Niger: The Release of Blogger Samira Sabou and Wider Issues of Press Freedom in Niger

In Niger, a notable press freedom case concluded (?) on Tuesday, July 28, when authorities freed the blogger and journalist Samira Sabou after a court in the capital Niamey cleared her of defamation charges.

As Amnesty International outlined in its demand for her release, Sabou was arrested on June 10 on charges of “electronic defamation” against President Mahamadou Issoufou’s son Sani, who is also deputy chief of staff to the presidency. According to Amnesty, the younger Issoufou

filed a complaint against Samira Sabou after a Facebook user mentioned on 26 May his name in a comment responding to Samira’s publication relating to allegation of corruption. Samira Sabou did not mention Sani Mahamadou Issoufou’s name. She should have never been prosecuted for these allegations of defamation and detained.

I think this must be the post in question, although she had a few that day (Amnesty is more specific about the post here). If I’m right, then her post was commenting on a Jeune Afrique article from March about how the opposition hoped to leverage an audit of the Ministry of Defense to weaken the ruling party during the lead-up to the 2020/2021 presidential elections. I’ve covered the audit and the related procurement scandal here, and I’ve discussed the elections a bit here.

Sabou was charged under a “cyber-criminality” law passed in June 2019. Concerns have been rising for several years now about press freedoms in Niger, and about political freedoms more broadly. In a 2019 briefing for African Affairs, two U.S.-based scholars wrote, “Western media reports often associate Niger with violent religious extremism, but an arguably more imminent problem is the rollback of Niger’s fragile democracy.” And here is a longer excerpt from the same piece:

Journalists and civil society activists such as Moussa Tchangari and Ali Idrissa are prime targets of government crackdowns. Freedom of information has declined sharply in recent years. The annual Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index dropped Niger from a ranking of twenty-ninth in 2011 to sixty-third in 2018. Two prominent examples illustrate the modus operandi of the government vis-à-vis journalists. In January 2014, Soumana Idrissa Maïga, the editor of a private newspaper, was arrested after the government accused him of inciting hatred and violence. In March 2017, Baba Alpha, the owner of a private radio station, was accused of using false citizenship papers. He was imprisoned for two years and eventually deported to Mali after the government declared him a threat to Niger’s internal security. Both journalists had reported critically on government conduct and corruption.

Sabou’s case occurred after that piece was written, but organizations such as Amnesty have also viewed her detention in a wider context, especially amid the fallout from the procurement scandal:

Journalist Ali Soumana, owner of ‘’Le Courrier’’ newspaper has been arrested and taken into custody since 12 July. His arrest is believed to be linked to the publication of a story on the alleged misuse of funds by the Ministry of Defence. This is the third time in less than four years that Ali Soumana has been harassed while carrying out his journalist work.

For nearly two years, journalists and human rights activists in Niger have been the target of repeated arbitrary arrests. Since 15 March, activists Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila and Maïkoul Zodi were detained mainly on the basis of fabricated allegations, after calling for an investigation into the alleged misuse of funds by the Ministry of Defence.

In this climate, human rights organizations have taken Sabou’s release as a baby step forward – the International Federation for Human Rights calls it “a first positive signal sent by the judicial authority in Niger.”

Mali: Dan Na Ambassagou’s Parliamentary Deputy?

I’m writing an academic paper about the Malian legislative elections that took place back in March/April. While writing, a few details have caught my eye, and here is one that’s worth its own post: the name Marcelin Guengueré appears on the list of elected deputies (.pdf, p. 65). He is at the top of the list for the Koro cercle/district in Mopti Region. Most constituencies in Mali elect one deputy, but a minority of districts elect a party or multi-party list of between two and seven candidates. Koro is a four-member district. Guengueré and his three fellow candidates were elected on a list called “Le Mali Qui Bouge” (“Mali That Moves,” or perhaps “Mali in Motion” would be better) and also called “Alliance Amakéné.” The list was independent of the major parties,

Guengueré has also been the spokesman for Dan Na Ambassagou or “hunters who trust in God,” a network of hunters’ associations primarily from the Dogon ethnic group. Dan Na Ambassagou emerged in late 2016 after the killing of a prominent hunter named Théodore Soumbounou. A good starting point for background on the militia is Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report “We Used to Be Brothers,” which contains a sub-section on Dan Na Ambassagou. The group was also widely and credibly accused of perpetrating the notorious March 2019 massacre of ethnic Peul/Fulani villagers at Ogassagou and Welingara, also in the Mopti Region. The Malian authorities tried to dissolve it afterwards, but Dan Na Ambassagou’s leadership defied them, and the group has continued to exist in some form.

