Mali/Burkina Faso: Continued Fallout from Koulogon and Yirgou Violence

On the night of December 31-January 1, two consequential attacks occurred in villages in Mali and Burkina Faso. In Mali, Donzo hunters attacked the village of Koulogon, targeting ethnic Fulani/Peul and killing thirty-seven people. In Burkina Faso, suspected jihadists attacked the primarily Mossi village of Yirgou, which elicited a reprisal attack by Yirgou villagers against nearby Fulani. In Burkina Faso, the death toll soon approached forty.

Koulogon is located in the Bankass cercle of Mali’s Mopti region (see Bankass town on this map), while Yirgou is located in the Barsalogho Department in Sanmatenga Province of Burkina Faso’s Centre-Nord Region (see Barsalogho town on this map).

The two incidents reflect the wider “ethnicization” of Sahelian, and particularly central Malian, conflicts that many analysts have been pointing to in recent years. That is, a dynamic takes hold where jihadists are assumed to be Fulani, the Fulani are targeted for collective punishment, and then both the jihadist violence and the intercommunal violence reinforce the overall dynamic of insecurity, where people organize violence along largely ethnic lines.

These two incidents have received major attention for a few reasons. First, they exemplify this dynamic of spiraling violence, providing instances that the media can readily understand and convey. Second, the death tolls are high in each instance, reflecting wider escalation:

Third, the violence marked a grim start to the new year, and the timing undoubtedly plays a part in the media’s focus on the incidents. And fourth, the attacks underscored how authorities are falling short when it comes to preventing violence. Regarding that last point, it is worth noting that Burkina Faso had already declared a state of emergency in parts of seven out of thirteen regions even before the Yirgou attack.

Here is some of the attention the incidents have gotten.

For one thing, there have been presidential visits to the villages:

Regarding Koulogon, notably, Malian President Keïta promised to establish a military base in the vicinity, and a gendarmerie unit has been deployed to Diallasago.

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Kaboré has also met Fulani/Peul leaders, attempting to defuse the ethnicization issue:

There are also calls and plans for investigations, with a United Nations inquiry underway regarding Koulogon, and with various civic and ethnic associations calling for other inquiries. For example, in Burkina Faso an association (Fulani-led, from what I can tell) called the Collectif contre l’impunité et la stigmatisation des communautés (Collective Against Impunity and the Stigmatization of Communities) is giving press interviews and organizing marches.

The Collective is also calling for the disarmament of Koglweogo militias (see here for background), depicting the militias as vehicles for ethnic violence.

In short, the conflicts in Mali and Burkina Faso comprise a whole swath of complex, localized but interconnected dynamics and conflicts, and the Koulogon and Yirgou incidents throw a lot of those dynamics into sharp relief. At the same time, there is a limit to how “legible” the violence is when viewed through the prism of individual incidents. This is an important note to conclude on, I think:

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Senegal: Presidential Candidacies of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall Blocked

Today, Senegal’s Constitutional Council turned down the candidacies of Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall for the 24 February presidential elections. The candidacies had been provisionally advanced last week after they met the requirements for candidates’ dossiers, such as collecting signatures. Twenty other candidacies had been rejected at that stage.

Wade is the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade (in office 2000-2012), and Sall is the former mayor of Dakar. The Council ruled that Sall, who has been sentenced to a five-year prison term on embezzlement charges, lacks the right to run, while Wade cannot run because he lacks an elector’s card – which he lacks because of an earlier judicial sentence. Both candidates have been blocked for essentially the same reason, although the applicable sections of the electoral code (L27 and L31 in Sall’s case, L115 in Wade’s) are different.

There are now five candidates remaining:

  • Macky Sall, the President (BBY)
  • Ousmane Sonko, parliamentary deputy (Pastef)
  • El Hadj Issa Sall, parliamentary deputy (PUR)
  • Madicke Niang, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (dissident PDS)
  • Idrissa Seck, former Prime Minister (Rewmi)

And a victory by the president looks virtually assured now.

Senegal’s Presidential Elections: The Seven Candidates So Far

Senegal will hold presidential elections on 24 February. As of 9 January, seven candidates had been approved by the Constitutional Council. Here are their micro-bios, with their party affiliations in parentheses:

  • Macky Sall, the President (BBY)
  • Khalifa Sall, former Mayor of Dakar (Taxawu Senegaal)
  • Karim Wade, former Minister of State for International Cooperation, Regional Development, Air Transport, and Infrastructure and son of ex-President Abdoulaye Wade (PDS)
  • Ousmane Sonko, parliamentary deputy (Pastef)
  • El Hadj Issa Sall, parliamentary deputy (PUR)
  • Madicke Niang, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (dissident PDS)
  • Idrissa Seck, former Prime Minister (Rewmi)

Twenty-seven candidacies were initially presented. Among those rejected, the one getting the most attention is Malick Gakou (Grand Parti), who the Council said was 546 signatures short on his dossier.

