Roundup on Conflict Issues in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger (12/2/2020)

There’s a lot of news and reports coming out that probably each deserve their own post, but given end-of-the-semester stress, it’s wiser for me to just do a roundup today. A few things that have caught my eye recently:

  • Dan Eizenga and Wendy Williams, “The Puzzle of JNIM and Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, December 1. An excerpt: “JNIM’s structure functions as a business association on behalf of its membership, giving the impression that it is omnipresent and inexorably expanding its reach. The characterization of JNIM as a single operational entity, however, feeds the inaccurate perception of a unified command and control structure.”
  • Danielle Paquette and Henry Wilkins, “An American moved to Burkina Faso for ‘a better life.’ He was shot dead outside a military base,” Washington Post, December 1. This is a very sad story, and some of the saddest parts actually relate more to the United States than to Burkina Faso.
  • AFP reports (December 1, French) on a tenuous peace initiative in Ménaka, Mali.
  • France24 has a roughly 16-minute video report (November 27, French) by the journalist Cyril Payen, who embedded with Nigerien special forces.
  • This is a good interview (November 24) with Guillaume Soto-Mayor about Sahelian security issues.

First Thoughts on Burkina Faso’s Legislative Elections Results

Burkina Faso held presidential and legislative elections on November 22. Incumbent President Roch Kaboré won the presidential elections, but I need to gather a bit more data (and gather my thoughts a bit more) before attempting to say anything substantive about that side of the results. So today I’ll speak briefly to the legislative picture.

Heading into the elections, according to Wikipedia, the three largest parties in the 127-member unicameral legislature were as follows:

  • Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (French acronym MPP): 55 seats
  • Zéphirin Diabré’s Union for Progress and Change (UPC): 33 seats
  • The former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP): 18 seats

The results from the 2020 legislative elections leave the MPP’s share of seats effectively unaltered – the party gained 1 seat for a new total of 56. The CDP gained 2 seats and also moved into the second spot in the National Assembly, because the UPC lost 21 seats, falling to just 12 seats, and actually slipped into fourth place in the legislature. The new third-place party is called New Time (or perhaps New Era or New Moment) for Democracy, NTD. It won just 3 seats in the previous elections in 2015, and now has 13. No other party holds more than 5 seats.

Two initial observations:

The first observation is that although the MPP does not hold a majority, its near-majority and the fragmentation of the opposition should make it relatively easy for the presidency and the MPP to pass major legislation. Several indicators – among them the lopsided 107-9 vote in favor of a revised electoral code last August; as well as the speed and apparent equanimity with which opposition candidates congratulated Kaboré following his win – suggest to me that the MPP’s strength in the legislature and in Burkinabè politics goes beyond what the numbers alone might indicate.

The second observation, and this requires more data and analysis to flesh out, is that the MPP held its own, electorally, in Burkina Faso’s conflict zones. Just looking at the Sahel Region, the deadliest conflict zone in the country, the MPP did not do too badly. Sahel has four provinces, and here is how the MPP did (based on numbers aggregated here, which may be an unstable link since it’s a live results roundup):

  • Ouadalan: 1 out of the 2 seats
  • Séno: 1 out of the 2 seats
  • Soum: 1 out of the 2 seats
  • Yagha: 0 out of the 2 seats

The MPP did better in the Sahel Region than any other party (NTD won 2 of the Sahel’s 8 seats, the UPC won 1, and minor parties won 1 each). If, again, the Wikipedia page is to be trusted and if I am reading it correctly, then in 2015 the MPP won 1 seat in each of the 4 provinces of the Sahel Region, meaning that in 2020 it held 3 seats and lost 1 (in Yagha). I can’t speak yet to the impact of voter disenfranchisement (de facto or de jure), potential issues of fraud, etc., but on superficial examination the conflict does not appear to have cost the MPP electorally in 2020. And recall that even if the MPP lost 1 seat in the Sahel Region, it held 3 there while gaining 2 elsewhere in the country.

The 2020 legislative results deserve much deeper examination but one implication could be that electoral politics is not, in the Sahel (now referring not to one region in Burkina Faso but to the wider, multi-country region of Africa), generating the incentive structures it is theoretically supposed to around the world: the MPP, it seems, has no major electoral incentive to pay closer attention to the conflict zones.