The conflict in central Mali cannot and should not be reduced to one of inter-ethnic tensions, but Dogon-Peul violence is one axis of the violence and Dan Na Ambassagou is both a product and an accelerant of that dynamic.

I actually met Guengueré and interviewed him in Bamako in June 2019. Maybe I will write the full story some time. As I was walking in to meet him, he was on the phone saying to someone, “We are not genocidaires,” a line he repeats in this interview. Guengueré has repeatedly described Dan Na Ambassagou as a Dogon self-defense militia and a continuation of past Dogon self-defense efforts, but I at least found some of his rhetoric against the Peul – and about the Malian state – pretty hardline.

In the Malian press, commentators raised concerns about Guengueré and his list during and after the elections. On the eve of the second round in April, one commentator wrote that Dan Na Ambassagou and other armed movements had openly backed Alliance Amakéné, encouraging their supporters to vote for the Alliance and even restricting other candidates’ access to parts of Koro – a combination of mobilization and intimidation, in other words. That report identifies Guengueré as the ex-spokesman, rather than the current spokesman, of Dan Na Ambassagou, but the report also suggests that the line between the Alliance and the armed group is blurry at best.

Another member of the Alliance, Hamidou Djimdé, walked a fine line when describing the relationship with Dan Na Ambassagou in this interview:

What is the connection between your list and Dan Na Ambassagou?

There are many conflations on that subject. We did not solicit any form of support from Dan Na Ambassagou. And we have not had any support from Dan Na Ambassagou.

Marcelin Guenguere was the spokesman for Dan Na Ambassagou. When we decided to throw ourselves into the race, certain [militia members], in a voluntary capacity, decided to protect us during our movements. These were acts of reconnaissance. They said that when had defended them when they needed it and that it was a duty for them to pay us back.

This was far from the only relationship between candidates and militias during the elections – even opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé relied on protection from militias while campaigning in the Timbuktu Region, before he was kidnapped – but it is hard not to read Djimbé’s statements as a bit self-contradictory.

Is Guengueré’s victory a product of war? One analytical distinction I’ve made between the north and the center is that in the north, the leaders of key militias tend to be longtime politicians, whereas in the center, it has seemed to me that the armed groups have a more bottom-up character. Scanning over Guengueré’s career, or at least the snippets of it visible online, I don’t think I could say simply that militia activity moved him from the margins to the spotlight. After all, unless I am somehow confusing him with a homonym, Guengueré appears to have run for parliament, unsuccessfully, in the immediate past elections in 2013, garnering some 16% of the vote in the first round. He also appears to have been a minor presidential candidate in 2018. 16% isn’t nothing, suggesting Guengueré already had a political network and/or a political constituency prior to the emergence of Dan Na Ambassagou. And there have also been recurring allegations that politicians in Bamako channel financial support to Dan Na Ambassagou, meaning that the shorthand of “hunters’ associations” for describing the group may not capture the whole picture of what this force really is. I wonder whether there is not a broader story to be told here about the interplay of political ambition and militia formation in Koro, in Mopti, and beyond.

Mali’s Temporary Skeleton Cabinet

Yesterday, Monday, July 27, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) held an extraordinary summit by videoconference. The summit addressed the political contestation in Mali between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) and a protest collective called the June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP). In the conflict between IBK and M5-RFP, ECOWAS has been the formal external mediator, with the support of France and other foreign powers. ECOWAS sent two mediation missions to Mali’s capital Bamako in June and July, and most recently sent five West African heads of state to Bamako on July 23.

