Africa News Roundup: Kenya, South Sudan, Algeria, Nigeria, and More

VOA:

The runner-up in Kenya’s presidential election is filing a petition with the Supreme Court Saturday challenging the results.  The party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga says it will present to the court evidence of electoral fraud. Odinga’s CORD alliance has refused to accept the first-round victory of Jubilee candidate Uhuru Kenyatta.

Results released last week by the country’s electoral commission, the IEBC, declared Mr. Kenyatta had won 50.07 percent of the vote, just enough to avoid a run-off with Mr. Odinga.

Reuters: “After a Long Fight for Freedom, South Sudan Cracks Down on Dissent.”

Bloomberg:

South Sudan’s government said it signed an agreement with Ethiopia and Djibouti that may enable the East African nation to export oil by truck from July, while a study on a pipeline linking the three countries is completed.

An accord signed on March 12 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, envisages crude being exported via Djibouti’s Red Sea port of Douraleh, South Sudan Deputy Petroleum Minister Elizabeth James Bol said in an interview today. Douraleh is 1,469 kilometers (913 miles) northeast of Juba, the South Sudanese capital.

[...]

South Sudan is considering building two pipelines, one via Ethiopia and another across Kenya to the port of Lamu, as an alternative to the conduit that runs through neighboring Sudan.

Magharebia reports on Morocco’s diplomatic outreach to Mauritania, which is partly motivated by concern over the crisis in Mali.

IRIN: “Call to End Neglect of Emergency Education in Mali.”

Bloomberg: “Senegal Seeks to Become West Africa Hub for Islamic Finance.”

Al Jazeera: “Thousands Protest Unemployment in Algeria.”

VOA: “Development Improves in Ethiopia, But Just Slightly.”

The Guardian (Nigeria): “Northern Christians, Emir [of Anka, in Zamfara State] Oppose Amnesty for Boko Haram.” The titular Christians are the Northern Christian Elders Forum (NORCEF).

Osun Defender:

Two top leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party in Borno State were yesterday assassinated by gunmen suspected to be operatives of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The slayings came less than one week after the officials participated in welcoming President Goodluck Jonathan during his tour of the troubled state.
The victims were Usman Gula (who was the PDP’s vice chairman for Southern Borno), and Hajia Gamboa, who served as the party’s women’s leader for Shehuri ward in Maiduguri.

What else is happening?

Whither US Policy on Mali? [Updated]

As the analyst Andrew Lebovich writes, US statements on Mali have been “contradictory,” creating confusion about the trajectory of Washington’s policy toward the country. The State Department seems to have undergone a genuine change of heart concerning the wisdom of an armed intervention in Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But it is harder to read words and deeds coming from the Department of Defense and the White House, especially regarding the possibility of direct US military action in northern Mali.

Department of State

Foggy Bottom’s position on Mali has evolved considerably over the last few months. To quote from an earlier post:

In May, [Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie] Carson told reporters that ECOWAS’ “mission and role” in Mali “must be defined before we make any kind of commitment.” Remarks by Carson in late June sounded even less enthusiastic: “We think an ECOWAS mission to militarily retake the north is ill-advised and not feasible.”

In September, however,

In an interview with VOA, Carson said Mali’s military should accept an intervention force from the Economic Community of West African States, because the army is fractured by the flight of soldiers to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

“The Malian military has been broken. It is now in need of restructuring and repair and rehabilitation,” Carson explained. “It should accept the support, the camaraderie, the mentoring and the friendship of other ECOWAS states as it attempts to get itself together so that it can help address the issues of terrorism in the northern part of the country, as well as humanitarian support.”

ECOWAS appears to have convinced State, then, that it has a plan for helping the Malian government retake territory in the north, and that supporting this plan is better than the status quo.

[UPDATE]: As Twitter user Stephanie Lamy adds, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that US support for an ECOWAS intervention may hinge on whether the Malian government is able to hold elections before the deployment. At the UN General Assembly meeting last week, Clinton said, “In the end, only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion and restore the rule of law.”