Roundup on the Eve of the Vote: Analyses and Reports on Burkina Faso’s Electoral Landscape

Burkina Faso will hold the first round of presidential and legislative elections on November 22. If no candidate clears 50%, then there will be a second round within about six weeks, if I understand correctly, based on the electoral code’s provisions pertaining to various steps regarding the validation of the first round results.

There are thirteen candidates for the elections, including incumbent President Roch Kaboré, the last election’s runner-up Zéphirin Diabré, the former ruling party’s candidate Eddie Komboïgo, and the former transitional Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida. I expect Kaboré to win, possibly on the first round.

For general background, see International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Elections in Burkina Faso – 2020 General Elections – Frequently Asked Questions” and the Trans-Saharan Elections Project‘s country page for Burkina. The website of Burkina Faso’s Independent National Electoral Commission is here, and the Constitutional Council’s website is here.

Here are a few recent analyses and reports:

Ornella Moderan, “Burkina Faso’s Voters Should Be Offered More Than Security,” Institute for Security Studies, 18 November. A quote:

The electoral campaign was an opportunity for parties and candidates to clearly articulate their plans for addressing the full range of problems affecting millions in Burkina Faso. But most of them missed the boat. Their inability to confront the complexity of the situation and propose holistic responses doesn’t bode well for the policy changes the country needs. Rather it reveals the piecemeal mindset that has underpinned government’s overly securitised responses to the crisis for years – an approach that has shown its limits.

See also, from ISS, Ibrahim Maïga and Habibou Souley Bako, “Lessons from Mali as Burkina and Niger Head for the Polls,” November 10.

Rida Lyammouri, “Burkina Faso Elections, Another Box to Check,” Policy Center for the New South, November. An excerpt (p. 7):

The November 22 national elections take place in a context marked by the increased importance and expansion of vigilante groups, namely the Koglweogo and the newly formed VDP [Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland]. Representatives of both groups stated in interviews conducted in August 2020 that they are apolitical, and their objective is to secure areas [where they are present] and to help establish peace in the country. Simultaneously, they also pointed out that each member is free to support a candidate or a political party of their own choice. One of the key criticisms of Koglweogo and VDP is that they are ethnically based and don’t necessarily represent all communities. Participants in the interviews agreed that ethnic affiliation has a significant influence when it comes to choosing the political leader and/or political party. When asked if presidential and parliamentary candidates would use ethnic affiliation to generate support, the answer was automatic: “Of course, ethnic affiliation matters. We have parents who are running in the different elections, we are not forcing our communities, but the majority of our votes will go to these people. They know our realities and our challenges and will therefore know how to defend them for us”.

Sam Mednick, “Burkina Faso moves ahead with vote despite extremist attacks,” Associated Press, November 18. Two few key paragraphs:

The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) used helicopters to reach places inaccessible by road and registration was extended after coronavirus movement restrictions temporarily halted the process in March. Despite the challenges, Yacouba Bambyam Ouedraogo, communications director for CENI said that 95% of the country was covered adding more than 1 million voters.

But local officials say the more than 1,000 villages that were not reached, is where most of the population lives. Four of 11 communes in Sanmatenga province weren’t fully covered and a lot of people were missed, Youssouf Ouedraogo, president of the municipal electoral commission in Kaya told the AP.

Sophie Douce, “Elections au Burkina Faso : en « zone rouge », une campagne sous le signe de la menace terroriste,” Le Monde, November 18. A translated passage:

Several days out from the elections, the candidates hold more and more meetings across the country, a third of whose territory is in a state of emergency. Mined roads, risk of kidnapping or targeted attack… Certain sectors remain inaccessible to the authorities. On November 8, the driver of a candidate in the legislative elections was killed on the Gorom-Gorom route (in the north). “When you move from one zone to another, you find yourself in a no man’s land and if you don’t alert the authorities in advance, what happened before could happen again,” warned Ahmed Newton Barry, the president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, after the attack.