ECOWAS’ recommendations have become stipulations, and the July 27 summit reiterated a deadline of July 31 for implementing the following measures: the formation of a national unity government, the recomposition of the Constitutional Court, the removal of 31 parliamentary deputies whose elections were contested.

Here I just want to focus on the national unity government – a formation that the M5-RFP has not (yet) agreed to join. Yet the Malian presidency, which has also been promising to form some kind of unity government since June, is moving ahead. Also yesterday, the presidency announced a kind of interim, skeleton government with just six essential ministers under Prime Minister Boubou Cissé; this is in keeping with ECOWAS’ framework, which authorized the appointment of core ministers before the full slate was determined.

Here are the appointees:

  1. Defense and Veterans: General Ibrahima Dahirou Dembelé
  2. Territorial Administration and Decentralization: Boubacar Alpha Bah
  3. Security and Civil Protection: General M’Bemba Moussa Keïta
  4. Justice and Human Rights: Kassoum Tapo
  5. Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation: Tiébilé Dramé
  6. Economy and Finance: Abdoulaye Daffé

A few relatively banal observations:

  1. There is a lot of continuity here. I’ve lost track of all the different cabinet reshuffles in Mali (more on that below), but if we look at the government formed in May 2019, after Cissé became Prime Minister we see Dembelé, Bah, and Dramé in their current posts.
  2. Both the newcomers and those continuing on are familiar faces. Tapo, for example, is an ex-minister who was close to former President Amadou Toumani Touré.
  3. The one real political newcomer might be Daffé – from my brief searches, it does not appear that he has held a ministerial post or a parliamentary seat before. But he comes out of a top job in the banking sector; he was the longtime Director of the National Development Bank of Mali. His name was even recently floated as a replacement for Cissé as prime minister. He is reportedly close to the Chérif of Nioro du Sahel, a major Muslim cleric who is somewhat aligned with the M5-RFP but who is also a key interlocutor for the presidency and for Cissé. So he should not be pegged as an apolitical technocrat.
  4. The cabinet reshuffles and games of musical chairs are exactly what the M5-RFP, or at least part of it, is trying to short-circuit. From the perspective of IBK’s opponents, the president has used repeated cabinet reshuffles to shield himself from political consequences. It also seems that most of the M5-RFP’s supporters are tired of politics as usual, and seeing the same faces cycle in and out of government and/or other top jobs is a complaint of the protesters rather than a solution to their complaints. It could reinforce protesters’ cynicism and anger to see previously fired officials (such as General Keïta, who was fired as Chief of Army Staff after the March 2019 massacre at Ogassagou in central Mali) return to powerful positions . Dembelé’s initial nomination in May 2019 was controversial too, given his active role in the 2012 military coup.

At the same time, there are questions about how long the M5-RFP can hold together, particularly when it comes to their core demand for IBK to resign. I’ve said before that I think repeatedly reiterating that demand has given the M5-RFP a lot of bargaining power, but Malian experts such as Bréma Ely Dicko are now predicting that the influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, the foremost leader of the protesters, will break with the others and drop the demand for IBK’s resignation. We will see.

I leave the French-speakers with this thread, which goes through the new cabinet picks in some detail:

My New Article on Sectarianism in Nigeria – And Some Bonus Primary Source Translations

I have a forthcoming article in the journal Politics and Religion, and the article is now available in “first view” online. Titled “Sectarian Triangles: Salafis, the Shi‘a, and the Politics of Religious Affiliations in Northern Nigeria,” the article examines Salafi-Shi’i tensions in northern Nigeria – or rather, it explores how various Muslim third parties have reacted to those tensions. My micro-case studies of third parties are Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, the Tijani Sufi Shaykh Dahiru Bauchi, the former Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II, and Boko Haram.

This paper went through a ton of revisions and I left a lot of material on the cutting room floor – including some valuable primary source material relating to how the Salafis and the Shi’a talk about each other in Nigeria. Below I have pasted partial translations of three polemics, one by the Shi’i group called the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and two by prominent Nigerian Salafi scholars.

