Africa News Roundup: Mali Suicide Bombings, Imouraren, Eritrea, and More

Reuters:

At least five suicide bombers died in northern Mali on Friday in attacks aimed at Malian and Nigerien troops which failed to inflict serious casualties on their targets, a spokesman for Mali’s army said.

One of the towns hit was Gossi, the furthest south al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels have struck in a guerrilla war launched against Malian and regional forces since the rebels were driven from their former strongholds in a French-led offensive this year.

BBC:

Doctors have closed the main hospital in Nigeria’s north-eastern city of Maiduguri in protest at alleged police assaults on staff and patients.

They say officers became angry because the hospital mortuary was too full to take the bodies of colleagues killed by suspected Islamist militants.

One doctor told the BBC they would not reopen the hospital to new patients until the government provided them with security to do their work in safety.

Sudan Tribune: “Sudan Approves 22% Pay Raise for Military.”

IRIN: “Understanding the Causes of Violent Extremism in West Africa.”

VOA: “[Central African Republic] Rebels Accused of Major Rights Violations.”

RFI (French): “Areva: The Imouraren Uranium Mine Will Be Operational in Summer 2015, the President of Niger Hopes.”

Amnesty International: “Eritrea: Rampant Repression Twenty Years after Independence.”

Human Rights Watch: “Senegal: Chadian Blogger Expelled.”

Africa News Roundup: President Kenyatta, Maiduguri Bombings, CAR, and More

Reuters:

Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president, won the presidential election with a slim margin of 50.03 percent of votes cast, provisional figures showed, just enough to avoid a run-off.

Reuters again:

Seven loud explosions shook Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri on Friday, witnesses said, hours after President Goodluck Jonathan ended a trip there to try to galvanize support for his battle against Islamist insurgents.

The Punch: “Boko Haram Destroys 209 Schools in Yobe.”

CNN:

French forces have seized a significant arms cache in northern Mali believed to have belonged to Islamist jihadist groups, including “tons” of heavy weapons, suicide belts and equipment for improvised explosive devices, France’s defense minister said Friday.

Magharebia: “Algeria Focuses on [AQIM Fighters in] Kabylie.”

IRIN: “Briefing: Militias in Masisi.”

RFI (French): “Central African Republic: Refugees Continue to Flee Fighting and Insecurity.”

What else is happening?

Nigeria: Amid Crackdown on Boko Haram, Civilian Casualties Point to Problems

In late September, I wrote about Nigerian authorities’ redoubled efforts to dismantle the Boko Haram rebel sect by force. Mass raids have occurred in Northeastern states like Yobe and Adamawa, killing dozens of Boko Haram fighters as well as several leaders. This weekend, another major battle occurred between soldiers and sect members in Damaturu, Yobe State:

About 30 suspected members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram have died in a gun battle with troops in north-east Nigeria, the military says.

Army spokesman Lt Eli Lazarus said the battle in Damaturu lasted several hours and 10 arrests were also made.

He said the militants killed included a senior commander known as one-eyed Bakaka.

[...]

Nigeria’s military has recently reported major success in its campaign against Islamist militants, who have often targeted Damaturu, in Yobe state.

However, human rights groups say army operations in northern Nigeria have also left many civilians dead and they complain that arrests are often indiscriminate.

The last sentence is key, because a high civilian casualty rate could bring political backlash even if the crackdowns are successful from a military standpoint.

An incident yesterday in Maiduguri, Borno State, which has historically been the epicenter of Boko Haram, spotlights the tragedy of civilian casualties. Soldiers, this time on the defensive, seem to have lost control in reaction to a bombing:

Nigerian troops have opened fire and burned buildings in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, reportedly killing 30 civilians.

The shootings came after a bomb blast targeting the army had injured two soldiers.

[...]

“Initially, soldiers that came after the explosion harassed residents, whipping them,” one person told AFP news agency.

“But later they went on a shooting spree and started setting homes and shops on fire.”

