Notes on the August 2018 UN Panel of Experts on Mali Report

This week, the latest report from the United Nations’ Panel of Experts on Mali came out. The big headline coming out of the report has been allegations that some signatories to the 2015 Algiers Accord are implicated in terrorism and drug trafficking.

I learned a ton from the report and I salute the panel for what must have been an extremely intense amount of labor and travel.

Here are some of the passages that stood out to me from the report:

p. 2, “Antiterrorist operations conducted by the Malian army in northern and central Mali, as well as by ‘compliant’ armed groups — those who are part of the Plateforme or CMA or have declared that they will observe the Agreement — have led to civilian killings and amplified intercommunal violence.” This is Mali’s core challenge, now, I would say – to find a way out of the violence that does not lead to more violence.

p. 4, “The Panel began its work on 1 February 2018. During the reporting period (February to June 2018) the Panel visited Mali on four occasions and travelled to the northern regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu and Ménaka and the central region of Mopti…In addition to its visits to Mali, the Panel also visited Belgium, Burkina Faso, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands and the Niger. Visits proposed by the Panel to Algeria in April and June were not accommodated.” I’ll just leave that there.

p. 6, “The current Malian conflict started in January 2012…” I don’t blame the panel for this phrasing and this is probably the most comprehensible way to put things. But on another level, the current conflict started in 1990, in the sense that many of the same faces from the early 1990s are still key actors today: Iyad ag Ghali, El Hadj ag Gamou, etc. Experts would do well to remind the lay audience that the roots of this conflict are deep indeed.

p. 7, “Regional and local elections that would have replaced interim measures were scheduled for December 2017 and April 2018, but both were postponed. A revised road map of actions adopted by signatory parties on 22 March 2018 has not provided a date for those elections but rather puts them after a revision of the decentralization legislation, which is to take place in 2019. Though it confirms the extension of the interim period until sometime in 2019, or even beyond, international mediation team members have generally welcomed the March road map. Several of them mentioned to the Panel that the engaged role of the Prime Minister, Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, as well as the start of the work of the independent observer and the Mali sanctions regime — both mechanisms envisaged in, respectively, articles 63 and 64 and article 54 of the Agreement — have given new impetus to the Agreement.” The role of Maïga remains crucial and fascinating, as always. I am thinking about a post that would try to look at him in some kind of structural sense, rather than just as an individual (one often discussed as hyper-competent). But in any case he is clearly a key link between the administration and the politicians in the north.

p. 14, “The single priority action under the economic development component of the Agreement concerns the creation of a development zone for the northern regions. According to the Agreement, the development zone is based on a development strategy and financed through the sustainable development fund. A concept note for the development zone has been drafted by the Government and transmitted to the signatory armed groups, but at the time of a meeting of a subcommittee of the Agreement Monitoring Committee on 21 June a formal response was still pending. A legislative text is foreseen by November 2018, as indicated in the March road map.” It will be worth keeping an eye on this, although I will not be holding my breath for November.

p. 17, A whole section on Ménaka, the Daoussak, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (referred to by its French acronym EIGS throughout the report), and the Kidal elite begins here. It is probably too complicated to summarize, but it makes for an important case study of how many fault lines cut through different communities and how those can play out in terms of who fights whom. Here is one key quote from p. 18: “The main political actors in the newly created region of Ménaka are: the aménokal (traditional leader) of the Oulemiden (Iwllemmeden) and Member of Parliament Bajan Ag Hamatou, traditionally close to the fraction Idoguiritane of the Daoussaks; the Governor, Daouda Maïga, who originates from Tidermene and was instrumental in the constitution of the GATIA/MSA-D alliance and the return of GATIA in Ménaka on 27 October 2017 (Daouda Maïga is reportedly close to GATIA General Gamou, also born in Tidermene); and Abdoul Wahab Ag Ahmed Mohamed, President of the interim authority, known to be close to Moussa Ag Acharatoumane of MSA-D.”

p. 22, Getting deeper into the question of who is coordinating with whom, there is a fascinating but inconclusive section dealing with a visit by Alghabass ag Intalla, one of the most prominent politicians in Kidal and the secretary-general of the CMA, the umbrella group for ex-rebels who signed the 2015 Algiers accord, to Menaka. A relevant quote: “Despite allegations that a shared strategy was being implemented following Alghabass’s visit to the Ménaka region in December 2017 and reported meetings with members of terrorist armed groups, the Panel found no evidence documenting a connection between CMA and terrorist armed groups in the Ménaka and Gao regions.”