Amaury Hauchard, “In Jihadist-Hit Burkina Areas, No Elections — and No State,” AFP, November 18.

“The victory of the jihadist groups is not so much a military one as having installed a fear that makes people’s lives extremely difficult,” Rinaldo Depagne of the International Crisis Group said.

[…]

“It’s only around the towns that the soldiers are present. In the camps in the bush, there are none left, everybody has gone,” [Burkinabè analysts Mahamoudou] Savadogo said.

“The state has no more control there. Whole tracts of the country will be unable to vote.”

On the Campaign Trail in Burkina Faso, Opposition Candidates Promise Dialogue with Jihadists, Kaboré Says No

Burkina Faso will hold the first round of its presidential (and legislative) elections on November 22, in other words very soon. A colleague sent me this story, in which the runner-up from the last election, Zéphirin Diabré, was speaking to a rally in the capital Ouagadougou as he campaigns once again. He is paraphrased and quoted as follows:

To put Burkina Faso back on the rails, Zéphirin Diabré proposes negotiation with certain armed groups. “Among these groups, which are the ones who have demands that are negotiable? While sorting through, there are people with whom, of course, one can talk.

Given that some of the country’s communal militias, or whatever ones wishes to call them, are already in dialogue with the state (or are working under the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland), the clear implication would seem to be that Diabré is open to negotiating with some jihadists – perhaps the Burkinabé group Ansaroul Islam/Ansar al-Islam (Defenders of Islam) or the Mali-centric Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, JNIM); the latter has conducted limited negotiations with successive Malian governments, especially over the hostage/prisoner exchange that concluded in early October of this year. The idea of negotiating with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) has not been seriously floated in Mali, and it is unlikely that Diabré has them in mind here, though it is still possible.

Here is another major candidate, Eddie Komboïgo of the former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), promising in generic terms to turn the security situation around through dialogue:

In the weeks that follow our election, you are not going to hear a gunshot inside our borders. Because we are going to courageously negotiate with the different forces of evil.

Another (more minor) candidate, Do Pascal Sessouma of the Pacifist Party, has also talked along these lines. Here he is in a November 5 interview:

On the question of terrorism my position is clear. I will negotiate with those who are attacking us. I am among those who think that it is not by cannon shots that one triumphs over an ideology. I think I would be able to bring back peace and security in 18 months through a holistic and inclusive approach.

These are the three examples I’ve seen. I imagine there are others among the 12 opposition candidates who are taking similar stances.

The proposals are short on details, but they represent a shift in the political debate amid an insurgency that continues to worsen:

President Roch Kaboré, facing re-election, says absolutely not (speaking from Dédougou, November 17):

We will not negotiate with those who have, as a project, dismantling Burkina Faso and jeopardizing our coexistence.

Assuming (as I do, at least) that Kaboré will win, it will be interesting and consequential to see whether the idea of dialogue maintains any traction after the dust settles from the election.

Quick Notes on Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi’s Interview with al-Naba’

In the latest issue (#260) of the Islamic State’s weekly Arabic-language newsletter al-Naba’, there is an interview with Adnan Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). As MENASTREAM points out, the appearance of the interview temporarily settles the question of whether his deputy Abd al-Hakim al-Sahrawi is now in charge.

The interview is two pages (pp. 10-11) and as I commented on Twitter yesterday, over three-quarters of it concerns the deep background to current events. Prompted by the interviewer, al-Sahrawi gives his version/narration of the history of Saharan-Sahelian jihadism from just after the formation of the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (French acronym GSPC) in the late 1990s until the formation of the al-Qaida subsidiary Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, JNIM) in 2017. Only in the last quarter of the interview or so does al-Sahrawi turn to discussing the recent fighting between JNIM and ISGS, which has received recurring coverage in al-Naba’ (see here for my annotated translation of a June 2020 al-Naba’ article on that topic).

