Portraits of Malian Refugee Camps in Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso

Alongside armed conflict in northern Mali, Mali and its neighbors are experiencing a refugee crisis. I keep bringing this up in an effort to ensure that the scale of the crisis will not be ignored. UNHCR’s country pages for Mali and Mauritania show that massive numbers of people have been displaced: over 200,000 inside Mali, 70,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, and 40,000 in Burkina Faso. Those numbers are all expected to rise by year’s end, to a total of approximately 540,000.

A few portraits from camps:

Niger:

The Mangaïze camp was officially created in May, following an influx of a large number of Malian families fleeing to Niger, said Idrissa Abou, a member of Niger’s National Commission for Refugees.
Besides a monthly food ration, refugees have access to drinking water from three small boreholes and primary health care. There are sanitation facilities with 250 showers and toilets, and a household waste management system. Refugees also have access to administrative services, a school and, with the opening of a police station, a security service.

“At the moment, there are 1,522 families, which amounts to a population of 6,037 mainly made up of Malian refugees, but there are also Nigerien returnees,” Abou told IPS, adding that an overwhelming majority of the refugees are from Ménaka, the closest Malian town to the Ouallam municipality in south-western Niger. He added that the numbers in the camp had increased in February after some 1,700 refugees from the nearby Bani Bangou camp were transferred to Mangaïze.

Mauritania:

Nearly 67,000 refugees—mainly women and children—have arrived in the border town of Fassala, Mauritania, since January 2012. “At the border crossing at Fassala, Mauritania, people are arriving thirsty and showing signs of fatigue,” explains Karl Nawezi, MSF project manager in Mauritania. After being registered by the authorities, refugees wait in a transit camp before being transferred to Mbera, a small, isolated village in the Mauritanian desert, just 30 kilometers [about 19 miles] from the Mali border.

The refugees in Mbera are totally dependent on humanitarian aid. An insufficient number of tents has been distributed, however. Families are assembled under large tents called “meeting points” that leave them exposed to the elements. Fed up with waiting, some construct their own makeshift shelters out of straw mats and pieces of fabric to protect themselves from sand and dust storms. “In Mauritania, as is the case elsewhere [in the Sahel refugee camps], people are suffering from diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin infections because of the poor conditions in the camps,” says Nawezi.

And France24 has a video report from Burkina Faso here.

Anti-Corruption Efforts in Niger

As the crisis in Mali has unfolded, one reads periodic warnings in the press and the policy sphere that violence and instability could spill over into Niger. Meanwhile, analysts and scholars continue to examine the fall of former Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré’s government; many have identified regime corruption as a key factor in undermining the regime’s legitimacy and preparing the ground for its collapse. Given these two trends – concern about Niger, and analysis of corruption in Mali – it is important to track anti-corruption efforts in Niger.

In July 2011 (French), shortly after Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou took office, his government created a High Authority for Fighting Corruption. Issoufou has stated that combating corruption is one of his top priorities. The High Authority has investigated allegations of misappropriation of funds during the regime of the country’s last civilian president, Mamadou Tandja. This body’s mission, as its President Issoufou Boureima explained in a December 2012 interview (French), is to identify and correct financial abuses in different sectors of government. The High Authority has experienced some turmoil; in May 2012 (French), its Vice President Mahamane Hamissou Moumouni resigned after protesting “opacity” in the institution’s management of resources.

All this is a preface to mentioning a story that a reader recently told me about. In February (French), Nigerien authorities (the article I found does not mention whether these officials came from the High Authority or not) arrested some twenty doctors on charges of embezzling funds at the NGO GAVI Alliance. The Alliance has reportedly suspended its programs in Niger. The Alliance’s website is here.

This story reminded me a little of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria’s decision to suspend several aid programs in Mali in March 2011 over concerns about corruption. This affair led to the June 2011 arrest of former Health Minister Ibrahim Oumar Toure.

I am not saying that the arrest of the doctors in Niger means that Niger is following Mali’s path. The paths of the two countries are different. But the story does highlight the fact that corruption can have far-reaching consequences, including undermining the confidence of external donors. How Niger handles cases like these will shape how domestic and foreign actors view the country and its government.