In an indication of the incident’s seriousness, Borno State’s deputy governor, Alhaji Zannah Mustapha, “later visited the area, urging the people to be calm, just as he assured that normalcy would be restored by the security agencies.”

The kind of political backlash I am describing when I talk about civilian casualties does not center on politics in the sense of elections, campaigns, and leaders. It has to do with the micro-politics of ordinary people’s everyday relations with authority, especially authority personified as soldiers and police officers. Trust in the security forces is notoriously low in Nigeria generally and in the Northeast particularly. The Northeast has seen high-casualty crackdowns before, notably in 2009 during Boko Haram’s mass uprising. In a sense, what is important about the dynamic at work in Maiduguri yesterday is not that it is new but that it is recurring, that violence by security forces against civilians maintains an atmosphere in which many civilians will be reluctant to share information with authorities or cooperate with them beyond the basics necessary for self-preservation. At worst, of course, brutality by the security forces could drive some recruits toward Boko Haram. But even without that possibility, the atmosphere of mistrust, fear, and tension – which clearly affects the soldiers themselves, as well as civilians – undermines efforts to dismantle Boko Haram.

Nigeria: Major Crackdown on Boko Haram in Yobe and Adamawa States

Mosque, Damaturu

Mosque in Damaturu, by Jeremy Weate

Last week, Nigerian security forces in Kano and Maiduguri killed at least four suspected high-ranking members of the Boko Haram sect and arrested two others. That tally includes the group’s infamous spokesman Abu Qaqa, who has been reported dead before. This week, security forces have mounted crackdowns on Boko Haram in Yobe and Adamawa States. While clashes between security forces and sect members are frequent, these crackdowns have been significant for their scale.
AFP on the crackdown in Yobe:

“The Joint Task Force has succeeded in killing 35 Boko Haram terrorists in shootouts between Sunday evening through Monday,” said Lieutenant Lazarus Eli, a military spokesman in Yobe state, of which Damaturu is the capital.

A round-the-clock curfew was imposed in the city late Saturday, ahead of the operation that also led to the arrest of 60 suspected Boko Haram members.

The curfew has been relaxed and residents are now allowed out of their homes from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm (0600 GMT to 2100), Eli said. The ban on movements in Yobe’s economic capital of Potiskum has also been eased.

Military forces went door-to-door through three Damaturu neighbourhoods beginning late Sunday and engaged militants in “a fierce exchange of gunfire” through to the early hours of Monday morning, the spokesman added in a statement.

Two soldiers were injured in the fighting.

[...]

A list of weapons that Eli said were recovered from Boko Haram hideouts included dozens of guns, explosive devices and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as well 32 arrows and two swords, among other items.

PM News on the crackdown in Mubi, Adamawa:

“In the three-day operation, the town was placed under 24-hour curfew, which enabled soldiers to comb the nooks and corners,” said Lieutenant Saleh Mohammed Buba, military spokesman in Adamawa.
“A total of 156 suspects were rounded up in raids of suspected (Boko Haram) hideouts. A sect commander known as Abubakar Yola who went by the alias Abu Jihad was shot dead in a shootout while trying to flee,” he added.
The detained suspected gunmen would soon be produced in court, Buba said.
[...]
The spokesman said about 300 explosive devices were discovered in what he described as an armory used by the sect, where about two dozen AK-47 guns were also being stored.

These crackdowns follow Boko Haram’s attacks on cell phone towers earlier this month. A suicide bombing at a church in Bauchi State on Sunday is believed to be the group’s work.

The crackdowns, along with the arrests and shootings of sect commanders, certainly put pressure on Boko Haram. Their success in disrupting the group’s activities will have to be judged over time, though. For one thing, militant groups and terrorist movements are often able to replace slain commanders with relative ease – the headline “Al Qaeda No. 3 Killed” has been written so many times that it has become a joke in some quarters. Second, the massive crackdown on Boko Haram in 2009 did succeed in driving Boko Haram underground for months, but it also seems to have fueled the group’s grievances against the state, especially security forces.

