The New Mauritanian G5 Joint Force Commander and His Chadian Deputy

Late last week French and Mauritanian media that the new G5 Sahel Joint Force commander will be Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi. He replaces Malian General Didier Dacko, whose removal was one outcome of the 2 July meeting of Sahelian and French heads of state in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Ould Sidi is Mauritania’s Vice Chief of Army Staff. He is mentioned in a few brief news items at the Mauritanian Army’s website (example), but other than that I can’t find much information about him, either in French or in Arabic (here is the Arabic spelling of his name, for those curious).

La Tribune reports that at the G5 Sahel Joint Force, Ould Sidi’s deputy will be Chadian General Oumar Bikimo Jean, whose French-language Wikipedia page (which is pretty well sourced) is here.

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On the G5 Sahel Joint Force’s Change of Command

On 29 June, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM, a Saharan jihadist formation that is part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb) attacked the headquarters of the G5 Sahel Joint Force in Sévaré, central Mali. JNIM has claimed responsibility for several other recent attacks as well.

On 2 July, at the African Union summit in Mali’s neighbor Nouakchott, Sahelian heads of state, in consultation with French President Emmanuel Macron, decided to remove (French) the commander of the G5 joint force (see the readout of the meeting here). That commander was Malian General Didier Dacko.

You can read a bit of background on Dacko here (French). Dacko had long experience fighting jihadists and rebels in central and northern Mali, although with a mixed record. The French newspaper L’Express has also written (French) that he had ties to the northern pro-government militia leader El Hajj Ag Gamou, and that his ties to Ag Gamou enmeshed him in a web of northern contacts that includes some pretty shady people. (Arguably, this is true of many northern Malian elites and other senior military officers). In any case, Dacko headed the G5 Sahel Joint Force for a little over a year.

According to multiple sources, Dacko will be replaced by a yet-to-be-named officer from Mauritania, while Dacko’s Burkinabé deputy will be replaced by an officer from Chad. One prominent French blogger concludes, “One thing seems certain. The French army prefers to count on the much more seasoned armies of Chad and Mauritania than on their Malian partner.”

Finally, one might point out that the G5 Joint Force’s problems run quite deep – deeper than one commander.

 

Mali: IBK and Cissé Work the Crowds

In Mali, official campaigning began on 7 July for the 29 July presidential elections. Of the 24 candidates, two have received the most international media attention so far: incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (“IBK”) and 2013 runner-up Soumaïla Cissé.

The rivals are competing to draw the biggest crowds (French, and see also here). IBK’s campaign launch reportedly drew some 60,000 attendees, whereas Cissé’s team claims to have attracted 30,000-50,000 at their event.

Crowd size is not the best metric to go by, I think, when assessing likelihoods of victory, but it does matter – if nothing else, the candidates are keen to project the image of popularity and momentum, and crowd size may give a rough indication of the amounts of money different candidates are raising. For IBK, the optic of drawing big crowds has added importance, in that he presumably hopes to counter opponents’ portrayals of him as a weak, distracted, and unpopular manager of the country. I imagine his people are keen to connect his name and his candidacy to some visible enthusiasm.

Two other quick election notes:

  • Cissé picked up some solid, though likely not game-changing, endorsements (French).
  • Local administrators’ strike ended on 4 July and officials are once again, or at least theoretically, distributing voters’ cards.

Mali: Quick Notes on the Presidential Candidates

On 4 July, Mali’s Constitutional Court released its final list (.pdf, French) of 24 candidates for the 29 July presidential elections. Here they are (pp. 9-10):