Department of Defense and the White House

Last week, General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM, visited Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria to discuss the crisis in Mali. Amid ongoing discussions of an external military intervention in Mali, Gen. Ham’s stated that the US will not be directly involved:

“We first need to re-establish a legitimate government in Bamako, meet the pressing needs of the people, deal with the serious humanitarian crisis ravaging the region and finally tackle the terrorist groups,” General Ham said. He stressed that “the only alternative which could not exist is the American military presence in northern Mali”.

The Washington Post, however, recently reported that the Obama administration has considered forms of direct intervention in Mali and elsewhere in the region:

“Right now, we’re not in position to do much about [the presence of terrorist groups in northern Mali],” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the talks. As a result, he said, officials have begun to consider contingencies, including the question of “do we or don’t we” deploy drones.

This is not the first time that US officials have raised the possibility of American force against militants in northern Mali. In July, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan made remarks that sound similar to Gen. Ham’s, but did not rule out the use of violence:

“Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako,” Sheehan said. “We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort.”

[...]

Sheehan went on to say that the area north of Mali’s Niger River has become almost ungoverned and an area of focus for the Department of Defense.

“We cannot allow al Qaeda to sit in ungoverned places,” Sheehan said of northern Mali.

Sheehan indicated the U.S. military is considering how to handle the problem.

“All those options will be considered,” Sheehan said. “There have been no decisions and things would be considered and they are being concerned to what is a looming threat.”

The common denominator in these statements is an emphasis on establishing the integrity of the Malian government as the first step toward solving the country’s crises. Beyond that, though, there is significant uncertainty about Washington’s intentions.

****************

The statements from State and Defense can be reconciled; indeed, in a way they are separate conversations, one having to do with supporting ECOWAS and the other having to do with direct US military action against militants. This thematic difference is reflected in a geographical one, with State seeming to focus on West Africa and Defense seeming to focus (at least in Ham’s trip) on North Africa. Indeed it is the very sense that the two conversations are separate, and that Defense has not made a firm decision on the form its involvement will take, that leaves me struggling to discern where Washington’s Mali policy is headed.

France, Morocco, and Mauritania on Intervention in Northern Mali

(For more context, see my previous posts on intervention in Mali here and here.)

France reiterates its position:

“It is not for France to take the military initiative in Mali,” [Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian] told journalists during a visit to Lorient in northwest France.

France, he said, “wants it to be the African forces, in particular those of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) and possibly the African Union, that take the initiative,” he said.

He said an African military intervention in northern Mali was “desirable and inevitable.”

“France will support it and, I hope, the European Union also.”

Morocco:

Morocco supports a political solution to the crisis in Mali but the regional community will have to consider “other options” if diplomacy fails, the foreign minister said in a newspaper interview.
The kingdom is encouraging its allies in the UN Security Council to find a political solution to the crisis in northern Mali, Youssef El Amrani told Le Matin in comments to be published on Tuesday.

Mauritania:

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Monday ruled out sending troops to Mali, where the embattled government has lost control of the north to Al-Qaeda-linked militias.

“There will be no Mauritanian military intervention in Mali,” he said overnight at a local forum in the northern town of Atar marking the third anniversary of his rise to power.

“The problem there is very complex and we don’t have the solution,” he said, adding however that his country, which borders Mali, would take part in the international community’s efforts to restore peace.

Sahel-based journalist Hannah Armstrong calls Abdel Aziz’s words “doublespeak.” Mauritania has sent soldiers into northern Mali in the past in pursuit of fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Two related items:

  1. For those who read Arabic, Magharebia reports on how insecurity along the Mauritanian-Malian border has hurt trade in the area.
  2. BBC Hausa reports on a recent meeting of Sahelian foreign ministers in Niger, where the ministers discussed the crisis in Mali. I have not found any other reports on this meeting, though.

Ex-Qadhafi Personnel Complicate Life for Mauritania, Too [UPDATED]

Last Thursday, I wrote about the complexity of relations between Niger and Libya, as Niger seeks to honor its loyalties to the regime of fallen Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi while simultaneously avoiding the anger of the new government in Libya. News that Niger had given a government appointment to one of Qadhafi’s former lieutenants put that complexity in the spotlight, though Niger ultimately withdrew the appointment to placate the new leaders in Libya.