The definitive list of candidates is supposed to come out on January 20.

A Libyan Arrest Warrant for Chadian and Sudanese Rebels

In early January, the Libyan Attorney General’s office issued arrest warrants for twenty-one Chadian rebels, eight Sudanese rebels, and six Libyan nationals in connection with attacks in eastern and southern Libya. The full list of Chadian and Sudanese names is available here (Arabic) while the Libyan names are available here (also Arabic). The warrants have widely been depicted as an anti-Qatar move, and in fact it’s challenging to find straightforward reporting on the list. This is a decent English-language explainer, though.

In terms of the Libyan names, they include some very prominent figures, such as Abdelhakim Belhadj and Ibrahim al-Jadran. One figure I was unfamiliar with before this is Abu ‘Ubayda al-Zawi/Shaaban Hadia, whom you can read about here and here. The others are Ali al-Huni, Mukhtar Rakhis, and Hamdan Ahmad (my transliterations). Belhadj has already denounced the warrant against him as a political stunt.

On the Chadian side, figures such as Mahamat Mahdi Ali, leader of the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (Front for Regime Change and Harmony in Chad, FACT)*, have also protested the warrants. Ali said that his organization is uninvolved in Libya’s problems and does not act as mercenaries.

Here are the names of the Chadians, although my transliterations may not completely line up with how these names are rendered in the Anglophone and Francophone media:

  • Ali Ahmad Abd Allah
  • Hamid Juru Mariqi
  • Muhammad Musa Adam
  • Muhammad Ahmad Nasr
  • Adam Husayn
  • Muhammad Abd Allah Ahmad
  • Umar Abkar Tijani
  • Bashara Hajar Ayibu
  • Muhammad al-Mahdi Ali (Mahamat Mahdi Ali)
  • Abu Bakr Tuli
  • Al-Ashi Warduqu
  • Barki Yusuf
  • Timani Erdimi
  • Hammad Hasan Abd al-Rahim (name appears twice)
  • Musa al-Hajj Azraq (name appears twice)
  • Muhammad Nuri
  • Muhammad Hasan Balmay
  • Mas’ud Jiddi
  • Kanqabi Tabul
  • Muhammad Hakimi
  • Musa Muhammad Zayn

And the Sudanese:

  • Hasan Musa Kali
  • Jabir Abu Bakr
  • Arkumi Minawi
  • Abd al-Karim Shuli
  • Abd Allah Janah
  • Uthman al-Quni
  • Musa Hilal
  • Ali Umar Takadim

Recent Analyses and Articles on Boko Haram

Recently there has been a spate of interesting work on Boko Haram and its offshoot Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Here are some links and excerpts. As always, it can be difficult to verify some journalists’ and analysts’ sources, especially when they claim rare of exclusive access to insiders.

  • The journalist Ahmed Salkida is covering ISWAP’s military endeavors in northeastern Nigeria. See here and here. An excerpt from the former: “Boko Haram/ISWAP policy with respect to physically holding territories changed after the steady losses they suffered in the run up to general elections in Nigeria in 2014. They do not want to physically hold unto territories anymore than they are determined to ensure that the military does not have any sustainable presence in the territories. Furthermore, ISWAP is paying more premium to wooing local communities to feel more secure with them than they could ever be with the military. That is their strategy…ISWAP is no longer showing interest in taking a formidable military base such as was in Baga and staying put there. It doesn’t apparently serve their tactical and strategic interest well. They are more interested in taking over military hardware and ammunition in those bases while instilling fear on the troops and making it extremely difficult for the military to have the comfort to plan and launch attacks.”
  • Babatunde Obamamoye has written an interesting-looking article about negotiating with Boko Haram. From the abstract: “A notable shocking development in the advancement of the Boko Haram terrorist revolt was the abduction of about 276 Chibok girls in April 2014. Shortly afterward, while the terrorists made known their extremist determination to offer the girls for sale, the Nigerian government vowed unconditional rescue of the girls. Notwithstanding the evident opposition of both adversaries to nonviolent engagement, some of the victims were eventually released through negotiations. What then were the rationales that paved the way for negotiations? What are the implications of this approach? This article demystifies the rationales for negotiation between the Nigerian government and the Boko Haram terrorist group over the abducted girls. It argues that nonviolent engagement in this context arose out of intersecting interests but, more important, reinforced the “vulnerability” of the “new” religious terrorists to negotiation when violence proved futile in accomplishing some of their vital objectives.”
  • Christian Seignobos has also published a fascinating article (in French) on local dynamics of Boko Haram’s violence and the insurgency’s broader effects in the year 2017. The abstract is available in English: “The 2017 chronicle of events belies the assertions of the concerned governments diagnosing the impending end of the group. In Nigeria and neighbouring countries of Borno State, the bands called Boko Haram are still as active as ever. Fishermen, breeders and traders who want to continue to live of Lake Chad have to live with it, and sometimes take advantage of the chaos to oust their rivals. For its part, Boko Haram had to make choices in its local alliances. The insurgents interests have coincided with those of the Buduma indigenous people: the first wanted to expel the populations who refused to accept to pledge allegiance and pay them taxes, while the latter took the opportunity to try to chase away «foreigners» who had taken over their islands’ lands and pastures. In Cameroon, the «movement» had gradually established itself in the departments of Logone-et-Chari which cover the Kotoko country, and of Mayo-Sava, which includes the former kingdom of Wandala in the foothills of the northern Mandara Mountains. It is currently trying, from its multiple withdrawal sites, to escape the intervention of the army and its auxiliaries.”

