A Chadian Secretary-General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

On November 27, at a meeting in Niamey, Niger, foreign ministers from member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) elected a new secretary-general for the organization, Chadian diplomat Hussein Brahim Taha. He will begin a five-year term in November 2021.

The OIC, formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was founded in 1969. As is often noted, it is the second-largest multilateral organization in the world, after the United Nations. It is headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but the general secretariat has not been a Saudi Arabian preserve – of the 11 people to hold the office so far, only two (albeit the most recent two) were Saudi Arabian nationals. Strikingly, the Sahel has been quite well represented on the list, with a Senegalese national serving as secretary-general from 1975-1979 and a Nigerien national serving from 1989-1996 (term lengths, it seems, have been variable). As noted above, moreover, the Council of Ministers meeting that elected Taha took place in the Sahel as well.

The OIC’s secretaries-general have not been clerics/shaykhs, but rather professional government bureaucrats. The outgoing secretary-general, Yousef Bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, holds a Ph.D. in Political Sociology from American University and came up through the Ministry of Social Affairs. Chad’s Taha spent most of his career in the Chadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where, notably, he served as Chad’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1991-2001 according to this profile. He has also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as deputy secretary-general of the Chadian presidency.

The sketches of Taha’s biography that I’ve seen indicate someone who is (a) close to Chadian President Idriss Deby and has his confidence, and (b) deeply familiar with Saudi Arabia. Being familiar to or even close to Saudi Arabia, however, should not lead one to the automatic assumption that Taha is a “Wahhabi” – not all of the institutions headquartered in or associated with Saudi Arabia are “Wahhabi” to the same degree, although that’s a longer discussion that goes beyond the scope of this blog.

Turning to that first point, about Deby, I want to expand on something I said on Twitter, namely that to me it is striking that Deby has now placed three of his top diplomats in three key posts at the regional, continental/African, and now global levels:

  • Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) since 2016;
  • Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission since 2017; and
  • Hussein Brahim Taha, incoming Secretary-General of the OIC.

I take a few, admittedly somewhat speculative, conclusions from this. One is that Deby has a pretty solid network of people he trusts and has given space to develop the kinds of resumes that major multilateral organizations take seriously. I assume that no Chadian could take a major diplomatic position like these without Deby’s backing. So on the one hand Deby, like many other long-ruling African heads of state, is infamous for refusing to signal who his successor might be, for reshuffling his cabinets frequently, for playing with term limits and constitutional structures, for creating new posts (a vice president soon, perhaps?) while eliminating others (the prime minister-ship, in 2018). Yet on the other hand, Deby is clearly not so jealous of power that he would cripple others’ careers – and perhaps in particular would not be threatened by professional diplomats who can rise to serious heights without becoming rival politicians per se. Ultimately all this reinforces his power, of course: thrive with the Deby-dominated system and you can have a literally world-class career. This is not me excusing him or praising him, except to say that he has a talent for authoritarianism – he is not as crude or just straight-up dumb about it as many other authoritarians are.

Then there is the question of how Deby positions Chad and Chadians to take these roles. A lot of those dynamics are out of my view, at least. A large part of the answer is the role that Chad has taken on as (one, would-be) guarantor of security in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, and that goes a long way to explaining the MINUSMA and African Union Commission appointments. But that role as security guarantor, on its own, is not sufficient to explain an appointment like the OIC’s secretary-general. Another factor there may be the way that the Sahel is a recurring zone of interest for Saudi Arabia, on and off from the 1960s to the present; Chad, additionally, has a number of Arabophone and/or Arab diplomats, and that may be attractive to OIC members as well (see below, where Taha gives his remarks in Arabic). And, finally, perhaps Deby is also skilled at various forms of behind-the-scenes negotiations. I wonder if he committed to anything in exchange for this OIC appointment.

Here is the video of Taha’s acceptance speech:

Chad: Toward a Vice Presidency (and a Succession Plan?)

In 2018, a constitutional reform in Chad abolished the post of prime minister and restored term limits, but not retroactively, meaning that President Idriss Deby can theoretically remain in power through 2033, assuming he wins a six-year term in next April’s elections and then another six-year term some time around 2027. Deby took power in 1990, meaning he is already, as of now, one of Africa’s longest-ruling heads of state – and he is by far the longest-ruling leader in the Sahel now.

