Mali and Multi-Level Negotiations

On November 6, two meetings – one in Ouagadougou, one in Bamako – brought developments that could portend changes for the situation in Mali. If taken at face value (and there are reasons to do so), the results of these meetings point toward two very different paths the crisis in northern Mali could take. Those paths are negotiation or war. If the meetings themselves are viewed as gambits in a deeper, less explicit sort of negotiation, then they communicate something different about the positions of the key players who will shape the future of northern Mali.

The meeting in Ouagadougou was between representatives from the Islamist movement Ansar al Din, which controls part of northern Mali, and regional mediators led by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore. Following talks on Tuesday, Ansar al Din’s delegation “agreed to commit to peace talks with Mali’s government and observe a ceasefire,” and also pledged to allow aid agencies into territory the movement controls. As AFP has reported, mediators have urged Ansar al Din to cut its ties to Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is part of Ansar al Din’s Islamist coalition in northern Mali, and Ansar al Din’s actions on that front could determine the viability of negotiations. While the delegates in Ouagadougou made no commitments regarding AQIM, they did stress their group’s “independent” nature, which AFP calls “a signal” of their potential willingness to abandon AQIM. As AFP notes in a separate article, Ansar al Din also has envoys in Algeria for talks.

Ansar al Din has offered to negotiate with authorities in Bamako before (French), but the movement’s demand for the country-wide application of shari’a seemed to make the idea a non-starter. Malian Foreign Minister Tiéman Coulibaly (French) has said that “the territorial integrity, secularism/laicite, and republican character of Mali are not negotiable.” Shari’a has, from what I have read, not come up yet in this round of talks, except perhaps through veiled references.

The Tuareg-led, ostensibly secular rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, where “Azawad” refers to northern Mali) has a presence in Ouagadougou, and welcomed Ansar al Din’s willingness to negotiate.

In Bamako, meanwhile, military commanders from member states within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have developed a “military blueprint” for retaking northern Mali by force. The plan goes next to presidents from ECOWAS members, and then to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on November 26. On October 12, the UNSC “held out the possibility of endorsing, within the next 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African country.”

As AP notes, however, any military offensive in northern Mali is unlikely to happen before 2013. The deployment of troops may be contingent on the completion of new elections for a national Malian government – a process that will pose its own severe logistical difficulties.

So who is serious, and who is bluffing? Is everyone bluffing? And who speaks for whom?

If we take things at face value, Ansar al Din is ready to talk, and ECOWAS is ready to fight. Perhaps ECOWAS’ threats have scared Ansar al Din into coming to the negotiating table, and perhaps ECOWAS doubts Ansar al Din’s sincerity. ECOWAS leaders such as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan have expressed their preference for talking rather than fighting. But perhaps ECOWAS’ leaders hold little hope that Ansar al Din will repudiate AQIM, or that talks will materialize, or that talks will get past Ansar al Din’s insistence on shari’a – and so ECOWAS continues to mobilize, or give the appearance of mobilizing.

One can read the whole process, then, as a form of negotiation. In this view, all parties expect the conflict to end at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield. And so ECOWAS mobilizes in order to strengthen its hand at the table, and Ansar al Din hints at future concessions while the Islamist coalition still makes sure to demonstrate its capacity to strike at “border” towns like Douentza, all more or less as a form of positioning. I’ve even heard the theory that the war as a whole started off as a bid for a strong negotiating position – ie, that the MNLA never expected matters to go this far, but rather hoped to win concessions from the new president of a post-Amadou Toumani Toure Mali.

Ansar al Din, of course, does not demand the break-up of Mali, but its (deeper) Islamization. Are the cooler heads in the Islamist coalition, then, looking toward a future, reunited Mali, and angling for a) a say in determining the role Islam plays in government at the national and local levels and b) continued political influence, official and unofficial, in northern Mali, even beyond religious affairs?

The danger with all the levels of negotiation taking place, or potentially taking place, is that the various sides may well misread each other’s signals, with the result that more blood is shed. Even if all sides proclaim a desire for peace and a willingness to talk, there are so many sticking points – shari’a, elections, etc. – that the conflict seems likely to endure for quite some time.

