Recent Fighting in Benghazi Between Khalifa Haftar’s LNA and the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council

The eastern Libyan city of Benghazi is the site of an ongoing battle with wider ramifications for Libya’s future. On the one side are the anti-Islamist leader Khalifa Haftar and his would-be Libyan National Army (LNA). On the other side is an alliance of jihadist groups called the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (BRSC, Shura meaning consultation). The battle for Benghazi, in which Haftar has the upper hand, is part of his broader campaign to control Libya and impose an anti-Islamist, anti-jihadist politics on the country.

Haftar and his rivals have been trading control over areas of the city for over two years now – and as recently as September, Al Jazeera (Arabic) was reporting gains for the BRSC.

The past few days have seen fierce fighting in Benghazi. AFP:

“We now control the district of Abu Sneib” in the southwest of the city, said a commanding officer in the army headed by Haftar, who backs the parliament in the country’s east.

“Our forces now completely surround the Qanfuda area” nearby, the same source said.

The source said 52 troops had died in fighting since January 1 in and around Benghazi.

[…]

Jihadists still control the central districts of Al-Saberi and Souq al-Hout.

Al Jazeera (Arabic) provides more details, especially about the costs of the operation for the LNA: two field commanders killed, along with several other deaths. The trigger for the latest fighting was apparently an attempt by the BRSC to advance on LNA positions in the neighborhood.

Air power is a major factor in Haftar’s advances against the BRSC, although there are reports (Arabic) that an LNA plane was shot down over eastern Benghazi by a rocket on January 15. The BRSC has claimed responsibility (Arabic). Even though Haftar has the upper hand, the BRSC’s resistance make it seem as though the LNA’s total conquest of Benghazi is still a ways off.

 

On a Mauritanian Fatwa Against Operation Serval – at The Maydan

Today’s post is outsourced to The Maydan, which is a publication of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University. I discuss a 2013 fatwa that a group of Mauritanian scholars released. The fatwa argued against Mauritanian participation in the French-led Operation Serval, which sought to disperse jihadists in northern Mali and restore Mali’s territorial integrity. From the piece:

In the eyes of the Fatwā’s authors, supporting a Western-led (i.e., infidel-led) military intervention in northern Mali would violate the unity that is essential to the preservation of Islam. In this context, the Fatwā referenced the doctrine of al-walā’ wa al-barā’ (“loyalty to the believers and disavowal of the unbelievers”), which emphasizes loyalty to the Muslim community in exclusive preference to partnerships with non-Muslims. The doctrine of al-walā’ wa al-barā’ is often a core theme within jihadist circles.

The Fatwā did not address the Mauritanian government or make formal recommendations concerning its foreign policy; rather, the text asserted obligations and responsibilities that Muslims have toward other Muslims. Nevertheless, the authors spoke as Mauritanians. At several points, the text stated that Mauritanian Muslims have a special duty, given their proximity to Mali, to show solidarity with the Muslims of Mali. Invoking the idea of Islamic solidarity implied that the government of Mauritania, officially an “Islamic Republic,” should not endorse or participate in any Western-led military operation that might harm Muslims in northern Mali. The Fatwā, appearing just days after Operation Serval began, seemed aimed in part at the government. In this sense, the text fits within a broader context of Islamic discourses in Mauritania that have attempted to influence the government’s foreign policy.

If you read the piece, I welcome any comments you may have.

Francois Hollande in Mali: Media and Civil Society Reflect on His Africa Legacy

Today and tomorrow (January 13-14), Mali is hosting the “Africa-France Summit,” which French President Francois Hollande is attending. The event is occasioning reflections in the French, European, and African media regarding Hollande’s Africa policy and legacy as a whole. Many of the reflections are quite critical.

Deutsche Welle:

It will be an opportunity for Hollande to bid farewell to his African counterparts as this will be his last Africa-France summit. The French leader steps down later in the year; he will not seek a second term at the presidential elections in the spring.

[…]

[Whereas some analysts give Hollande’s Africa policy positive marks,] Other analysts are rather more critical. Roland Marchal from France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) finds it “disconcerting” that French foreign policy under Hollande placed so much emphasis on military intervention. “Nobody questions whether these military operations are justified,” he said. “In the case of Mali, we see that it hasn’t worked.” The standard of governance is worse than mediocre and the president is facing corruption allegations.

Other commentators argue (French) that Mali is a poor choice for the summit’s location, lauding Hollande’s 2013 decision to intervene militarily in Mali but deploring the lack of political progress there in the intervening years. Another commentator places the blame (French) for the lack of political progress on Mali’s leaders, rather than on “the absence of political vision on the part of France,” but goes on to urge Hollande to publicly call on African publics to hold their leaders accountable.

Whether or not Hollande heeds that advice, African civil society groups have decided to hold a counter-summit (French) during the official summit, in order to hold critical discussions about the policies of African leaders and the international community.

It will be interesting to see what comes of these events – the summit and the counter-summit – and to hear what Hollande says.

 

Gambia Updates – One Week Out from Inauguration Day

The electoral crisis in Gambia has continued. President Yahya Jammeh continues to reject the results of the December 1 election. For background, he initially accepted his loss and conceded before reversing himself, likely partly out of fear that the new administration would hold him legally accountable for human rights violations and financial crimes.