Force will undoubtedly be part of the state’s response to Boko Haram. What matters is how force gets used. To the extent that security forces can target known sect members while avoiding harming and harassing civilians, and can pair forceful tactics with sophisticated strategies for answering the political challenge the sect poses, the crackdowns may help resolve the problem of Boko Haram. If not, then crackdowns risk becoming just another element of a cycle of violence.

A Wave of Boko Haram Micro-Attacks in Damaturu, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, and Elsewhere

Yesterday morning, suicide bombers suspected of being from Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect struck two police targets in the northwestern city of Sokoto (map), claiming at least four lives (more here). Police reportedly repelled a third attack Monday evening.

Assuming Boko Haram is behind these incidents, the attacks in Sokoto mark one of the largest strikes the movement has carried out west of Kano.* Their attacks in Kano since January have themselves represented a significant geographical expansion for the group; a presence in Sokoto is yet another stage in this expansion, particularly if attacks become semi-regular there as they have in Kano.

Yesterday also brought an apparent assassination attempt against Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo, as “gunmen on motorbikes” shot at one of Sambo’s houses in Zaria, Kaduna State.

The Sokoto bombings and the Zaria attack follow a wave of micro-attacks elsewhere in the North: raids on police stations in Borno and Bauchi States last Wednesday and Thursday, clashes in Damaturu on Friday, reported battles in Maiduguri and Damaturu on Sunday, and gun attacks in Kano on Sunday. Despite the fact that these attacks have caused relatively few casualties, their wide geographical range and their somewhat unpredictable character sends a message to ordinary people in Northern Nigeria: violence could come at any time, in any major city, and the authorities have difficulty preventing it. Most people are simply trying to carry on with their lives, of course, but the cumulative effects of these micro-attacks likely include an increase in the tension people feel and a decrease in their faith in the government and the security forces.

Calls for dialogue have continued; many elites believe there is no purely military solution to this crisis, and that resolution must come at the negotiating table. On Sunday, former Nigerian heads of state Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida released a statement on the violence in the country:

Without mentioning Boko Haram by name, they called for “community involvement” in addition to security measures to resolve the crisis, urging efforts from local governments, religious leaders and grassroots organisations.

“Religious leaders, in particular, have an even greater challenge to use the immense virtues of this holy period (Ramadan) to inculcate among the millions of citizens the spirit of mutual respect, humility and forgiveness,” the statement said.

“Ample opportunities are therefore at hand to bring all armed belligerents to table for meaningful dialogue with the authorities for our future and that of our children and grandchildren.”

It is easy to be pessimistic about the prospects of successful dialogue. Obasanjo has already made personal efforts at peacemaking, without great success and even with some backlash, but if nothing else such statements show the deepening concern among Nigerian elites regarding Boko Haram and other violent actors in the country.

*Prior to these attacks, the only major incident I am aware of in Sokoto was this March, when an attempt to rescue to kidnapped Europeans resulted in gun battles (and the deaths of the hostages). The question of what role Boko Haram played in those kidnappings remains somewhat murky in my view. For more, see Andrew Walker’s discussion of the subject here (.pdf, pp. 10-11).

Africa News Roundup: Boko Haram Suicide Bombing, the MNLA and Compaore, Sudan-South Sudan Talks, Locusts, and More

Yesterday there was a suicide bombing at the police headquarter in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Officials suspect the rebel movement Boko Haram.

According to AFP, members of the northern Malian rebel group MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) met with Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore and his foreign minister today. Compaore is the mediator appointed by the Economic Community of West African States.

The latest round of talks between Sudan and South Sudan ended without progress, but the two parties are set to try again on June 21.

Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, AFP reports, could reduce water levels in Lake Turkana, with terrible consequences for “The fishermen and herders eking out an existence on the shores of the majestic lake.”

If you have not already heard about the plague of locusts that may descend on the Sahel, read here. A key excerpt on how politics has affected the situation:

Locusts are usually managed by spraying chemicals that stop the swarms from spreading. Algeria and Libya ordinarily attack the swarms, preventing them from hitting Mali or Niger.