Translation 1: A 2008 IMN Polemic Relating to Sokoto State, Northwestern Nigeria

Sokoto has periodically been a flashpoint for tensions between the IMN and Sunnis, as well as between the IMN and the authorities. In one 2008 polemic, the IMN depicted a series of setbacks for the Sokoto elite as divine punishment. These setbacks included the accidental death of then-Governor Shehu Kangiwa in 1981, the military regime’s dismissal of Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki in 1996, and the death of his successor Muhammadu Maccido in a 2006 plane crash. The polemic concluded:

At the end of this commentary, we want society to look at the history of persecution and intimidation that they spent years doing against the Muslim Brothers in Sokoto State, so that they’ll see – who had a happy ending? Let’s expose the history a little in order to see. A court in Sokoto State was the first to prosecute Mallam Zakzaky and some Muslim Brothers in the time of Governor Kangiwa’s rule. So, today where is he? He died. He left the Islamic Movement to keep on developing! … History is telling us that the persecution suffered by the Muslim Brothers during the present Sultan and the serving governor is just temporary and will never last long. And the same thing that happened to their predecessors will happen to them, with the permission of God Almighty. So it doesn’t matter that they are still oppressing the Muslim Brothers. It is clear: the prayer of the one who was oppressed will not go unanswered [literally, “fall to earth in vain,” faduwa kasa banza]. So better watch out!

 

Translation 2: A Salafi Argument that Shi’ism Is Un-Islamic and Chauvinist

In northern Nigeria, the most basic Salafi argument against Shi’ism charges the Shi’a with heresy and heterodoxy. One prominent example of this approach is the pamphlet Qalubale Ga ‘Yan Shi’ah: Tambayoyi 70 Waɗanda Ba Su Da Amsa (Challenge to the Shīʿa: 70 Questions For Which They Have No Answer). The author, Muhammad Mansur Ibrahim of Sokoto, is a well-known preacher and a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina. His pamphlet, published in 2008, is an edited transcript of a lecture he delivered in Sokoto in December 2006.

Much of the pamphlet portrayed Shi’ism as incoherent – or deceitful – in its presentation of early Islamic history. The pamphlet attempted to prove that it was inconceivable to believe that ‘Ali bin Abi Talib had considered himself an Imam in the Shi’i sense, or that parts of the Qur’an had been suppressed by the Companions, or that the Prophet Muhammad had intended ‘Ali to be his primary spiritual heir. The pamphlet’s core arguments are captured by the very first question: citing Qur’an 5:3, “This day We have completed your religion for you,” the pamphlet asks, “Is Shi’ism part of the religion that was completed on the day of Arafat? … If indeed it is part of it, then why did the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, not say so?” Such arguments are useful to Salafis because they not only attack Shi’ism, they also provide an opportunity to rehearse the premises of Salafism: to wit, that Islam contains only what was explicitly authorized during the foundational period.

In addition to casting Shi’ism as un-Islamic, Salafis raise questions about the motives of the Shi’a depicting Shi’ism as a front for the interests of other groups. One of the pamphlet’s questions concerned the Persian language: “What is the relationship between your religion [i.e., Shi’ism] and the Persian language? Because we have noticed that the Arabic language has no value with you. You favor Persian and Persians over any language and any kind of people.” This line of argument again sets up a contrast between Salafism (here, presented as authentic due to its affinity for the Arabic language) and Shi’ism (here, presented as a vehicle for Persian culture masking itself in Islamic garb). Dismissing IMN leader Ibrahim al-Zakzaky as a fraud, Mansur Ibrahim recounted the story of an Al Jazeera interview where “they were translating Arabic for him so that he could answer in English!” Casting aspersions on the allegedly Persianized Shi’a is not unique to Salafis, of course, but for northern Nigerian Salafists – who present their Arabic fluency as a marker of their claim to mastery of Islamic sources – the dismissal of al-Zakzaky as a Persian stooge takes on a particular edge.