A Purported Offer of Dialogue from Boko Haram, and the Reactions of Nigeria’s Political Class

On November 1, a man calling himself Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulaziz and claiming to speak for the Nigerian rebel sect Boko Haram held a teleconference with journalists. He stated that representatives from the group would be willing to negotiate a cease-fire with the Federal Government of Nigeria provided that certain conditions were met. The fullest version of the stated conditions that I have seen is here (h/t Carmen McCain):

[Abdulaziz] said: “To bring an end to these attacks, bombings, killings and arrests of our members in Nigeria, we have been mandated by our leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, to appoint high members, elders and others from the North-East sub-region to dialogue with the Borno State and Federal Governments of Nigeria in a neutral state of Saudi Arabia.”

He said five members of the group  were mandated to liaise with a five-member committee of Borno elders to dialogue with the Federal Government.

The Nigerian mediators, according to him, include Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, Buhari, Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Amb. Gaji Galtimari and Aisha Wakil and her husband.

On a neutral centre for the dialogue, Abdulaziz said: “We insist on having the dialogue in Saudi Arabia, because the Federal Government has betrayed us on two different occasions… The committee members for dialogue comprise my humble self, Abu Mohammed Abdulaziz, Shiek Abu Abass, Shiek Ibrahim Yusuf, Shiek Sani Kontagora and Mamman Nur.”

The announcement has occasioned a lot of important commentary. I refer you to Amb. John Campbell‘s piece on the subject, to the quoted remarks from Mallam Shehu Sani of the Northern Civil Society Coalition, and to AFP‘s overview. For some observers, the November 2 assassination of retired General Muhammadu Shuwa in Maiduguri, an act attributed to Boko Haram but denied by the group, has cast strong doubt on the seriousness of the peace offer. At the moment I would place myself, along with Sani and others, in the skeptical camp, though matters with Boko Haram have been so fluid that it’s difficult to be certain of much.

I have three points to make about the political class’ reaction to the announcement. First, as AFP notes, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is willing to talk to the group should the offer prove genuine. Yet this willingness to negotiate does not entail wholesale acceptance of the stated terms. The Nation reports that the administration would accept Saudi Arabia as a location, but is still mulling over the other conditions and the choice of interlocutors. It also seems the administration will not release any prisoners as a precondition of talks.

Second, we find prominent political voices both supporting and opposing the idea of talks; there is no consensus. Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, for example, favors dialogue, while Chief Solomon Lar, a former National Chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, opposes the idea. If plans for dialogue did become more concrete, the debate would undoubtedly intensify.

Finally, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the party of Gen. Buhari, opposes the idea of the General’s participation in talks (h/t Chike Chukudebelu).

According to the CPC, this move is the “latest gambit in the desire of this organically corrupt PDP-led Federal Government in diverting the attention of the unsuspecting Nigerian public from the on-going massive looting of their common patrimony”, as it heaps the blame for the insurgency on the ruling party.

“The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), as a corporate entity, is the harbinger of the insecurity travails of the Nigerian People for the sole reason of ensuring perpetuity in governance” the statement alleged.

The opposition party claimed that there are three variants of Boko-Haram adding that the PDP federal government is a “political Boko Haram”.

“The original Boko-Haram that is at daggers drawn with the Nigerian authority for the extra-judicial killing of their leader; the criminal Boko-haram that is involved in all criminality for economic reasons and of course, the most lethal of all, the Political Boko-Haram-which this PDP-led Federal government represents.”

I agree with Chike’s analysis when he writes, “Buhari and CPC were wise to reject the offer, because it would ‘associate them with Boko Haram.’ At least this is the interpretation that the Christian community in the North and Southerners will buy. It would have been exploited by ambitious politicians to scuttle Buhari’s chances come 2015.” Buhari has stated that he will not run in 2015, but the chances are decent that he will change his mind about running. This editorial (leaving aside some of the author’s bold claims about Boko Haram that would be difficult, if not impossible, to verify) features some interesting reasoning about the difficult choices Buhari faces as a potential mediator, and the danger for him to be seen as power-hungry whether he accepts or refuses.

