A Northern Nigerian Prediction about Syria, Validated

In late 2011, in Kano, I was talking about Syria’s crisis with a friend of mine. “Soon America will bomb them,” he said. At the time, I thought his prediction was wrong. But his tone – which conveyed his sense that the bombing was inevitable – stayed with me. Time has proven him right, and me wrong.

I am not a pollster and I cannot say how a billion Muslims feel about anything. But I think my friend is not alone. I think that many Muslims, and not just Arab Muslims, look at American military actions in the Middle East as habitual, predatory, and destructive. My friend also said that “men with long beards” would eventually rule Libya, and that the U.S. had not understood this when it intervened there. We’ll see if he is right about that as well, and we’ll see what unintended consequences stem from American strikes in Syria.

Niger Has Received at Least Four Streams of Refugees Since 2011

Yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that some 6,000 refugees have arrived to Niger from Nigeria, fleeing the Nigerian military’s offensive against Boko Haram. Reuters provides additional context.

Refugees from Nigeria add to existing and recent refugee influxes into Niger. I can count four major streams since 2011:

  1. Refugees from the 2011 post-electoral crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.
  2. Refugees from the Libyan civil war of 2011. In May 2011 AFP put the combined total of refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and Libya at 93,000. Some 60,000 of these were probably from Libya – more here. The final total from Libya, given that the war lasted for months after May, was undoubtedly higher. It is difficult to know how many of these refugees have been successfully resettled, but I would imagine many of them continue to live in precarious conditions.
  3. Refugees from the 2012-2013 crisis in Mali, whom UNHCR counts at 50,000-60,000.
  4. Refugees from northeastern Nigeria.

Throughout the crisis in Niger’s neighbor Mali, it has often been tempting – including for me – to examine Niger’s “success.” More accurate than calling Mali a failure and Niger a success would be to say that Niger faces its own problems and vulnerabilities, including refugee streams from multiple other countries in the region, and limited resources to give those people.

Niger and Libya on the Recent Bombings

(Somehow I goofed and didn’t post this on May 28th, the day I wrote it. It’s still relevant, so I thought I would post it today. – Alex)

Following the May 23 bombings in northern Niger, the country’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, charged that the attackers had come from southern Libya. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denied this claim.

I do not know who is right. But Issoufou and Zeidan’s statements interest me in large part because of the views they reflect on what post-Qaddhafi Libya has become.

Issoufou:

Libya continues to be a source of destabilisation for the countries of the Sahel…I had already warned from the beginning of the Libyan crisis…that it was necessary to avoid solutions after Kadhafi’s defeat that would be even worse, and I had said that if the Libyan state turned into a Somalia or fell into the hands of fundamentalists, the solution would be worse…Today the situation is very difficult, the Libyan authorities are doing their best to control it, but the fact is, Libya continues to be a source of destabilisation for the countries of the Sahel.

It’s noteworthy that Issoufou frames the problem as a regional one and not just as an issue for Libya and Niger.

Zeidan:

It was Gaddafi who exported terrorism…The new Libya will not tolerate that.

Issoufou depicts the bombings as the work of foreigners, Zeidan depicts Libya’s problems as being the fault of Qaddhafi.

Libya and Niger have had some tension since Qaddhafi’s fall. Niger was relatively slow to recognize the new Libyan government, and the two countries have not reached an agreement on the extradition of Qaddhafi family members and lieutenants from Niger back to Libya (Zeidan raised this issue again at his press conference). Issoufou calling Libya a “source of destabilization” is strong language, and suggests that he (and possibly other Sahelian leaders) are deeply unhappy with their northern neighbor’s trajectory. Issoufou’s concerns about Libya, in other words, go well beyond the latest bombing.

Africa News Roundup: Ethiopia and Egypt, Chad and Libya, CAR’s Crisis, and More

Los Angeles Times:

A battle over water has turned into a war of colorful rhetoric between Ethiopia and Egypt over the flow of the Nile, which begins in the African highlands but keeps Egypt from being swallowed entirely by desert.

An ambitious Ethiopian dam project is diverting Nile waters that Cairo says will reduce the river’s northward flow. The Egyptians have stumbled into crisis mode: At a meeting hosted by President Mohamed Morsi this week, several politicians, unaware TV cameras were rolling, suggested sabotaging or threatening to bomb the dam.

IRIN: “[Central African Republic] Crisis Remains Dire – and Neglected.”

El Watan (French):

Gao, Kidal, Anefis… Six mois après le lancement de l’opération Serval, que deviennent les villes du Nord-Mali ? Notre envoyée spéciale a échappé à un attentat kamikaze et a vécu des accrochages entre l’armée malienne et le MNLA. Elle témoigne de la peur et de la précarité dans lesquelles vivent les populations.