Translation 3: A Salafi Rejoinder to the Idea of Shi’i Anti-Imperalism

In a 2008 lecture entitled “Musulunci a Jiya da Yau (Islam Yesterday and Today),” Muhammad Sani Umar Rijiyar Lemo, a prominent Salafi scholar and Islamic University of Medina graduate, argued at length that the Shi’a perennially ally with non-Muslims against Sunni Muslims. He challenged the audience, rhetorically, to name a Shi’i force that helped Sunnis. Anticipating possible counterexamples, he cautioned the audience against glorifying Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Rather, he argued, Hezbollah undertook the kind of self-defense that any normal person would:

Any person, when you enter his home, when you attack him, he will try to defend himself. It has no relationship with his faith, with his character. Whatever creed he has – pagan, Christian, whatever – if you attack him in his home, he will try to defend himself and his children and his wealth and whatever he owns … But if he goes somewhere to help others, then he has some spirit in him.

Then Rijiyar Lemo turned to some of the foremost conflicts of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s in the Muslim world, again challenging the audience to name a place where the Shi’a had helped Sunnis against a foreign enemy.

If you say “Afghanistan” – there was not one Shi’i who brought help to Afghanistan…At the time that the Soviet Union was trying to impose its Godless rule [mulkin ba Allah] in Afghanistan, Sunni Muslims everywhere [went]. There was no place from which they did not go. Even from Nigeria, here, there were some who went.

But the Shi’a, he said, merely stood by and “waited eagerly” to see what share of Afghanistan’s cake they would get after the Soviets withdrew. Then, after the Taliban set up their state, Iran provided “logistics support” to the American invasion: “They helped them defeat the Taliban.”

“In Chechnya, Palestine, and other sites of struggle,” he added, “the Shi’a were also absent.” Iran’s declarations against America as the “Great Satan” were mere “political propaganda” – in reality, he argued, Iran was willing to cooperate with America in the destruction of Sunni Iraq. For thinkers such as Rijiyar Lemo, the Shi’a – and the IMN – are not revolutionaries but troublemakers and traitors.

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.

Nigeria: Controversy at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was created in 2003, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as an anti-corruption law enforcement body. Corruption, as I have heard many Nigerians say, is one of Nigeria’s core challenges – as is the case in many countries, including mine.

Current President Muhammadu Buhari won his first term in 2015 on a platform that foregrounded anti-corruption, drawing on Buhari’s image (right or wrong) with many Nigerians as an austere and incorruptible personality. Buhari was re-elected in 2019, and his administration has prioritized anti-corruption and asset recovery efforts (notably the money stolen and held abroad by military dictator Sani Abacha, who died in 1998) – yet many Nigerians and even many of Buhari’s own supporters and former supporters feel that he has not lived up to expectations on anti-corruption. The EFCC is part of that story.

The EFCC has had controversies in the past, but several new ones have occurred in the past few weeks. On July 7, the Commission’s Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu was suspended, and was detained for ten days in connection with a fraud investigation. A number of other senior EFCC officials and investigators have also been suspended and sacked. The presidency’s official statement on Magu’s firing is here, but it (deliberately, I strongly suspect) does not go into detail about the content of the allegations against the suspended chairman. According to some reports, the case against Magu and the others concerns alleged “re-looting of previously stolen funds.” There is a lot of potential irony here, of course.

The EFCC has had only four heads since its creation, with the “pioneer chairman,” Nuhu Ribadu, often seen as the most effective. Michael Dada reviews the history here – one of recurring battles between EFCC chairs, attorneys general, and presidents. An excerpt:

Critics alleged that EFCC’s anti-corruption war under [second Chairperson Farida] Waziri from 2008 to 2011 grew timid and lethargic in comparison with Ribadu’s tenure.

Even though she was able to score one of the commission’s landmark prosecution that led to the former national deputy chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Bode George serving a two-and-a-half year sentence, Waziri, like Ribadu,  also fell out with the Attorney-General, Mohammed Bello Adoke over EFCC’s prosecution of cases.

[…]

[The third Chairman Ibrahim] Lamorde’s leadership of EFCC left a great deal to be desired. Unlike his predecessors, EFCC recorded no major conviction under Lamorde.

[…]

He was thereafter, investigated over allegation of money diversion. On November 9, 2015, President Buhari sacked Ibrahim Lamorde and appointed Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the EFCC.

All of this, as Dada emphasizes, has damaged the EFCC’s image – for critics, it is not merely toothless, but also politicized and internally corrupt.

