Africa News Roundup: ECOWAS and Mali, French Commanders in Mauritania, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Karim Wade, and More

Details on the Economic Community of West African States’ battle plan for Mali:

“International forces will not do the ground fighting, that role will belong to the Malian army,” a military officer familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named, said on Friday.

“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.

Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries. It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations.

The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north.

Top French military commanders visited Mauritania this week to discuss Mali and terrorism.

The ongoing Muslim protests in Ethiopia merit a full post, but two items of note are the announcement of new members of the Islamic Affairs Council and a statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressing concern “about the increasing deterioration of religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia.”

In other Ethiopia-related news, “Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to resume jointly working on organizing sustainable management, utilization and development of the Nile waters under the Eastern Nile Basin. The agreement was reached after water Ministers and representatives of the three countries held a meeting in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.”

VOA:

The United Nations warns survivors of Nigeria’s worst flooding in five decades are at risk for waterborne and water-related diseases.  Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports the heavy rains have killed 363 people, affected 7.7 million and made more than two million people homeless.

Reuters: “Somalia’s al Shabaab, Squeezed in South, Move to Puntland.”

Senegalese police will again question Karim Wade, a former minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?

Niger, Areva, China, Imouraren, and SDS

I’ve been following the launch of the Nigerien government’s $2.5 billion, five-year “Strategy for Development and Security” (SDS). As part of that story I’ve been wondering how the program, which partly aims to address political and economic grievances in the northern part of Niger, will interact with private firms that work in resource extraction, namely in uranium mining and oil drilling. On the one hand, the funding sources for SDS remain partly unclear, and the government may hope to use revenues from resource extraction to fund the program. On the other hand, some firms have themselves been the targets of popular anger and protests, meaning SDS’ administrators could face choices about whether to push for reforms or find alternative ways to reduce anger.

One part of the story that I originally missed is that the Nigerien government has begun voicing some dissatisfaction with French-owned uranium mining giant Areva. Reuters:

Niger warned French nuclear giant Areva on [October 11] against any further delays to its Imouraren uranium mining project, saying it could not support a company that is unable to meet its commitments.

The mine is meant to boost Niger’s uranium output by 5,000 and make it the world’s second-largest exporter of the nuclear fuel, but the planned startup of production was delayed to 2013 or 2014 from 2012 after seven Areva workers were kidnapped in Niger’s north two years ago.

Construction work has also been hampered by labour disputes that triggered strikes earlier this year.

[...]

[Mines Minister Omar Hamidou Tchiana] did not specify what action Niger might take against Areva if it failed to live up to the government’s expectations.

Areva’s official webpage for Imouraren is here, and a map of its location is here.

Much is at stake. Al Qarra (French) wrote yesterday,

Last week, rumors mentioned the resale of Areva’s stake to a Chinese enterprise, behind the back of Nigerien authorities. Despite the French firm’s denial, the Nigerien government seized this opportunity to denounce the firm’s practices. In the authorities’ sights: the economic benefits of the Imouraren site. The government desires more of the benefits for the population, at the same time that it demands that production begins earlier.

The rumors about a sale to a Chinese firm are apparently true. China Daily reported on October 26 that Areva, which currently has a 57% stake in Imouraren (with the Nigerien government holding a 43% stake), is “expected to reach agreement soon on the sale of a 13 percent stake in [Imouraren] to China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd.”

We will see whether the sale goes through, and whether the Nigerien government is able to pressure its fellow stakeholders into opening the mine sooner and re-configuring how its profits are shared out. And then we will see what consequences all of this has for SDS and for political stability in the north. In any case the struggles surrounding Imouraren are a reminder of the complicated intersections between resource extraction and politics in Niger.

Africa News Roundup: Sudan and Israel, Oil and Floods, Mali and Drones, and More

IRIN: “Sahel Crisis: Lessons to Be Learnt.” One key point:

Pastoralists are affected by food access issues earlier than other groups and need support to access animal fodder, water, vaccinations and to destock, in March and April, not May and June.

