On the Nigerian Military Expelling UNICEF from the Northeast

Reuters, today:

The Nigerian military on Friday accused United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) staff of spying for Islamist militants in northeast Nigeria, and suspended the agency’s activities there.

Sahara Reporters has more. They quote Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, Deputy Director of Public Relations, Theatre Command:

It is baffling to note that some of these organizations have been playing the terrorists’ script with the aim to continue demoralizing the troops who are doing so much to protect the lives of victims of Boko Haram Terrorism and safe guard them from wanton destruction of property and means the of livelihood. The Theatre Command considers the actions of these organizations as a direct assault and insult on the sensibilities of Nigerians, as they tend to benefit more from expanding the reign of terror on our people.

[…]

“This has become inevitable since the organization has abdicated its primary duty of catering for the wellbeing of children and the vulnerable through humanitarian activities and now engaged in training selected persons for clandestine activities to continue sabotaging the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts of troops through spurious and unconfirmed allegations bothering on alleged violations of human rights by the military.

The move is not surprising, given the military’s repeated expressions of open contempt for other international humanitarian and human rights organizations, particularly Amnesty International. The military is highly, and it seems increasingly, sensitive to outsiders’ criticisms of its human rights abuses.

My main comment on all this is that the military is playing politics here in a big way. The military is obviously well aware of allegations, by its own soldiers as well by journalists and other critics, that the fight against Boko Haram is not going well. The problems include not just brutality against civilians, but also lack of proper equipment for frontline soldiers. The military is likely aware, moreover, that even among many civilians there is a strain of suspicion toward Western NGOs, the United Nations, foreign development and humanitarian agencies, and so forth. The politics of this announcement, then, in my view includes an effort to cater to this strain of suspicion while deflecting attention away from the military’s own serious problems.

Or, as Brandon Kendhammer puts it:

 

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Global Observatory Post with Takeaways from My Recent Mali Report

I have a piece at the Global Observatory summarizing the takeaways from my recent report on Mali for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Here’s an excerpt from the GO piece:

The violence, moreover, constitutes a “wartime political order” that these leaders find navigable. This is not to say that they prefer violence, but they can cope with it and even thrive amid it. The 2018 presidential election offers one example of how this works. In general, President Keïta and the northern ex-rebel bloc the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) have major tensions concerning the implementation of the 2015 Algiers Accord, a key peace agreement. But Keïta and the CMA reached common ground concerning the elections, with the CMA helping to secure the vote and with northern regions—partly, it seems, under the CMA’s influence—voting massively to re-elect the president. In other words, Keïta and the CMA may disagree on a lot of things, but they can agree to help each other maintain position and power.

Comments on WaPo Article about Deradicalization of Boko Haram Members in Niger

I’m still catching up on important reporting that came out last month and throughout the fall. One such report is the Washington Post‘s November 20 article about deradicalization efforts for former Boko Haram members in Niger. The article, which is very good, focuses especially on the State Department’s role in shaping and possibly, soon, funding the program (see some official background here).

I’m enthusiastic about such programs, not because they’re perfect but because (a) these fighters or ex-fighters are human beings, and maybe they can be redeemed, and (b) concrete non-violent solutions seem more promising to me than just straight counterinsurgency paired with vague talk of socioeconomic reconstruction. If the fighters in the bush hear that they have choices beyond continued combat or unconditional surrender, perhaps more of them will turn themselves in.

No one says this is easy, though. The following excerpt was, for me, the core of the article:

“It was in D.C. that I realized the Americans might suffocate this program, even with good intentions,” [former Diffa Region Governor Dan Dano] Lawaly said. “They would say, ‘These defectors of yours may have committed war crimes, so we have to get the legal framework sorted out.’ And I’d say, ‘They’re abused kids, for God’s sake.’ ”

A legal framework would, however, codify the program, ensuring its survival beyond Lawaly’s tenure. And as it happened, Lawaly was sacked earlier this year when his party pulled out of Niger’s ruling coalition.

“It can’t be a one-man show if this is going to be sustainable,” said [Neal] Kringel, the State Department official. “We have to have a process that categorizes and then deals with each defector appropriately.”

I lean more toward Lawaly’s perspective, but you definitely don’t want hardened offenders slipping through the cracks or taking advantage of the program.