A Cross-Border Educational Venture in Nigeria/Niger

Daily Trust:

Kano State governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso said at the weekend that the state government is building a mega secondary school in Niger Republic to boast industrialization.

[...]

“We have so far built 400 houses for teachers in junior secondary schools, especially the [ones] outside the city of Kano to encourage them. As we are sitting here today (Saturday) the deputy governor is in Niger laying the foundation of the mega secondary school which we intend to run together with the government of Niger Republic, and our children who will go there will be trained in French so that when they graduate, they will stay there and complete their degree courses or go to other French speaking countries to do other programmes,” he said.

As the article and others detail, this initiative is part of a broader agenda on the governor’s part to strengthen education in Kano State. But the cross-border aspect of the school is particularly interesting to me. I have four initial reactions that may prove more or less relevant when and if more information emerges about the school:

  1. Assuming the school will be located in southern Niger (in Zinder or Maradi, perhaps?), this initiative could reinforce the shared Hausa cultural and linguistic zone that transcends the border. As William F.S. Miles’ Hausaland Divided shows, the border and the colonial legacies it reflects have separated Hausa in Niger and Nigeria in profound ways. Yet Nigerien and Nigerian Hausa communities have also remained tied to each other through migration, trade, religion, marriage, and, in this context, education and politics. It is significant to me that this partnership is not between Niger and Nigeria per se, but between a particular Nigerian governor and the government of Niger.
  2. The school’s emphasis on French is noteworthy. As Kwankwaso suggests, graduates of the school could work not only in Niger and Nigeria, but also throughout West Africa. More schools like these could strengthen regional integration efforts from the bottom up, by producing skilled workers capable of moving throughout the whole region.
  3. Is the school partly meant to retrain itinerant Qur’anic students? Various states in northern Nigeria have experimented with different models for absorbing these students into government-run schools, partly due to a fear that such boys and young men might otherwise become targets for recruitment by radical groups. Some in northern Nigeria also complain that many Qur’anic students are not Nigerian at all, but rather come from Niger, Chad, and elsewhere. Does the school represent an effort to train some of Kano’s Qur’anic students while simultaneously repatriating some of the students who come to northern Nigeria from Niger?
  4. Does some of the funding come from Niger’s oil profits? I have heard the complaint that despite Nigeria’s oil wealth, northern Nigerian localities sometimes import fuel from Niger. Perhaps this school represents an attempt by a northern Nigerian governor to benefit from Niger’s (mini) oil boom.

Africa News Roundup: Kenyan Elections, Bamako Mutiny, Niger’s Tuaregs, and More

Human Rights Watch: “High Stakes: Political Violence and the 2013 Elections in Kenya.”

Reuters:

Malian government soldiers fought mutinous paratroops in the capital Bamako on Friday in a clash that threatened to undermine a French-led offensive against Islamist rebels which has moved up close to the Algerian border.

In the southern capital, local residents fled in panic as heavy gunfire echoed from the Djikoroni-Para paratrooper base on the Niger River and army units with armoured vehicles surrounded the camp. At least one person was killed, state media reported.

Smoke rose from the base, where mutinous members of the ‘red beret’ paratroop unit loyal to deposed Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was toppled in a coup last year, started firing with their weapons to protest attempts to redeploy them.

After several hours of firing, calm returned at the camp.

French troops took the airport at Tessalit, northern Mali yesterday, and a suicide bomber attacked a military checkpoint outside Gao.

RFI: “Mauritania’s Oil Minister Discusses Mali Conflict Fallout.”

Magharebia: “In Amenas Attack Magnifies Belmokhtar, AQIM Rift.”

An open letter (French) from a Nigerien Tuareg to President Mahamadou Issoufou:

Since the beginning of the conflict in northern Mali, Tuareg groups in Niger have stood out by their silence – this, in order to give a chance at Peace, and to save our country Niger, over which hangs the specter of an armed uprising which would feed into that of Mali, compromising all the efforts already agreed to by your government and ex-rebels. And this despite the inertia of authorities from the 5th, 6th, and 7th Republic who have not found ANY SOLUTION to the armed rebellion that ended in 2009, and so to the 4,000 ex-combatants still awaiting reintegration!