There is a lot of speculation about whom Deby might eventually pick as a successor – or whether he will pick a successor at all. In neighboring Cameroon, a ruler with even more years under his belt, Paul Biya (took power 1982) has not, to my knowledge, indicated a clear successor. In both countries, Icarusus have sometimes seemed to fly too close to the sun, and have then fallen quickly.

Chad is now moving, however, to create a vice presidency, whose occupant will be appointed directly by Deby himself. The idea was a key discussion point at the November 1 “National Inclusive Forum” (boycotted by some opposition parties and labor syndicates). The proposal is part of a wider set of potential constitutional reforms that would include measures such as re-establishing the Senate (which, if I understand correctly, only existed in theory until its elimination in the 2005 constitutional reform). Following the Forum, a November 12 Council of Ministers meeting further fleshed out some of the circumstances (president out of the country, incapacitated, on vacation, etc.) under which the vice president would temporarily take over. The full official readout of that meeting is here, and contains details on other components of the constitutional reform package. On November 16, the National Assembly created a 25-member commission to study the Forum’s proposed revisions to the constitution; the commission has 18 days to complete that task. So the process is moving along pretty quickly.

It will be very interesting, obviously, to see who Deby picks for the post. I don’t know that one should assume that the new VP will be *the* successor, but it would seem that Deby would only pick someone he really trusts, given the potential for the person to assume power in various circumstances.

Press Freedom Issues in Chad

Deutsche Welle (French) reports on an atmosphere in which around 30 independent media outlets in Chad, including the country’s oldest independent newspaper, N’Djaména Hebdo, face risks of suspension. Under a 2018 law, both the director and the editor-in-chief of any given media outlet must have journalism degrees from a university, and that criterion has been used this fall to suspend various outlets.

From my brief research, it looks like two interlocking ordinances were ratified by the National Assembly in November 2018 – one, the actual law regulating the written and electronic media; the other, an ordinance creating the Haute Autorité des Médias et de l’Audiovisuel (High Authority for Media and Audiovisual Media,* HAMA). The ordinances were ratified by a vote of 118 for, 28 against, and 11 absentions, out of 188 total members the legislature.

It is HAMA that has the authority to issue suspensions, and on September 7 of this year, HAMA gave a three-month suspension to twelve different outlets. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders decried the suspensions, suggesting that the criterion about degrees is immaterial to the question of whether these are legitimate journalistic outfits. Deutsche Welle writes that in the context of Chad’s approaching presidential elections, scheduled for April, there are concerns that more papers will be suspended.

Earlier this month, the Union of Chadian Journalists marked the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists,” an occasion created after the 2013 deaths of two French journalists in Mali. The Chadian Union called for a government investigation into the 2014 disappearance of Chadian journalist Noubadoum Sotinan, and also called more broadly for an end to the “harassment and intimidation of media professionals.” From the little research I’ve done, and reading between the lines a bit, it seems that press outlets are mostly opting not to replace senior staff who lack the required degrees – perhaps the editors in question calculate that the real issue at play is not the narrow one of qualifications.

*Forgive the awkward translation, I couldn’t think of a better one.

Chad: Authoritarianism, Counterterrorism, and International Silence – Comments on Two Pieces at Just Security

Just Security has published two pieces on Chad, with complementary content, this month:

  • Olivier Guiryanan, “Counterterrorism Assistance to Chad for the Sahel: The Price the People Pay,” September 2.
  • Eugène Le-Yotha Ngartebaye, “Chad’s Counterterrorism Support Abroad Drives Repression and Discontent at Home,” September 10.

The titles indicate the arguments the piece make – arguments that resonate with me and that others have made, at varying lengths and applied to both Chad and other Sahelien countries, before.

Here is Guiryanan’s conclusion, one of the strongest parts of his article:

As long as Chad’s security forces have easy access to a global armory with zero accountability to their citizens, they will have little interest in developing a sustainable security architecture that is shaped by Chadians and capable of resolving community grievances, investigating and punishing abuses, and preventing violent conflict. With a turbulent history, neighbors in turmoil, and a population tired of economic inequality and repression, the costs of staying the course could be dangerously high.