Al-Sahrawi’s narration of Saharan-Sahelian jihadism emphasizes the infighting among the Saharan battalion commanders of the GSPC (which was renamed al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM in 2007). Al-Sahrawi points to the failure of various efforts to reconcile these battalion commanders (notably Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whom al-Sahrawi names several times, and ‘Abd al-Hamid Abu Zayd, whom al-Sahrawi indirectly names by referring to Abu Zayd’s Tariq bin Ziyad Battalion). Al-Sahrawi also emphasizes that the Saharan battalion commanders were very difficult for AQIM’s Algeria-based leadership to control. “The organization, in reality, was an image with no reality to it. What existed on the ground was a number of battalions with different orientations and multiple loyalties, all of them linked with the leadership of al-Qaida in Algeria.” Notably, while Belmokhtar is often portrayed as the recalcitrant one in other accounts of these internal GSPC/AQIM spats, in al-Sahrawi’s telling, it was Tariq bin Ziyad Battalion (i.e., Abu Zayd) that was resistant to at least one major unity initiative, the effort by central leadership to impose Nabil Abu Alqama as the central leadership’s unquestioned deputy in the Sahara.

Al-Sahrawi goes on to review developments between 2011 and 2013 in detail, starting with the Libyan revolution and its impact (in his view) on the northern Malian rebellion of 2012; then discussing the relationships among AQIM, the AQIM offshoot the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), AQIM’s ally Ansar al-Din (Defenders of the Faith), and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (French acronym MNLA); then discussing the impact of the French-led military intervention in Mali in 2013. The thought of going over all those events here on the blog for the millionth time kind of fatigues me, to be honest, so I would suggest reading a summary of those developments if you’re not familiar.

One point of interest here concerns the relationship between AQIM and the Malian-led Ansar al-Din. Those who consider Ansar al-Din a front group for AQIM will find support for their argument in part of what al-Sahrawi says, to wit: “The al-Qaida organization [here meaning AQIM], in its different groupings, entered into that framework [of Ansar al-Din’s vision of an Islamic state in Mali], even though its leadership [the pronoun “its” goes to AQIM, if my reading is correct] remained independent of it [the pronoun “it” goes to Ansar al-Din’s framework, if my reading is correct].” Later he talks about AQIM “working under cover of [Ansar al-Din].” Yet those, like me, who find the “front group” description simplistic will find support in al-Sahrawi’s descriptions of Ansar al-Din circa 2012 as a collection of opponents to the MNLA’s separatist vision, opponents motivated “either by ethnic, racial reasons or by creedal, religious reasons.” Al-Sahrawi later briefly mentions the 2013 split among Ansar al-Din’s leadership that remains, I think, fundamental to understanding the hybridity of the movement itself during 2012. Anyways, it’s a long discussion; YMMV.

Moving on, when discussing his unit’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015, al-Sahrawi is conspicuously silent on Belmokhtar. He has no shortage of criticisms for the AQIM leadership in general, accusing them of a criminal level of self-interest and self-preservation in the face of what he sees as a groundswell of interest in the Islamic State project from the among AQIM’s own rank-and-file. He repeatedly slams AQIM leaders for their approach to the 2012 rebellion, to the MNLA, etc. Yet al-Sahrawi does not name any names here, nor does he criticize Belmokhtar – who, when he and al-Sahrawi were both part of the then-estranged AQIM unit al-Murabitun in 2015, publicly rejected al-Sahrawi’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State, a pledge al-Sahrawi made in the name of al-Murabitun. It makes me wonder whether there is a vestigial admiration for Belmokhtar among Islamic State audiences (despite the Islamic State in Libya and elsewhere having publicly called for Belmokhtar’s death at points). Belmokhtar did, after all, cut a larger-than-life figure in the Sahara and even in Libya for a time, and perhaps al-Sahrawi is shying away here from directly taking on that legacy. Belmokhtar, as a reminder, has been either dead or at least publicly absent from the Saharan scene since 2016. In any event, al-Sahrawi presents JNIM’s formation in 2017 as a response to the formation and growth of ISGS.