If this attempt at dialogue fails it will be, by my count, the third such failure (at least): see here and here. The idea of dialogue surfaces regularly, which makes sense given that crackdowns against Boko Haram have not so far stopped the group’s violence. But the repeated failures of dialogue point to the same structural problems that have come into play this time: a lack of trust between the government and the sect, a lack of willing mediators, and a lack of clarity regarding who really speaks for Boko Haram.

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.

On Tour in Northern Nigeria, Col. Dasuki Emphasizes Dialogue with Boko Haram

In June, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, facing increasing domestic criticism over his government’s handling of the Northern rebel sect Boko Haram, appointed a new National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki, who is a member of the Northern aristocratic, political, and military elites, soon initiated a tour of Northern cities that have been affected by Boko Haram’s violence. The Jonathan administration has in the past talked about dialogue with Boko Haram, and Dasuki’s tour has repeatedly stressed the idea of dialogue, suggesting that the administration’s strategy is moving more firmly in that direction. Dasuki’s tour has also attempted to give Northern “stakeholders” a greater sense of inclusion in the administration’s efforts to deal with Boko Haram.

Among Dasuki’s first stops were Maidiguri (Borno State), Potiskum, and Damataru (Yobe State). Maiduguri, site of one of Boko Haram’s largest uprisings in 2009, has remained the epicenter of the violence, and Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked the latter two cities. In Maiduguri, Dasuki spoke of a potential ceasefire between the government and Boko Haram.

Other stops have included Jos (Plateau State), Katsina State, and Kano (Kano State). In Jos, Dasuki announced his intention to meet with Boko Haram:

Dasuki, who spoke in Jos during a meeting with stakeholders in Plateau, said he was planning to meet with the group on the need for it to cease fire and embrace dialogue as soon as possible.

“I was in Yobe and Borno States last week and I have got the telephone numbers and contacts of key Boko Haram members and I will meet with them. I saw the dangerous effect of Boko Haram in these states and what I saw was pathetic. But I have the mandate to put heads together with religious and traditional leaders as well as the state governments to ensure an immediate ceasefire,” Dasuki said.

If Dasuki has obtained the telephone numbers of Boko Haram leaders, then his tour has already borne some fruit.

In Kaduna, Dasuki added another element to the call for dialogue. “He urged the stakeholders to reach out to all known contacts of leaders of Boko Haram and make them embrace the latest dialogue initiative by the Federal Government.” The dialogue strategy, then, combines Abuja’s own efforts at outreach with more localized efforts.

As Dasuki pursues dialogue, he is also working to reassure Northern leaders and strengthen the Federal Government’s relations with them. In Katsina, he emphasized the idea of “listening” to the local leaders (indeed, almost every article on Dasuki’s stops includes quotes from governors and other local politicians):

When he paid a courtesy visit to Katsina State governor Ibrahim Shema, [Dasuki] said “what is happening in the north is not something anyone will be proud of”.

“We are in Katsina to listen to the state’s concerns to and offer full support to the government in ensuring that peace is sustained,” he said. “While we are addressing areas with problems, we don’t want new ones to come up.”

Dasuki said that his visit was part of measures to offer support and cooperation to the state.

In Kano,

He assured Kano state governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso that his office was ever ready to partner with the state government to surmount rising security challenges in Kano.
Dasuki said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan was ready to give full assistance to the people and government of Kano state in their bid to ensure adequate security of lives and property.
“Considering the importance of Kano, a major economic hub, the last place anybody would want any disruption is Kano.”

As reported in the press (and it is noteworthy that in Kano Dasuki complained about the press’ coverage of national security issues and stated that journalists sometimes distort his words), the tone of some governors’ statements has been slightly different than the tone Dasuki takes; for example, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State asked the federal government to deploy more troops to his state, and expressed caution about dialogue at the same time that he said authorities in his state are pursuing it. But despite what seems to be the occasional difference of opinion, the Northern governors appear to have received Dasuki quite enthusiastically and to be happy with his appointment. His physical presence on the scene appears to have meant something to state and local authorities. Dasuki’s background and personal connections, of course, may play a role in making some of the Northern politicians comfortable with him.

