On the Prison Attack in Niger

On June 1, violence occurred at a prison in Niamey, Niger. Initial, and partly conflicting, reports suggested that the violence came either from inmates or from external attackers, but the consensus now seems to be that inmates were responsible. Perhaps three or four inmates held on terrorism charges attacked guards at the prison, some reports say. AP has reported that 22 prisoners escaped during the incident.

While some news outlets initially blamed the Mali-centric Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) for the attack, suspicion now centers on the Nigeria-centric Boko Haram sect. Some accounts implicate both Boko Haram and the Islamist coalition that controlled parts of northern Mali in 2012-early 2013; one of the escapees, AP reported, was a member of Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

If we assume that Boko Haram was involved, there are three basic points I would make:

  1. Reports of Boko Haram operating in Niger are not unprecedented. News outlets have in the past reported suspicions of Boko Haram activity in Niger, such as the arrest of suspected Boko Haram members in Diffa, Niger in early 2012. Some analysts have posited an increasing presence of Boko Haram in Niger.
  2. As always, I think it is important to weigh evidence carefully. A moment like the present, when conflicting theories and reported information are swirling, reminds us that the story that gels later – “Boko Haram attacked a prison in Niger to free AQIM members” – can mask ambiguities and uncertainties about what really happened in a given incident. 
  3. Prison breaks have been an important part of Boko Haram’s approach inside Nigeria. The attacks serve to free imprisoned sect members, but also possibly as an opportunity to recruit other convicts. A prison break near Cameroon in March of this year underscored the possibility that Boko Haram might employ this tactic in Nigeria’s neighbors. As we strive to discern what really happened in Niamey, the past pattern of prison breaks in Nigeria casts its shadow over this incident – and highlights the cycles of violence that may take hold when Boko Haram perceives itself as a victim of state authorities, be they Nigerian or non-Nigerian.

Africa Blog Roundup: Algeria, Somalia, Michel Djotodia, South Sudan, and More

The Moor Next Door: “Comments on Algeria.”

Baobab has a video analysis of the London conference on Somalia.

Missed this during my hiatus in April, but it’s still relevant: Louisa Lombard‘s biography of Michel Djotodia, the rebel-turned-leader of the Central African Republic.

Amb. John Campbell: “What Next for Nigeria’s Oil Patch?”

Dibussi Tande: “President [Paul] Biya [of Cameroon] Appoints Thirty Senators.”

Roving Bandit: “So What Exactly Just Happened to the Economy of South Sudan?”

Via Amb. David Shinn, the Spring 2013 bulletin of the Sudan Studies Association (.pdf).

Boko Haram, Prison Breaks, and Cameroon

The northern Nigerian sect Boko Haram employs a constellation of tactics in its fight against the Nigerian state and other targets. Boko Haram is constantly experimenting with new tactics, from drive-by shootings to suicide bombings to the destruction of cell phone towers to arson to, more recently, kidnappings. While prison breaks are far from the most spectacular tactic in Boko Haram’s arsenal, they have remained a core tactic since the start of the group’s current guerrilla campaign in fall 2010 – indeed, one of the very first incidents in that campaign was a prison break in Bauchi, where Boko Haram set some 700 inmates free. Prison breaks aim at releasing the group’s imprisoned comrades, and possibly also aim at gaining new recruits among other freed inmates. Without in any way minimizing the importance of other tactics the group uses, I would argue that these prison breaks deserve more attention as analysts continue attempting to understand the group and its recruitment patterns.

At least two prison breaks occurred recently.

March 14:

There was jailbreak on Thursday night in Borno town of Gwoza as men suspected to be members of the dreaded BokoHaram sect attacked a prison in the town with missiles.

It was also gathered that the suspected militant sect attackedFadagwai Village where they shot dead two other persons.

The sect members were alleged to have attacked the same town on March 4, 2013 where a police station and bank were partially destroyed.

The Thursday attack on Gwoza which is about 135 kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital town of the troubled Borno state, started at about 6.30pm and a civilian was said to have been killed in the melee as several prisoners were set free.