Al-Sahrawi then turns to the ISGS-JNIM conflict, saying that for a time, ISGS focused on fighting “crusaders and apostates” while making outreach to JNIM’s cadres. According to al-Sahrawi, this outreach attracted a lot of fighters from Ansar al-Islam (Defenders of Islam), a northern Burkina Faso-based jihadist outfit that was/is in JNIM’s orbit, as well as from JNIM units in what he refers to as “Konna,” “Macina,” and “Nampala” (localities in the Mopti and Ségou Regions of central Mali). Al-Sahrawi then quickly runs through a complicated series of events that, in his telling, involved JNIM fighters from Nampala (but not physically in Nampala at the time) pledging allegiance to ISGS/Islamic State, then JNIM leaders giving orders for that pro-ISGS unit to be blocked from returning to Nampala, then fighters in Macina refusing to carry out the orders and instead pledging allegiance to ISGS/IS themselves, then the leader of the ISGS-aligned group from Nampala, Miqdad al-Ansari, being killed in a “crusader air raid…under obscure circumstances!” I have not yet had time to triangulate between this and other accounts. As in other al-Naba’ articles, al-Sahrawi argues that JNIM leadership coordinates with non-jihadists. He then presents JNIM’s negotiations with successive Malian authorities as the culmination of a process where the group has de facto lost its jihadist credentials – and, of course, he refers to them as “apostates” throughout the article.

Big takeaways? I’m not sure. The desire to shape perceptions of history stands out – it’s not just scholars and analysts who are still chewing over the events of 2011-2013 in Mali. And the sense of the JNIM-ISGS conflict as a competition for the loyalties of discrete units of fighters in Mali is also notable. The account of how a dispute over Nampala escalated into a wider conflict will be worth revisiting. Another point is that, at least on this first reading, I saw no references to Nigeria, Boko Haram, ISWAP (in the sense of a specific organization based around Lake Chad), etc. Finally, I can’t help but sigh at the Islamic State’s ascription of the title “Al-Shaykh” to al-Sahrawi – not everybody has to be a shaykh, guys. Pretty clear that al-Sahrawi’s not, even by jihadi standards.

Burkinabè Presidential Campaign: Roch Kaboré and Tahirou Barry in Dori (Sahel Region) [UPDATED]

Scanning the news out of Burkina Faso yesterday, I was struck by two brief articles about candidates campaigning in Dori (map), the capital of the Sahel Region – the most violent region within Burkina Faso‘s multi-sided conflict, and the second-most violent region within the Sahel (now meaning the multi-country region, rather than the unit of Burkina Faso) as a whole. Among the four provinces that make up Burkina Faso’s Sahel Region, Séno (where Dori sits) is somewhat less affected than Soum (whose capital is Djibo), the epicenter of the conflict in the north. Nevertheless, Dori is highly affected by the multi-faceted crisis that involves not just violence but also massive displacement, economic disruptions, public health impacts, and food insecurity.

On October 31, official campaigning began in advance of the first round of the presidential elections, scheduled for November 22. Incumbent President Roch Kaboré, who took office in 2015, faces twelve competitors, including several formidable politicians.

Kaboré was in Dori on November 10, meeting with some of the key figures in the Sahel Region such as the Emir of Liptako, Ousmane (whose backstory I recently wrote about here) and the Emir of Yagha, Boureima Ly. In addition to reinforcing his relationships with elites, Kaboré’s trip also seems to have been about delivering a two-fold message: a promise to restore security, but a related promise to end “stigmatization” – in other words, to end the ethnic profiling of the Peul/Fulani, and perhaps other groups as well. How those promises are received, I couldn’t say; the insecurity has increased, tragically and rapidly, over the course of Kaboré’s first term, and the collective punishment of Peul (a feature of the conflict not just in Burkina Faso but also in Mali) has been, in my view, systemic (see some discussion of that dynamic here).

It’s interesting to contrast Kaboré’s messaging in Dori with the messaging of Tahirou Barry, a serious but frankly not top-tier candidate, who was in Dori on November 6. Barry’s party is the Movement for Change and Renaissance (MCR). A former minister of culture and tourism and a parliamentary deputy, Barry is himself Peul but has emphasized his and his family’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural character (his own family is from Gaoua, in the southwest, and his wife is ethnically Mossi, the largest ethnic group in Burkina Faso). In Dori, then, Barry’s emphasis was on the economic development of the Sahel Region, with promises to expand Dori’s livestock market and make the Sahel Region into a center for processing milk. Barry talked about the insecurity in his remarks, but placed that in a larger context of what he calls the abandonment of the region by central authorities.