And here is a good excerpt from Ngartebaye’s piece:

Despite this diplomatic boost for Chad’s government [from external military deployments] and certain, though limited, economic benefits from the military aid and foreign missions, Chad’s citizens have found their country’s regional involvement significantly less rewarding. The government, fearful of reprisals by groups similar to or allied with the armed groups that its military has been fighting abroad, has cracked down on a wide and seemingly arbitrary range of civic freedoms, including the right to beg, hold public demonstrations, wear the burqa and the turban (based on the rationale that both sometimes hide people’s faces). In April this year, the government finally amended the country’s draconian anti-terror law to remove the death penalty for terrorism-related charges, after domestic and international criticism when 44 alleged members of Boko Haram died in pre-trial detention in the country’s capital.

I recommend both pieces, although they would have benefited from more careful editing. There are a few mistakes (about the number of troops Chad contributed to France’s Operation Serval, for example) as well as various statements that are inauspiciously phrased and could be read as mistakes. So they make for a great overview but if you’re not well-versed in the details, just be a bit cautious.

I have three more substantive comments, revolving around a single premise (of mine, not the authors’): international actors do not care about making Chad more democratic or making the Chadian state more interested in human rights.

Here are my comments, then:

  1. Guiryanan has some really interesting ideas about how Chad’s donors could insist that Chadian authorities empower civil society organizations as watchdogs over security spending and human rights issues. That makes sense to me – although I’m not sure Chad’s donors are interested in that; I think some donors, including the U.S. and France, are comfortable with the current, unstated bargains, and have been happy with those bargains for quite some time now. Guiryanan devastatingly diagnoses, moreover, how donors tend to treat civil society in Chad (with remarks that apply elsewhere in the region too): “Civil society is too often restricted to being passive pawns in donor-funded security projects and workshops encouraging ‘social cohesion’ and improved military-civilian relations. Rather than hold the military and government accountable, their presence is used to legit[i]mize the military and lend tacit support.” I don’t see that pattern changing any time soon, but I am glad that Guiryanan and Just Security are doing what they can to up the pressure.
  2. Ngartebaye also has recommendations for international actors. The most actionable recommendation is that the United Nations should take over paying the salaries of Chadian soldiers deployed as peacekeepers in Mali. His other suggestions – that “international assistance should be redirected to real internal reforms” and that “the complicit silence adopted by Chad’s partners should be replaced by a frank dialogue on human rights issues in Chad” – get to the core of the problem. But again, I think that international silence comes out of international actors’ basic comfort with the status quo. I doubt that your average senior State Department official or National Security Council director spends too much time worrying about the status of Chadian democracy. It’s clear that powerful international actors hold potential levers over Chad – but who holds levers over those actors when it comes to Chad?
  3. One of the most notable aspects of Chadian politics is when and how pushback against President Idriss Deby arises, especially when pushback succeeds. In fact, if Chadian politics is “who gets to be head of state,” then there is no Chadian politics; but if Chadian politics is “what power struggles play out within the existing system,” then there is a real politics within the country. Both authors point to examples of this – Guiryanan, for example, writes, “In recent years, public sector workers and students have become a powerful force on the streets, as they fought to reverse cuts to state allowances and aid.” (See also the really interesting episode of a regional governor being fired in 2018 over abuses.) Ngartebaye, meanwhile, astutely advises international actors to increase the potential for give-and-take within the system; he writes that donors should stipulate “that citizens can freely choose their local leaders (governors, mayors, and members of Parliament) through free and transparent elections.” Chad is not a totalitarian dictatorship (the state is too weak for that, if “totalitarianism” is even possible in the first place), and there would be ways of making the country even less authoritarian. Again, though, international donors seem uninterested in using those levers.

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for September 3, 2020

Previous roundup here.

Here is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker update for August 22-28.

Some recent ISWAP claims:

The U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General published a quarterly report covering U.S. counterterrorism in East, North, and West Africa for the period April-June 2020. From the section on ISWAP (p. 44):

ISIS-West Africa was responsible for some of the deadliest attacks during the quarter. According to USAFRICOM, ISIS-West Africa claimed responsibility for an attack on June 10 in Nigeria’s Borno state that killed 81 civilians.

ISIS-West Africa claimed 67 attacks during the quarter against partner military installations or their forces, although some of the attacks may have been conducted by ISISin the Greater Sahara, which does not have an official media outlet that publicly claimsresponsibility for attacks. SOCAFRICA assessed that, based on the location of the attacks, at least 10 of the attacks claimed by ISIS-West Africa were perpetrated by ISIS in the Greater Sahara.