Mauritania, too, must deal with the fallout of Qadhafi’s ouster. On Saturday, Mauritanian authorities arrested Abdallah al Senoussi, the Colonel’s former intelligence chief. Senoussi reportedly flew into Mauritania from Morocco, traveling on a “fake Malian passport.” The arrest marks the end of a months-long manhunt that had African and European officials searching for Senoussi inside Libya and Mali (at one time Libya also suspected he was in Chad). Senoussi is wanted for prosecution by both France and the International Criminal Court.

The dynamics of Senoussi’s arrest in Mauritania are markedly different than the issue of Bashir Saleh Bashir’s appointment in Niger, just as Mauritania’s stance toward the Libyan revolution was different from Niger’s. Mauritania was in fact among the first Sahelian governments to recognize the rebels and break with Qadhafi, and Mauritania has not openly sheltered Qadhafi’s family and comrades in the way that Niger has. Yet this does not mean that sorting out Senoussi’s fate comes with no diplomatic complexities:

Authorities from Libya, France and the International Criminal Court at The Hague quickly announced their resolve to have Mr. Senussi turned over to their jurisdictions. Each is focused on different prosecutions, making Mauritania’s decision over extradition politically sensitive and legally significant.

[...]

It isn’t yet clear how Mauritania will respond to the competing claims of extradition. A former French colony, Mauritania has had checkered relations with most Western nations—but close ties with Gadhafi—since the current president took over after a military coup in 2008. The country isn’t a signatory to the treaty that created the ICC, a court that is intended to try crimes against humanity or war crimes that national courts can’t or won’t prosecute.

France said over the weekend that Mr. Senussi’s arrest was the result of joint efforts by Paris and Nouakchott, but gave no other details.

Mauritanian Communications Minister Hamdi Mahjoud said his government was holding Mr. Senussi in a police station in Nouakchott and will consider the claims against him.

A Libyan delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour, is scheduled to meet with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz today.

To say that Abdel Aziz had “close relations with Qadhafi” is a bit of a simplification. Qadhafi, indeed, initially opposed the coup that Abdel Aziz led. Also, as I mentioned above, Abdel Aziz was willing to break with Qadhafi relatively early in the game in 2011. But the larger point – that Mauritania’s decision about Senoussi will have ramifications for its future relationship with the new government in Libya – certainly stands. As I said with regarding Bashir’s case in Niger, Qadhafi may be gone, but his presence is still a force in Sahelian politics.

[UPDATE]: Senussi will go to Libya.

North African Islamism, Past and Present

Ranging yet again outside my normal area of coverage, I was moved to write a quick post because of an Al Jazeera English segment I saw last night about recent Islamist electoral victories in Morocco and Tunisia and the potential upcoming Islamist victories in Egypt.

My thought was one I’ve had before, and one I’m sure others have pointed out, but it’s worth saying again: the political scene in North Africa now is in some ways (though obviously not all!) a remix of the aborted political transitions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Islamist political mobilizations of that time were blocked by incumbent regimes (and by the West) at high cost, especially in the case of Algeria, where the military’s intervention to forestall an Islamist electoral triumph helped launch years of brutal civil war. I can’t predict the future and I do not have special insight into what North African Islamists will do with power, but I do think that a) the decision to block Islamists from elected office circa 1991 was a mistake and b) political groups who participate in elections have the right to be judged on what they do after they win, instead of being pre-judged for what they might do if they win.

All this reminds me of the fabulous edited volume Islam, Democracy, and the State in North Africa, which was published in 1997 but is still relevant in my view. My favorite chapter is Dr. Mark Tessler’s “The Origins of Popular Support for Islamist Movements A Political Economy Analysis.” Tessler gives real insight into why young Algerians – including people who were not as religiously pious as one might expect – were drawn to Islamist politics. Highly recommended for those who haven’t read it, and worth reflecting on at this particular moment in the region’s political trajectory.

Also for what it’s worth I think Libya, then as now, is moving to a different rhythm than the rest of the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa Protests

Only ten days ago, knowledgeable commentators were still discussing why North Africa’s protests had not spread into Sub-Saharan Africa. But in the last week and a half, protests movements have gained steam south of the Sahara. With the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak occasioning comment across the continent, more protests may occur.

