IRIN on Boko Haram’s Impact on Diffa, Niger – and a Few Other Resources

IRIN has a new article, well worth a read, on Boko Haram’s impact on Diffa, southeastern Niger. An excerpt:

In the latest attack on 2 July, the jihadists raided the village of Ngalewa, near Kablewa, killing nine and abducting 37 – all of them young girls and adolescent boys. The gunmen, arriving at night, looted food supplies and rustled cattle, before escaping.

[…]

Diffa Governor Dan Dano Mahamadou Lawaly has ordered the transfer of the 16,500 IDPs in Kablewa to a new camp a few kilometres north of Route National 1, the road running to the Chadian border in the east.

South of the highway is seen as vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, an insurgency originating in Nigeria but believed to be operating in Niger from largely abandoned islands in Lake Chad.

Boko Haram’s strategy appears to be to grab what supplies it can ahead of the rainy season, when rising water levels will make crossing the Komadugu River – which flows along the southern border with Nigeria – all the harder.

Here are a few additional resources on the situation in Diffa:

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Mali: New Developments Around the Referendum

The Malian government hopes to hold a constitutional referendum that would increase presidential powers and would create a Senate. Initially, the referendum’s path ran smooth: on June 3 (French), the National Assembly voted 111-35 approving the proposed text, and on June 6 (French), the Constitutional Court affirmed the constitutionality of the text. But then opposition parties and civil society activists mounted significant protests against the idea – enough to prompt the Malian government to postpone the referendum indefinitely.

Now, it looks like the referendum will re-travel the same circuit. With the opposition formally challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, the Constitutional Court weighed in again (French). This time, once more, the court upheld the basic constitutionality of the proposed referendum. The court rejected the opposition’s argument that because of widespread insecurity in northern and central Mali, the country lacks the territorial integrity that the 1992 constitution makes a necessary condition for holding any such vote. However, the court did accept the opposition’s arguments on other points – noting, for example (French), that the proposed referendum text does not state the tenure of certain senators. Two-thirds of the proposed senators will be elected and will serve five years, but the text does not currently say how long the one-third who are appointed by the president will serve. To rectify the omission, the court has returned the text to the National Assembly for redrafting. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has said he is committed to the passage of the referendum.

If the legal issues are partly resolved, the political conflict is not. The opposition remains committed to defeating the referendum – preferably, for the opposition, by preventing it from coming to a vote at all. To that effect, the anti-referendum coalition is planning (French) “a national march, a sit-in in front of the Constitutional Court, a series of meetings with the accredited diplomatic corps in Mali, ‘dead city days’ [i.e., general strikes], and civil disobedience.”

Brief Notes on Senegal’s Upcoming Legislative Elections

On July 30, Senegal will hold legislative elections to fill 165 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, including 15 seats to represent the Senegalese diaspora. Legislators serve five-year terms. The elections come between the 2012 presidential election and the 2019 presidential election, and as such they are the field of considerable maneuvering in advance of the 2019 contest. These elections are also the first to follow the 2016 referendum that brought various changes to Senegal’s political system. Most relevant to these legislative elections are “amendments [that] encourage even more party splintering, since the new constitution reduces barriers to independent candidacy.”

As Jeune Afrique (French) explains, before the official campaign began on May 30/31, there were initially two major coalitions of parties: Benno Bokk Yakaar (United in Hope), associated with incumbent President Macky Sall and the current parliamentary majority, and the opposition coalition Manko Taxawu Sénégal.

Within the opposition, however, disagreements (French) about who should head the coalition’s list caused a split, resulting in the formation of a major splinter group called Coalition gagnante Wattu Sénégal, with a list headed by former President Abdoulaye Wade. The remnants of Manko Taxawu Sénégal put forth a list headed by Khalifa Sall, mayor of the capital Dakar – who remains in jail, in a case I discussed here. Khalifa Sall’s key ally in the coalition is former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

Meanwhile, Benno Bokk Yakaar’s list (French) is headed by current Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne. BBY also includes veteran politicians such as Ousmane Tanor Dieng of the Socialist Party* and Moustapha Niasse, current president of the National Assembly and head of the Alliance of the Forces of Progress. The international Francophone press largely expects BBY to win, given the opposition’s internal divisions and BBY’s big tent. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what Wade is like in parliament, and also to see whether Khalifa Sall’s partisans are successful not just in getting him elected, but in getting him freed.