But in the last year, as Libya was wracked by fighting between rival militias in the aftermath of the ouster of Moammar Kadafi and Algeria suffered insecurity along its border, local teams and international experts have been blocked from stopping the swarms, the U.N.  Food and Agriculture Organization  said.

VOA on new businesses and signs of revitalization in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Turkey and Ethiopia:

Saygin Group of Turkey said its Ethiopian subsidiary may generate $100 million in revenue a year from textile manufacturing, amid plans by the Horn of Africa country to boost the industry’s exports to 10 times that amount.

What else is happening today?

Nigeria: Another Attempted Mediation with Boko Haram Fizzles

Events this week underlined two difficulties the Nigerian government faces in solving the problem of Boko Haram, the rebellion whose violence continues to disrupt life in the northern part of the country. First, there are the limitations of the military approach: the military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) fought an apparently massive battle with Boko Haram fighters on Tuesday and Wednesday in Maiduguri, the epicenter of the movement (Boko Haram reportedly attacked JTF). The fighting follows clashes over the weekend. Military authorities claim that soldiers killed over a dozen militants, but a number of civilians reportedly died as well. JTF has fought Boko Haram again and again in Maiduguri throughout the spring, but has not been able to end the violence. Many inside and outside Nigeria feel that military means alone will not end the conflict.

But then there are the problems with attempts at dialogue. The Federal Government has evinced some willingness to talk with Boko Haram, and there have been hints that the sect might be willing to talk as well – along with indications that it would not be willing, creating some confusion about their position on the issue. One attempt at mediation fell apart in March, when mediator Dr. Datti Ahmed withdrew, complaining that the government was leaking information to the press. It has proven extremely difficult to find someone that both the government and Boko Haram trust.

Another attempt at mediation seems to have fallen apart this week. Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi of the Tijaniyya, one of the two most widespread Sufi brotherhoods in Northern Nigeria, told the press that he had been working to set up and mediate talks between the government and Boko Haram for several months. Sheikh Dahiru stated that the mediation would have taken place in the context of a cease-fire, and was being managed partly by the Bauchi State government.

Assuming these claims are true, part of the problem may once again have been the involvement of the press: within hours of the reports of mediation, Boko Haram issued a denial:

The statement written in Hausa and signed by the spokesman of the group, Abul Qaqa last night reads in full: “This is a response to the story we read in the media that our group, the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda awati wal Jihad, would commence, or rather had commenced dialogue with the federal government of Nigeria through Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi.

“We want to inform the general public that there is no iota of truth in all what was said. We also want to appeal to the learned Sheikh to steer clear because he is highly revered in the society and must remain as such.

“He should preserve and protect his integrity. He must also desist from giving room to some misguided elements to mislead and drag his name in the mud.

“We want to reiterate that there were no talks or dialogue between us and anybody or group since the time that Dr. Ibrahim Datti’s mediation moves collapsed.”

So there will be no talks, it seems. Not only that, Boko Haram reiterated its threats against media outlets, particularly if they do not offer the sect “right of reply.” Boko Haram seems concerned not to have the media promoting the idea that they are willing to talk; perhaps the sect fears that reports of mediation would make the group look weak or sow confusion among its followers. The problems that have accompanied this attempt at mediation, of course, point to underlying problems that will plague any attempt at dialogue: lack of trust, media involvement, difficulty in coordinating all of the relevant parties, etc.

One interesting thing that emerges from this exchange, though, is a little bit of insight into Boko Haram’s attitudes toward major Muslim leaders in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram is often said to fit within a “Salafi-jihadi” mold (this is one of my least favorite buzz phrases), i.e. it is said to look toward the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions as a transhistorical, universal model for Muslim life, and moreover is said to want to actualize that program through armed struggle. I have argued that the relationship between Boko Haram and Salafism is complex and even ambivalent. The sect, after all, has drawn criticism from Salafi leaders for its understanding of Islam, and Boko Haram has assassinated several Salafi leaders. Its reference to Sheikh Dahiru, a Sufi, as being “highly revered in the society” is also striking: many of the most prominent Salafi leaders in Northern Nigeria, from Sheikh Abubakar Gumi’s writings in the 1970s to the present, have been strongly critical of Sufism. Boko Haram on the other hand praises – and was potentially willing to work with – a Sufi leader. Given that, I think we should be careful about how we attempt to classify them theologically; in some ways they seem highly idiosyncratic.