The Financial Times surveys the key reactions to Magu’s firing, with Magu’s lawyer decrying the charges against his client as politically motivated, and with some civil society groups coming to Magu’s defense. Such groups argue that Magu’s firing undoes crucial progress, and that he has been more aggressive than his predecessors in terms of going after major targets.

Meanwhile, Magu has been replaced by Mohammed Umar, who was Director of Operations. He is apparently not a target of the investigation against Magu and others.

Umar’s appointment has, in the context of the scrutiny given to senior appointees’ geographic origins, raised a few eyebrows, especially among southerners. The southern politician Sunny Onuesoke publicly complained that all of the EFCC chairs have so far been northerners:

In a statement, he said: “Is there any law that says EFCC chairmen can only come from the North? Magu goes and is replaced with another northerner, Mohammed Umar.

“There have now been five chairmen. Each has been a northerner. What‘s happening? Are there no credible southerners?”

With that said, many Nigerians do not view the struggle over the EFCC in geographic terms – some of the most ardent public defenses of Magu have come from voices in the south, for example this column by a Bayelsa State politician.

A lot is at stake in Magu’s firing, then, and what one makes of it. Is the presidency cleaning house and expelling someone who perverted the core mission of his own agency? Or are the presidency and the attorney general’s office settling scores in a fashion that suggests that EFCC will always be hamstrung by politics and interagency rivalries? A lot of Buhari’s second term is still left, but it already appears clear that his legacy on anti-corruption will be fairly mixed.

Niger: Ruling Party Presidential Election Candidate Mohamed Bazoum on the Campaign Trail

Niger’s term-limited President Mahamadou Issoufou is set to step down in 2021. With elections approaching in December 2020 (first round), the ruling Parti Nigerien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme (Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, PNDS-Tarayya) has chosen one of its founders and longtime leaders, Mohamed Bazoum, as its presidential candidate. In order to forestall intra-party competition, Bazoum was invested as the party’s candidate back in March 2019. More recently, Bazoum left government (he was most recently Minister of the Interior) during a cabinet reshuffle announced on June 29; the move was explicitly done to prepare his presidential campaign.

The official campaign period is, if I understand the regulations summarized here, 21 days. Those days are far off for now. This month, however, Bazoum has embarked on a tour to rally the PNDS-Tarayya faithful, in what looks a lot to me like campaigning. He arrived in the Dosso Region on July 10, and then moved to tour the Tahoua Region starting July 18 (see a map of Niger’s regions here). This is far from the first time Bazoum has toured the country, of course, but this offers a snapshot of the evolving pre-campaign.

At least judging from the photographs, he can draw a crowd. This is in Illéla, Tahoua:

Bazoum’s multicultural and multi-linguistic fluency is also on display on this tour. Ethnically Arab, Bazoum hails from southeast/south central Niger: he was born in Bilabrine (Diffa Region), grew up in Tesker (Zinder Region), completed secondary school in Zinder city, and later represented Tesker as a deputy in the National Assembly. If elected president, Bazoum would be one of the few heads of state in Niger’s history to come from an ethnic group other than the Hausa or the Zarma, the two largest ethnic groups in the country (Mamadou Tandja, president from 1999-2010, “is of mixed Mauritanian, Kanuri, and Fulani parentage,” the Kanuri and Fulani being two minority ethnic groups in the country).

Here is Bazoum speaking fluent Hausa in Birni Gaouré during his tour of Dosso:

It is not surprising that a major Nigerien politician would be multi-lingual, obviously. But the basic messages of this tour appear to revolve around party unity and around the idea of the candidate as a national figure. Or perhaps the message is simply “victory.” Here is one local PNDS-Tarayya section, promising that Bazoum will win in the first round:

ECOWAS Leaves Bamako Empty-Handed; M5-RFP in the Driver’s Seat By Holding Firm

The June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), a collective calling for the resignation of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), has upended politics in the capital Bamako through a series of three protests on June 5, June 19, and July 10 (see previous coverage, in chronological order from earliest to most recent, here, hereherehere, and here).