This need is rarely reflected in early warning or response, said aid agencies. Pastoralists’ needs are still relegated to a few specialist NGOs rather than being addressed through national systems and as a result they remain marginalized, said Gubbels. Further, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which could be a vocal advocate on their behalf, did not clearly ring the alarm bell to donors on their needs, said NGOs.

During heavy floods in Nigeria recently, oil production has fallen from this year’s average of 2.5 million barrels per day to around 2.1-2.2 million.

Sudan has accused Israel of bombing the Yarmouk weapons factory in Khartoum on Wednesday. NPR: “Israel officials never publicly confirm nor deny their country’s involvement in overseas operations. But speaking anonymously to NPR, an Israeli intelligence officer says that Israel does -– most definitely –- operate in Sudan.” Time has more, as does McClatchy (h/t Armin Rosen).

BBC: “Is the World Ready to Take on Mali’s Islamists?” and AP on French surveillance drones in northern Mali.

The World Bank: “Africa Can Feed Itself, Earn Billions, and Avoid Food Crises by Unblocking Regional Food Trade.”

South Sudan as a diplomatic actor in its region:

Newly independent South Sudan plans to help resolve the long-running border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a senior official said on Wednesday.

South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, Deng Alor, said Addis Ababa and Asmara had given the green light for mediation talks on the border, which could start as early as November.

Ethiopian Muslims continue to protest “what they call unconstitutional government interference in religious affairs, heightened by the election of Muslim leaders this month the protesters say were not free or fair.”

The Sahel is one region of concern for US officials who plan to “keep adding names to kill lists” (h/t Ingrid Pederson).

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: The UNSC and Mali, HRW on Boko Haram, Abyei, Somali Oil, and More

The United Nations, from yesterday:

Citing the threat to regional peace from terrorists and Islamic militants in rebel-held northern Mali, the United Nations Security Council today held out the possibility of endorsing, within the next 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African country.

In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15-member body called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.

Upon receipt of the report, and acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Council said it was ready “to respond to the request of the Transitional authorities of Mali regarding an international military force assisting the Malian Armed Forces in recovering the occupied regions in the north of Mali.”

Human Rights Watch released a new report on Thursday entitled “Spiraling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria.” From the summary:

This 98-page report catalogues atrocities for which Boko Haram has claimed responsibility. It also explores the role of Nigeria’s security forces, whose own alleged abuses contravene international human rights law and might also constitute crimes against humanity. The violence, which first erupted in 2009, has claimed more than 2,800 lives.

Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Nigeria’s Niger State speaks about Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

VOA:

The long term success of an oil and security deal between Sudan and South Sudan could depend on the much disputed Abyei border region.

That’s why Princeton Lyman, the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, says Abyei’s exclusion from the agreement between presidents Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir is “a big, big loss.”

Abyei is a territory claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. The residents of Abyei were supposed to hold a referendum in 2011 to determine which country they would join, but the referendum was postponed indefinitely due to disagreements over who was eligible to vote. Some are still proposing that Abyei hold a referendum, but Sudan’s government opposes the idea. More from VOA:

The Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman, Al-Obeid Ahmed Marawah, says his government prefers a political agreement over a plebiscite because “the referendum would end by attributing Abyei to one of the two countries.

“And this will not satisfy the other party. Therefore, this could cause a new conflict between the two people [ Messriyah and Ngok Dinkas] of Abyei and it might extend to between the two countries,” Marawah says.

And that, in turn, threatens the new deal over the sharing of oil-revenue, which Ambassador Lyman says “holds tremendous potential benefits for the people of both countries, particularly in South Sudan where there has been serious rises in food prices, shortages of fuel, and insecurity on the border.”

In addition to French President Francois Hollande’s trip to Senegal yesterday and his stop in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today, two other noteworthy visits to the Sahel by foreign officials: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Senegal for Thursday and Friday, while Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights María Otero will be in Mauritania from October 15-17 and France from October 18-19.

