Roundup on Boko Haram/ISWA Attacks in Gudumbali and Baga, Borno State, Nigeria

In recent days, the Boko Haram faction led by Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi and known as “Islamic State West Africa” (ISWA or ISWAP) has attacked two towns in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria – Gudumbali and Baga. The latter, of course, has been the target of prominent attacks by Boko Haram dating back years. (Note also that there was a recent kidnapping attributed to Boko Haram in Borno.) As often with Boko Haram attacks, conflicting information makes it hard to assess what happened. But here’s a roundup of coverage and analysis:

Gudumbali (map of Local Government Area)

AFP: “Boko Haram jihadists were in control of a town in northeast Nigeria on Saturday [8 September] after sacking a military base, in the latest attack that raises questions about claims they are weakened to the point of defeat. Local officials and security sources said scores of fighters believed to be loyal to a Boko Haram faction backed by the Islamic State group overran troops in Gudumbali.”

Vanguard: “The Nigerian Army on Sunday [9 September] said it had restored normalcy in Gudumbali and environs with the concerted effort of troops of Operation Lafiya Dole deployed to the area. Newsmen report that scores of jihadists in gun trucks and bearing various calibre of arms, stormed the town and engaged troops in fierce battle that lasted for many hours.

Premium Times: “Mr Bukar said when he realised the criminals were not targeting civilians, he decided to lock himself with his parents with a padlock so they would not come into their home. ‘They left the town after several hours. They were chanting ‘Munkama garinsu gabadaya’ which means we have taken over the town completely,’ he said. ‘The rains of bullet suddenly stopped but we were advised to remain in the house. At that time we knew that the military had also left the place because they fought nonstop for almost 12 hours.'”

Nigerian Army (official): “It will be recalled that Gudumbali is one of the communities in Borno state, that were recently reoccupied by Internally Displaced Persons who had voluntarily returned to their ancestral homes. The people of Gudumbali community and Guzamala Local Government in general are urged to remain calm and resilient as Operation Lafiya Dole troops tirelessly combat the terrorists. They are also implored to maintain high level of vigilance and monitor strange faces to prevent fleeing Boko Haram terrorists from infiltrating and hibernating in their communities.” My comment: this reads to me as insensitive and paranoia-inducing language. Better to say something along the lines of “we won’t be sending any more people back to these areas until we’re sure they’ll be safe there.” Note also that the Army’s statement contradicts press accounts, particularly in terms of the assertion that “no human casualty was recorded in the encounter.”

Baga (map)

Punch: “Boko Haram terrorists have staged a fresh attack on a military base in Baga in the Kukawa Local Government Area of Borno State, a day after they invaded Gudumbali area in the Guzamala Local Government Area and sacked the residents.”

Finally, see also the group’s recent video release (filmed, of course, before these recent attacks), consisting of battle footage and displays of soldiers’ corpses and Book Haram’s arsenal.

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Monkey Cage Post on Mali’s Elections and Jihadist Violence

In lieu of a post today, I’m linking to this piece I published on Friday with the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage. The piece discusses patterns in jihadist violence during Mali’s July-August presidential elections.

Your feedback is welcome as always!

Partial Results from Mauritania’s Legislative, Regional, and Municipal Elections

I’ve been waiting all week for definitive results from Mauritania’s recent elections, which included simultaneous legislative, regional, and municipal contests. Obviously, and in a much more urgent sense, Mauritanians have also been waiting for the results – and the slow pace of announcements has elicited complaints and protests, as well as accusations of fraud. The Independent National Electoral Commission (French acronym CENI, as in many other West African countries) is under some “pressure” from the opposition.

A few pieces of context. First, these elections come in advance of next year’s presidential contest. The biggest question in Mauritanian politics now is whether incumbent President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will seek a (currently) extra-constitutional third term. Last year’s constitutional referendum, which made a combination of symbolic and structural changes to Mauritania’s political system, was seen in some opposition quarters as a step toward changing or removing constitutional provisions regarding term limits. Second, in terms of the present elections, it’s worth noting that last year’s referendum abolished the Senate – so voters are selecting deputies for a unicameral legislature now.

In terms of results, various counts have indicated that the ruling party (Union for the Republic, or UPR) and the Islamist party the National Rally for Reform and Democracy (Tewassoul) are leading the pack. Here is one count from 6 September showing that with nearly 62% of the votes counted (2,518 out of 4,080 polling offices), UPR has obtained 18.2% of the vote and Tewassoul 10.7%. No other party hits double digits in that count. Another count from 4 September, pertaining just to the parliamentary deputies’ list in the capital Nouakchott, shows that with 84% of the votes counted (551 out of 655 polling places), UPR has gotten 13% while Tewassoul has gotten 12.85%.

If these results hold, there are a few obvious takeaways:

  • The political landscape is fragmented. When and where the contest goes to a second round (scheduled for 15 September), it will be interesting to see how the dust settles.
  • To compare apples to oranges, Tewassoul has so far improved on its performance in the 2009 presidential elections, when its candidate Jamil Mansour scored less than 5% (Tewassoul boycotted in 2014).
  • To compare oranges to oranges, though, UPR and Tewassoul were the top two parties in the 2013 parliamentary elections. In comparison with 2013, both UPR’s and Tewassoul’s share of the first-round vote has fallen, but UPR’s has fallen more.

Hopefully complete results will be out soon, which will permit a more thorough analysis.