I found what appears to be Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi’s Facebook page; it is here. Sheikh Dahiru has been a major Tijani leader in Northern Nigeria for decades; for a historical account of struggles and polemics between Sufis and Salafis in Northern Nigeria, see Roman Loimeier’s Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria.

Nigeria: Boko Haram’s Attacks in Kaduna

Two weeks, and two bombings in the city of Kaduna (estimated population 760,084 for the city, 6,066,562 for the state).

Kaduna, Nigeria

Last week:

A suspected suicide bomber disguised in military uniform was killed on Tuesday when his car bomb exploded under fire from soldiers outside a military base in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, the army said.

Yesterday:

A Nigerian bomb disposal officer has been killed when an explosive device he was trying to defuse went off, a police spokesperson has said.

The device was wrapped in a carrier bag and hidden behind an electricity pole in the residential area of Ungwar Sarki in the northern city of Kaduna.

A BBC correspondent at the scene says the police bomb squad was called in after reports of a first explosion.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing (Hausa), and I expect they are behind this week’s attack too.

There are a few trends I see at work in these attacks on Kaduna:

  1. Boko Haram shows a continued ability to strike targets outside of its base, the Northeast. With the bombings in Abuja last summer, the strike in Kano on January 20, and other recent activities, Boko Haram (or its franchises, if one believes the movement has a loose internal structure) seems to be waging two campaigns simultaneously: a guerrilla campaign of frequent micro-attacks (such as assassinations of individual police officers) in the Northeast, and a terrorist campaign of periodic large-scale attacks elsewhere.
  2. With that said, Boko Haram is experimenting with moving into the Northwest more seriously. Boko Haram seems interested not just in conducting periodic attacks as spectacle, but in bringing to Northwestern cities like Kano and Kaduna the kind of regular violence that has characterized its presence in Maiduguri for over a year.
  3. Boko Haram’s primary target remains the government, especially the security forces.
  4. Kaduna, like Jos, may provide an attractive target if one of Boko Haram’s goals is to increase interreligious tensions across the North and across Nigeria. Kaduna has a larger (estimated) percentage of Christians of Christians than Kano or Maiduguri. Kaduna also has a history of interreligious and inter-communal tension and violence that precedes Boko Haram’s arrival by a decade. Major riots in Kaduna occurred in 2000, 2002, and during the post-election violence of last April. Attacks by Boko Haram in Kaduna could lead to a more general climate of fear and mistrust, one that could re-activate the city (and Kaduna State’s) cycle of violence.
  5. Kaduna arguably has greater security than other cities where Boko Haram is trying to establish a foothold. Both of the recent attacks have been partly repelled by security forces.

For some background on past incidents of inter-communal violence in Kaduna State, see here (.pdf) and here (.pdf).

Nigeria: Boko Haram Assassinates Another Key Religious Personage

Boko Haram, the Islamist rebel movement in Nigeria’s North East, has assassinated a number of people: policemen, prominent politicians, and even imams who disagree with their doctrine of rejecting the secular state and Western-style education. But in the past weeks Boko Haram has apparently killed two members of the leading religious family in the North East: including, yesterday, the brother of the Shehu of Borno.

Northern Nigeria has a number of Islamic leaders who occupy hereditary and very influential posts. The Sultan of Sokoto, heir to the rulers of the nineteenth century Sokoto Caliphate, is often reckoned to have the widest geographical influence in Nigeria. But the Shehu of Borno has the highest stature in the North East, parts of which Sokoto never controlled (and this influence extends even into surrounding areas of Niger and Cameroon). For Boko Haram to assassinate the Shehu’s relatives sends a message that the movement has decisively rejected the religious establishment in their area. Even more significantly, the act may reveal important intra-Muslim splits in the North East. This killing could cost Boko Haram many supporters – or it could show that the Shehu and his circle have lost standing among a major segment of the population. Whatever the case, the news is sure to be on many people’s lips. If BBC Hausa, where the story was one of the top headlines yesterday, is any indication, Northern Nigerians will be following the news closely.