One way demonstrations have spread – or threatened to spread – is through geographical proximity. It remains to be seen whether North Africa’s anti-regime movements will find echoes to the immediate south, but it will already be difficult for people in the Sahel to ignore the turmoil on the other side of the Sahara. Nearly all of North Africa has now experienced protests. Demonstrations broke out in Libya yesterday. Morocco has not felt the impact from Tunisia and Egypt as strongly as other North African countries, but the protests that hit Algeria this weekend made Morocco nervous about the prospect of popular agitation in Western Sahara. Unrest in Western Sahara would bring the protest wave to Mauritania’s borders. Mauritania, in fact, already experienced at least one incident of self-immolation modeled on the tragedy in Tunisia. It seems unlikely that the protests in Libya and Algeria will inspire unrest in the countries immediately south of North Africa, such as Niger and Chad, but both of those countries are in the midst of election season, and as we have seen anything is possible.

In East Africa, Sudan has generated an uneven but significant protest movement. Calls for uprisings are now coming from African writers and opposition politicians in the neighborhood of Sudan and Egypt. An Ethiopian blogger writes, “Let us hope the fight for common decency extends throughout the Nile and into Ethiopia.” As Uganda heads into presidential elections this Friday, “Opposition members…are threatening Egypt-style protests if next Friday’s presidential election is rigged so that Yoweri Museveni can extend his 25-year grip on power.”

Geographical proximity is not the only factor in the spread of protests: sometimes the example of North Africa has inspired activists much further south. One of the strongest protests movements has emerged in Gabon. Global Voices, which is offering special coverage of the situation, summarizes the main issues there:

The West African nation of Gabon is experiencing a popular revolt against the rule of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of long-time strongman Omar Bongo who died only months before his son was elected in October 2009. Citing allegations of election fraud, opposition leaders formed a breakaway government on January 26 with former presidential candidate André Mba Obame as the self-declared president.

Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets in the nation’s capital, Libreville, on January 29, and were faced with violent suppression from the army. Protests have spread to other cities, and crackdowns have become increasingly fierce as the current wave of popular protests demanding free elections sweeping the African continent (Tunisia, Egypt and Côte d’Ivoire) has made the Gabonese government especially wary. The “unofficial” government went into hiding in the offices of the UNDP where they have remained for more than two weeks.

It is interesting to watch what meanings the North African protests take on in different political climates in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some activists in Uganda, and also in Nigeria, view the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia through the prism of elections in their own countries. “I have no doubt in my mind that the April polls will be massively rigged as usual,” Nigerian columnist Ikechukwu Amaechi writes, “and when that happens, let us remember that the stirrings of democracy can only be popped up by the people.” Other commentators, such as the Ethiopian blogger mentioned above, wonder what level of brutality their governments would inflict on protesters if matters reached a point of desperation. Finally, some wonder (myself included) whether international media outlets would devote as much coverage to “African” protests (as though North Africa is not in Africa too) as they have to “Arab” protests.

Each country is different, but there are broader trends at work too. A significant swath of politically-minded Africans see the faces of Ben Ali and Mubarak when they look at their own leaders, and vice versa. The protests in North Africa probably will not sweep Sub-Saharan Africa, but they have already ignited a conversation about what is politically possible – apparently, more than most would have said is possible even two months ago.

Africa News Roundup: Nigeria and Cheney, Niger and Cameroon Elections, Sudan and Wikileaks, and More

Nigeria: AJE: “Nigeria has dropped charges against Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president, over bribery allegations involving the energy giant Halliburton after an out-of-court settlement was agreed. Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said that the charges were dropped on Friday after Halliburton agreed to pay fines totalling up to $250 million over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to Nigerian officials.” Halliburton’s implicit admission of wrongdoing is a big deal.

In Nigerian election news, “twenty of Nigeria’s powerful state governors said on Thursday they would support President Goodluck Jonathan as the ruling party candidate in elections next April, giving him a boost ahead of a tough battle in the primaries.” The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primary will take place January 13.