Which message appeals more? I really couldn’t say – I don’t see opinion polls coming out for this race, for example. But it is striking to see how differently these two politicians are framing the same overall situation. And it is tempting to say that Kaboré is pursuing a kind of top-down strategy while Barry is attempting something bottom-up, but that’s also probably too simple. I also, admittedly, may have missed reports about other candidates’ swings through Dori; other kinds of messaging are possible too. [Update, November 13: A senior colleague alerted me to this poll, which shows that a strong plurality of respondents to this poll (nearly 43%) say they plan to vote for Kaboré, and some 27% are undecided or are keeping their intentions confidential, suggesting he has a decent chance of winning on the first round. Nearly 66% of respondents, meanwhile, say they are concerned about insecurity – the most common concern among respondents.]

Anecdotally, meanwhile, I wonder how many people this Dori resident speaks for:

“I watch the politicians parade and do their things, but this is not my concern,” said Oumar Cissé, from Dori, a town in the northern Sahel region – the epicentre of the violence – that is seeing a daily influx of internally displaced people. “Our real concern is that security comes back first, and after that we can think about elections.”

And then there are the physical obstacles to voting. An August 2020 law, and the realities of the conflict, will likely mean that thousands of voters cannot vote, and that the results of the elections will be accepted regardless, domestically and internationally. The campaigning in Dori is a reminder, to me at least, that the vote is likely to proceed in many major towns and administrative centers within the conflict zones, and that it is rural voters above all who stand to be disenfranchised.

Burkina Faso: Revisiting the 2010-2012 Succession Struggle in the Liptako Emirate

While doing the background research for the translation project I posted earlier this week, I learned a bit that was new to me about the Liptako Emirate of (present-day) northern Burkina Faso. And one thing that I didn’t include in the translation, for reasons of space and because it’s only indirectly relevant, is something that was new to me to read about: the power struggle within the Emirate following the death of long-ruling Emir Abdoulaye Nassourou Dicko* in November 2010.

Conflicts within the chiefly establishment, for lack of a better phrase, have been – at least according to anecdotal accounts I’ve heard – widespread in Burkina Faso in recent years. I wrote about this a bit in my paper for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation last year (available for download here, see pp. 26-27). There, though I discussed an example for the East Region, rather than Sahel Region. The Liptako Emirate is headquartered in the city of Dori (map), which is also the regional capital for Sahel. In his paper for the Foundation, Rahmane Idrissa goes into more depth on the (fascinating) political history of Emir Abdoulaye Dicko, who took the throne in 1960 (see p. 40, footnote 55).

There is a wider literature on the Liptako Emirate, obviously, but to briefly summarize what I’ve found so far, when Emir Abdoulaye Dicko died (after, again, a fifty-year rule, with some interruptions), there were competing claims from his son Ousmane Amirou Dicko and his (i.e., the late emir’s) brother Bassirou (or Boubacar) Dicko.** According to this account, Bassirou Dicko was enthroned in a ceremony on January 14, 2011, while Ousmane Dicko was enthroned in a rival ceremony the next day. At stake was not just the immediate issue of who would succeed but also, especially according to the brother’s side, the issue of how succession should work – whether the system had effectively become one of primogeniture or at least lineal succession, or whether the principle was a kind of lateral succession among brothers, as for example one finds among several major Sufi families in Senegal or within the Saudi royal family. Lateral succession systems often eventually engender tensions between generations, because members of the younger generation sometimes tire of waiting for power to pass through all of their uncles, cousins, etc. See MbS in Saudi Arabia for an example of that dynamic.

In any case, continuing with the same account, in late January 2011 the high commissioner of the Séno Province stepped in to halt plans for rival coronations. This action only held the two sides off until late June/early July 2011, when rival coronations proceeded. The situation seems to have grown quite tense. The son, Ousmane Amirou, even said he had faced repeated assassination attempts. He was reportedly a target of an attack amid another chiefly conflict in Falagountou (map), about 55 kilometers from Dori, in December 2011. Over time, however, he appears to have consolidated his authority and, whether suddenly or gradually, his uncle’s claim faded. By the second anniversary of the late emir’s death, Ousmane Amirou Dicko appears to have been his uncontested successor.