March 22:

At least 25 people died when gunmen attacked a prison, a police station, a bank and a bar in an eastern Nigerian town, police said.

The simultaneous attacks took place in Ganye, a remote town near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.

The attacks happened on Friday but the death toll was only reported on Saturday.

No group has said it carried out the attack but police said they suspected Islamist militants Boko Haram.

That the latter attack occurred near Cameroon, where a French family now held by Boko Haram was recently kidnapped, may further alarm Cameroonian authorities. Indeed, Boko Haram recently threatened attacks in Cameroon, specifically mentioning that some of its members are imprisoned there. I wonder if we will eventually see Boko Haram staging prison breaks – in addition to other kinds of violence – in Cameroon itself.

Africa Blog Roundup: Kenya, Mali, Algeria, Ethiopia, and More

Ken Opalo gives some important information about the results of the Kenyan presidential election, as well as some things to look out for in the coming weeks.

Kate Almquist Knopf: “Send an Ambassador, Not an Envoy, to Khartoum.” (via Amb. David Shinn, who gives the idea his qualified support.)

Bruce Whitehouse on Mali: “The North, the Army, and the Junta.”

Amb. John Campbell: “Mali Intervention Becoming a Partisan Issue in France?”

The Moor Next Door: “Algeria Plays Defense.”

The Gulele Post: “Ethiopia’s ‘Jihad’ Film and Its Boomerang Effects.”

Dibussi Tande: “Cameroon’s New Senate: An Unnecessary (Anti)Democratic Anachronism.”

Baobab: “Laurent Gbagbo and the ICC: Watching and Waiting.”

Carmen McCain rounds up reviews of the novel Sin Is a Puppy, and asks, “How many Nigerian novels published in Nigeria get this kind of critical response? We need to do better.”

Africa Is A Country: “Dirk Coetzee Is Dead: The Legacies of Apartheid’s Death Squads and the TRC.”

Shelby Grossman with a few links on piracy in Somalia and poverty in Nigeria.

Africa News Roundup: Kenyan Elections, Jonathan in 2015, Meth, and More

The big news for the coming week will be, of course, the elections in Kenya on March 4. The BBC profiles the candidates here.

Reuters:

Opponents [of Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan] within his own party say since he has already been sworn into office twice, another term would break the constitutional two-term limit. Cyriakus Njoku, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), brought the case.

But Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the High Court in Abuja rejected that argument.

“After the death of Umar Yar’Adua, there was no election. President Jonathan was merely asked to assume the office … in line with doctrine of necessity,” he said.

“He is therefore currently serving his first tenure of office and if he so wishes, he is eligible to further seek his party’s ticket … to run for office in 2015.”

Njoku did not say whether he would appeal to the supreme court.

In my view Jonathan is highly likely to win the 2015 elections.

AFP:

Efforts were underway Friday to confirm the killing of a notorious Al-Qaeda commander during fighting with French troops in Mali, with Washington calling reports of his death “very credible”.

Algeria’s independent Ennahar TV reported this week that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a chief of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed in northern Mali along with 40 other Islamist militants.

In Washington, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said reports of his death seemed “very credible” and that if Abou Zeid was indeed slain “it would be a significant blow to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

French officials have so far reacted with caution, with President Francois Hollande saying Friday: “Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them.”

Bloomberg relates that Sudan is reinforcing troop levels in Blue Nile State.

Jeune Afrique (French) on Gao, Mali.

Europe1 (French) reports that Boko Haram is attempting to recruit youth in Cameroon. “Today, dozens of members of the religious sect are in prison in Cameroon. It is to obtain their liberation that the group chose to kidnap seven members of a French family last week in the northwestern part of the country.”

VOA: “Methamphetamine ‘Growing Concern’ for West Africa.”

IRIN: “Why the Sahel Needs $1.6 Billion Again This year.”