Finally, IRIN reports on corruption in the Niger Delta.

Niger will hold elections in January, and Cameroon will (probably) hold its presidential contest in October.

Sudan: BBC: “President Omar al-Bashir has been accused of siphoning off up to $9bn of his country’s funds and placing it in foreign accounts, according to leaked US diplomatic cables.”

Cote d’Ivoire: As the standoff between Cote d’Ivoire’s rival presidents continues, “The U.S. is prepared to impose ‘targeted sanctions’ on Ivory Coast’s incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.” The EU, meanwhile, “called on Ivory Coast’s army to defect from President Laurent Gbagbo to Alassane Ouattara, who won the presidential election last month.”

Ethiopia: Conflict is brewing over land policies in Ethiopia:

The government of Meles Zenawi is pioneering the lease of some three million hectares of land over the next five years, an area the size of Belgium.

The policy is targeting massive lowland areas mostly in the west and south-west of the country.

These are regions populated by smaller minority ethnic groups.

The government denies conducting any repression, and says instead that its policy is aimed at lifting local people out of poverty.

Foreign investors in Gambella include Chinese, Indian and Saudi firms.

Foreign control of land in the Horn of Africa is a trend worth watching.

Western Sahara: AFP: “Morocco and the Western Sahara rebel group, the Polisario Front, on Thursday started new talks on the future of the disputed north African territory, diplomats said. The three days of talks at Manhasset near New York are being guided by UN envoy Christopher Ross and also include representatives from Algeria and Mauritania.”

What are you reading today? Feel free to post links in the comments section.

Opportunity and Crisis in the Western Sahara

Two and a half weeks ago, Christian Science Monitor correspondent Drew Hinshaw warned us that the Western Sahara, headed toward peace talks but plagued by conflict, was poised to “heat up.” This week we are seeing the fulfillment of that forecast, as opportunity and crisis confront the region.

First, the opportunity:

UN-mediated talks on Western Sahara’s future began outside New York yesterday. The starting positions are the Moroccan government’s preference for Western Saharan autonomy, and the Polisario Front’s desire for a referendum on full independence for the region. Commentators Anna Theofilopoulou and Jacob Mundy find cause for hope in the talks, writing that active American, French, and Spanish involvement could help bring about a resolution after thirty-five years of strife. Edward Gabriel and Robert Holley, who served in Morocco under the Clinton administration, disagree with Theofilopoulou and Mundy on the specifics but also see a path toward peace. A lot of knowledgeable observers, in other words, believe the talks could, under the right circumstances, bear fruit.

Crisis, however, has already cast a shadow over the talks. Yesterday, even before representatives of Morocco and the Polisario came together in New York, Moroccan forces raided a “protest camp” near Laayoune in Western Sahara.

The latest tensions started in mid-October, when some residents of Laayoune set up the Gdim Izik tent camp 10 kilometers (six miles) east of the city to protest poor living conditions. Monday’s operation to dismantle it took less than an hour, according to Moroccan radio.

[...]

Morocco’s official MAP news agency said five security officials were killed Monday — four in the operation at the camp, and one stabbed to death elsewhere — and said about two dozen others were hospitalized.One protester died and hundreds of native Saharawis were allegedly injured, according to a statement by the Western Sahara government in exile carried by the Sahara Press Service. The government in exile is run by the Polisario Front.

Yet Moroccan officials insisted no civilians were killed in the raid, and the exact death toll was unclear.

The BBC has more on the clash.

The raid has already affected the tenor of the meetings in New York. Reuters quotes a worried UN official:

“It is highly unfortunate that this operation and the events preceding and following it have affected the atmosphere in which these talks are being held,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

“We call on all parties involved to exercise the utmost restraint in the hours and days to come.”

The US and the other powers that have brought Morocco and the Polisario to the table are going to be loath to give up now. But they may be in for disappointment. The talks seem to be going forward, though it also seems that yesterday’s events dented the prospects for success. If the stalemate continues, crisis will have triumphed over opportunity at this pivotal moment.

Laayoune, Western Sahara:

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Sudan, Ethiopia, Qat, Western Sahara, and More

Sudan: Dipnote (the State Department’s blog) posts Special Envoy Scott Gration’s recent remarks in Washington on US diplomatic efforts with Sudan.