Regional and international governments are alarmed and are working to prevent a scenario where Keïta resigns. The face of that effort has been the regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has undertaken two mediation missions to Bamako. The latter mission, a delegation headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (in office 2010-2015), was in Bamako from July 15-19. Their mission failed in that they did not convince the M5-RFP to drop its demand for IBK to step down.

By my count, the M5-RFP has only really wavered on that core demand once, with its July 1 announcement proposing various institutional arrangements that would have made IBK a figurehead but would have kept him in office. On the whole, though, the M5-RFP has been quite consistent in calling again and again for Keïta’s departure. Meanwhile, both IBK and ECOWAS have proposed concession after concession. IBK has granted several concessions or would-be concessions already:

  • the ongoing effort to form a new government;
  • the pledge to appoint a new slate of judges to the Constitutional Court (perhaps the M5-RFP’s second-most important political target after IBK himself);
  • the various proposals IBK has made regarding 31 politicians whose apparent victories in the legislative elections of March/April were stripped away by revised results the Constitutional Court issued on April 30; and
  • the resignation of IBK’s son Karim (another prominent target of the M5-RFP) from a powerful parliamentary committee.

ECOWAS, in a July 19 memorandum, essentially recycled those first three proposals but with a bit more complexity/specificity in the mechanisms by which they are to be accomplished; for example, ECOWAS wants the “government of national unity” to include 50% members from the ruling coalition, 30% members from the opposition, and 20% members from civil society. And there is a complicated formula for choosing the new members of the Constitutional Court. ECOWAS noted, without any irony, that everyone it met welcomed those proposals except for the Strategy Committee of the M5-RFP.

The overall dynamic of one side attempting to conciliate and the other side not budging has steadily increased the M5-RFP’s bargaining power. If I were better read, I could probably point to some theoretical literature on this topic but the basic point is easy to grasp: if I just keep saying I want X and you keep throwing out offer after offer, eventually you start to look desperate. You start moving, inadvertently, closer and closer to my position. You said, “X is off the table,” but now you’ve offered so many Ys and Zs that it starts to look like you are chipping away at X itself, beginning to offer me small pieces of it. And meanwhile many of the ramparts that defended X are now down, they’ve been breached, and you’re starting to run out of meaningful Ys and Zs to offer. We’re still negotiating over X, but now your position is weaker than when we began, I haven’t given up anything, and you’ve acknowledged that you’re scared of me. This is where IBK and ECOWAS find themselves now vis-a-vis the M5-RFP.

Does this mean IBK will resign? The chances are certainly ticking upwards. The strategy from IBK’s team may be to just play for time, try to let the M5-RFP’s momentum drain away, experiment with combinations of conciliation and repression until they find the one that works. A further problem for IBK’s side, though, is that they did not hit on that combination the weekend of July 10-12, after the third protest. Had they refrained from arresting M5-RFP leaders, had they not deployed the FORSAT anti-terrorism unit against protesters, had they not been so quick with the teargas and the live ammunition, the authorities and particularly the presidency might have been able to claim the moral high ground and dismiss the protesters as mere troublemakers. There are valid, even devastating criticisms to be made of the M5-RFP – they have little support outside Bamako, their leadership includes plenty of opportunists, they have not articulated detailed plans for resolving Mali’s crises beyond the departure of IBK, etc. – but the presidency undercut its ability to make those criticisms resonate, domestically and even internationally, by overreacting to the July 10 demonstration.

And does IBK have the time to outlast the M5-RFP? At the conclusion of ECOWAS’ second mission, the M5-RFP called for renewed “civil disobedience” beginning Monday, July 20 (today). The M5-RFP’s momentum is growing, not dissipating. The M5-RFP has done quite well, I think, at managing the media spectacle surrounding the protests; as a multi-headed movement, there is plenty of opportunities for press conferences, statements, media profiles, etc. And IBK and ECOWAS inadvertently feed the media spectacle even as they try to resolve the crisis, with each press conference or speech that they hold serving to keep the M5-RFP in the news.

If three protests have caused this much of a crisis for IBK, how will two or three more protests play out?

I leave you with a few noteworthy analyses from elsewhere:

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