p. 25 and 27-30, Here is where some of the most explosive assertions about the participation of certain armed factions in terrorist/jihadist activities appear. Since it has been covered a lot in the press, I won’t get into it here.

p. 33, Here are further allegations that the major government-aligned militia GATIA (Self-Defense Group for Imghad Tuareg and Allies) is involved in smuggling illicit drugs, as well as further data on how conflict over drugs fuels clashes between armed groups: “In Mali, the Panel obtained further information about the role of GATIA associates in securing drug (cannabis) convoys. Malian authorities, a diplomatic source and an armed group representative referred to Ahmoudou Ag Asriw of GATIA as having led a convoy transporting cannabis resin in April 2018, together with a member of MAA-Plateforme. The convoy was heading from Tabankort to the Tamesna desert, presumably on its way to the Niger. On 13 April 2018, near Amassin, south of Kidal, it came under attack from MNLA and unidentified armed elements from the Niger. The assailants were reported to have taken part of or the entire 4-ton shipment of cannabis resin north to cross into Algeria at Tinzawaten. The confrontation reportedly claimed three victims.” And from further down the same page, a key quote: “The legitimacy of both the Plateforme and CMA as signatory armed groups has motivated drug traffickers to seek protection from their members rather than members of terrorist armed groups in order to be less exposed.” on p. 35, there is some discussion of GATIA, the CMA (namely one of its components, the HCUA) and migrant smuggling.

p. 43, There is some good detail here on operations by the G5 Sahel Joint Force.

p. 46, The recommendations begin here. They lead with this: “Proceed without delay to consider the designation for targeted measures of individuals and entities engaging in or providing support for actions or policies that threaten the peace, security or stability of Mali.” I certainly understand the logic, but I don’t think I would take this path unless you are confident that you can really squeeze these actors in changing their behavior – if you can’t accomplish that, though, then “targeted measures” might simply alienate people whose participation will be key to any eventual (hopeful) political solution.

The main body of the report ends on p. 47, but sixteen annexes follow, including social media posts from armed/political groups, official documents, correspondence, and other interesting sources.

 

 

 

 

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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.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s Remarks on the Sahel and Libya

Yesterday, 27 August, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed (French) an official conference of ambassadors in France. He devoted a fair amount of time to discussing the Sahel and Libya. I’ve translated a portion of his remarks:

In the Sahel, we have maintained our military engagement through Operation Barkhane. Here I want to salute all our soldiers who, since 2013, have been courageously engaged in this difficult operating theater. It is this presence and that of MINUSMA that have avoid the worst in the region and have, in particular, allowed elections to be held this month in Mali. In this region, we have obtained important victories in recent months against the terrorist presence, but this action must be pursued with the same intensity, but in complementing the presence of the Barkhane Force will multiple approaches begun in July 2017.

First, we have supported and accelerated the creation of the joint forces of the G5 Sahel. I am convinced that our military action will actually be still more effective if it works together better with the implication of the five concerned Sahel countries. We have raised funds, encouraged the first operations of the forces. Several times, I have traveled to observe these advances, and with all of the heads of state and government involved, we have improved our organization.

This organization is the only one that, in the long term, will allow stability because it fully involves the five concerned countries of the Sahel in their own security. We have to watch over its implementation and in the coming weeks and the coming months, we will have to conduct new joint operations with the forces of the G5. We also have to reinforce our cooperation with Algeria, which is exposed to the same terrorist risk, as well as with Nigeria and Cameroon, which are engaged against Boko Haram.

Second, we have encouraged the empowerment of the Africa Union. That is what I spoke in favor of last July at the Nouakchott Summit before the African Union. It is what I will have the chance to bring up in the near future with President Trump and President Kagame, current chairperson of the African Union. We must work to create credible African peace operations and ensure stable and predictable financing for them, in particular between the United Nations, the African Union, and the sub-regional organizations.