The countdown to inauguration day, January 19, continues. Jammeh’s procedural maneuvers for blocking the transition appear to be failing. On January 10, Gambia’s Supreme Court declined to rule on Jammeh’s legal suit connected to the election. The Court says it cannot decide on the case until May, or even November, due to the absence of a quorum – several members of the court are foreigners who say that they cannot travel to Gambia until May at the earliest.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on behind the scenes with the Court, but the possibilities are intriguing. The quorum issue may be a clever political maneuver by Nigeria, whose President Muhammadu Buhari is the lead regional negotiator in the Gambia crisis. From the Nigerian press:

When the case came up for hearing on Tuesday, the court, which required five judges before it can adjudicate on matters brought before it, had only one judge – the country’s Chief Judge, Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian.

Mr. Fagbenle said Tuesday’s sitting was for “housekeeping purposes.”

He announced that the court could not constitute the required quorum to hear the petition because Nigeria and Sierra Leone declined Gambia’s request to send judges to adjudicate on the petition.

The Gambia relies on judges and other judicial officials from other West African countries due to shortage of qualified officials in its judiciary.

Mr. Fagbenle said the country made a request for judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone since last August, but that the countries’ judicial authorities said they could not send judges outside the usual May and November judicial sessions as they did not anticipate the rescheduled January session.

[…]

Stating that there was no foreseeable judicial means of resolving the dispute before the January 19 inauguration of the President-elect, Mr. Fagbenle advised the contesting parties to look towards the ongoing mediation by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as a viable alternative to resolving the dispute.

An ECOWAS team is scheduled to visit Gambia and meet Jammeh this Friday (January 13), but Jammeh appears defiant and unwilling to step down.

As the Court rebuffs Jammeh, other institutions are protecting themselves from Jammeh in less subtle ways – the head of the Independent Electoral Commission,Alieu Momar Njai, fled the country on January 3.

With the possibility of overturning the election in the courts or through the commission blocked, Jammeh may resort to a coup. The head of Gambia’s armed forces, General Ousman Badjie, has publicly pledged his support to Jammeh. Jammeh has already moved to clamp down on dissent, for example by shutting radio stations.

Nevertheless, President-Elect Adama Barrow has stated that he will take office on January 19, that is, next Thursday. It promises to be a hectic week for the Gambia.

Senegal: Conflict Inside the Socialist Party

Senegal’s Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) was in power from 1960-2000 and remains one the country’s major political parties. It helped current President Macky Sall win the second round of the 2012 elections, but a Jeune Afrique article (French) this week gives some insight into the party’s internal divisions. These divisions partly concern the 2019 elections and whether the party should back Sall or run its own candidate.

Highlighting these divisions, as the article shows, is the aftermath of clashes at the party’s headquarters in Dakar, the capital, last March 5. The clashes (French) were between supporters of longtime party leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Dakar’s Mayor Khalifa Sall. At stake last March was the party’s decision regarding a referendum on changes to the structure of Senegal’s presidency – Dieng supported the “yes” vote (and thereby supported Macky Sall’s camp) while Khalifa Sall supported the “no” camp. In the referendum, the “yes” camp won heavily. Khalifa Sall, I’ve been told by journalists in Dakar, is perhaps the politician whom Macky Sall fears the most.

Going back to the Jeune Afrique article, some of Khalifa Sall’s supporters were recently jailed. The group includes some local politicians and other party officials, including Bamba Fall, the mayor of a major neighborhood in Dakar called Medina. Jeune Afrique writes that the jailing has evoked bitterness among Khalifa Sall’s supporters, who are gearing up for a broader intra-party conflict over the 2019 elections. While Dieng and his camp appear likely to support the incumbent president, Khalifa Sall’s camp leans toward running an independent socialist candidate.

Another opposition newspaper (French) complains that different instances of political violence in Senegal are being treated differently – in other words, that the powers that be are using the courts to suppress political dissent. Senegal is not a major theatre of political violence, but the legal battles, intra-party struggles, and occasional clashes now all offer insights into how the 2019 campaign is already beginning.

 

Recent News from Gao, Mali: Mixed Patrols, A Kidnapping, and A Shooting

Gao, one of northern Mali’s key cities, has witnessed several notable developments recently.

  • On December 24, unknown kidnappers seized a longtime French resident and aid worker affiliated with the small NGO Aide Gao. A search (French) was immediately mounted by Malian forces, French forces, and UN peacekeepers. Jeune Afrique (French) summarizes what is known of the kidnapping itself, the victim, and the search.
  • On January 4, a local Red Cross employee was shot and killed. “A resident of Gao said the worker had been shot by two men on a motorcycle late at night.”
  • On January 5, mixed patrols began in Gao involving former rebels from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (French acronym CMA), pro-government militia forces, and Malian government forces. The full force is expected to comprise 200 fighters from each of the three categories. The mixed patrols are meant to fulfill one condition from a 2015 peace deal. Until early January, the pro-government armed groups had opposed (French) the CMA’s desire to enter the city, but international and governmental mediation (French) appears to have resolved the dispute for the moment.

Ghana’s December 2016 Elections – Briefing for World Politics Review

Today’s post, on Ghana’s December 2016 elections, is outsourced to World Politics Review (paywalled). There I write:

[New President Nana] Akufo-Addo’s successful campaign had many features, but the most notable was his populist message. It now remains to be seen whether “the farmer who struggles to feed his family,” “the mother of the sick child,” and those “who . . . are forced to sleep on the streets of our cities”—all lines from the manifesto of Akufo-Addo’s centrist New Patriotic Party, or NPP—will truly benefit from his presidency.