SOCAFRICA reported that, while ISIS-West Africa mostly keeps to its base in the Lake Chad region, there was limited reporting to indicate that the group has the intent and capability to expand operations beyond the region. In addition to the June 10 attack in Nigeria’s Borno state, ISIS-West Africa was also likely responsible for a series of attacks a few days later in Monguno and Nganzai that resulted in the deaths of 20 Nigerian security personnel and 40 civilians, according to SOCAFRICA.

A Nigerian Army Facebook post from September 1 says, in part, “The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen TY Buratai has congratulated and commended the Commander, Officers and all the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army 4 Special Forces Command Doma Nasarawa State for their gallantry and patriotism that manifested in the destruction of Darul Salam/Boko Haram terrorists’ Camps in Kogi and Nasarawa States recently.” Press coverage here and here.

See also Bulama Bukarti’s thread on Dar al-Salam/Darul Salam/Darus Salam:

Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum recently “inaugurated a 23- member committee for relocation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to Baga town…The Chairman of the Committee is headed by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan, while the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RRR), Engineer Abba Yusuf is to serve as Secretary.”

Human Rights Watch (August 31), “Nigeria’s Rising Number of Missing Persons.”

Punch (September 1):

The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Garbai Elkanemi, has lamented that 13 district heads and several ward heads (Bulamas) have been killed in his emirate at the peak of the ongoing crisis by the Boko Haram terrorist group.

The monarch made the disclosure in Maiduguri during a courtesy visit by a delegation of the Senate Committee on Special Duties, led by Senator Abubakar Yusuf, who were in Borno State to assess the performance of the North-East Development Commission.

Olivier Guiryanan at Just Security, “Counterterrorism Assistance to Chad for the Sahel: The Price the People Pay.”

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for August 13, 2020

Previous roundup here.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai both made headlines this week for comments that seemed to minimize the seriousness of the Boko Haram crisis. Buhari, as quoted by his spokesman Garba Shehu, called Boko Haram “mere scavengers desperate for food, raiding shops and markets, and killing innocent persons in the process.” Buratai, in another statement released through Shehu, said, “There are no Boko Haram terrorists in neighbouring states. They have been pushed out, and now cornered in Borno State.” The reference to “neighbouring states” is to states bordering Borno, in other words Yobe, Adamawa, and Gombe. Overconfident statements from Nigerian authorities have been a feature of the conflict and, arguably, a reflection of some of the attitudes and approaches that are in and of themselves among the drivers of the conflict.

Buhari’s comments came at a meeting with security officials and state governors on August 11. According to Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum, who is also the current Chair of the North East Governors Forum, the North East governors told the president the following:

We told Mr President that there is a need for the Nigerian government to address the root causes of the insurgency, which are not limited to the endemic poverty, hunger among others.

One of the root causes is that of access to farmlands, people need to go back to their farmlands…

[…]

Most importantly, there is a war economy in the region and I think that is why we are here. So I think the government is taking a bold step with a view to ensuring speedy resolution of some of the grey areas that we have in the region.

Meanwhile, a report in Vanguard alleges that there is less cooperation between political authorities in Borno than there is in the neighboring states, and that this explains why there is a thriving war economy in Borno:

The situation is however different in Borno State where the political class h[as] refused to cooperate with the security agencies and some businessmen prefer to sustain the reign of terror due to their political and business interests. At stake, our correspondents discovered is the thriving illegal business of smuggling from where tonnes of rice and other banned items are smuggled into Nigeria while millions of litres of fuel are transported into Chad and other neighbouring countries.

There are a lot of claims and counter-claims to sort through here, obviously.

Attacks occurred this week in several Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Borno: Magumeri, Dikwa, and Kukawa (where the town of Baga is). See a map of Borno here. The Nigerian Army called the reports about Magumeri LGA “fake news” on their Facebook page – but take a look at the comments! Trust in official accounts is low, to say the least.

According to Daily Trust via RFI (Hausa), Boko Haram (a category that should be understood broadly in this context, I think) killed 223 civilians, 82 soldiers, and 7 police between January 2 and August 2 of this year in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States.