Yet as the article’s anecdotes suggest (and as Sarah Topol’s amazing reporting also suggests), much of Boko Haram’s recruiting was circumstantial and partly coerced. Such recruits came to do horrendous things, but I believe there is a road back for them, albeit one that might fade if authorities (American or Nigerien) place too much emphasis on retributive and punitive justice. That’s a grim thing to say – who wants to choose between justice and peace? This is not my choice to make when it comes to Niger, of course, but I would say that the State Department should heed the voices who prioritize peace.

The other voices who matter, though, include the communities affected by Boko Haram’s violence. This theme comes up in the article, and it came up on my trip to Nigeria last month. It is eminently understandable that survivors and victims may not forgive. In Kano, including in conversations with people from northeastern Nigeria, I heard very different perspectives on what might be done with “rehabilitated” Boko Haram fighters. Some very smart people said that it was impossible for such fighters to go home, given the level of anger and even violence they may face from victims and survivors. Other Nigerians I spoke with even doubted that rehabilitated fighters could successfully integrate in big cities, given that they might somehow stand out and raise questions even in neighborhoods in Kano or Lagos or other cities outside the epicenter of the conflict. But some folks I met did think that big cities might afford a degree of anonymity that would facilitate a new start for the genuinely repentant. In any case, I’m not sure anyone has really worked out a promising solution for the long-term dilemmas about how ex-fighters can lead successful lives – or what compensation the affected communities deserve (a lot) and what they might realistically get (probably much less than what they deserve).

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Nigerian Technocrats Revisited

At Africa Is a Country, Omolade Adunbi has written an incisive review of former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s newest memoir, Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous. An excerpt from the review:

What becomes clear is that Okonjo-Iweala sees every disagreement with her economic policies as an attack on her person because of her gender, ethnic identity or her previous role as a World Bank employee.

[…]

it is hard to find any evidence of the fight against corruption by Okonjo-Iweala in the entire book. She presided over the economy under two administrations adjudged to be some of the most corrupt in the history of the country. For example, electricity is a major challenge in the country and the $16 billion that Obasanjo administration under which Okonjo-Iweala served spent on the power sector was mismanaged and power is still at the level it was before the administration came to power in 1999. Over $32 billion was said to have been lost to corruption during the Jonathan administration because state coffers were turned into personal coffers by the president and his cronies and it is hard to fathom that a Finance minister who coordinates the economy can feign ignorance of the monumental fraud that took place under her watch. At best, the book highlights how narratives can be reconstructed in ways that turns principled opposition into personal attacks in an attempt to provide cover for someone who might be seen as culpable in the mismanagement of Nigeria’s wealth for about 16 years. If anything is dangerous, it is not admitting to one’s culpability in the scheme of monumental fraud in the history of Nigeria.

Adunbi’s review, I think, goes well with my article “The Politics of Technocracy in Fourth Republic Nigeria.” Okonjo-Iweala was a key character in that article as well, and I drew heavily on her earlier memoir, Reforming the Unreformable. My basic argument in the article is that technocrats such as Okonjo-Iweala are essentially politicians and should be understood as such. And my basic motivation for writing the article was a lingering frustration from my time at the State Department (2013-2014), when various American officials seemed quiet enamored with Okonjo-Iweala and wondered how someone “good” like her could tolerate serving in the corrupt atmosphere of the Jonathan administration. Again, the short answer is that she is a political actor who is interested in power, and cultivating a “reformer” image is part of her pursuit of power. Adunbi’s review, in my reading, confirms and extends these arguments. Particularly troubling is his convincing case that Okonjo-Iweala’s political outlook runs in a strongly authoritarian direction: In the memoir, Adunbi observers, “Every invitation to the [National Assembly] to give account of the stewardship of her ministry is considered an attack on her person such that the reader might be convinced that she would rather serve under a dictatorial government than a democracy.”

Two Recent Reports on Mali by Human Rights Watch and SIPRI

Two new major reports on Mali have appeared recently. Here is a short synopsis/excerpt of each.

1. Human Rights Watch, “Self-Defense Group Abuses in Central Mali” (full report here)

This report concentrates on Bambara and Dogon ethnic self-defense groups in Mali’s central Mopti region, and on the broader dialectic that features (a) jihadist recruitment among the Peul, (b) Bambara and Dogon violence against the Peul, and (c) retaliatory violence by jihadists and Peul communities against the Bambara and Dogon. The report also notes how the Malian state and military, though various forms of both presence and absence, have contributed to the violence.