Niger, Nigeria, Boko Haram, AQIM, and Border Security

The border between the Nigeria and Niger divides a zone with many cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic linkages, and under normal circumstances many people cross back and forth on a frequent basis. The uprising in Northern Nigeria by the Boko Haram sect has brought attention to the porousness of the border and its regional security implications: for example, some suspected Boko Haram members were arrested in Diffa, Niger in January/February 2012. Around the beginning of the year, Nigerian authorities imposed a state of emergency in the Northeastern states of Yobe and Borno that included international border closures. The closures have had a substantial economic impact, hurting agricultural and livestock trade between Nigeria and its neighbors, elevating food prices in southern Nigerien towns like Diffa, reducing trade to Cameroon and Chad, and contributing to economic devastation in Nigerian cities like Maiduguri and Potiskum.

Earlier this month, Niger’s government announced its desire to form joint border patrols with Nigeria, mentioning its concern not only about Boko Haram but also about Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Yesterday, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Niamey for the meeting of the High Authority of the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation, he and his counterpart President Mahamadou Issoufou agreed that joint patrols should begin immediately. As Vanguard writes, they took several other steps as well:

The two  countries also agreed to equip their National Boundary Commissions with requisite logistics to ensure fast re-demarcation of the Nigeria-Niger International boundary.

[...]

President Jonathan also signed bilateral agreement on Defence and Security with the Nigerien government.

In a communique issued at the end of the session yesterday, the two Heads of States expressed worries over the danger of terrorism in the region and emphasised the need to jointly tackle the security challenge in the sub region  which is a big  threat to peace and stability in the West African sub-region.

Vanguard quotes from the communique at length.

The border issue concerns not only the national governments of Niger and Nigeria but state and local authorities as well. Accompanying Jonathan to Niamey were the governors of Jigawa, Katsina, and Borno states, all of which lie along the northern border (map of Nigeria’s states here). Borno State has been the epicenter of Boko Haram.

The details of how the governments implement these patrols will matter greatly, of course. This Day notes that authorities have not yet specified which portions of the border they will patrol, and that the border is some 930 miles. This Day also reports that the US State Department may provide some technical assistance for closer border control.

The issue of borders goes beyond just Nigeria and Niger. The rest of Jonathan’s itinerary for this brief trip through the region is a reminder that Nigeria has more than just its immediate neighbors on its mind. Vanguard (see link above) also discusses Niger and Nigeria’s support, as expressed at the meeting yesterday, for the deployment of foreign soldiers to Mali in order to reunite that country. Jonathan is supposed to stop in Mali today an Economic Community of West African States/African Union/European Union/United Nations meeting on Mali.

For Niger, meanwhile, the issue of border security has multiple complicated components: not only is there the threat of Boko Haram to the south, there is Mali to the west and Libya to the north. Border security for northern Niger falls under the rubric of its recently announced Security and Development Strategy; between the new joint border patrols with Nigeria and the new Strategy program, Niger has plans in place for improving security along much of its border. We’ll see how effectively those plans are implemented, and how security developments in Mali and Nigeria affect Niger.

Africa Blog Roundup: Jacob Zuma Portrait, Joseph Kabila, Nigeria’s Economy, and More

The Economist‘s Baobab:

Unlike Britain’s queen, President Jacob Zuma does not often have his portrait painted. But a new likeness by a South African artist, Brett Murray, now showing at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, has the nation agog and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) frothing at the mouth.

In truth, hardly anyone had heard about the painting until the ANC issued a statement on May 17th expressing its “outrage” over the “disgusting” depiction of its revered leader and demanding its immediate removal from the gallery and the website of the only newspaper until then to give it any coverage. The portrait, the ANC thundered, was a violation of Mr Zuma’s constitutional right to dignity and therefore illegal.

At African Arguments, William Townsend writes that President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has begun to “turn on his friends”:

As the rumour mill turns and suspicion runs rife, conflict is unfolding in eastern Congo’s Kivu provinces once again, following three years of relative calm. The most recent chapter of violence can be traced back to March this year, pitting Congo’s socially and politically maladroit president against some of the very people who helped him achieve electoral victory less than seven months ago.