Premium Times‘ Abdulkareem Haruna filed a special report on sexual abuse in camps for internally displaced persons in Nigeria. Relatedly, see the discussion between Hassana Maina and Bulama Bukarti in an episode on “Terrorism and Sexual Violence.”

Chad’s National Human Rights Commission investigated the case of 44 alleged Boko Haram members who died in a Chadian prison in April. The investigation concluded that the detainees were civilians who had been arbitrarily arrested and who then died of heat exposure and overcrowding. The case is part of the aftermath of Chad’s “Operation Bohoma Anger.” See some context on the operation here. Meanwhile, in an August 8 interview with RFI (French), which I admit I have not found time to listen to yet, Deby claimed that there is no Boko Haram presence inside Chad since the operation, but that cross-border attacks, and violence on Lake Chad islands, continue.

VOA reports on an apparent wave of surrenders by Boko Haram fighters, together with their captives, to the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF); the group is being held at an MNJTF base at Mora, Cameroon (map). Amb. John Campbell has more.

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for July 30, 2020

I’m considering doing a weekly roundup on Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Here’s my first stab at it:

United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General, “Children and Armed Conflict in Nigeria” (July 6, posted to Relief Web July 24). The report covers January 2017-December 2019. One excerpt (p. 6):

According to information gathered and verified by the country task force, the recruitment and use of children accounted for the greatest number of verified violations in north-east Nigeria. A total of 3,601 children (780 girls, 2,820 boys, 1 sex unknown) aged between 6 and 17 years were verified to have been recruited and used by CJTF [Civilian Joint Task Force] (2,203), followed by Boko Haram (1,385) and the Nigerian Security Forces (13). Of the total attributed to CJTF, 41 children were recruited and used between January and September 2017 while the remaining 2,162 were recruited and used between 2013 and 2016 but verified as such during the reporting period. Within the framework of its action plan, CJTF granted access to the country task force to carry out extensive verification of children formerly associated with the group.

On Wednesday, July 29, gunmen attacked the convoy of Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum as it was returning from Kukawa to Baga, northern Borno – see The Cable‘s report and video:

Some of the latest violence by ISWAP:

Issue 244 of the Islamic State’s al-Naba’ newsletter is available here (with registration). Page 7 discusses ISWAP operations in Nigeria and Chad, while page 9 features a brief (and quite generic) biography of a slain company commander.

Kingsley Omonobi, Vanguard, “Chaos as Boko Haram/ISWAP executes its own ‘governor of Lake Chad’ in power struggle” (July 28). I’ve been tinkering with a separate post about all these reports and rumors of internal violence, and how difficult it can be to verify any of what’s reported.

Channels Television, “601 Repentant Boko Haram Members Graduate From DRR Camp Set For Integration” (July 26).

On the other hand:

More on Ndume’s comments here.

Shola Oyepipo, This Day, “In Buratai’s Nigeria, Insecurity Now ‘Under Control’” (July 26).

Finally, here is the latest weekly roundup from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker, covering July 18-24.

Trends in Political Violence in the Sahel for the First Half of 2020: A Few Comments

The analyst José Luengo-Cabrera periodically posts graphics capturing different trends in violence and displacement in the Sahel; these graphics are indispensable for thinking about conflict in the region, and I really respect his work. He recently posted graphics for the first half of 2020. I want to briefly comment on some of the trends here.

Let’s start with the regional picture:

In addition to the points Luengo-Cabrera makes, here are a few other basic observations:

  • It’s worth repeating often that even though the current wave of crisis in the Sahel began with the 2012 rebellion in northern Mali, most of the intervening years and particularly the last three and a half have been more violent than 2012. Mali is not in a “post-conflict” phase, despite the signing of a peace agreement called the Algiers Accord in 2015.
  • It also bears repeating that northern Mali has, for some time now, not been the most violent zone in the conflict. Kidal, the heartland of the 2012 rebellion, is not even mentioned in Luengo-Cabrera’s breakdown of violent regions. The most violent areas of the current conflict are central Mali (note that Mopti is the most violent region on his list, and that adjacent Ségou is eighth on the list – more violent than Timbuktu) and northern Burkina Faso (note that while eastern Burkina Faso is heavily affected by insecurity and jihadism, it is the north that is substantially more violent).
  • What appears to propel mass violence, in my view, is multi-directional conflict where the key protagonists/decision-makers are not well-known elites. Why is northern Mali less violent than central Mali? Northern Mali has no shortage of militias – but they tend to be led by seasoned politicians and fighters, in some cases by figures who have been political fixtures since the 1990s. In contrast, in central Mali and northern Burkina Faso one finds the violence is often led by people who have emerged as key actors only during the conflict itself, and who were relatively unknown before.
  • The trend lines, particularly for Mali and Burkina Faso, are horrific. In my view much of the increase in violence stems from the compounding effects of previous violence – as I have said before here on the blog, I am skeptical about the idea that COVID-19 on its own triggered major spikes in violence and/or decisively empowered jihadists in the region.

