International Crisis Group Hiring Northern Sahel Analyst

Readers of the blog may be interested in applying for this position with the International Crisis Group:

Based in the region, and preferably in the Crisis Group Office in Dakar, the Analyst will research and produce reports and other works on security, political, legal, governance, human rights and social issues related to Northern Sahel region, including in Northern Mali and Northern Niger.

Crisis Group’s reporting is top-notch, I almost always agree with their policy recommendations, and everyone I’ve met from the organization is highly professional, intelligent, and good-hearted. In other words, I imagine it’s a great place to work.

Libya: LNA Captures Ganfouda, Looks Toward Sabiri and Suq al-Hout

Last week, the forces of Khalifa Haftar, leader of the unrecognized Libyan National Army (LNA), made advances in the eastern city of Benghazi against various jihadists, including the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (BRSC). The LNA recaptured the Abu Sneib district and surrounded another, Ganfouda/Qanfouda, both on the western side of the city. Yesterday, the LNA took Ganfouda. Reuters:

“The liberation of Ganfouda is complete,” LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told Reuters. He added however that the army was yet to secure a separate area known as the “12 Blocks” which lies between Ganfouda and Bosnaib, another neighborhood recently taken by the LNA.

[…]

The fate of civilians trapped in Ganfouda had been a major point of contention, with the United Nations and international human rights groups calling for them to be granted safe passage amid allegations of human rights abuses by both sides.

Here is Human Rights Watch, back in November, on the civilians trapped in Ganfouda:

Ganfouda is one of the few remaining holdouts of militant Islamist groups in Benghazi. The LNA, which has Ganfouda under siege, has said it will not allow any evacuation of males between ages 15 and 65 and has set a series of other conditions. The Islamist coalition controlling the neighborhood has also set conditions for evacuation of civilians.

[…]

Human Rights Watch spoke by cellphone with six Ganfouda residents, as well as with relatives abroad, activists, commanders, and representatives of the LNA and the BRSC. Residents said they live in constant fear of air strikes and have had no access to fresh food for months, no access to medical care with exception of one doctor with limited capacities, and limited drinking water. Electricity had been cut off for months, and only those residents who had a generator and fuel had access to some electricity. They said the intense fighting made them afraid to try to leave their neighborhood to get food and other necessities. They said they could not use a sea route in the coastal city, due to the LNA’s expansion of the siege to include coastal areas.

Turning back to the military struggle, what happens next? As the LNA’s Special Forces commander, Colonel Wanis Boukhamada (Arabic), explained, the LNA now plans to pursue the jihadists in three zones of the city: the “twelve blocks” area, the Suq al-Hout neighborhood, and the Sabiri neighborhood. These areas have been in the LNA’s sights since last summer. At that time, “The LNA has been quoted saying that it would not make its final move against the militants holed up in Suq Al-Hout and Sabri until the battle for Gwarsha and Ganfouda were over.” Gwarsha was captured in November. The LNA’s plan is proceeding slower than it had hoped, but is proceeding nonetheless.

Meanwhile, a car bombing occurred elsewhere in Benghazi yesterday, adding to “fears…that cells of militants still in the city would continue their fight with assassinations and car bombs.”

 

The Gambia: Key People Around President Adama Barrow

Now that the path has been cleared for Adama Barrow to serve as the Gambia’s president, it’s worth taking a look at his team. Here are a few key members:

  • Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang: Barrow announced his pick of Tambajang on January 23. As this bio (French) and this bio describe, she is a long-time development practitioner, human rights activist, and opposition politician. She was an adviser to Gambia’s first president, Dawda Jawara, and served in the 1990s as a cabinet minister under outgoing President Yahya Jammeh. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, she was asked to serve as a mediator between the opposition parties working to form a coalition, and was elected president of the coalition. As Al Jazeera points out, “She made headlines last month when she told The Guardian newspaper that Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, would be prosecuted for alleged crimes committed by his regime.” Given some uncertainty about whether the Barrow administration will attempt to hold Jammeh accountable, it’s noteworthy that Tambajang is already on the record on the issue.
  • Mai Fatty: Fatty is a special adviser to Barrow, a member of Barrow’s transition team, and a leader within the coalition behind him. A lawyer and opposition activist, Fatty founded an opposition party, Gambia Moral Congress (GMC), in 2009. The GMC was one of seven parties that came together to back Barrow in October 2016.
  • Halifa Sallah: Sallah is Barrow’s main spokesman. Within Barrow’s coalition, Sallah represents the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism, whose activism dates to the 1980s.
  • Other key leaders of parties within the coalition include Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party and Lamin Bojang of the National Convention Party. Barrow himself comes from the United Democratic Party.