*Khalifa Sall is the leader of a dissident wing of the Socialist Party.

 

 

Recent Journalism on Boko Haram

A few recent journalists’ articles on Boko Haram caught my eye, and probably those of many readers as well. But in case you missed them, here they are.

Sarah Topol, “The Boys from Baga,” New York Times Magazine. An excerpt:

The rhythm of camp life enveloped the new abductees. Activity was concentrated around the palace, everyone working to fortify the heart of the base against the Nigerian military, which periodically probed their defenses, trying to retake Malam Fatori. Boko Haram had declared itself a caliphate and pledged its alliance to ISIS. A tug of war for the arid earth had ensued. Every morning, the deputy emirs, whose units lived in the surrounding villages to protect the center, would come to greet the babban emir, entering his building for a private audience. Directives from Shekau may have been conveyed by satellite phone. There was coordination with the other babban emirs as well, but the boys of Malam Fatori never interacted with neighboring fiefs. Though Boko Haram was hierarchal, it was also fragmented, each division preoccupied with ensuring its own survival.

In the morning, groups set out on patrol in their trucks, checking the areas around Malam Fatori for traces of movement overnight — new tire prints, footsteps or animal tracks. Mustapha would quietly accompany the insurgents on patrol. He wanted to see how everything worked. Throughout the day, women who had been captured from nearby towns cooked food, which the insurgents ate from communal troughs. At night, the boys could sleep in any room in the palace compound, so long as it wasn’t in a room where women were kept. They barely prayed, and no one knew what day it was — only Fridays stood out, because on that day, they were fed rice with meat stew.

Le Monde‘s Joan Tilouine is releasing a five-part series (in French) of reporting from Maiduguri. Here are links for parts one, two, three, and four. I found the first part, about life in Maiduguri, the most interesting. Unfortunately, these reports are paywalled.

Mali’s Delayed Referendum: A Victory for the Opposition?

About two weeks ago I wrote about Mali’s constitutional referendum, which was originally scheduled for July 9. The referendum, backed by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, would expand presidential powers and create a Senate.

At a cabinet meeting on June 21, however, Keita’s government postponed the referendum to a date as yet undetermined. (A video summary of the cabinet’s decisions can be found here, with reference to the postponement around the 2:00 mark.)

The government gave no reasons for the delay, but some Malian observers (French) are calling the postponement a “victory for the opposition” – an opposition that opposes not just Keita but also the referendum. Worth noting is that pushback against the referendum came not just from Keita’s enemies but also from some of his allies, including three parties (French) that asked for a delay and a rethinking of the proposed changes. These parties are l’Alliance pour la démocratie au Mali (The Alliance for Democracy in Mali, Adema), le Congrès national d’initiative démocratique (The National Congress of Democratic Initiative, Cnid), and le Yelema (meaning “change” in Bambara, a widely spoken language in Mali). The referendum had also evoked street demonstrations and a significant civil society mobilization.

Faced with all that, IBK may have begun to fear that his side might lose the referendum or that it would too close to risk going forward. It seems now that the proposed text will be reworked so as to garner broader support – or, more drastically, perhaps it will be shelved altogether.

It’s also possible that the June 18 attack outside the capital Bamako played a role in the government’s decision. With renewed international focus on insecurity throughout much of the country, and with renewed questions about whether it is even possible to hold a fair referendum under current security conditions, it makes sense to postpone the vote.

My Latest Journal Article: “Salafis and the Prophet’s Sermon of Necessity”

The Islamic studies journal Die Welt des Islams has published my latest academic article, entitled “Coded Language Among Muslim Activists: Salafis and the Prophet’s Sermon of Necessity.” The abstract is available here; the full article is paywalled. The article deals with a short text called the Sermon of Necessity that Salafis around the world use to introduce their lectures, sermons, and books. The text’s widespread use speaks to the enduring influence of Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani (1914-1999), one of the luminaries of contemporary Salafism. Al-Albani popularized the Sermon of Necessity starting in the 1950s. One interesting thing about the Sermon’s use is that even though al-Albani is widely classified as a “quietist” by Western scholars, today one can find the Sermon being used by both jihadi and non-jihadi Salafis. That makes it a kind of unifying tool for Salafis, despite their many internal political divisions. That also makes it a useful tool for scholars, including in the ongoing effort to decide when Salafism really became a cohesive movement.