Let’s now turn to country-specific graphics. Here is Luengo-Cabrera’s graphic for Mali:

A few thoughts:

  • The fine print is important here, namely that the fatalities shown for Gao are actually for both Gao and Ménaka; the latter, still-emergent region is obviously part of the tri-border zone that is now the epicenter of the whole Sahel conflict.
  • Note too that within Mopti, the deadliest region, the east (or non-flooded zone) is substantially more violent than the west. Among the factors here may be that according to some Malian experts I’ve talked to, jihadist control is much more consolidated in the west (in cercles/districts such as Tenenkou and Youwarou) than in the east. I think Stathis Kalyvas’ model about contested control driving violence is too schematic (see Laia Balcells’ Rivalry and Revenge, for example, for a more complex view), but this issue of fragmented control certainly seems to be one element in making the east more violent than the west. Additionally, inter-ethnic tensions have repeatedly boiled over into mass violence in eastern Mopti – it is there that the most infamous massacres of the conflict (Ogassagou March 2019, Sobane-Da June 2019, Ogassagou February 2020, etc.) have occurred.
  • Why was 2017 the real turning point to mass violence? Some analysts may immediately answer “JNIM,” referring to Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims, an al-Qaida-sponsored coalition that was announced in March 2017). But the constituent elements of JNIM were all present in the conflict before their formal grouping under that umbrella. Other factors, then, include the spread of the central Malian conflict into eastern Mopti, the emergence of ethnic militias such as Dan Na Ambassagou (which was formed in the final months of 2016), and an escalating cycle of abuses by both the militias and the state security forces (and the jihadists, obviously). This is not an exhaustive list of the forces driving a really complicated conflict, of course. But perhaps in sum one might say that 2017 is the year that various trends really collided to produce an accelerating downward spiral.

Here is Luengo-Cabrera’s graphic for Burkina Faso:

My comments:

  • The puzzle we have in explaining why things really deteriorated in Mali in 2017 is, mutatis mutandis, the same puzzle we have for 2019 in Burkina Faso. Again, one could posit the same basic collision of factors: jihadist violence, inter-ethnic tensions, and security force abuses. A symbol for all of 2019 could be the massacre at Yirgou that opened the year; in that event you have all the elements for multi-directional violence – a (presumed) jihadist assassination, a collective reprisal against an ethnic group, impunity for perpetrators of violence, etc.
  • Another puzzle that I’ve meant to work on is why the Nord region is not more violent. Note that the Sahel Region accounts for over 1,000 fatalities but that the Nord Region has little more than 150. Yet the Nord Region is actually closer to eastern Mopti than is the Sahel Region. One lesson here, then, is that Burkina Faso’s conflicts are not merely a spillover of central Mali’s conflicts.

Here is Luengo-Cabrera’s graphic for Niger:

Remarks:

  • Luengo-Cabrera notes in a follow-on post that it is 66%, rather than 86%, of the fatalities for the first half of 2020 that occurred in Tillabéri. Still, Niger’s trends are fundamentally different than neighboring countries’ because Niger’s deadliest zone used to be far in the southeast, in other words in the zone affected by Boko Haram and its offshoots. 2015 was a bad year in Diffa, as southeastern Niger experienced a wave of attacks, partially representing Boko Haram’s reprisals against Niger for Niger’s participation in the joint Chadian-Nigerien-Nigerian campaign that broke up Boko Haram’s formal territorial enclave in the first several months of 2015. Diffa was already under a state of emergency by February 2015, and has remained under one ever since. In contrast, it was not until March 2017 that the Nigerien authorities declared a state of emergency in parts of Tillabéri and adjacent Tahoua. Things have only worsened since then, and this year looks to be the rough equivalent for Niger of 2017 for Mali and 2019 for Burkina Faso. Meanwhile Diffa is relatively calm compared to the situation there in 2015, or the situation in Tillabéri now.
  • The best thing I’ve read on Tillabéri recently is this Crisis Group report.