Magdi el Gizouli on the Sudanese preacher/activist Yusif al Koda and his interactions with Sudanese rebel movements.

Reuters: “Gunmen Kill Nine Polio Health Workers in [Kano,] Nigeria.”

Africa Blog Roundup: CAR Rebellion, Ethiopia’s Muslim Protests, Sahelian Ulama, and More

Tendai Marima: “[Central African Republic] Peace Deal Yet to Translate into Reality.”

CPJ: “Ethiopian Journalist Arrested for Covering Muslim Protests.”

Scott Straus: “Wars Do End: Why Conflict in Africa Is Falling.”

Peter Tinti: “Understanding Northern Mali: Local Context Is Everything.”

Andrew Lebovich: “Analyzing Foreign Influence and Jihadi Networks in Nigeria.”

Lissnup: “Timbuktu Who’s Who.” It doesn’t get more thorough than this in publicly available sources I’ve seen. Truly excellent work.

Magharebia:

Religious leaders from Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania this week decided that the most effective way to support peace and eradicate extremist ideas would be to work as a team.

The imams, who initially came together in November to condemn the extremism in Mali, met in Algiers on Wednesday (January 30th) to formally launch the League of Ulemas of the Sahel.

Imams of the Maliki rite across the Sahel will work to educate youth about the dangers of extremism, particularly by working closely with mosques and youth centres, said Algerian imam Youcef Mechri, the new body’s secretary-general.

Amb. John Campbell: “Dutch Court Finds for Shell in Niger Delta Pollution Case.”

Laine Strutton: “A Powerful Image of Oil.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Villa Somalia Bombing Shows Danger of ‘Defectors’.”

Tolu Ogunlesi on digital journalism and its prospects in Nigeria.

What are you reading?

Plans for US Surveillance Drones in Niger

News outlets reported this week that the government of Niger has given the United States permission to base surveillance drones there. Reuters:

The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Monday with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, [a government] source said.

“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.

The crisis in Mali seems to be one major factor in generating US interest in having a base in Niger.

More here from the AP, which says the agreement came “after months of negotiations.”

This passage from Stars and Stripes offers further insight into why the US military chose Niger:

U.S. officials have announced no details about basing plans in Niger, but acknowledge the ability to operate out of the country, which is developing increasingly close diplomatic and defense ties with the United States, would place military assets close to many hot spots.

“Just consider the neighborhood,” a U.S. military official speaking on the condition of anonymity said. “Libya to the north, where there’s been instability. Nigeria, and [Islamist militant group] Boko Haram directly south. Algeria, where there was just an attack, and Mali to the west.”

Establishing a base for drones in Niger would add to existing US military infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. The Washington Post reported last June on a “a network of [approximately one dozen] small air bases” that the US military had set up in Africa since 2007, with Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou constituting a “key hub” in this network. The Stars and Stripes article mentioned above quotes Dr. Peter Pham as saying that alleged complications surrounding the base in Burkina Faso may have limited US capacity to operate drones in and around Mali:

Insufficient infrastructure in western Africa could be one reason the U.S. is not engaged in drone strikes in places such as northern Mali, according to some experts.

[...]

“Part of this probably is linked to the reported withdrawal of country clearance by the embassy in Bamako for manned surveillance flights from the formerly clandestine program in Burkina Faso,” said the Atlantic Council’s Pham. “And yet another part might indeed be the reluctance of potential partners to allow operations from their territory after the way the program in Burkina Faso was exposed.”

Despite having some infrastructure in place in Africa, then, US military planners seem to be looking for greater flexibility and capacity.

US military cooperation with Niger is not new. Niger participated in the Pan Sahel Initiative, a counterterrorism program led by the State Department from 2002 to 2005 that included Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. Niger also participates in the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, a US government interagency program (State, Defense, USAID) that replaced and expanded the Pan Sahel Initiative. Niger receives assistance under the International Military Education and Training program as well.