BBC:

Seven people have died in the Somali port of Kismayo in fighting between two self-declared leaders of the strategic city and surrounding area.

Residents told the BBC the clashes began in the town centre at midday and lasted for about 40 minutes.

They broke out after one of the leaders tried to meet the defence minister who is attempting to resolve the crisis.

VOA: “South Sudan Switches from Arabic Textbooks to English.”

From May (missed it then), Luke Balleny: “What Impact Has the EITI Transparency Initiative Had on Nigeria?”

The Economist: “Could Political Demonstrations in Ethiopia Herald Greater Freedom?”

Wall Street Journal: “Chad’s President Warns of Islamist Threat in Libya.”

What else is happening?

Regional Interconnections and Conflict in the Sahel

I am curious to hear readers’ reactions to two pieces that have appeared in recent weeks. These pieces, inspired by the recent bombings in Niger, treat interconnections between crises in different Northwest African countries, specifically Libya, Mali, and Niger.

  • AFP: “With its weak government, porous borders and proliferation of weapons, Libya has been accused of destabilising its southern neighbours, but analysts say it is wrong to point the finger at Tripoli alone. Niger’s President Mahamadou Issofou has said those behind two suicide attacks in his country on May 23 came from southern Libya. He also said the same groups had been planning another attack on Chad…Western diplomats and analysts believe that southern Libya has become a regrouping area for jihadist groups pushed out of northern Mali by a French-led offensive launched in January.”
  • Similarly, from Reuters: “Suicide attacks on a French-run mine and a military base in northern Niger have shown how an Islamist threat is spreading across the weak nations of the Sahara, meaning France may be tied down there for years to come. Regional rivalries are aggravating the problem for Paris and its Western allies, with a lack of cooperation between Saharan countries helping militants to melt away when they come under pressure and regroup in quieter parts of the vast desert. Security officials say lawless southern Libya has become the latest haven for al Qaeda-linked fighters after French-led forces drove them from strongholds in northern Mali this year, killing hundreds.”

Analyses of such interconnections are important. Just as I think the civil war in Libya played some part in intensifying the ongoing crisis in Mali, I think the fallout from war in Mali has been one key motivation for (or, at the very least, a rhetorical image invoked by) jihadist movements attacking Algeria and Niger in the first half of this year. Indeed, I would like to see deeper reflection about the unanticipated consequences of external military and political interventions in this part of the world (and in general). At the same time, I think it is important to weigh evidence carefully, to preserve awareness of how localities differ from one another even amid regional interactions, and to minimize analogical thinking (i.e., understanding one place by comparing it with another).

What do you think?

Africa News Roundup: Kenyatta and the ICC, Niger Bombings, Northern Kenya, Libya, Algeria, and More

AP:

With the help of French special forces, Niger’s military on Friday killed the last two jihadists holed up inside a dormitory on the grounds of a military garrison in the desert town of Agadez, and freed at least two soldiers who had been held hostage by the extremists, according to French and Nigerien officials.

See also Reuters on a claim of responsibility for the attack by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was reported killed in March. Opinions may vary as to whether Belmokhtar is still alive or not.

VOA:

South Sudan President Salva Kiir said Thursday that he would “never accept” the International Criminal Court. He spoke during a visit from new Kenyan president and ICC indictee Uhuru Kenyatta, who pledged the creation of roads, rail and pipelines to deepen economic ties between Kenya and the new nation.

[...]

“We have talked about these problems of the ICC, that the ICC, whatever has been written in Rome, has never been used against any one of their presidents or heads of states. It seems that this thing has been meant for African leaders, that they have to be humiliated,” said Kiir.

Reuters:

African nations have backed a request by Kenya for charges of crimes against humanity by its president to be referred back to the east African country, African Union documents show.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are both facing trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC), accused of masterminding ethnic bloodshed in post-election violence five years ago that killed more than 1,200 people. Both deny the charges.

One minister, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters that the African Union specifically avoided calling on the war crimes tribunal to drop its prosecution, but he acknowledged that the request for a local process amounted to the same thing.

AP: “Violence in Somalia Scares Investors, Aid Workers.”

Two headlines on Libya give a mixed picture of the country’s trajectory:

  • AFP: “Libya Economy Surges Following Revolution: IMF” (The IMF’s Libya country page is here).
  • Al Jazeera (video report): “Libyan Armed Groups Refuse to Cede Power”

World Politics Review: “With [President Abdelaziz] Bouteflika Still Sidelined, Algeria’s Challenges Mount.”

IRIN: “Restive Northern Kenya Sees Shifting Power, Risks.”

Africa News Roundup: UN Political Mission in Somalia, Governor in Kidal, Coup Attempt in Chad

Reuters: “At Least Four Dead in Chad Coup Attempt.”