Finally, here is Luengo-Cabrera’s graphic for Chad (Mauritania is relatively calm, so I won’t cover it here):

A brief comment is that the areas affected by Boko Haram and its offshoots are deadlier than whatever rebellion(s) are simmering in the north. Daniel Eizenga’s briefing on Chad and Boko Haram from April of this year remains highly relevant for understanding the situation there.

I don’t have much to offer for a conclusion except that things are quite bad, especially in the tri-border zone. I don’t think counterterrorism operations are really helping that much. And in addition to the violence, you have mass and growing displacement (for which Luengo-Cabrera has also made graphics, but I’ll leave that for another time), food insecurity, and many other factors contributing to a really nightmarish picture for millions of people.

Heavy Rains and Risks of Flooding in Parts of the Sahel

Flooding is a recurring problem in parts of the Sahel – in 2019, floods in Niger affected over 200,000 people. Water damage to houses displaces people and elevates disease risks. An excerpt from the link:

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says the last time the Niger basin reached this level was in 2012.

“At that time, the floods left dozens of dead and affected nearly half-a-million people… Each year, there has been an upward trend in how many people are affected by these seasonal rains.  We have seen a doubling of the number of people affected since 2015, as well as increasing material damage including destruction of crops and loss of livestock,” Laerke said.

This year, above average rains are expected for much of the Sahel. That pattern may accelerate various grim domino effects:

Given the overall wet situation expected for the 2020 rainy season and the ongoing locust crisis in Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa, it is very likely that there will be an incursion of desert locust swarms due to the early onset of the rainy season in the Sahelian band.

Combined with the situation related to the COVID19 pandemic, this risk of desert locust invasion could increase the risk of food insecurity for millions of people in the Sahel and West Africa.

Heavy rains are already taking a toll in Niger – the Ministry of the Interior recently stated that from the beginning of the rainy season through July 20, nine people had died, seventeen had been wounded, and 20,000 had been affected. Earlier in July, the government had warned that 300,000 people across Niger face flood risks this year.

In Mali, flooding is also beginning to take a toll. The below tweet shows the situation in Douentza, Mopti Region, where 2,200 people have already been affected. Some 110,000 people face flood risks in Mali:

Here is a Red Cross report on the response to flooding last August in multiple regions of Mali.

In Chad, over 170,000 people were affected by floods last year. Heavy rains have hit N’Djamena, with residents of some quarters disputing with each other over how to deal with the water.

Heavy rains can also cause other problems, less serious than loss of life and mass displacement but still tremendously disruptive. In Mauritania, rains this year have made some roads impassable, damaged bridges, dams, and wells, knocked out electricity in some areas, etc.

Finally, writing in Le Faso, Felix Alexandre Sanfo makes some important points that apply not just to Burkina Faso but also to the wider region. He commends the Burkinabè government for its June 30 directive to regional and municipal authorities to begin preparing in case of floods – but he points out that such instructions could come earlier, given the predictability of the cycle. He goes on to argue for unifying the partly overlapping roles of the two main emergency services in the country, as well as for creating more robust early warning and reaction mechanisms.

To close with a nod to the big picture, the flooding raises questions about the links between climate change, disasters, food insecurity, and conflict. Crisis Group put it well, in a report back in April:

Climate change has certainly contributed to transforming the region’s agro-pastoral systems. But the direct relationship sometimes posited between global warming and dwindling resources, on one hand, and growing violence, on the other, does not help policymakers formulate appropriate responses…It is essential to consider the impact of climate change in the Sahel. But the climate component must be linked to a broader set of causalities, notably the political choices – including those made by states – governing access to resources.

In any case, amid the region’s many other crises, flooding appears likely to affect tens if not hundreds of thousands of people across the region in the coming months.

A Cabinet Reshuffle in Chad

On 14 July, Chadian President Idriss Deby announced a cabinet reshuffle. As Le Monde noted, this move comes roughly nine months before the next presidential elections, which the electoral commission recently set for 11 April 2021. Le Monde and others regard it as a near-certainty that Deby will run for another term.