Third, we have complemented our military action with the reinforcement and simplification of our action in the field of development, by creating the Alliance for the Sahel together with Germany and many other international donors. These are the complementary “3Ds” that I mentioned last year: Diplomacy, Development, and Defense. We have begun to deploy the first operations in the field of education, agriculture, or economically more widely, in many countries of the region. Each time the ground is taken back from the enemy, it must be accompanied by new projects which will let us give economic and educational perspectives, life perspectives to the populations which, at a given moment, could have been seduced. Here I want to salute the action and the results obtained in Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. In the coming months, we have to bring all our help to the stability and the reconquest of certain regions in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Fourth, the question of the Sahel will not be truly solved so long as the stability of Libya is not assured. The chaos that has reigned in Libya since 2011 has led to the creation of routes organized for the trafficking of drugs, human beings, and arms. The entire Sahelo-Saharan band has always been a region of commerce and traffic, but today these routes are ones of misery and terrorism. So long as we have not stabilized Libya, it will be impossible to enduringly stabilize the Sahel.

A few thoughts:

  • I do not think the G5 joint force will live up to Macron’s hopes for it.
  • The language around development is strikingly militarized. I shouldn’t be surprised, after seeing the Bush and Obama administrations adopt similar language (right down to the three, or four, or five Ds, or however many it’s up to now), but it still stands out: the idea of development “operations,” etc.
  • The idea of Nigerien, Mauritanian, and Chadian successes as contrasted with Malian and Burkinabé failures suggests perhaps a bit too much faith in the current “good guys” of the Sahel.

Roundup of Congratulatory Statements from World Leaders to Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on His Re-Election

On 16 August, Mali’s incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was proclaimed the winner of the country’s elections. On 20 August, the Constitutional Court certified the victory.

Congratulatory phone calls and statements came from a variety of other world leaders. I’ve rounded up some of the readouts and texts, leaning partly on a previous roundup at Jeune Afrique. Here they are, in roughly chronological order

  • Senegalese President Macky Sall, phone call, 16 August.
  • Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, statement, 16 August. (Note: Keita’s first trip after winning re-election was to meet Ould Abdel Aziz in Mauritania.)
  • Chadian President Idriss Deby, phone call (I think; the text is unclear), 16 August.
  • Former French President François Hollande, phone call, 16 August.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron, phone call, 17 August.
  • Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, statement on Twitter, 17 August.
  • Moroccan King Mohammed VI, statement, 17 August.
  • Burkinabé President Roch Marc Kaboré, phone call, 17 August.
  • European Union, statement by the spokesperson, 20 August.
  • U.S. Department of State, statement by the spokesperson, 20 August.
  • UK Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin, statement, 22 August.

As I say in a forthcoming piece, I think opposition candidate Soumaïla Cissé has almost no chance of overturning the outcome. With Paris, Brussels, Washington, London, and the whole sub-region recognizing Keïta as Mali’s president, I think it’s a done deal.

Some Background on Chad’s CCMSR Rebel Movement

In Chad, a northern rebel movement is getting more attention, particularly after its recent attack on Kouri Bougri* – enough attention that President Idriss Deby referenced them in his 20 August Eid al-Adha/Tabaski speech, although they quickly rejected his call for them to lay down arms.

The movement is called the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR). RFI says it is “the best armed” of Chad’s rebel movements, and quite possibly also the largest. Formed in 2016 in southern Libya, it includes a number of rebels who previously fought with other groups.

The CCMSR’s secretary-general is Mahamat Hassan Boulmaye. In October 2017, Boulmaye, his spokesman Ahmat Yacoub Adam, and external affairs secretary Abdraman Issa Youssouf, were arrested in Niger (reports conflict as to whether it was near Agadez or in Niamey; Niamey is the version the CCMSR gave). They may have been extradited to Chad – specifically to the Koro Toro prison – but as of May 2018 both Chadian and Nigerien authorities refused to confirm that. The interim secretary-general is Mahamat Tahir Acheick, about whom I could find very little information. You can listen to a French audio message from Boulmaye here, and David Kampmann has more background on the movement here.

The CCMSR’s activities have affected Libya as well. In March 2018, Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army conducted “air raids [that] targeted a rebel-held roadblock 400km southeast of Sebha, as well as other positions in an oasis in the Terbu region 400km farther south.”