A few points from my (admittedly superficial) research into the story so far:

  • Some of the biographies of these figures in Liptako remind of patterns I’m more familiar with from postcolonial northern Nigeria and northern Mali: the combination of hereditary authority with professional careers, political roles, etc (see this interview with Ousmane Amirou Dicko). Significantly, though, the political, religious, and symbolic (and perhaps financial) capital that comes with being emir does not always transfer smoothly to other fields – see here, p. 13, for a discussion of how Abdoulaye Nassourou Dicko’s tenure as mayor of Dori ended, after just one term, with an electoral loss in 2000.
  • That same account has more details about the various interruptions to Dicko’s reign, interruptions which basically reflected major political shifts in Burkina Faso – Thomas Sankara’s coming to power in 1983, for example, led to the emir’s exile in Canada for a spell. This broad dynamic, too, has affected hereditary Muslim (and non-Muslim) rulers elsewhere in the wider region. I think the dynamic can sap the hereditary rulers’ authority in the eyes of their own subjects, who see their leaders overruled or sidelined by heads of state, governors, etc.
  • In a way, the succession conflicts are not new within even this dynasty (called Férobé) or within the region. There were major disputes in the late 19th century in both Liptako and, looking farther afield, in Kano and elsewhere. And there was a rivalry between two brothers in Kidal in the early 1960s. Other examples are legion. So in a way, there is nothing new here.
  • At the same time, we can ask whether succession conflicts in Burkina Faso are (a) more common than in the first few decades after independence and (b) a contributing factor to either the background of the present insecurity or the actual ongoing perpetuation of that insecurity. To fully address that would require a lot of research (some of which has been done, I assume, though I may not be aware of it).
  • I don’t have a full sense either of how the present emir has responded to the insecurity. He is quoted in the national and international media fairly regularly (example, and another example), but in my brief searches so far I haven’t seen a detailed treatment of his policies.

*Confusingly, in some sources it is rendered Nassourou Abdoulaye Dicko and in other sources Dicko Nassourou Abdoulaye. Dicko is definitely the surname.

**Again, here the order of the names varies from source to source.

Burkina Faso: 13 Candidates Face Off in Next Month’s Presidential Elections

In early October, Burkina Faso’s Independent National Electoral Commission (French acronym CENI) issued a provisional list of 14 candidates for the November 22 presidential elections (coupled with legislative elections). Another 9 candidates did not meet the requirements for candidacy.

A CENI decree signed October 10 gives the same list, along with more details, including the number of sponsorships each candidate received. For what it’s worth, 2015’s runner-up, Zéphirin Diabré, received the most, at 170; incumbent President Roch Kaboré received 120, the former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress’ candidate Eddie Komboigo got 129, and all others got fewer than 100.

On October 22, the Constitutional Council published the final list of candidates. One from the earlier list, Harouna Kindo, was dropped due to not paying the required deposit. That leaves 13 candidates. At the link, Le Faso notes that the Council did not disqualify Yacouba Isaac Zida, who is the former transitional Prime Minister (2014-2015) and, before that, number 2 within the now-disbanded Presidential Security Regiment. Zida, however, remains in exile in Canada.

I profiled the top candidates here a few weeks back. I have no crystal ball regarding the elections, but as I said then, I expect Kaboré to win, in part because of de jure and de facto restrictions on who can vote due to insecurity. But anything could happen. There are formidable candidates among the other 12 figures.

One interesting item that I haven’t explored is what Radio Omega calls “a wave of resignations” from Diabré’s party recently. That’s not good for the formal head of the opposition, obviously. The figure discussed at the link not only was a parliamentary deputy and the deputy president of the party’s parliamentary bloc, but is also apparently a significant figure within the Mossi chiefly establishment – a minister, as he puts it in his Facebook page (as of October 22), to the Mogho Naaba, the country’s “mediator monarch.” I wonder if various politicians are putting their fingers to the wind in the weeks before the election, and I wonder which ways they feel the wind blowing.