Having been compelled to accept the outcome of a conspicuously fraudulent ballot last November combined with the conviction in March of another Congolese war lord, Thomas Lubanga, the West appeared keen to stress-test its relationship with President Joseph Kabila over his protection of another indicted war lord, Bosco Ntaganda. The decision to crack down on Bosco, by launching operation Amani Kamilifu or ‘Perfect Peace’, has led to a mutiny and a spate of violent clashes in the east of the country that has seen tens-of-thousands of civilians flee and left NGOs unable to dispense aid.

Lesley Anne Warner expresses concern about human rights issues within the armed forces of South Sudan.

The Moor Next Door analyzes an Al Akhbar video featuring a man who said, before his death, that he had spied in Mali, on Mauritania’s behalf, on Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The al-Akhbar report places the video in the context of AQIM’s leaders’ reported purges of Mauritanians accused of spying for the Mauritanian intelligence service, which has been reported on in the Mauritanian and Algerian press; in late 2010 and early 2012 Algerian papers began reporting on paranoia in the AQIM command (mainly Abu Zaid’s katiba) about penetration by Mauritanian intelligence and more recently there are reports that there has been an effort to diversify the southern katibas’ ranks which for some time were dominated by Mauritanians (estimates are that at as many as 70% of AQIM recruits/fighters to particular katibas in the Sahel were or have been Mauritanian).

Rosebell Kagumire, writing about African films at the Cannes Film Festival, uses a Senegalese film on African immigrants to Europe to discuss larger issues regarding migration.

Amb. John Campbell, “The State of Nigeria’s Economy.”

Dibussi Tande, “An Overview of Cameroon Prison Literature.”

Lee Crawfurd on evaluating Millennium Villages.

Sophia Azeb on the death of the singer Warda al Jazairia.

What are you reading today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Malawi’s Near-Coup, Attacks at BUK, Somali Piracy and the EU, Mauritania, and More

The Economist‘s Baobab on Malawi:

FOREIGN leaders and commentators have been busy congratulating Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female president, on the smooth transition of power in one of the world’s poorest countries following the sudden death of its late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, on April 5th. But for more than 48 hours after he died, Malawi teetered on the brink of a coup as members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) plotted to prevent Mrs Banda, the vice-president, from taking over and to thrust the late president’s elder brother, Peter, into power in her stead.

Carmen McCain reacts to Boko Haram’s attack last week at Bayero University Kano in Nigeria.

Jim Sanders writes about foreign investment in Southern Nigeria, which has apparently increased despite the violence connected with Boko Haram.

Dibussi Tande discusses the recent acquittal of Atangana Mebara, former Secretary-General at the Presidency of Cameroon, of charges of embezzlement.

Amb. David Shinn flags a critique of the European Union’s approach to piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The Moor Next Door rounds up recent articles and reports on Islamic affairs and movements in Mauritania.

Dr. G. Pascal Zachary on the New York Times‘ “disquieting pattern of presenting dead Africans on the front page of its great newspaper, while refusing to present dead Americans in the same fashion.”

And last but not least, Lesley Anne Warner asks, “Do we understand perceptions of U.S. military involvement in Africa?” The words of Blake Hounshell ring true: “Secret tip: The answer to headlines posed as questions is almost always no.” But do read the piece.

What has caught your eye today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Two-Round Electoral Systems, War in Mali, Media in Somalia, and More

Dibussi Tande on the difference having a two-round election system can make, and why Cameroon (for historical reasons) does not have one:

The Republic of Senegal has a new president following run-off elections which resulted in the defeat of outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade by Macky Sall, his one-time protégé and former Prime Minister. One of the main reasons for Macky’s victory is Senegal’s two-round electoral system, which calls for a second round of voting if no candidate obtains more that 50% of votes cast. This is unlike countries such as Cameroon which have a one-round/first-past-the-post electoral system.

In the first round of voting, President Wade obtained 34.81% of votes cast while Sall obtained 26.58%. If this had been the first-past-the-post system practiced in Cameroon, Wade would still be President of Senegal…

The two-round system is a potent tool for dislodging sit-tight incumbents, especially in the face of a splintered opposition (there were 14 candidates in the first round of elections in Senegal).