The history of rebellions in Chad is too complex to summarize here, but a good place to start for background is Marielle Debos’ Living by the Gun in Chad.

*Kouri Bougri does not show up on Google Maps, but here is a map of the Tibesti Region, where Kouri Bougri is located.

Three Recent Items on Niger, the Western Security Presence, and Domestic Dissent

Here are three items on Niger, from July and August, that caught my eye:

  • On 19 July, five U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing concern about Niger’s arrests of civil society activists. Two key lines from the letter: “It is vital that Niger’s leaders do not interpret our counterterrorism cooperation as license for shirking their responsibilities for good governance…We urge the State Department to speak out in support of civil society leaders jailed for exercising their freedom of expression, association, and assembly.” The signatories are Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). The group visited Niger in April of this year, on a trip that also included stops in Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
  • At the Guardian, Ruth Maclean and Omar Hama Saley write about Niger’s “suppression of dissent.” Here is one key passage: “Niger is one of the most militarised countries in Africa. The government spends 21% of its small budget on defence, which means there is much less to spend on things like health and education. Hence the need for higher taxes, which the government says do not affect the poor but which have nevertheless sparked fierce opposition. Civil society leaders and rights groups say protests against this and any controversial government policies have been ‘almost systematically denied’, while pro-government marches are allowed. Detained civil society leaders have been spread out in jails across the country, meaning their families struggle to visit and feed them; several were convicted of instigating an unarmed, banned gathering last month, and released having already served their time.”
  • At the Intercept, Nick Turse writes that the projected costs of the U.S. drone facility in Agadez are rising: “The outpost — officially a new airfield and associated facilities at Nigerien Air Base 201, or AB 201 — was once billed as a $50 million base dedicated to surveillance drones, and it was to be completed in 2016.  Now, it’s slated to be a $100 million base for armed MQ-9 Reaper drones which will finally take flight in 2019, though the construction cost is hardly the end of the tab for the facility.” The costs, notably, are not just financial but also political.

The authoritarian trendline is worrying – it’s hard to summarize Niger’s political history since 1991, but “civilian authoritarianism” seems to now be a recurring theme. Meanwhile, I’m glad to see journalists continuing to assess the multi-faceted effects of the drone base on civilians in the north; I don’t want to excerpt too much from Turse Maclean and Saley, but there’s a striking paragraph in there with quotations from a man who had barely heard of the United States. The pace of social change and globalization everyone now is rapid, but this base project seems to be accelerating that pace to an even faster clip in one of the most remote parts of the world. That’s going to generate unpredictable effects (and here I’m not talking of violence, actually, but more of chaotic social change). In any case, all of these documents are worth reading in full.

Quick Preview of Mauritania’s Upcoming Legislative Elections

Mauritania will hold legislative, regional, and municipal elections on 1 September, with a runoff scheduled for 15 September. The official campaign period began on 17 August. The ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) is, of course, campaigning for an extension of its dominance.

RFI (French) has written a little on the campaign of the Islamist party, Tewassoul, which was legalized in 2007, participated in the 2009 presidential elections, and boycotted the presidential elections of 2014. Tewassoul, at its party congress in December 2017, replaced longtime leader Jamil Mansour (who stepped down due to internal term limits) with former cabinet minister and current deputy Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Seyidi. This display of internal party democracy was no accident – Tewassoul is keen to make the case, implicitly and explicitly, for its democratic bonafides, and is also keen to draw a contrast with UPR and the incumbent president, Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz, in case he ends up running for an extra-constitutional third term next year

Thus far, Ould Abd al-Aziz has not publicly stated any wish for a third term, although some of his allies and supporters are publicly encouraging such a move. Cynical observers saw last year’s constitutional referendum as a kind of testing-the-waters effort in the direction of a third term bid. Now, the opposition (including Tewassoul) is working to make the legislative elections a referendum on the specter of a third term.

VOA (French) has a bit on the campaign of the opposition Rally for Democracy (RFD), led by Ahmed Ould Daddah, longtime presidential aspirant and brother of Mauritania’s first president. Ould Daddah has denounced the “dictatorship” of Ould Abd al-Aziz and the UPR.

Here are a few important websites:

  • Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI): http://www.ceni.mr/
  • UPR: http://upr.mr/fr/
  • Tewassoul: http://tewassoul.mr/