Here, finally, is CENI’s provisional list of legislative candidates.

Recent Reporting on Insecurity-Related School Closures in the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin

The violent conflicts in the Sahel and in the Lake Chad Basin have been causing schools to close, on and off, for years. Bodies such as Human Rights Watch and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack have issued reports on this subject this year (in May and September, respectively). Jihadists are key perpetrators of attacks on schools, obviously, targeting them for ideological reasons specific to education (objections to the curricula, for example), but also as symbols and institutions of the state. Schools can also be caught in the crossfire, literal or political, amid extended conflicts; for example, Human Rights Watch points out above that when militaries use schools, it can contribute to making those schools into targets.

Several journalistic reports on school closures have come out just in the past few days:

  • Voice of America (October 19) reports on school closures in northern Cameroon due to attacks by Boko Haram. A Cameroonian official says: “Sixty-two schools have been closed. The children have to be either scholarized [educated] in other schools very far from their own villages or to abandon schools. Thirty-four-thousand-and-fifty-four students have been registered as IDPs. We have the students of the host communities; we have even refugee students.”
  • Le Point (October 21) gives some grim statistics: in Mali, 926 schools out of 8,421 are closed. In the central region of Mopti, the most violent region in the entire Sahel, 127 schools out of 218 are closed.
  • RFI (October 21) gives even worse statistics for Burkina Faso: 2,100 schools closed, although that estimate is actually lower than 2,512, the number of schools closed due to insecurity on the eve of COVID-19, according to Human Rights Watch’s count in its May 2020 report.
  • RFI (October 21) has a short piece on the education crisis in Mali, including a striking micro-portrait of a teacher who was wounded in Kidal, in the far northeast, during an ill-fated visit by the then-Prime Minister there in 2014, which triggered clashes with ex-rebels. The teacher, now in Bamako, says he/she cannot go back because of the state’s absence in Kidal and the security forces’ inability to provide security there.

In some areas, I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say, insecurity is locking parts of entire generations out of their chance at an education. And teachers like the one mentioned above can also have their lives and careers thrown into chaos. Even if the violence stopped tomorrow in all these conflict zones, the effects will be felt over lifetimes.

Mauritania: Moustapha Ould Limam Chafi Returns to Nouakchott

On October 18, Mauritanian national Moustapha Ould Limam Chafi returned to the country’s capital Nouakchott after what Le Figaro estimates is “a dozen years’ exile.” At least two Mauritanian regimes – that of Maaouya Ould Taya in 2004, and that of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in 2011 – issued warrants for his arrest (in 2004 over charges of helping to plot a coup, in 2011 over charges of colluding with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM). But he was never arrested by Mauritanian authorities, and is now back home roughly a year after Ould Abdel Aziz’s successor, President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, canceled the warrants for Ould Chafi and two other prominent Ould Abdel Aziz-era dissidents/exiles.

How to classify Ould Chafi? Businessman, politician, intermediary, power broker? Jeune Afrique has covered his career extensively over the years, writing profiles and updated profiles in 2011, 2017, and 2019. In the first profile, we read, “His network goes from Niger to Cote d’Ivoire, where he spends a lot of time around Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, and to Mali, among other [places]. Outside West Africa, his connections go from Morocco to Darfur (Sudan), and also to Rwanda. But he is, first of all, a faithful companion of the Burkinabè president Blaise Compaoré, and has his house and family in Ouagadougou.”

The accusations of collusion with jihadists stem largely from his role in negotiating ransom payments for and releases of western hostages of AQIM, a role he sometimes undertook on behalf of Compaoré. Jeune Afrique‘s 2017 article discusses this dimension of his career a bit more. And nowadays, when accusations arise that Compaoré’s inner circle colluded with AQIM, Ould Chafi’s name continues to come up. I personally have not seen decisive evidence of collusion on the part of either Compaoré or Ould Chafi. I shed no tears when Compaoré was overthrown but in my eyes, negotiations or hostage payments are not tantamount to direct collusion. But I do not, and likely will never, know the full story on any of these dealings.

Back in Nouakchott, Ould Chafi is presenting his return home as purely personal and is disavowing any political agenda.