AFP has a short clip of the proceedings:

Mali: Roundup of Coverage of IBK’s Inaugural Address

On 4 September, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) was sworn in for his second, five-year term as president of Mali. The text of his address can be found here (French). He laid out seven key themes:

  1. “Reinforcing national cohesion”
  2. “Fighting terrorism”
  3. “Restoring values”
  4. “Reforming the state”
  5. “Unleashing private [sector] initiative”
  6. “Fighting poverty”
  7. “Promoting youth”

Here is some of the coverage the speech has received:

  • Reuters: “Hundreds of supporters and local politicians attended the ceremony in the capital Bamako, which followed Keita’s landslide victory last month in an election marred by militant attacks and claims of fraud by his opposition rival.” See also VOA‘s short piece.
  • Jeune Afrique: “[IBK] gave his oath…in front of more than 3,000 people. While the opposition continued to contest this investiture, IBK gave a speech on unity, while calling for ‘loyalty’ to advance the implementation of the peace accord.”
  • Mikado FM has an interview (French) with Chadian diplomat Mahamat Saleh Annadif, head of the United Nation’s MINUSMA mission in Mali, speaking on IBK’s inauguration and the future.

Worth noting, too, is that one of IBK’s first decisions of his new administration was to retain Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, whom many (including me) have credited with helping IBK win re-election.

Honestly, with the elections and swearing-in over, it seems Mali is back to roughly where it was a few months ago – same status quo, same players, same problems.

On a related note, I was a guest a few days ago on Derek Davison’s podcast, discussing Mali. The episode is here, and Derek’s excellent world affairs blog, And That’s the Way It Was, is here.

 

Updates on the Chadian Government’s Fight with the CCMSR Rebels

Late last month, I wrote about the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR) and its recent activities, including the 11 August attack on Kouri Bougri, Tibesti region. Here are some key developments since late August:

  • 21 August: CCMSR reportedly attacks Tarbou, in the area of Kouri Bougri, and seizes weapons and documents. The government denies it.
  • 1 September: The Chadian military conducts aerial bombings in the Tibesti region, targeting “a site between Miski and Yebibou.” (Map of Miski)
  • 3 September: Chadian rebel alliance the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) releases statement denouncing the military’s attacks in Tibesti, as well as the installation of a G5 Sahel joint force post in Zouar, Chad (map) – or perhaps we should say that the post will instead be north of Zouar at Wour (see here for some background from a French government perspective).

See also below, from MENASTREAM:

Theresa May and Angela Merkel in Africa

This week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both done multi-country trips to Africa.

Here are their respective itineraries.

May (find the official roundup of her speeches, press conferences, and announcements here):

  • South Africa, 28 August
  • Nigeria, 29 August
  • Kenya, 30 August

Merkel:

  • Senegal, 29 August
  • Ghana, 30 August (see a Ghanaian government press release here)
  • Nigeria, 31 August

I do not think the trips are meant to compete with one another – the fact that both leaders put Nigeria on the itinerary simply reflects Nigeria’s importance, I suspect.

Thematically, the trips had different emphases – May’s trip was a multi-pronged effort that touched on trade, investmentsecurity (including a “first ever UK-Nigeria security and defence partnership…[in which] the UK has also offered to help Nigeria – for the first time – train full army units before they deploy to the North East”), and financial crimes. The UK also announced that new embassies will open in Chad and Niger.

Meanwhile, migration seemed to dominate the agenda for Merkel. From Al Jazeera:

On her tour, Merkel is expected to discuss migration prevention with the leaders of Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, where a large portion of African migrants arriving in Germany originate from.

The chancellor hopes to find a way to prevent them from starting their journeys, including providing more development aid to their countries.

In terms of how the trips are going, I should confess that I’m not the biggest fan of May, but I’m not alone in thinking that there have been a few sour notes.

May’s interlocutors, meanwhile, are openly concerned about Brexit’s global impact:

Merkel’s trip has also come in for its share of criticism, especially from those who raise doubts about the feasibility and moral status of the European Union’s approach to African migration. Here is an excerpt from the Al Jazeera piece linked above:

George Kibala Bauer, a Congolese-German contributing editor at Africa is a Country online publication, told Al Jazeera that Merkel’s recent interest in Africa was the result of a considerable political pressure against her, including from her own political allies, for her perceived open-migration policy.

“This is not only morally questionable but also practically misguided,” he said.

[…]

Bauer said the EU has increasingly empowered third countries, and effectively outsourced certain tasks to states in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa.

We’ll see whether anything else comes of the trips.

Burkina Faso: Trial of Accused Coup Makers Resumes

In September 2015, Burkina Faso experienced a serious but short-lived coup. The military’s seizure of power came a little less than a year after the popular uprising that overthrew the country’s longtime ruler, Blaise Compaore. The coup was staged by the Regiment of Presidential Security (French acronym RSP), Compaore’s elite guard, and could be seen as a sort of would-be counter-revolution. The coup leaders detained Burkina Faso’s interim authorities and installed Compaoré loyalist General Gilbert Diendéré as head of a military government. Pressure from France and from the Economic Community of West African States, however, soon led the coup organizers to hand back power. Elections were then held in November 2015, and the winner – Roch Kaboré – remains president today.

The echoes of the coup are still being felt, however, including in the ongoing trial for officers involved in it. The trial, conducted by a military tribunal, began on 21 March 2018 (after an initial delay). There are 84 accused persons, including Diendéré and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Djibril Bassolé.

In front of the court this week have been several junior officers. On 27 August, the court heard the not guilty plea of Sergeant Souleymane Koné, as well as the testimony of Lieutenant Boureima Zagré, who seems to be pleading not guilty as well. Much of the testimony and the questioning concerns communications and orders – who told whom to do what? Who knew what?

There is more going on here, it seems to me, than just assigning guilt and blame. The testimonies of the accused provide an opportunity for authorities, the public, and the officers themselves to review, in exhaustive detail, the events of September 2015. The trial is partly functioning to create a national record and facilitate a national discussion about what exactly happened and what it all meant. In a way, this also becomes a conversation about where the country is headed and how power should be structured and apportioned there.