AFP provides more details on the assassination:

Abba-Anas Umar Garbai was shot by gunmen outside his home in the city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, late Monday.

“He was about to enter his house to retire for the night when some gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members accosted him and shot him at close range,” said state police spokesman Lawal Abdullahi.

[...]

It was the second attack on the Shehu’s siblings in two months. Another sibling was shot and killed early in April, also by suspected Islamists, according to police authorities.

In addition to revealing and exacerbating religious cleavages in the North East, the killing could also increase pressure on authorities to deal more effectively with Boko Haram. I imagine that the Shehu’s family, in addition to the grief they must be feeling, will ask that security forces take action to find the killers and prevent such a killing from happening again. Whether or not the security forces can stop Boko Haram is another question – the movement is out to demonstrate that no one, even someone highly placed, is safe from their violence.

Nigeria: Boko Haram Attacks Continue Despite Amnesty Offer

Last week, the governor-elect of Borno State, Northern Nigeria offered an amnesty deal to Boko Haram, the Islamist rebel group headquartered in his state. Since 2009, Boko Haram has staged numerous attacks and assassinations, including the murder of prominent politicians in Borno during Nigeria’s most recent campaign season. Governor-elect Kashim Shettima explained that the amnesty program, explicitly modeled on “aspects of the amnesty programme offered to militants in the country’s oil-producing Niger Delta region,” would involve “invit[ing] [Boko Haram] to a negotiating table as soon as we are in office to find out from them what their problems are and find solutions to them.” The idea of an amnesty has generated controversy, but Shettima seems to believe that a temporary peace would create the conditions for a lasting redress of grievances and the prevention of further violence.

Boko Haram has rejected the amnesty offer in word and now deed. The verbal reaction came in ideological form:

The spokesman of the sect who gave his name as Abu Dardam in a BBC Hausa programme monitored in Maiduguri [the capital of Borno State], stressed that their reason of not accepting the amnesty is that they don’t recognise democracy as a form of  government.

The group also faulted the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, saying that justice can only be found in the Holy Quran, that is Shariya system of government.

More on Boko Haram’s statement here.

The physical reaction came in the form of shootings:

Suspected members of an Islamist sect blamed for a series of attacks in northern Nigeria have shot and killed a driver for a state governor as well as a local chief, police said Friday.

The driver, Mai Kadai, had just left home Friday morning and was on his way to the Borno state governor’s office when two gunmen on motorcycles shot him dead, said police commissioner Mohammed Jinjiri Abubakar.

“From all indications, they knew who he was and were on his trail,” Abubakar told AFP of the attack in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Referring to the Islamist sect, he said: “Apparently, this attack was carried out by members of Boko Haram. The mode of operation resembles Boko Haram’s.”

The attack followed another late Thursday that saw two motorcycle-riding gunmen open fire on local chief Abba Mukhtar outside his home in Maiduguri, killing him and seriously wounding a friend, police spokesman Lawal Abdullahi said.

…and, it seems, a bombing:

Borno State Police Command has confirmed the killing of two persons in a bomb blast on Friday night in Ruwan Zafi, Maiduguri, the state capital.

The state police public relations officer, PPRO, Malam Lawal Abdullah, who confirmed the deaths, Saturday, said that the bomb was planted on the roadside by unknown persons.

The amnesty offer was, whether you approve of it or not, a creative move. But Boko Haram has firmly rejected it. Shettima still has options he can pursue in addition to – or instead of – a continued crackdown, but a blanket peace deal will likely not work. In a way an amnesty is a blunt political tool. Perhaps now, if Shettima is still looking for ways to address political grievances and remove the emotional forces that motivate the movement, he must consider what scalpels he has available.