Mauritania: Biram Dah Abeid in Parliament

Yesterday marked the first time that Mauritanian activist Biram Dah Abeid (or Ould Abeid), president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), set foot in parliament as a member of the body. He was arrested last August along with another IRA leader and two journalists, then was elected to the National Assembly in September’s legislative elections. He was released from prison in late December (RFI gives the date as December 31). In the parliamentary elections, he ran on the list of the Baathist Sawab Party, in an alliance that may have more to do with strategic partnership than with ideological affinity. Overall, of course, the ruling Union for the Republic is the largest party in parliament.

Numerous profiles have been written about Abeid over the years. One of the best appeared in the New Yorker in 2014. An excerpt:

When Abeid was eight, his father told him that he had been born to a slave, and was therefore supposed to be a slave, too. But, while his mother was pregnant, her master had fallen ill, and, heeding the Koranic idea that acts of benevolence will be rewarded, had released him from slavery before he was born. As a young man, Abeid’s father crossed the river to work for a time in Senegal, where he felt free from racial discrimination. Back in Mauritania, he met and married a woman who was a slave, and they had two sons. Full of pride, he went to his wife’s master to ask to take his family to Senegal. The master refused. His father went to court, but the judge said, “This is his slave—unless you want to buy her from him.” His father did not have enough money, so he pleaded to at least take his sons, but the judge refused him again. The French colonial governor told Abeid’s father that the dispute fell under Islamic law and that he could not interfere. Defeated, the father left his wife and children and went back to Senegal. Later, a friend introduced him to Abeid’s mother, and they were married.

There is also a wider discussion of race and Islam in Mauritania in Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem’s Prêcher dans le désert.

Mali: A Controversy Around Sex Education

In December, the Malian government announced that it was withdrawing a proposed sexual education textbook for adolescents. The plans for the textbook had evoked opposition from Muslim leaders in Mali, including Mahmoud Dicko, president of the High Islamic Council of Mali (French acronym HCIM) – Dicko asserted that by including a chapter on sexual orientation, the textbook was promoting homosexuality. In early January, the government announced the abandonment of the initiative. (It’s worth noting that Christian leaders, and Muslim leaders beyond Dicko, were also unhappy with the textbook.)

The incident feels like a replay, in miniature, of the 2009-2011 controversy over reforms to the family code – an episode that also saw Dicko and others successfully pressuring politicians into backtracking. Both the textbook and the family code struggles reveal the power of Muslim clerics and constituencies as lobby groups. The textbook episode also surprises me a bit in that you would think Malian politicians and bureaucrats would have seen the backlash coming given the way the family code debate played out.

There are real limits to the clerics’ political influence, of course. Dicko supported President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta when he ran and won in 2013, but Keïta won re-election in August 2018 despite a public falling out with Dicko and another prominent cleric, the Chérif of Nioro. So clerics don’t necessarily get to choose who gets elected. And it seems highly unlikely that Mali will see a cleric win the presidency, or even seriously try for it, any time soon. (Some of the reason for that has do with continuity in the political elite, a dynamic I discuss here).

Nevertheless, the lobbying power is formidable. And perhaps out of a desire to reinforce that power, Dicko kept going even after the textbook was withdrawn. On December 23, Dicko led – or perhaps eagerly accepted to lead, depending on how you read events – a demonstration in Mali’s capital Bamako. It is worth noting the presence of opposition politicians at the event, but even their attendance does not yet convince me that Dicko will be able to translate lobbying influence into electoral power. In any case, for now it seems the clerics get to draw red lines on key policy issues perceived to affect Islamic morality in Mali.