Le Monde further notes that the post of prime minister was eliminated in 2018, so this reshuffle does not involve a change of prime minister. For context, Chad adopted a new constitution in May 2018 inaugurating the Fourth Republic and greatly expanding Deby’s powers. The elimination of the prime minister post was part of that expansion (Chad also has no Vice President).

The new government comprises 35 members versus 31 in the old government.

Three notable points:

  • The appointment of Amine Abba Sidick, Chad’s ambassador to France, as the new Minister of Foreign Affairs (replacing Mahamat Zene Chérif, now Minister of Communication). As the analyst Flore Berger commented on Twitter, “I guess the relationship with France and international partners will be as important as ever for Chad.” Jeune Afrique profiles Sidick (also sometimes spelled Siddick) here.
  • The withdrawal from government of Deby’s longtime ally Delwa Kassiré Koumakoye, probably for reasons of age and health.
  • The new Health Minister is Abdoulaye Sabre Fadoul, most recently (from what I can tell) chief of staff for the civilian side of the presidency. He’s a veteran of several of Deby’s governments. He’s been called “the brain of the Fourth Republic.”

Here is the official presidential decree with the full list, which I’ll translate here:

  1. Minister of State, Minister Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic: Kalzeubé Payimi Deubet
  2. Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration, and Chadians Abroad: Amine Abba Sidik
  3. Minister of Public Security and Immigration: Mahamat Tahir Orozi
  4. Minister for the Administration of the Territory and Autonomous Collectivities: Mahamat Ismael Chaibo
  5. Minister of Communication, Spokesman of the Government: Mahamat Zene Cherif
  6. Deputy Minister for the Presidency, Responsible for the Armies, Former Combatants, and Victims of War
  7. Minister of Public Health and National Solidarity: Dr Abdoulaye Sabre Fadoul
  8. Minister of Justice, Guardian of the Seals, Responsible for Human Rights: Djimet Arabi
  9. Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation: David Houdeingar Ngarimaden
  10. Minister of the Economy, Development Planning, and International Cooperation: Dr Issa Doubragne
  11. Minister of Finance and the Budget: Tahir Hamid Nguilin
  12. Minister of the Post Office and the Digital Economy: Dr Idriss Saleh Bachar
  13. Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation: Ahmat Abakar Aguid
  14. Minister of National Education and Civil Promotion: Aboubakar Assidick Tchoroma
  15. Minister of Energy: Ramatou Mahamat Houtouin
  16. Minister of Public Employment, Dialogue, and Social Employment: Ali Mbodou Mbodoumi
  17. Minister of Professional Training and Trades: Achta Ahmat Breme
  18. Minister of Industrial Development, Sales, and the Promotion of the Private Sector: Lamine Moustapha
  19. Minister of Urban and Rural Hydroelectric Power: Tahani Mahamat Hassan
  20. Minister of Youth and Sports: Routouang Mohamed Ndonga Christian
  21. Minister of Oil and Mines: Oumar Torbo Djarma
  22. Minister of the Organization of the Territory, Housing Development, and Urban Planning: Amina Ehemir Torna
  23. Minister of Agriculture: Abdoulaye Diar
  24. Minister of Civil Aviation and National Meteorology: Sebgué Nandeh
  25. Minister of Livestock Farming and Animal Production: Ahmat Mahamat Bachir
  26. Minister of the Environment and Fishing: Brahim Mahamat Djamaladine
  27. Minister of Tourist Development, Culture, and Crafts: Patalet Geo
  28. Minister of the Woman and the Protection of Small Children: Amina Priscille Longoh
  29. Minister Secretary-General of the Government, Responsible for Relations with the National Assembly and the Promotion of Bilingualism in the Administration: Mariam Mahamat Nour
  30. State Secretary for Foreign Affairs: Evelyne Fakir
  31. State Secretary for Health and National Solidarity: Dr Djiddi Ali Sougoudi
  32. State Secretary for National Education and Civic Education: Moustapha Mahamat Talko
  33. State Secretary for Finances and the Budget: Alixe Naimbaye
  34. State Secretary for the Economy, Development Planning, and International Cooperation: Dr Abderahim Younous
  35. Deputy Secretary-General of the Government: Lucie Beassemda