I have not seen a schedule of the tour, so I cannot tell whether Dasuki will return to Abuja, take the tour further west, or make these visits an ongoing part of his work. But now that he has made these visits, his challenge will be to make the promised dialogue happen and to preserve the goodwill he seems to have established so far.

Family Planning Legislation in Nigeria?

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan made headlines – and caused controversy – this week by saying that his country may need “birth control legislation,” potentially along the lines of China’s one child policy. Nigeria’s population currently stands at an estimated 160-170 million people, and is projected to grow so rapidly that Nigeria may have over 400 million people by 2050. Jonathan has recommended that the newly formed National Population Commission pursue a campaign of “advocacy” and “sensitization” to promote birth control and the idea of child spacing.

This is not the first time someone influential has proposed such a policy for Nigeria. Last year, American economist Jeffrey Sachs suggested that “Nigeria should work towards attaining a maximum of three children per family,” an idea that also drew criticism and debate.

Nigeria’s massive population has sometimes been the subject of gloomy, even apocalyptic commentary, as in the New York Times article “In Nigeria, a Preview of an Overcrowded Planet.” That article pointed out that “for two decades, the Nigerian government has recommended that families limit themselves to four children, with little effect.”

Critics said that the NYT article’s attention to families’ choices about children distracted readers from other ways of looking at the country’s problems, especially in terms of the failure of the state to provide services to its people. Obadias Ndaba wrote to the NYT,

Economic prosperity isn’t driven by population size but rather by how a country invests in its human capital and manages its resources. Nigeria has deeper issues, such as corruption and poor governance, to deal with. Fear-mongering based on erroneous Malthusian population theory must stop.

If one embraces this argument, Jonathan’s talk of family planning could also be seen as a distraction technique, a way of displacing blame for Nigeria’s problems from the government to the people. One of the Christian leaders quoted in VOA’s article on the topic makes essentially that argument: “The population of Nigeria cannot stop the progress of Nigeria…If our leaders can stand on their obligations and apply the wisdom of God and the fear of God, we can make it and succeed also in Nigeria.”

Politically, Jonathan’s suggestion may play poorly in many areas of the country, including much of Northern Nigeria, where his popularity already runs low.

Does that mean family planning efforts are doomed in Nigeria? Not necessarily. Muslims in Northern Nigeria are often depicted as exceptionally conservative when it comes to dealing with issues related to sex and health, but at the grassroots level, VOA and USAID have reported some successes with family planning programs in the region. In 2009, VOA reported:

In Zakarai village, about 50 kilometers from the main city of Kano, a community-based outreach project is helping low-income families get the education and contraceptives they need to act responsibly.

Community volunteers, with technical support from the Community Participation for Action in the Social Sector, COMPASS, a USAID-sponsored project, are helping women avoid unwanted and often high-risk pregnancies.

COMPASS is a five-year integrated community-driven project with nine implementing partners, including the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association and the Nigerian Medical Association.

The project, which started in 2004, seeks to improve the health and education status of 23 million Nigerians in three northern and two southern states.

COMPASS field officer in Kano, Mohammed Gama, says putting the community in the driving seat was the catalyst for the program’s success in one of the most conservative communities in Nigeria.

For more, see this USAID report on COMPASS activities in Nasarawa State.

It would be deceptively simple to say that the solution to the issue of family planning in Nigeria is to go “bottom up” instead of “top down,” and US government sources have a clear interest in describing US-backed programs as successes. But at the very least, I think Jonathan’s top-down style proposal will have difficulty getting much traction, and will be an easy target for his various opponents. The larger issue also remains: is family planning even the right place to start in addressing problems like poverty, food insecurity, and crime? What do you think?