In a way, the article is an outgrowth of my book Salafism in Nigeria; I first got interested in the Sermon of Necessity after I noticed many Nigerian preachers using it. The article, however, only deals with Nigeria briefly and is more focused on developments in the Arab world.

If you are able to access the article, I welcome any feedback you may have.

Three Recent, Compelling Pieces on Mali

Recently I’ve read three new pieces on Mali, all of which were very strong and which readers may find of interest:

  • Arthur Boutellis and Marie-Joëlle Zahar, “A Process in Search of Peace: Lessons from the Inter-Malian Agreement,” for International Peace Institute;
  • Ferdaous Bouhlel, Yvan Guichaoua and Jean-Hervé Jézéquel, “The stoning that didn’t happen, and why it matters,” for African Arguments; and
  • Niagalé Bagayoko, Boubacar Ba, Boukary Sangaré, and Kalilou Sidibé, “Masters of the land: Competing customary and legal systems for resource management in the conflicting environment of the Mopti region, Central Mali” for The Broker.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Stoning That Didn’t Happen”:

The episode stresses how complicated it is to gather information about northern Mali. AFP and RFI work from Bamako and Paris, respectively 1,500 km and 4,500 km away from the town of Kidal, where the reported events unfolded. Researchers operate from similar distances for the same security reasons.

The consequence of this is that journalists and researchers rely on indirect sources of information that are far from perfect and then do their best to triangulate them. It can often be difficult to tell whether two accounts are distinct or if they derive from the same source of information, since the same story can circulate through networks under multiple guises.

[…]

The timing of the stoning story is also important. It came as some civil society activists and politicians were calling for negotiations with Islamist leaders – calls that were abruptly rejected by authorities. It also immediately preceded French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Mali in which he met with French troops and re-affirmed France’s pledge to fight terrorism.

And here’s an excerpt from “Masters of the Land”:

Customary institutions are still highly relevant – and legitimate – in Central Mali today. Local communities often find it hard to grasp the role of the government in resource management. Decentralization provided a national framework for resource management in Mali by establishing regions, cercles, and communes as units of local government. Governance units are entitled to manage their own natural resources, while electing assemblies or councils to manage these collectively. This decentralization process, which was accompanied by the adoption of a number of new laws for resource management, has deeply affected agro-pastoral management principles.

This overlap and competition between customary and legal institutions (and laws) for the management of resources often triggers tensions between communities and networks involved in farming, livestock breeding and fisheries, fuelling century-old conflicts between the different communities in the Mopti region. Furthermore, the priority given by most development programmes to agriculture-oriented policies, at the expense of pastoralism, has triggered intra- and inter-communal tension, resulting in the emergence of new power relations within communities involved in resource exploitation. This is especially the case within the Fulani community, where domination between pastoral and farming populations has changed since the colonial period due to the enforced settlement imposed on nomadic populations. These upheavals have upset historical balances.

“Masters of the Land” provides an important corrective to the alarmist narrative of “Fulani radicalization” that various irresponsible people are pushing. True, the piece points to a trend where Fulani pastoralists join jihadist groups in order to gain weapons with which to fight local rivals, as well as a trend where some Fulanis are nostalgic for past Islamic empires, but the piece also shows that central Mali has witnessed a growth in (non-jihadist) “politico-military militia” and “self-defence groups.” The authors note, “These groups are sometimes difficult to distinguish from each other and their followers do not fit neatly into one sociological category.” The authors conclude, “The complexity of the recurrent and violent crises, as well as the overlapping and competing customary and legal institutions involved in the management of resources, calls for security and development activities to be better grounded on the socio-cultural context in Central Mali.” Endorsing a shallow, region-wide narrative of “Fulani radicalization” would undermine, rather than advance, such an effort to better ground security and development activities.