For an official perspective on US-Nigerien relations, see here, and AFRICOM’s Niger page is here. I have not yet found much in the way of Nigerien reactions to the news, but President Issoufou’s site has a brief note (French) on his meeting with the American Ambassador, while a Nigerien news site has a story, seemingly based largely on information reported in the international media, here (French).

What do you think of this news? What are the possible benefits and risks?

Crises in Mali: Roundup of Reactions from the Region

News is coming fast out of the Sahel these days, so I may default to roundups many days this week rather than attempting cohesive analytical pieces. Today’s roundup is about Mali and the overlapping crises there, but indirectly: the links below discuss reactions, both verbal and physical, by a variety of actors in the surrounding region. Before we jump into regional news, though, one important resource on the situation inside Mali is AP’s timeline of the French intervention.

Regional

  • The Guardian with a regional map.
  • The Washington Post on the regional refugee crisis.
  • Al Jazeera on the January 19 Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) summit in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. More here, with details on the ECOWAS force, its leaders, etc. (The other key acronym to know is AFISMA or the African-led International Support Mission in Mali).
  • Liberte (French) on the upcoming African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 29, and the question of funding for an ECOWAS force in Mali.
  • Troop movements/announcements/news: Senegal, Benin, Liberia, Nigeria, and Chad (French). Not a comprehensive list, of course.

Algeria

Yesterday, at a press conference on the recent hostage tragedy in In Amenas, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated (French) that Algeria “will not send one soldier to Mali” and will concentrate on “protecting its borders and its territory.” Sellal added that Algeria “encourages dialogue among the different parties” in Mali.

Niger

This blog post (French), from a site with which I am not familiar, does a nice job laying out Niger’s attitudes toward the situation in Mali. Key points include Niger’s preference for securing Malian territorial integrity before holding elections, and Niger’s view that the situation in Mali is, for Niger, an internal security threat as well as a Malian problem. You can read an interview Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum gave to RFI here (French).

Mauritania

Al Bawaba depicts widespread opposition to the French operation in Mali, and to the possibility of Mauritanian military involvement there, among religious and political leaders in Mauritania. A coalition of three parties, however, supports intervention in Mali (Arabic, French). Mauritania has placed areas along its border with Mali under military control (French).

Nigeria

On January 19, gunmen attacked a Nigerian military unit in Okene, Kogi State, killing two and wounding five. The unit was preparing to deploy to Mali. The Nigerian military has blamed Boko Haram for the attack. Jama’a Ansar al Muslimin fi Bilad al Sudan (Arabic: The Society of Defenders of Muslims in the Land of the Blacks), a purported splinter group from Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the incident, saying that it was targeting the unit because of Nigeria’s involvement in the Mali intervention. IRIN (link above) has more on “JAMBS.” The group’s statement (which was issued in English, from what I can tell) is here.

Any other news? Please let us know in the comments.

A Look Ahead at the Sahel and the Horn in 2013

What will 2013 hold for the Sahel region and the Greater Horn of Africa?

For the Sahel, the year begins with intense concern about northern Mali and northern Nigeria. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC)’s resolution of December 20 greatly strengthens the prospect of an external military intervention in Mali, in the form of the “deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) for an initial period of one year.” The UN, the United States, and others are also placing pressure on Malian leaders to, in the UNSC’s words, hold “elections by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible.” Holding credible and inclusive elections, as well as retaking the north by force, may prove difficult to achieve in the time frame allotted. The anniversary of the northern rebellion’s launch, which will come on January 17, reminds us that Mali’s conflicts have lasted longer, and worsened further, than many initially expected – and may last for quite some time still.

In northern Nigeria, meanwhile, recent attacks by Boko Haram and battles between sect members and authorities suggest that instability in that region will continue in the new year. If last year’s trends are any indication, the combination of mistrust between the government and the sect, human rights violations on both sides, and the shifting nature of the sect’s tactics may make the conflict difficult to resolve either politically or militarily. 