“Austerity and Unrest in Chad” for the Wilson Center’s “Africa Year in Review”

Last week the Wilson Center released its “Africa Year in Review” for 2016. The document (.pdf) features twenty-one short reflections, treating various important themes. One is by me, entitled “Austerity and Unrest in Chad” (p. 13). That piece is a sequel of sorts to posts I wrote for this blog here, here, and here.

If you read the piece, please share your comments below.

The Gambia: What Happens to Yahya Jammeh?

Last week, the Gambia’s post-electoral crisis came to a formal and relatively peaceful end. President Adama Barrow, who won election in December, took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, on January 19, the constitutionally-mandated transition day. (You can watch the full ceremony here.)

Outgoing president and long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh had disputed the election results and refused to leave power. But Jammeh finally bowed to domestic, regional, and international pressure: he left the Gambia on January 21. It seems he may have taken a lot with him – as much as $11.4 million, if the Barrow team’s information is correct.

What comes next for Jammeh? That partly depends on what deals were struck between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Jammeh, and Barrow. As I wrote in an earlier post, rumors in the Senegalese press held that Jammeh was pushing for full immunity – financial and criminal – for himself, his family, and hundreds of associates.

There are contradictory signs about whether such a deal is in place. The joint statement from ECOWAS, the African Union, and the United Nations seemed to be not-so-subtly urging Barrow to avoid pursuing charges against Jammeh and his associates. An excerpt:

ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it assures and ensures the dignity, respect, security and rights of HE former President Jammeh, as a citizen, a party leader and a former Head of State as provided for and guaranteed by the 1997 Gambian Constitution and other Laws of The Gambia.

Further, ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that it fully guarantees, assures and ensures the dignity, security, safety and rights of former President Jammeh’s immediate family, cabinet members, government officials, Security Officials and party supporters and loyalists.
ECOWAS, the AU and the UN commit to work with the Government of The Gambia to ensure that no legislative measures are taken by it that would be inconsistent with the previous two paragraphs.
ECOWAS, the AU and the UN urge the Government of The Gambia to take all necessary measures to assure and ensure that there is no intimidation, harassment and/or witch-hunting of former regime members and supporters, in conformity with the Constitution and other laws of The Gambia.

The relevant section of the Gambian Constitution is Chapter VI, Article 69 (.pdf).

The joint statement sounds a lot like immunity for Jammeh, and a strong signal from the international community to Barrow to leave Jammeh and his people alone.

But there are other signals from Barrow’s camp:

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Barrow said he wanted to create a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during Mr Jammeh’s time in office.

This pledge is not nearly as strong as the promises of prosecution that came from Barrow’s team in December. Perhaps a truth and reconciliation committee would be more an exercise in collective memory and honesty than a body empowered to prosecute people and seize assets. But it is clear that Barrow does not seem to simply wish to move on.

African leaders’ attitudes toward Jammeh are affected, it seems to me, by two basic considerations. First, as ECOWAS’ posture makes clear, Jammeh was widely disliked and mistrusted by his peers. The swiftness and decisiveness of ECOWAS’ rejection of Jammeh, including its rapid deployment of troops to enforce its directive, does not represent the usual posture of African heads of state toward their peers. Jammeh’s fall was not inevitable; had he been more popular and had he managed things differently, he would likely still be in power.

But second, even though they dislike him, some African heads of state have an incentive to see that Jammeh is not prosecuted. Penalties for Jammeh and his associates would set a precedent where African heads of state are held accountable for crimes committed in office (or, if one counts the trial of Hissene Habre in neighboring Senegal, Jammeh’s prosecution would strengthen that precedent). I suspect, too, that the prospect of domestic punishment worries other autocrats more than the prospect of trial at the International Criminal Court or some other international forum. So it seems that some of Africa’s “presidents for life” will feel better about their own retirement prospects if Jammeh can enjoy a peaceful exile somewhere, without facing charges in his own country.

For my own part, I think that he should be held accountable to the extent possible under the Gambian Constitution. But the matter is for the new president and the Gambian people to decide.

Mali: More Details on the January 18 Gao Suicide Bombing

On January 18, suicide bombers attacked the Operational Coordination Mechanism in Gao, northern Mali – the camp for forces preparing to undertake mixed patrols (rebels, pro-government militias, government forces) in the city. The casualty count, initially reported at around forty, has steadily risen, with RFI (French) putting it now at 77.

The attack was soon claimed (French) by al-Murabitun, a group affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who may or may not be dead. Al-Murabitun said,

We warn all those who have been seduced by France…that we will not accept barracks, bases, patrols, or convoys of the French colonizer who fights the mujahidin.