Nigeria: Changeover in Top Security Personnel

In words that have come back to haunt him, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan stated in March that the problem of Boko Haram, the rebel sect that regularly conducts attacks throughout much of Northern Nigeria, would be over by June. June is here, and now Jonathan is under more pressure than ever to deal with Boko Haram. Recent attacks on churches have incensed Christian groups, Muslim-Christian violence gripped Kaduna for several days last week, and just yesterday Boko Haram staged another of its signature prison breaks.*

On Friday, Jonathan replaced his National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi, with Colonel Sambo Dasuki, and fired Defense Minister Bello Haliru (also called Bello Muhammad in some reports). Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Jonathan offered a need for “new persons” and “new tactics” as the reason for the shuffle. In words that seemed to reference the cyclical reprisal killings in Kaduna, Jonathan also said that Boko Haram attacks churches to “instigate religious crisis” and destabilize the government. He also “pledged that Nigeria would halt the violence. He said the government was open to dialogue if Boko Haram figures identified themselves and made clear demands.” AFP (linked report above) comments that Sunday’s remarks “featured some of his clearest statements yet on the Boko Haram insurgency.”

Many people have wondered whether Boko Haram will undermine Jonathan politically to the point that his presidency enters a serious crisis (some Nigerians, of course, would already say that it has, for reasons not limited to insecurity). The answer depends on how one defines “crisis.” I do not expect Jonathan to resign or be impeached, but he is certainly feeling the heat. Additionally, even though Boko Haram’s range remains limited to the North (it has not, for example, attacked Lagos or Port Harcourt), in terms of attention from the press, civil society, and ordinary people, the issue is becoming even more “national” than it already has been.

This kind of shuffle with security personnel is not new – Police Inspector General Hafiz Ringim and six of his deputies got early retirement shortly after the mass bombings in Kano in January. But Friday’s firings were even more dramatic. The motivation seems primarily political to me. My reading is that Jonathan wants to buy the government enough time, politically, to find a solution; the President also seems to feel that the solution, when it comes, will likely involve dialogue. These personnel changes, however, will probably not blunt the criticism for long if the violence continues. What options will Jonathan have then, except to muddle through?

It is noteworthy but probably not decisive that the new National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki (profile here) is from the royal family of Sokoto, and has complex ties to former heads of state Gens. Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo. I say “noteworthy” because pondering what political considerations led to his appointment may tell us something about Jonathan’s relationships with different parts of the Northern elite. I say “not decisive” because I doubt Dasuki’s aristocratic pedigree will matter much to Boko Haram, or give militants serious pause as they plot further attacks. What will matter most is whether there will indeed be fresh thinking on both the security and the political fronts.

*One wild detail in the report on the prison break in Yobe State is the line that Boko Haram attacked the prison “through the Emir’s palace.” Presumably the Emir was unhurt; if so, this incident will add to the complex history of Boko Haram’s decisions to sometimes assassinate royals and sometimes spare their lives.

Africa News Roundup: Shari’a in Mali, Pastoralists in Ethiopia, IDPs in Kenya, and More

Protests continue in Sudan.

VOA argues, “In Northern Mali, Many Resent Islamist Restrictions.” AFP, meanwhile, reports, “Mali’s embattled interim prime minister said Friday negotiations with the armed groups controlling the northern half of his country were his first choice to solve the crisis.” IRIN ponders the prospects for an armed intervention, while the BBC steps back to survey Mali’s problems.

Human Rights Watch:

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report contains previously unpublished government maps that show the extensive developments planned for the Omo valley, including irrigation canals, sugar processing factories, and 100,000 hectares of other commercial agriculture.

The 73-page report, “‘What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?’: Abuses against the Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley,”documents how government security forces are forcing communities to relocate from their traditional lands through violence and intimidation, threatening their entire way of life with no compensation or choice of alternative livelihoods. Government officials have carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence against residents of the Lower Omo valley who questioned or resisted the development plans.


Election-related violence and the displacement of people are regular occurrences in Kenya, and thousands of families are affected by it every five years. But a bill tabled in parliament on 13 June seeks to compel the government to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Yesterday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan replaced National Security Adviser Owoye Azazi and Minister of Defense Bello Mohammed.

In Senegal, where the administration of President Macky Sall is investigating alleged corruption under the previous administration, ex-interior minister Ousmane Ngom was briefly detained this week.

I have to admit, the Failed States Index makes only partial sense to me. Chad ranks higher than Afghanistan? Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya rank higher than Libya? What do you make of it?

Last but not least, Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca’s The Dictator’s Handbook is quite thorough. Worth a visit.