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.

Africa Blog Roundup: Mali, Libya, Jubaland, Sudan Maps, and More

Peter Tinti appears on the BBC to discuss the ongoing French military action in Mali.

Bridget Conley: “Libya in the African Context.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Jubaland Close to Becoming Somalia’s Next State.”

Shelby Grossman: “FOIA Cables on Lebanese in Sierra Leone”:

The thing that is most striking is that the documents assert over and over again that Lebanese in West Africa are funding Hezbollah (”hundreds of millions of dollars” according to one cable), but it’s unclear if these assumptions are based on any evidence other than hearsay, as none is provided.

Internally Displaced on the search for a map showing the 1956 border between Sudan and South Sudan:

The strength of the British administrators was, as John Ashworth rightly points out, their obsession with recording things.  This obsession however was bureaucratic (and they were hardly preoccupied with recording in mile-by-mile detail what was, to them, an internal border).  But this means that the entirety of the South Sudan National Archives collection from the 1950s – and its counterpoints in the Durham Sudan Archives and in the Khartoum Sudan National Archives – are the border proofs.  What is needed is a careful examination of who administered which areas, and which villages; that is the proof of the real border.  The detail is there; there are files here in Juba that trace disputes over single cows in the border regions, let alone administrative and taxation rights.  You’re not going to find a simple, easy, 1:10,000 scale map that will solve this (and who said even finding the map would resolve anything anyway?).  The map is in the notes.

Roving Bandit: “Does Policy Work?”

Niger-Libya: Another Round of Struggle over Extraditing Saadi Qaddhafi

During his reign, Colonel Muammar Qaddhafi of Libya exercised substantial influence over neighboring Niger. Niger has working relations with the new Libyan government, but the presence of the Colonel’s son Saadi in Niger since September 2011 has been a source of dispute. Saadi Qaddhafi is not the only prominent Libyan in Niger – as of October 2011, “at least 32 Libyans, including three generals, had sought refuge in Niger.” Niger’s government has given permission for Libyan authorities to question the Colonel’s son – but has refused several demands to extradite him to Libya. Mauritania’s government was in a similar position for a time, as Libyan officials sought to extradite Col. Qaddhafi’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al Senussi. Mauritania handed Senussi over to Libya in September of this year.

This week, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited Niger and again asked for the extradition of Saadi Qaddhafi and others. Uganda’s Daily Monitor reports that Niger has refused the request. That article contains a brief description of Qaddhafi’s life in Niger, writing that he remains under house arrest and that “it is alleged that the Niger authorities have also curtailed his access to communication gadgets as well as receiving guests due to his open criticism against the host government for restricting his movement.” Earlier reports had given a much different picture of his lifestyle in exile, suggesting that his “house arrest” involved a great deal of freedom. In September, one his lawyers told the press that Niger had given him the freedom to travel, despite a United Nations travel ban against him. Given these different reports it is hard to tell what restrictions Saadi Qaddhafi does or does not face.

I could not find the Libyan Prime Minister’s statement requesting Qaddhafi’s extradition, but Arabic readers may be interested in:

  • the PM’s office’s statement after his trip to Niger, which emphasizes themes of cooperation against terrorism and touches on the situation in Mali, and
  • his office’s approvingly worded statement concerning remarks Chadian President Idriss Deby made on Chadian-Libyan relations during the PM’s stop in Chad (after his visit to Niger).

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: Benghazi, Oil, Achebe, Kismayo, and More

Josh Rogin:

The State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB), meant to review the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, met for the first time at the State Department Thursday.

[...]

The ARB is charged with determining the extent to which the incident was security-related, whether the security systems and procedures at that mission were adequate and were properly implemented, the impact of intelligence and information availability, and any other facts and circumstances that might be relevant to the appropriate security management of the United States missions abroad.

Roving Bandit on the oil deal between Sudan and South Sudan:

Whilst this seems like a good deal for North Sudan in the short run and a good deal for South Sudan in the long run, my main concern is the hold-up problem. What is stopping North Sudan ripping up the agreement in 3 years, demanding a higher cut, and just confiscating oil (again)?

Texas in Africa on child soldiers:

The dilemma in the Congo is this: while everyone agrees that the use of child soldiers is a horrible, inexcusable human rights violation, it is far from clear that disengaging from the Congolese government on military issues will end those abuses.

Loomnie excerpts two reviews of Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country.

Emeka Okafor on hip hop in Nigeria.

Baobab on the potential impact of debt forgiveness on Guinea, and on cultural differences between Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Somalia Newsroom: “Al Shabaab, Jubbaland, and the Future of Kismayo.”

At Focus on the Horn, Dr. Samson Bezabeh discusses Djibouti’s politics with reference to Sasha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator.”