In Mauritania, Under Secretary Otero will meet with government officials, including President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, representatives from civil society, UN agencies and youth groups to discuss political and democratic developments in the country, electoral processes, refugees and humanitarian assistance and combating trafficking in persons. This is the most senior-level U.S. State Department visit to Mauritania in five years.

Somalia’s new government “does not plan to nullify oil and gas exploration contracts made in recent years in favour of those that were signed prior to the toppling of the government in 1991, a senior state official said on Friday.”

Fatal flooding continues in Niger.

What else is happening?

French President Francois Hollande in Senegal

French President Francois Hollande spoke in Dakar, Senegal today, on his first visit to Africa since taking office. His next stop is the Democratic Republic of Congo for the 14th summit (French) of the International Organization of the Francophonie (ie, the French speaking world).

Press coverage of Hollande’s appearance in Senegal has emphasized two themes: the contrast between his tone and the one his predecessor President Nicolas Sarkozy struck five years ago, and Hollande’s focus on the crisis in northern Mali.

On the first theme:

Analysts say he chose Senegal for his first visit to the continent due to the country’s democratic credentials, and also because Senegal is expected to play a central role in the planned military intervention in neighboring Mali to flush out the Islamic extremists controlling north Mali.
For the Senegalese though, what is front and center is the memory of Sarkozy’s 2007 speech, in which he said: “The tragedy of Africa is that the African man has not fully entered into history … They have never really launched themselves into the future,” Sarkozy said. “The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures.”
People attending his speech delivered at Dakar’s largest public university were so insulted that some walked out.

Sarkozy’s statements were offensive and wrong.

On the second theme:

The Mali crisis will dominate Hollande’s talks today in Dakar with President Macky Sall of Senegal, a neighboring secular* nation with a majority Muslim population, according to French officials…France has been an outspoken supporter of the use of force against Islamist rebels controlling the arid north of its former colony and drafted a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for a detailed military plan for intervention within 30 days. The Economic Community for West African States has called for UN backing for a regional military contingent. Ivory Coast and Senegal have pledged to contribute troops.

“The objective is to wipe out terrorism,” Hollande said during a joint press conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Oct. 9 in Paris.

Seneweb has video footage of Hollande’s arrival at the National Assembly. Senegal, of course, has a new president too, Macky Sall, who was elected earlier this year. Much has changed for France, Senegal, and West Africa since 2007.

*Is it though?

Mauritanian Islamists Reject the Idea of External Intervention in Mali

Amid Mali’s ongoing crisis, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has proposed to send some 3,000 troops there to help Malian government forces retake the Islamist-held north. Other external actors, such as France, have indicated that they would support such an intervention logistically. Talk of interventions is drawing reactions within Mali but also from its neighbors.

Reactions in Mauritania, Mali’s neighbor to the west, are worth watching. Mauritania sent troops into northern Mali on several occasions in 2010 and 2011 pursuing fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This August, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz stated that his country will not intervene militarily in Mali. Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS. Last week, Abdel Aziz met with General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM, to discuss the potential for intervention in Mali, but few details of the meeting are publicly available.

Some constituencies inside Mauritania strongly oppose an external intervention. One such constituency is the segment of Islamists represented by the political party Tewassoul (“The National Rally for Reform and Development”; Arabic site here). Yesterday, the party released a statement against intervention in Mali (Arabic). The statement partly blames Abdel Aziz’s regime for the current crisis in Mali, and has several key planks, paraphrased here:

  • The party supports the territorial integrity of Mali.
  • The party calls on neighboring countries, the African Union, and the United Nations to support negotiations and a non-violent solution to the crisis.
  • The party warns of “disastrous and negative consequences for the region as a whole from any foreign intervention guided by Western countries on the basis of their agenda and their interests.”
  • The party opposes any Mauritanian support, military or logistical, for a military intervention in Mali.

Mauritanian Islamists are far from being the dominant political players in the country – in the last presidential elections, Tewassoul’s candidate Jamil Mansour placed fourth in the official results, with around 5% of the vote – yet they have at times acted as a significant pressure group, particularly with regard to foreign policy. Analysts have cited Islamists’ street demonstrations and political mobilization as a factor in prompting Mauritania’s decision to suspend relations with Israel in 2009. Mauritanian Islamists have been effective in articulating popular sentiments against forms of perceived neo-colonialism in Mauritania and the region.