Ethiopia: Barry Malone of Reuters Africa Blog asks what comes next for recently freed political activist Birtukan Mideksa.

Somalia: Mogadishuman reports on Islamists’ campaigns against Qat.

DRC: Chris Albon runs the idea of a “humanitarian use of force” in the DRC through the matrix of the Powell Doctrine.

Sahel: Kal writes about how governments in the Sahel play the “terrorism card” and discusses other developments in the region.

Western Sahara: At Africa Monitor, Drew Hinshaw says, “Dormant Western Sahara Threatens to Heat Up.”

While UN envoys have been coaxing Saharan rebels and Moroccan royals to the table, human rights conditions in refugee camps along the Algerian border have deterioatated. The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has released at least two reports documenting how those camps have become recruitment targets for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – a terrorist organization and crime syndicate which benefits from any conflict from Morocco and Algeria, the two powerhouses of the Saharan region and with the most at stake in the region’s camapign against lawlessness.

It’s going to take more than a third round of informal chats, [former UN spokesman Abdel Hamide] Siyyame says, to bend Morocco and Polisario, not to mention Algeria and Mauritania (which has intermittently attempted to annex parts of Western Sahara), into a compromise.

“There must be a third party that can propose a serious, comprehensive solution to bring everybody to the negotiation table,” he said.

Yemen: Inside Islam writes on rap in Yemen.

Nowadays, Yemen is often associated with a growing Al-Qaeda movement and seen to be a breeding ground for terrorism. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric, has become an example not only of the growing terrorist influence in Yemen but also in America. However, this is obviously not all there is to Yemen, just as it is not all there is to Islam. Many Muslims artists have used hip-hop and rap to relay messages of change and peace. While one may not think of rap in the context of Yemen,  this needs to change. Yemeni-American Hagage “AJ” Masaed, has been rapping for many years and is using this medium to reach the younger generation and to counter extremist messages.

Algeria: Inside Islam also has a cool post on women soccer fans in North Africa.

I leave you with two more: Africa Is A Country posts on deaths of asylum seekers in the UK, and Chris Blattman asks why more development economics studies focus on Latin America than on Africa.

Flintlock 10

On May 2, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) began a training exercise in the Sahara called Flintlock 10 (French) that will last until May 23. The exercise forms part of the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and is the latest in a series of Flintlock missions that began in 2005 with the US military’s “biggest exercise in Africa since World War Two.” This year’s training involves 600 American special forces personnel, around 400 African soldiers, and some 150 Europeans. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso houses the mission’s command center, but Burkinabe and American officials carefully stated that this does not mean AFRICOM will be moving its headquarters to Burkina Faso.

Still, the contours of the mission will have a political impact on the region, particularly in that they do not square perfectly with the outlines of other regional counterterrorism partnerships.

In addition to Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad are the main participants in Flintlock 10. The BBC calls attention to the “sidelining” of Algeria under this arrangement:

Just last month, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger launched a joint military command headquarters in the south of Algeria to co-ordinate their efforts.

Critics point out that these initiatives have led to little action as yet and that one of Flintlock’s major limitations is that it only involves Algeria, the regional military heavyweight, in a limited way, our correspondent adds.

It seems to me the American military should proceed carefully here in political terms. If Flintlock facilitates cooperation between Sahelian militaries, that could boost their capacity to deal with AQIM. But it is a problem that the participants in cooperative projects keep changing. The Algiers summit on AQIM in March included Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, and Algeria. But then only Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger participated in the recent establishment of a regional command. And while countries like Burkina Faso, Chad, and Senegal are sometimes in, sometimes out, Morocco seems to be always out, despite its ties to the US. Finally, alongside the regional dynamics are bilateral relationships – tension between Mali and Mauritania over ransom payments to AQIM, extradition agreements between Mauritania and Niger, etc. With the situation so much in flux, American decisions about whom to include and exclude could inadvertently offend one or more governments in the region, thereby undermining some of the military gains the mission makes.

AFRICOM press release here, and below is an official video of last year’s Flintlock.