One thing I really appreciated about the report was that in addition to highlighting jihadism, ethnic tensions, and resource disputes, it also really emphasized how the availability of small arms fuels the conflict. Here is an excerpt from p. 21:

Community leaders from all ethnic groups and security analysts in the region told Human Rights Watch that the proliferation of semi-automatic assault rifles and other weapons in the possession of self-defense and Islamist armed groups was contributing to the lethality of the communal violence.

Many said Mali’s cycles of armed conflict in the north was an obvious factor leading to arms proliferation, but they questioned how, more recently, the self-defense groups had procured so many weapons and ammunition without the government acting to control the problem. A European security expert said: “The Dogon and Bambara self-defense militias have more and more AK-47s (Kalashnikov assault rifles), and seemingly endless stocks of ammunition. These are very poor communities so how can they afford to buy all this stuff?”

Villagers said self-defense or hunting societies were traditionally armed with artisanal or single-barrel shotguns and only started seeing “war guns” within the last few years. “The arms they [militias] are using are not the ones our fathers used,” one market woman said. “When they fired, the earth trembled.”

Many local residents and external observers (including me) are increasingly troubled by the question of where these weapons, and the money used to purchase them, come from.

2. SIPRI, Aurélien Tobie and Grégory Chauzal, “State Services in an Insecure Environment: Perceptions among Civil Society in Mali” (full report here)

This report starts with the finding that Malians by and large want the state to provide essential services but see it as sometimes incapable of doing so. In areas of state weakness or absence, communities are pursuing their own strategies and models. The study is based on a survey, and the variations within responses (by gender, region, topic, etc.) are extremely interesting. Here is one example from pp. 9-10:

The questionnaire also included questions on the best level for decision making, as the issue of decentralization is important in Mali. Initiated in the 1990s, the process of decentralization is regularly debated in the context of the recurring crises. Closer proximity to the decision-making process is sometimes seen as a way to adapt services to local needs and demands…

However, respondents’ preferences for national or decentralized service provision seem to depend on the sector considered: while most respondents were in favour of a nationalized justice system, most preferred transport, water, healthcare and food security to be decentralized. Preferences for education and security were less clear-cut and varied by region, with the South often standing out: respondents in the South tended to favour the nationalization of security policies, whereas those in the North and Central zones wanted them to be decentralized. On the question of education, the opposite pattern appeared: most of the respondents in the South wanted this to be decentralized, whereas those in the North and Central zones wanted a national policy. This may be due to the fact that education is considered a strong vector of integration in Mali and is seen as one of the main instruments for fostering national cohesion. The lack of educational infrastructure in the North, including the absence of a university, has been seen as an obstacle to the development of the regions there.

 

Mali: Roundup on the Reported Death of Amadou Kouffa

In November, media outlets reported that French and Malian forces had killed Amadou/Hamadoun Kouffa, the foremost jihadist in central Mali, on 23 November. A few days later, French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly confirmed Kouffa’s death (see also her initial statements on the raid). An official statement from France’s counterterrorism mission in the Sahel, Operation Barkhane, can be found here. The operation seems to have taken place in the Mopti region of Mali, near the Malian-Mauritanian border.

The organization Kouffa belonged to – Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM, the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims), a part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – has not yet issued a eulogy. The Mauritanian journalist Muhammad Mahmud Abu al-Ma’ali has said that a source within JNIM denied Kouffa’s death and proclaimed him to be in good health. (See also here.)

I have never seen a really definitive biography of Kouffa, but some profiles can be found here and here.

There is a lot to say about Kouffa, but I want to start with a roundup of the coverage of his reported death:

  • The Malian journalist Adam Thiam makes a number of excellent points here, including how one might know whether Kouffa is dead in the absence of a eulogy (e.g., if Kouffa’s wives go into formal mourning, or if he does not surface soon on WhatsApp messages, or if a successor is named). Thiam goes on to say, “It will be difficult to find a natural successor with the stature of the late preacher. But the bleeding will not necessarily stop.” Thiam notes that various root causes of the insurgency in the center are still in place, ranging from Malian army abuses to ethnic and resource conflicts to the continued influence of Iyad ag Ghali, JNIM’s leader. Thiam also notes, sagely, that Kouffa’s death may have unanticipated consequences.
  • An in-depth report at Le Monde surveys Kouffa’s life and career and discusses the potential impact of his death.
  • Also at Le Monde, Thomas Hofnung warns – in a similar vein to Thiam – that by killing Kouffa, France/Mali struck at the top of the pyramid while failing to halt the expansion of that pyramid’s base. Hofnung emphasizes the issue of governance in the center and preventing “a war of all against all.”
  • On Twitter, MENASTREAM wrote a thread giving important details and context about the raid and its significance, including the very important point that Kouffa had recently appeared in a video, and that there seems to be something of a trend where jihadist leaders who expose themselves by making videos can end up quickly targeted and killed by counterterrorism forces. See MENASTREAM’s thread on that video here, and the video itself is here.
  • Both MENASTREAM and Aurelien Tobie, in a separate thread, note another important detail about the raid: as many as thirty JNIM/Kouffa fighters, including other officials of the group, were reportedly killed alongside Kouffa. So the group’s losses may extend well beyond just their regional leader.
  • Arabic-language Mauritanian media outlets such as Sahara Medias have also covered the raid in some depth, but have not, in my view, added many distinctive details.

Chad: In the Wake of November 10 Clashes, A Media War Between the Government and the CCMSR

Here at the blog I’ve followed the conflict in northern Chad between the government and the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR). The last time I wrote about it was in late October; since then there was another round of clashes in or around Miski during the days before November 18, when the government announced it had reasserted full control. A good overview of the conflict can also be found here.

One core problem in making sense of the violence is that it is frequently unclear who is fighting whom. The Chadian government sometimes refers vaguely to “the enemy,” rather than to a specific entity like the CCMSR, and news reports speak variously of the CCMSR, local community self-defense groups, and gold miners. The CCMSR has even accused the Chadian military of disguising themselves as gold miners to attack the CCMSR. The miners are relevant in part because the government has tried to expel them from the far north, and so their presence there is quasi-legal at best. Meanwhile, something called the Miski Self-Defense Committee has flatly contradicted the CCMSR’s accounts, asserting that “the CCMSR has never participated, from near or far, in the conflict in Miski and has no base in the Tibesti. Moreover, the Self-Defense Committee has no contact, official or unofficial, with the CCMSR.”

All of this difficulty in getting clear information adds to a media war between the government and the CCMSR. In fact, the CCMSR appears to me to be the more active side when it comes to internet communications, with a fairly active Facebook page and a brand-new Arabic-language website that aims to “spread the facts that the dictatorial institutions are intent on hiding.”

To give a sense of the CCMSR’s rhetoric, I thought it would be useful to translate an excerpt from one of their recent statements:

Chad, our country, is deeply divided today and the cleavages there are more pronounced than in the past and in the majority of other African countries, notably those of the sub-region. This is because, in twenty-eight years of rule, Idriss Deby has transformed our beautiful basin into a vast shooting range, graciously put at the disposal of the world powers who come to test the new inventions among their armaments.

In internal policy, the fragile embryo of national unity that we inherited from colonization has been completely wrecked. No political culture has been imagined for developing and forging the Chadian national identity and giving, so to speak, to the Chadian male and female citizens the feeling of belonging to a community of destiny.

[…]

We are also aware, if not more aware today than ever, that the departure of Idriss Deby from power, by himself, will not suffice, even if it is an absolute necessity for Chad…The return to calm, the political settlement of our conflict and the installation of a definitive peace founded on justice in our country – all that demands more than a change of regime. That demands of male and female Chadians a national awakening, to outdo themselves and pose some fundamental questions.

Now, I’m honestly in no position to really evaluate how widely this rhetoric resonates and whether opponents of Deby in other parts of the country are at all sympathetic to the CCMSR (perhaps not) or whether they see it as a sectional affair – or as a paper tiger that claims credit for others’ actions. But I will say that the CCMSR is making a fairly ambitious effort to own the media narrative and to offer a far-reaching critique of Deby and of Chadian political culture. I can envision a few scenarios going forward, including (a) a cycle of conflict in and around Miski, as we’ve seen since approximately August, (b) success by the Chadian military in extinguishing the rebellion, (c) expansion of support for the CCMSR, and (d) a multi-sided conflict in the Tibesti. But, once again, the problem of low-quality and contradictory information makes all this very hard to assess and even harder to predict.