Erin in Juba provides a snarky perspective on life in South Sudan during the oil shutdown.

Mali continues to grapple with war and the aftermath of the recent coup. Dr. Gregory Mann says Mali’s democracy is “Down But Not Out.” Lesley Warner looks at the trajectory of the war with a post entitled, “After the Loss of Kidal and Gao, What Next for the MNLA and CNRDR” – the MNLA being the rebels in the north (The National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) and the CNRDR being the military junta in Bamako (the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State).

Peter Dorrie continues his series on the Sahelian food crisis with a look at Burkina Faso. He writes,

Burkina will be one of the least impacted countries of this year’s hunger crisis. This is due to its geographical advantages, but also the early and relatively comprehensive reaction by the government and NGOs. Still, many people will be off worse after the crisis than they were before. Lets hope that they won’t be forgotten as soon as the crisis is declared over.

Carmen McCain, “The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate: South Africa, Nigeria, and the World.”

Laine Strutton reflects on the way her interlocutors in the Niger Delta talk about the 1990s, and what implications this case has for larger questions of  security and/vs. freedom.

Amb. John Cambell argues, “Africa Unlikely to Win World Bank Presidency.”

And Amb. David Shinn flags a new report on the Somali media landscape.

Been a lot of news this week. What’s on your mind?

Africa Blog Roundup: University of Timbuktu, Boko Haram and Cameroon, Bribes in Kenya, AFRICOM, and More

I suspect anyone who read news about Africa this week saw the controversy over the “Stop Kony” project launched by the group Invisible Children. I do not have much to say about it. I side with the critics of the project, but I also think the issue has been a distraction – as bloggers like Jina Moore and Andrew Harding have pointed out – from other, more important issues. Those wanting defenses or critiques of Invisible Children can find them easily; any round-up on my part would be redundant.

I found the most value in efforts to place the discussion in a wider context, such as Aaron Bady’s roundup “On the genre of ‘Raising Awareness about Someone Else’s Suffering’” and novelist Teju Cole’s micro-essay “Seven thoughts on the banality of sentimentality.” Finally, there is a lot to ponder in Max Fisher’s response to Cole – not because I agree with Fisher (I agree with Cole), but because of how keen Fisher (editor of the international channel at The Atlantic) is to police the boundaries of the debate. Fisher criticizes Invisible Children, but he dismisses Cole’s concerns about broader issues concerning white American activists and Africa as “resentment.” Fisher others Cole – prompting Cole to respond, “I’m as American as you” – and passes silently over Cole’s invocation of the contrast between white activists’ responses to the Iraq War and their responses to African wars. My question for readers is: What does Cole and Fisher’s interaction say about the tensions and limitations in efforts to examine America’s relationship with Africa?

On a lighter note, the White Nigerian.

Inside Islam continues a really cool series on important Islamic sites with a post on the University of Timbuktu.

Dibussi Tande has written a series, “Boko Haram and the Fear of Islamic Extremism in Cameroon.” Part One looks at possible connections between Boko Haram and Cameroon. Part Two looks at the history of Cameroon’s Islamic community, with an eye toward identifying trends that might create opportunities for Boko Haram there. Part Three assesses Cameroonian security forces’ responses to Boko Haram, looks forward to ask what chances Boko Haram has of establishing a serious presence in Cameroon, and suggests what Cameroon can do to prevent that.

Jimmy Kainja asks why Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika felt the need to say he will step down in 2014, given that he is constitutionally required to step down at that time.

Asch Harwood flags a new online tool, I Paid A Bribe, that activists are using in Kenya and India.

The Economist‘s Baobab makes the important point that killings and repression of African journalists deserve just as much attention as the deaths of Western journalists.

The lack of interest in their fate among their counterparts in Western countries is doubly demoralising given that Western hacks have rightly highlighted the sacrifice of their own colleagues who died recently in Syria and Libya. Just as dispiriting is the silence of donor countries. Britain, America and others appear intent on disbursing aid even at the expense of press freedom in Africa. More solidarity is needed.

Zach Warner critiques AFRICOM’s reading list.