activity. In northern Nigeria, desertification threatens the livelihoods of some 40 million people. These 11 states account for about 35 percent of the country’s total land area and are key areas of livestock rearing and agricultural production, such as beans, soya beans, millet, sorghum, tomatoes, melons, peppers, and onions. Farmers are taking a range of piecemeal steps to combat desertification, but for the fight against this devastating process to be waged effectively, experts say the government has to develop a more integrated and comprehensive approach to the management of land and water. What exactly is the problem? Professor Emmanuel Oladipo, who advises Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment on climate change issues, explained how desertification is being fuelled by poor land use, unsustainable grazing practices, deforestation, and the consumption pressures associated with a booming population. “The direct causes of desertification and arid land degradation stem mostly from drastic reduction or destruction of the perennial plant cover, particularly trees, and simplification of the vegetation structure,” Oladipo told IRIN. “Soil surface not protected by permanent vegetation becomes subject to: erosion by water and wind; crusting by raindrop splash and trampling by animals; salinisation by evaporation; and water logging in topographic depressions since water is no longer extracted by permanent vegetation.” Farmers in the north are taking steps to adapt to desertification and more frequent droughts – planting trees to provide shade and windbreaks, using diesel-powered pumps for irrigation, and sowing hardier crops such as beans – but such measures aren’t nearly equivalent to the enormous scale of the crisis. Nigeria has an annual deforestation rate of about 3.5 percent, meaning an average yearly loss of between 350,000 and 400,000 hectares of forest cover. Official figures say Africa’s largest nation loses over 10.5 billion naira ($34.3 million) every year to environmental challenges such as deforestation, drought, and desertification, but wider unofficial ones put the annual cost in the billions of dollars. What is being done? Five years ago, Nigeria developed a National Strategic Action Plan for desertification and drought, but just like its Drought and Desertification Policy and its Drought Preparedness Plan, a lack of funding and political will has held back progress. The bulk of the government’s counter-desertification work is implemented through the National Agency for the Great Green Wall, an ambitious plan launched in 2007 to plant a 15-kilometre wide swathe of trees along 8,000 kilometres of the southern edge of the Sahara. More than 20 countries in the Sahel are involved, and some $8 billion has been mobilised for the initiative. Linus Unah/IRIN Abbas Gandi almost gave up farmin[...]