One challenge for analysts and policymakers in 2013 will be to consider interconnections between crises and conflicts in the Sahel without falling into simplistic narratives depicting the region as an “arc of instability.” So for example while Niger is not Mali, what happens in Mali affects Niger, and vice versa. At the country level, I would urge analysts and policymakers to avoid suggesting that complex problems can be solved with variants of the “vote, then shoot” or “shoot, then vote” models. So, for example, would holding elections in Mali just three or four months from now really produce a legitimate and inclusive government? Or would elections turn out to be deeply flawed, and risk generating further discontent?

The crises in Mali and Nigeria, moreover, should not overshadow other challenges and important trends in the Sahel. In the category of challenges,  there is first and foremost the looming threat of renewed hunger. IRIN tells us, “Despite good rains across much of the Sahel this year, 1.4 million children are expected to be malnourished – up from one million in 2012, according to the 2013 Sahel regional strategy.” The numbers are grim, and the problem of food insecurity a long-term one – a challenge that requires more than just reactive, year-by-year responses. While men with guns battle for control of territory, drought and starvation will be claiming lives by the thousands.

Turning to the Greater Horn (for which I use quite a broad definition), four areas I’ll be watching are: (1) the efforts of the new government in southern Somalia to consolidate military and political control, with help from African and other partners; (2) the status of negotiations over border demarcation, security, oil, and other issues between Sudan and South Sudan (as well as the trajectory of rebel and protest movements within each country); (3) the shape of the ongoing political transition in Ethiopia in the wake of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death last year, and the shape of relations between the state and the Ethiopian Muslim community, which has been protesting alleged government interference in Muslim affairs since late 2011; and (4) the Kenyan elections of March 4. If one broad theme connects these cases, it is the interactions between transitions taking place in the realm of formal politics (elections, successions, agreements) and forms of dissent and contestation (rebellions, protests, ethnic violence) occurring alongside these transitions.

I have no predictions to offer beyond my warning about the risks in holding premature elections in Mali. I should also reiterate what I wrote yesterday about the shocking capacity of chance to affect larger trajectories, and the ways in which the effects of small actions can escalate beyond their authors’ intentions. None of us can tell what the future holds for the Sahel and the Horn, but I do think it will be an eventful year, including in ways we might never have guessed. Here’s hoping that one surprise will be less tragedy and bloodshed than expected, greater opportunities for peace, and successful transitions for countries from Senegal to Kenya.

Africa News Roundup: Nigerien Tuaregs, South Kordofan, Kenya and Somalia, and More

I rarely comment on North African affairs here, but the death of Morocco’s Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine will merit reflection on the meaning and trajectories of “Islamism” well beyond Morocco. His funeral was yesterday.

A recent CNN interview with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta included discussion of Mali. See also the audio and transcript of a recent NPR segment on intervention in Mali.

Deutsche Welle: “Niger’s Tuaregs Fear Spillover from Mali.”

Magharebia: “Mauritania Outlaws Coups d’Etat.”

Sudan Tribune:

The Sudanese army is dispatching heavy reinforcements to South Kordofan in order to defeat the rebellion and increase security in the border region, the country’s defense minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein has announced.

[...]

His visit and comments followed reports by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army North (SPLM/A-N) that their forces defeated attempts on Monday by government forces to capture Daldoka village southeast of Kadugli and inflicted heavy losses on them.

This Day:

Former governor of Yobe State, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Thursday  declared that unless the activities of the Boko Haram was completely checkmated, there might not be any election in the entire six states of the North-east geo-political zone by 2015.

Similarly, the former governor of Kano State and chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Rebuilding and Inter-Party Contact Committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, called on opposition politicians to ensure that the ongoing alliance talks between opposition political parties worked out this time as anything to the contrary would spell doom for the nation.
The two leaders spoke in Enugu, when the ANPP special rebuilding committee met with the party’s leaders and major stakeholders from the five states of the South-east zone in continuation of its nationwide consultation with members.

In a separate article, This Day reports that the Federal Government plans to send more troops to Borno State to fight Boko Haram.

Kidnappers have released the mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Charles Wachira: “After Somalia Intervention, Kenya Faces War Within.”

What else is happening?

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).