  1. Ibrahim Boubacar KEITA
  2. Aliou DIALLO
  3. Choguel Kokalla MAÏGA;
  4. Harouna SANKARE
  5. Housseini Amion GUINDO
  6. Mamadou Oumar SIDIBE
  7. Soumaïla CISSE
  8. Dramane DEMBELE
  9. Moussa Sinko COULIBALY
  10. Cheick Mohamed Abdoulaye Souad dit Modibo DIARRA
  11. Niankoro Yeah SAMAKE
  12. Modibo KONE
  13. Daba DIAWARA
  14. Mamadou DIARRA
  15. Mohamed Ali BATHILY
  16. Mamadou TRAORE
  17. Modibo SIDIBE
  18. Hamadoun TOURE
  19. Modibo KADJOKE
  20. Adama KANE
  21. Kalfa SANOGO
  22. Madame Djénéba N’DIAYE
  23. Oumar MARIKO
  24. Mountaga TALL
This list revises a 30 June decision from the Court that only recognized 17 candidates (.pdf, French, p. 9). The Court had invalidated some candidacies on technical grounds, given that candidates need to have the official support of either ten parliamentary deputies or of five elected municipal officials from each of Mali’s regions and from Bamako (see the .pdf, p. 3). To state the obvious, then, in the interval between the first decision and the second, seven of the excluded candidates were able to correct these technical problems to the Court’s satisfaction. Some of those seven are big names (French) – a former prime minister (see below), two former ministers, etc. Eight other candidacies, however, were definitively invalidated (see here, French).
Here are a few notable candidates among the 24:
  1. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (“IBK”) is the incumbent president.
  2. Soumaila Cisse was the runner-up in the 2013 presidential election.
  3. Dramane Dembele placed third in the 2013 election.
  4. Modibo Diarra (one of those initially excluded by the 30 June decision) was acting prime minister from April-December 2012, in other words amid the jihadist/rebel occupation of northern Mali.
  5. Moussa Sinko Coulibaly is a retired general.

Many of the others have serious resumes too, including various former ministers, mayors, and other experienced politicians. At least ten of the 24 candidates for this year’s elections also ran in the last election in 2013, although most of them performed quite dismally (French).

I have no real sense of the incumbent’s chances, although my gut feeling is that he will win. This is not necessarily due to popularity – on two short trips to Bamako earlier this year, it seemed to me that he was relatively unpopular, at least in the capital – but perhaps more due to various elites’ calculations about the future. And in that vein, as always, it’s worth keeping an eye (French) on Prime Minister Maiga.

 

Mali: Election-Related Strike Continues

On 25 June, two Malian unions – the National Union of Civil Administrators (Syndicat national des administrateurs civils, or SYNAC) and the Free Union of Workers in the Ministry of Territorial Administration (Syndicat libre des travailleurs du ministère de l’Administration territoriale, or SYLTMAT)* – declared a week-long strike (French).

On 2 July, the unions announced that the strike will continue indefinitely (French). Their demands center on their living and working conditions, and they charge the government with failing to respect past agreements. The strikers are concerned in large part with their own physical security, and in an 18 June letter to the government they decried threats, kidnappings, and attacks on local administrators (prefects, sub-prefects, etc.) going back to at least 2014 and the time around then-Prime Minister Moussa Mara’s ill-fated visit to Kidal. They accuse the state of failing to protect them – the 8 May 2018 kidnapping of a prefect and his driver in Tenenkou (central Mali, in the heart of the conflict zone there) is one major concern for the strikers. Revealingly, they also complain that the state is turning more and more to traditional authorities and groups like youth and hunters’ associations, rather than to its own formal chain of command.

As noted last week, the strike is a major problem for the upcoming 29 July elections, because it inhibits the distribution of voters’ cards, which was already lagging before that. A combination of insecurity and logistical snags could really cut into turnout, which in turn could reduce the election’s legitimacy.

Another union/civil society group, the Association of Former Activists and Supporters of the National Union of Malian Students (L’Amicale des anciens militants et sympathisants de l’Union nationale des élèves et étudiants du Mali), has attempted to mediate (French) between the strikers and the prime minister’s office, but so far without success.

*The unions’ names, as reported in the media, vary a bit from source to source. I went with the names listed in the second link below.

A Few Recent Reports on Sahelian Security

Here are a few reports that caught my eye recently, with key quotations from each:

  • SIPRI, “Establishing a Regional Security Architecture in the Sahel”: “The creation and branding of the FC-G5S has spurred an upsurge in programmes by international organizations and the G5 states themselves to run in parallel with the force’s military and reconnaissance operations, G5S preventative programmes and judicial procedures. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has supported the creation of a Security Cooperation Platform (Plateforme de Coopération en Matière de Securité, PCMS) for law enforcement agents, representatives of the judicial system and advisers from Interpol to collaborate on counterterrorism and transnational organized crime. Mali, Niger and Chad are cooperating to share good practices on interrogation and trying alleged terrorists in the Afrique de l’Ouest contre la criminalité organisée (West African Network of Central Authorities and Prosecutors, WACAP). Burkina Faso is piloting a risk evaluation programme to prevent radicalization in overpopulated prisons. The AU has also stepped in to bolster the regional security efforts of the G5S countries through the African Union Nouakchott process, which aims to enhance security cooperation through intelligence-based policing, holistic treatment of criminal chains and the creation of horizontal structures to strengthen cohesion, trust and mutual assistance on security matters. The prospects for fruitful interoperability with G5S operations have heightened incentives and the impetus for the AU to revitalize the APSA in the Sahel and the Sahara region, as well as the African Standby Force. The merits of these initiatives hinge on effective coordination and information sharing across platforms, but the ad hoc nature of these collaborations still allows the G5S countries to distance themselves from the reputational shortcomings of previous institutional programmes.”
  • ISS, “What Is the African Union’s Role in the Sahel?”: “Some G5 Sahel states do not necessarily see the Nouakchott Process as an adequate or relevant framework, as it has stalled over the years. It has also been pointed out that the G5’s security development approach is a more appropriate response to the current multidimensional challenges in their respective countries. These opposing views illustrate the divergence of opinion regarding regional strategies by the AU. This comes at a time when the AU is undergoing institutional reform – one of the expected outcomes of which is a clear divide of labour between the continental and regional actors.”
  • Centre FrancoPaix, “Stabilizing Mali: The Challenges to Conflict Resolution” (p. 11): “For the moment, counterterrorism military operations are monopolizing efforts and undermining possible initiatives for peace by postponing them indefinitely. The focus on the war against terrorism creates no incentive for the Malian state to pursue peace and reconciliation and justifies the mistakes and abuses of Malian security and defence forces. It also allows militias to benefit from a counterterrorist rent when they work with international counterterrorist forces, which exacerbates intercommunal tensions…Conceptual work around the ‘terrorist’ label must be encouraged by the UN and its partners, as the concept undermines a political commitment because of the military posture that it presupposes. A conceptual shift would help put forward a political rather than a military strategy.”
  • International Alert, “If Victims Become Perpetrators: Factors Contributing to Vulnerability and Resilience to Violent Extremism in the Central Sahel” (p. 7): “One of the key findings of this research is the assertion that violent extremism in the central Sahel is primarily a response to local conflicts, and that the link with international jihadism is more rhetoric than reality. In fragile and conflict-affected states, there are a number of factors that may influence the behaviour of marginalised young men and women who are confronted with violent extremism. However, this study shows that the most determining factor contributing to vulnerability or resilience to violent extremism is the experience (or perception) of abuse and violation by government authorities – in other words, real or perceived state abuse is the number one factor behind young people’s decision to join violent extremist groups. On the other hand, the study shows that strengthening social cohesion, supporting young men’s and women’s role in their communities, and mitigating social and gender exclusion could strengthen community resilience.” This sounds a lot like the “Journeys to Extremism” report’s conclusions about radicalization among people who have had direct, negative contact with state security forces.
  • Andrew Lebovich, “Mali’s Impunity Problem and Growing Security Crisis”: “Also this week, the UN mission in Mali announced that Malian soldiers attached to the G5 Sahel Joint Force were responsible for killing 12 civilians in the town of Boulikessi, and urged the Malian government to conduct a swift, credible investigation into the murders. These major crimes threaten communal cohesion in Mali and facilitate jihadist groups’ recruitment efforts. They also undermine the role the international community plays in Mali, including its training programmes for the security forces and its (often ineffective) efforts to pressure the government to address the panoply of challenges to the country’s stability. Continuing failure to deal with these issues will only make peace harder to achieve, and will have wide-ranging consequences.”

Mali: PM Maiga’s Visit to France and Return Home

The government in Bamako is facing numerous problems at the moment: alongside the long-running violence in the north and center of the country, there are the rapidly approaching 29 July presidential elections. Added to that are serious allegations, and in some cases confirmations, of mass, extrajudicial killings by Malian soldiers.

Amid these crises, Prime Minister Soumeylou Maiga is striking a higher profile than the president, especially overseas, and so it is worth watching Maiga’s actions amid this multi-faceted security and political crisis.

The Malian journal 22 Septembre (French) reports on Maiga’s visit to Paris earlier this week, where he held closed-door meetings. Maiga was accompanied by several ministers, and met, among other senior French officials, his counterpart Édouard Phillipe.

Then, RFI (French) notes, Maiga cut his visit short to return home due to a strike by prefects and sub-prefects, which had affected the distribution of voters’ cards – a major issue in the preparations for the elections.

Finally, it is well worth reading this interview (French) by RFI with Maiga, in which he comments on his France trip, the human rights violations, his recent trips to northern Mali, the record of President Keita, and the French presence in Mali.