WSJ: “South Sudan to Resume Oil Exports.”

Magharebia: “Maghreb Minister Back Security Cooperation.”

IRIN: “A Long Road Ahead for Justice in Cote d’Ivoire.”

BBC: “Why Libya’s Militias Are Up in Arms.”

UN News Centre: “Security Council Unanimously Approves New UN Political Mission in Somalia.”

Maliweb (French): “The Government Appoints a Governor in Kidal.”

Times Live: “Ethiopia Confirms Jail Terms for Blogger, Opposition Figure [Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage].”

What other news is out there?

Africa Blog Roundup: Qadhafi and the Sahel, Sankara, Mali, and More

Lesley Anne Warner summarizes General Carter Ham’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee: parts one and two.

Alex de Waal: “African Roles in the Libyan Conflict of 2011.”

Louisa Lombard: “Post-Gaddafi Repercussions in the Sahel.”

Haba Na Haba: “Report on Mutharika’s Death.”

Internally Displaced: “Workshops, the Plague of Juba.”

Alemu Tafesse: “The Ethiopian Muslim Civil Rights Movement.”

Africa Is A Country: “Who Killed Thomas Sankara?”

Africa in DC on an event about northern Mali.

What are you reading today?

Chad’s Humanitarian Challenges

Last week I wrote briefly about refugees in and around Mali. Today I want to draw attention to another humanitarian crisis, this one affecting Chadians.

IRIN highlights the plight of Chadian workers deported from Libya:

More than 2,000 Chadians and other sub-Saharan African nationals have been returned since 2012, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Many of the deportees had been detained for several months or years, and were taken back to Chad in open trucks, said returned migrants, recounting that they had been arrested for lack of valid papers or on suspicion of being mercenaries who supported the Gaddafi’s regime.

“Irregular repatriation has lately become more intense. Since last year, Chadian authorities have observed an influx into the north of Chad of migrants previously detained in Libya. This is causing a serious humanitarian challenge,” said Qasim Sufi, IOM’s chief of mission in Chad.

Sufi told IRIN: “Returnees are faced with a multitude of challenges ranging from dealing with the trauma of having been detained for long periods (some up to 27 months), to having experienced or witnessed violence.”

[...]

Some 300,000 Chadians lived and worked in Libya before the February 2011 revolt, according to the Chadian government. They mostly provided low-skilled labour in Tripoli, Benghazi or Sabha where most had lived for 1-5 years.

IOM estimates that some 150,000 Chadians returned home from Libya in 2011, or half the total who were working there before the revolution. To put those numbers in perspective, the CIA World Factbook puts Chad’s population at nearly 11 million – meaning that 2.7% of the population was working in Libya at one time.

Chadians heading home have returned to a country already facing humanitarian strain. According to UNHCR, the “population of concern” in Chad numbers nearly 500,000. Of these people, nearly 177,000 are of Chadian origin. The non-Chadians in that 500,000 come primarily from Sudan and the Central African Republic – a reminder that Chad’s neighborhood is pretty unstable, and that Chad may well absorb further refugee flows from those places in the future.

The humanitarian effects of Libya’s civil war with stay with Chad for some time. In addition to losing their livelihoods in Libya, many Chadian returnees will struggle to build new lives back in Chad. IOM:

“The major challenge facing all returnees from Libya is their reintegration into the communities they left a long time ago. Many have had no communication whatsoever with their communities and considered themselves Libyan citizens. They speak the Libyan dialect; their children have no command of the French language, the teaching medium in Chad. Almost all of them return home empty-handed with nothing to start life with. For those who were still in touch with their families, they were the main providers of material support in the form of monthly remittances. Their return therefore is not a blessing,” says IOM Chief of Mission in Chad, Qasim Sufi.

Finally, there is the threat of hunger. UNICEF (.pdf, p. 1):

Despite favorable rain fall in 2012 and better agricultural production, 1.8 million people remain at risk of food insecurity in 2013. Drought and the impact of climate change are putting poor families at risk of food insecurity.

Any one of these problems on its own – economic losses, deportations, refugees, food insecurity – would be alarming. In combination, they create a situation of profound risk, uncertainty, and suffering for millions of Chadians.

Libya and Mali, Part I

Nine months ago, I wrote a piece titled “NATO’s Intervention in Libya Was a Mistake.” As the French-led intervention in Mali continues, Libya is once again on people’s minds. People ask what relevance the precedent of intervention in Libya has for Mali, and what connections there are between the intervention in Libya and the ongoing crises in Mali.

With regard to the latter question, one often hears two opposed viewpoints: either “Libya’s civil war and the ensuing intervention caused Mali’s crises” or “Libya’s civil war and the ensuing intervention did not cause Mali’s crises.” I think the debate is a false one: I think that the crises in Mali have multiple causes, of which Libya is an important one, but only one.

