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.
On 2 July, amid the African Union summit in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, the presidents of France and five Sahelian countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) met to discuss Sahelian security generally and the G5 Sahel Joint Force specifically. One outcome of the meeting was the sack of the Joint Force’s commander, Malian General Didier Dacko.
For French speakers, though, I thought it would be useful to round up all the official readouts of the meeting I could find. The Chadian presidency and the Nigerien presidency released official statements, while Mali’s president did a wide-ranging interview with France24 on the margins of the summit and (so far as I could tell) Burkina Faso’s president did not release a readout, just two comments on Twitter. As for Mauritania, the official Agence Mauritanienne d’Information released a readout here. Finally, the French president’s remarks to the press can be found here.
To me the most interesting readout was the Nigerien version, which had a few highlights (other than the main theme of the meeting, which seems to have been “let’s get this thing going a lot more”):
- The G5 countries will now move to rebuild the damaged force headquarters in Sévaré, Mali;
- They will continue to pursue a United Nations Chapter Seven mandate for the force (more backstory here), which might help resolve some of its financial problems; and
- The regional governments will meet again in Nouakchott on 6 December.
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.
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.”
Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz will reach the end of his second term next year, and with it the limit of what the current constitutional provisions allow him to serve. Talk of a third term, however, has circulated for quite some time, and now the country’s religious scholars – ulama – are joining the debate. Recently, one of the most prominent senior shaykhs in the country, Hamdan Ould al-Tah, led a delegation that met the president and urged him to seek a third term. The expression of support is not necessarily surprising – Ould al-Tah has been close to different governments in Mauritania almost throughout the postcolonial period, and served as Minister of Islamic Affairs in addition to serving on various official religious bodies. Moreover, from a religious point of view, many ulama see political stability as preferable to the potential risks of change.
On the other side of the religious debate is Mahfoudh Brahim Ould Vall, vice president of Markaz Takwin al-Ulama (the Center for the Training of Ulama). The Markaz’s president is the globally famous Muhammad al-Hasan Ould al-Dedew, who is also a symbol of sorts for the Islamist movement in Mauritania, though he is not a member of the Islamist Tawassoul party. I assume that Ould Vall speaks for a broader constituency within the Islamist movement. Ould Vall argues that president, like any state functionary, is morally bound to fulfill his original commitments – i.e, to serve only what he initially said he would serve. RFI sees a generational split in this debate, but I think it may be more about which ideological tendency one affiliates with.
A third perspective comes from another globally famous Mauritanian shaykh (and former Minister of Islamic Affairs), Abd Allah Bin Bayyah. In a recent interview, Bin Bayyah said in a general sense that he believes ulama should leave politics to a country’s rulers. He did not, however, comment specifically on the third term issue in Mauritania.
Today’s post is outsourced to The Maydan, which is a publication of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University. I discuss a 2013 fatwa that a group of Mauritanian scholars released. The fatwa argued against Mauritanian participation in the French-led Operation Serval, which sought to disperse jihadists in northern Mali and restore Mali’s territorial integrity. From the piece:
In the eyes of the Fatwā’s authors, supporting a Western-led (i.e., infidel-led) military intervention in northern Mali would violate the unity that is essential to the preservation of Islam. In this context, the Fatwā referenced the doctrine of al-walā’ wa al-barā’ (“loyalty to the believers and disavowal of the unbelievers”), which emphasizes loyalty to the Muslim community in exclusive preference to partnerships with non-Muslims. The doctrine of al-walā’ wa al-barā’ is often a core theme within jihadist circles.
The Fatwā did not address the Mauritanian government or make formal recommendations concerning its foreign policy; rather, the text asserted obligations and responsibilities that Muslims have toward other Muslims. Nevertheless, the authors spoke as Mauritanians. At several points, the text stated that Mauritanian Muslims have a special duty, given their proximity to Mali, to show solidarity with the Muslims of Mali. Invoking the idea of Islamic solidarity implied that the government of Mauritania, officially an “Islamic Republic,” should not endorse or participate in any Western-led military operation that might harm Muslims in northern Mali. The Fatwā, appearing just days after Operation Serval began, seemed aimed in part at the government. In this sense, the text fits within a broader context of Islamic discourses in Mauritania that have attempted to influence the government’s foreign policy.
If you read the piece, I welcome any comments you may have.