Tewassoul’s statement, then, has significance for understanding how Islamists of different stripes are reacting to the situation in Mali and how the issue is playing out in Mauritanian domestic politics. I don’t want to overstate the influence Tewassoul has, especially over Abdel Aziz. But Tewassoul may have some success mobilizing around this cause.

Mali’s Islamist Coalition Responds to External Intervention Discussions

Plans for an external military intervention in war-torn Mali are gathering momentum. Mali’s interim government has agreed to allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to base a 3,000-strong force in Bamako. The European Union is “considering requests to support West African-led military intervention in Mali and to restructure the country’s beleaguered army.” France and the United States have urged the United Nations Security Council to approve ECOWAS’ plans, and France and the African Union have said they will support ECOWAS logistically. Even Algeria “may have to accept the deployment of West African troops in its crisis-hit neighbour Mali contrary to its traditional stance against foreign intervention and focus on internal security, analysts say.”

As Reuters points out, uncertainty about who really rules in Bamako – coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, civilian President Dioncounda Traore, or Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra – could efforts to retake Mali’s Islamist-held north. But many powerful actors are pushing for a military campaign of some kind.

These developments have not gone unnoticed in the north. The Malian press has transcribed a phone interview with Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Islamist coalition that rules northern Mali. I have not been able to find an in-depth profile on Hamaha, but this comment on him from AFP is notable:

Malian national Omar Hamaha, one of the main Islamist commanders in the north, is a case study in the bridges between [Ansar al Din, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, the main players in the Islamist coalition].

He is known as the second-in-command to the AQIM boss in charge of Gao. But during the seizure of Timbuktu in April, he referred to himself as the chief-of-staff of Ansar Dine, and now says he holds the same position in MUJAO.

“Remember, we are all mujahedeen. Whether a fighter is from MUJAO, Ansar Dine or AQIM, it’s the same thing,” he told AFP.

“We have the same ambition, the application of sharia. Whenever there’s an attack on one of us, it’s an attack on everyone.”

Hamaha is frequently quoted as a spokesman for the coalition in local and international media (see here, for example), where his rhetoric often emphasizes the coalition’s embrace of violence in the service of its determination to impose shari’a across Mali. In the aftermath of the Malian army’s killing of sixteen Muslim preachers earlier this month, Hamaha expressed the Islamist coalition’s rejection of mediation efforts and its objective of capturing Bamako:

He warned that the Islamists would one day attack the south. ‘‘We will plant the black flag of the Islamists at Koulouba,’’ he said, naming the hill on which Mali’s presidential palace sits.

Hamaha reiterated these messages in his recent phone interview (French), in which he expresses defiance regarding the possibility of an external intervention. My translation:

I was contacted last Saturday by the Minister of Defense for discussions. I told him that we are open to dialogue if the government is ready to submit itself to the shari’a. Plainly speaking, if the authorities are ready to apply the sharia. I was surprised that the Minister of Defense spoke to me of secularism (laicite). That impedes all dialogue with them. We are jihadists…We are ready to take the lead and to defeat all armies by the sword, whether they be from ECOWAS or even NATO…Nothing will be able to stop our advance on Bamako and the rest of Mali because we have chosen to die for the religion.

More remarks from Hamaha here (French).

The statement leaves me wondering how seriously to take the threat of the Islamist coalition’s southern advance. The Islamists’ capture of the town of Douentza (map) on September 1 certainly raised some eyebrows, and their repeated references to a southern advance indicates that the threat is not just an offhand comment. On the other hand, advancing into southern areas could stretch the Islamists thin, exacerbate the political backlash they sometimes face, and hand them military defeats. Whatever happens, ECOWAS and other external forces can expect stiff resistance from the Islamist coalition, and external forces may even find themselves initially working not just to retake territory, but to repel new attacks.