International media coverage of the statement understandably focused on its anti-French language and the fact that French President Francois Hollande visited Gao just a few days before the attack. But I read the statement more as an anti-peace proclamation, and the attack not as primarily anti-French but as anti-peace. The mixed patrols in Gao represent a small step toward peace in northern Mali (a peace supported by France, no doubt, but also brokered by Algeria and supported to different degrees by the Malian government and other non-jihadist actors in the north), and the achievement of that peace would further marginalize al-Murabitun.

Another noteworthy detail is that al-Murabitun identified the bomber as Abd al-Hadi al-Fulani. Although this is likely a pseudonym, it seems al-Murabitun wished to stress that the bomber was from the Fulani/Peul ethnic group, which is prominent in central and northern Mali and throughout the western Sahel and into northern Nigeria (on central Mali, International Crisis Group’s report from last year is worth reading). The Fulani have come under heavy, and to my mind completely unfair, suspicion as a group over the past few years. Al-Murabitun may be both trying to trumpet whatever Fulani support it has and hoping that identifying the bomber as Fulani will exacerbate collective punishment and suspicion of the Fulani – a scenario that could benefit al-Murabitun, of course.

For its part, the Malian government has swung into action, with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita visiting Gao (French) and declaring three days of national mourning. But RFI (French) has questions about how easily the bomber (or bombers? there may have been up to five) penetrated the camp in Gao. Malian voices have joined in the critical questioning, with one commentator (French) denouncing the “irresponsibility of the Malian state its partners.” The critics, I think, have a point. If the mixed patrols in Gao are to bring greater security to the north, they must themselves enjoy a basic level of security.

 

The Gambia: Who Is Left in Yahya Jammeh’s Cabinet?

Today, the Gambia’s internationally recognized president, Adama Barrow, took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The incumbent, non-recognized president, Yayha Jammeh, remains in power in the Gambia. But Jammeh is quickly losing the support of his own circle: his vice president and some nine cabinet ministers have resigned.

Here is the list of resignations (sources: Reuters, The Point):

  • Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy, in office since 1997
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, foreign affairs minister
  • Minister of Finance Abdou Kolley
  • Minister of Information Sheriff Bojang
  • Minister of Trade, Regional Integration, and Employment Abdou Jobe,
  • Minister of Tourism Benjamin Roberts
  • Minister of Health Omar Sey
  • Minister of Environment, Climate Change, Parks and Wildlife Pa Ousman Jarju
  • Minister of Youth and Sports Alieu Jammeh

Who does that leave in the cabinet? According to a cached copy of the government’s official website, Jammeh had a twenty-member cabinet as of early January, which included him, the vice president, the secretary general, the head of civil service, and sixteen ministers (with Jammeh taking at least one portfolio, Defence).

Jammeh is quickly replacing some of those who resign, although the cascade of resignations has made for constant reshuffling – Roberts, for example, had been moved from Tourism to Finance just two days before he resigned.

Here are some of the remaining officials and new appointees:

  • Musa Jallow, Head of the Civil Service and Minister of Presidential Affairs
  • John Gabriel Gomez, Minister of Youth and Sports (appointed January 9)
  • Seedy S.K. Njie, Minister of Information (appointed January 9)
  • Momodou Alieu Bah, Minister of the Interior
  • Bala Garba Jahumpa, Minister of Transport
  • Ebrima Njie, Deputy Minister of Works and Infrastructure
  • Fatima Singhateh, Attorney General and Minister of Justice
  • Musa Amul Nyassi, Minister of Lands and Regional Government

The list is undoubtedly inaccurate in part. Wikipedia gives a somewhat different list, which includes a few different names and few more portfolios.

The point is that Jammeh has lost about half of his cabinet. The rationale for resigning is not hard to follow: cabinet members are putting their fingers to the wind and deciding that either (a) Jammeh is bound to fall, and they don’t want to fall with him or (b) if Jammeh stays, he will be so isolated that their lives will become extremely unpleasant. Either way, sticking with Jammeh is clearly seen, increasingly, as a career-killer – and there is international acclaim to be won even for those who jump ship at the last minute.

So far, the defections are limited to the cabinet (and the mayor of Banjul) – and have not extended significantly to the parliament, which has approved both a ninety-day state of emergency and a ninety-day extension of Jammeh’s term. Nor have the defections extended to senior military, although Chief of Defence Staff General Ousman Badjie has reportedly said that his soldiers will not fight with forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should they intervene to topple Jammeh.

Between the political defections and the military’s reluctance to fight ECOWAS, it looks increasingly like Jammeh’s days are numbered.

If you have any additional/better information about the remaining cabinet members, I urge you to share it in the comments.