As Aaron Bady eloquently explains here in a different context, sometimes people ostensibly participating in a shared conversation actually want to have different kinds of conversations. The conversation some analysts want to have runs, “The causes of Mali’s crises are too complex to be reduced to fallout from Libya.” I agree with them in a limited sense, but I think the way some analysts make that argument has two political effects, intended or not. First, this argument can imply that fallout from Libya had a negligible role in Mali’s crises. I disagree with that view. Second, making this argument can allow a speaker to sidestep the question of whether policymakers in Washington, Brussels, or elsewhere made the right decisions on Libya. Tackling this second question is the conversation that I really want to have. This post and a forthcoming sequel are my way of responding to arguments about Libya and Mali but also my way of attempting to broaden the terrain of the conversation to include an appraisal of concrete policy decisions.

This post is meant to serve a ground-clearing function: I want to state plainly that the main reason I feel that the intervention in Libya was a mistake is that I think it had a negative effect on Libya. I want to preclude the possibility of anyone reducing my arguments to “Thurston says Libya was bad because Mali.” Even if Libya was an island I would regard the decision to intervene there as a mistake.

Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s treatment of his own people was deplorable. Yet the architects of the NATO intervention, framing their actions at times as a response to a perceived moral imperative to protect civilian life, planned poorly for the post-invasion period. A failure to soberly consider the possible unexpected consequences of intervention and transition has helped chaos to develop in post-Qadhafi Libya.

To my mind, the external intervention in Libya picked a winner in that country’s civil war. The intervention either picked the weaker of the two sides (this is my opinion) or accelerated a process whereby the rebels might have eventually defeated Qadhafi. In either case, the side that ultimately won the civil war – the National Transitional Council or NTC – was not prepared to unify the country politically and establish security and order. At present, the NTC’s successor organization the General National Congress does not effectively govern the country either.

The roots of political disunity and state weakness in Libya reach back into the period of Qadhafi’s rule (1969-2011) and before. As papers like this one describe, Qadhafi to some extent personalized the state while dismantling or undermining key political and social structures. The NTC does not deserve blame for all of Libya’s current problems, but I believe the intervention, by tipping the scales, put a body in “power” that cannot govern, especially in the short term.

Some observers have characterized the “new Libya” in optimistic terms. Libya’s July 7, 2012 national assembly elections met with Western acclaim for their relatively peaceful staging, their basically free and fair quality, and their results, namely an outcome where Islamists did not win.

But much news out of Libya is grim. There are a number of trends I could highlight, but two in particular are worth mentioning:

  • The persistence of armed militias, of whom there may be as many as 1,700: see here, here, here, and here for commentary and reporting on this issue. These militias challenge state control and security while contributing to violence and disorder. An article from December sums it up: “Almost two years after the start of the armed uprising that felled the regime, the militias that formed to fight Qaddafi show little sign of real integration into national security forces, and some are using their considerable clout to influence political and security decisions as a wobbly government takes its first steps.”
  • Assassination attempts against government officials, politicians, and security personnel: Defense Minister Mohammed al-Barghathi (January 20, 2013), Interim President of the General National Congress Muhammad al Maghariaf (January 6, 2013), Islamist leader Ahmed Abu Khattala (January 6, 2013), and police Colonel Mohammed Ben Haleem (October 13, 2012). There have also been assassination attempts against diplomats from Britain and Italy, and finally the tragic killing of US Amb. Chris Stevens and three other American diplomats in September 2012. I regard these episodes of targeted violence as both symptoms and causes of political instability in Libya. A government whose leaders routinely have brushes with death does not truly govern.

As a recent RAND Corporation report stated (.pdf, p. 3), “Security is the most immediate challenge today. Without it, progress in other areas will be stilted and likely fall apart…The attacks and ongoing violence since make it clear that Libya is not out of the woods yet. Even small numbers of moderately well-armed spoilers could push the country into a downward spiral of insecurity, recrimination, and violence.” International Crisis Group’s report “Divided We Stand” makes similar arguments while acknowledging the possibility of political progress.

Perhaps you interpret security challenges and other trends in Libya as “growing pains” for the new government. Perhaps you regard the present instability as an appropriate price to pay for ending the Qadhafi regime. Myself, I believe that tipping the balance in Libya’s civil war is one critical cause of the present instability, which has added to the tragedy that began with the civil war. I also fear that such instability will continue.

The conversation about whether the intervention in Libya was the right move or not could end there, could remain, so to speak, within the boundaries of Libya itself. But the conversation should not, I would say, end there. Later this week or early next week, we’ll talk about Libya and Mali.