Africa News Roundup: Elections in Libya, ECOWAS Meets on Mali, Missed Deadlines in Somalia, and More

Libya votes in parliamentary elections today. Some relevant news and commentary from Thursday and Friday:

Today, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet in Ouagadougou to discuss Mali, focusing on “broadening the interim government in southern Mali to give it greater legitimacy” and “retaking the north from Islamist militants.”

Another serious protest took place yesterday in Sudan, with more repression by security forces. The situation in Sudan is dynamic, but readers may be interested in two things I wrote about the protests earlier in the week, one at World Politics Review and one at The American Interest.

Alertnet rounds up uniformly grim assessments of conditions in South Sudan from the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF.

The International Contact Group on Somalia has “expressed concern over the missing of deadlines which form part of the process of ending the country’s current transitional governing arrangements on 20 August this year.”

The Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria has charged two men of having links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The men are from Lagos, and BBC Hausa adds that so far no link has been established between them and Boko Haram. To my relatively ignorant eye, the men appear to have Yoruba names.

VOA reports that residents of Kano feel caught between Boko Haram and the security forces.

On Tuesday and Thursday, police in Senegal questioned Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?

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Africa Blog Roundup: Drones and Yemen, Somalia Pirates, USAID, and More

Yemen (I know Yemen is not in Africa, but what happens there is relevant to what happens in the Horn): Aaron Zelin and Gregory Johnsen discuss the advantages and disadvantages of conducting drone strikes against AQAP in Yemen. Gregory:

The idea that the US can carry out a war in Yemen, even a remote controlled one, and not pay the price for it is foolish. If the US treats the country like a war zone it will get a war. There is, simply put, no magic missile solution to the problem of AQAP in Yemen.

Somalia: Modern Day Pirate Tales looks at a record ransom paid to Somali pirates, and Foreign Policy has a photo essay on anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden.

South Africa: Matthew Tostevin covers South Africa’s application to join the BRICs.

Nigeria: Shelby Grossman points out some interesting details about the arms shipment seized in Nigeria last month.

USAID: The Project on Middle East Democracy flags an article at the Center for Strategic and International Studies “describing the decline of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) over the past four administrations.”

Colonialism: Chris Blattman, Joshua Keating, and Olumide Abimbola discuss the relative merits of British colonialism.

Feel free to use this as an open thread.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: AQIM, AQAP, US Mid-Terms and Africa

AQIM: Kal has some sweet maps.

AQAP: Gregory Johnsen writes on Yemen and the package bomb scare. Joshua Keating has more.

US Midterms and Africa: G. Pascal Zachary says a Republican-controlled House of Representatives might pay more attention to Africa.

West African Elections: Africa Monitor and Reuters Africa Blog look at the elections in Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Ethiopia/Sudan/Kenya: Mark Leon Goldberg at UN Dispatch writes about IGAD and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir.

I leave you with this Al Jazeera Talk video on an Arabic institute in Edo State, eastern Nigeria:

Quick Items: Boko Haram and al Shabab

Nigeria

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Boko Haram’s increasing sophistication (and the question of who leads the movement), we have this from AP:

Posters by the Boko Haram sect appeared at key intersections in the city of Maiduguri this week, bearing the name of Imam Abubakar Shekau, the group’s de facto leader. The two top corners of the posters bore a symbol of an opened Quran, flanked on each side by Kalashnikov assault rifles and a flag in the middle — mirroring of the logo of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The message warned the public against assisting the police or going near soldiers guarding the town at night. The message also acknowledged a recent reward offered for information leading to the arrest of suspected sect members.

“Any Muslim that goes against the establishment of Sharia (law) will be attacked and killed,” the message read.

I am not convinced that there are serious ties between Boko Haram and AQIM, despite the affinities each might proclaim for the other. I am convinced that Boko Haram is learning how to use propaganda as part of an integrated, long-term guerrilla strategy.

Somalia

Chatham House has issued a new report, “Yemen and Somalia: Terrorism, Shadow Networks and the Limitations of State-building.” One of the report’s central conclusions is that “both AQAP and al-Shabaab have developed successful narratives around injustice that are not being addressed by existing Western interventions. On the contrary, Western policies are contributing to a sense among some Yemenis and Somalis of being ‘under attack’ and are drawing them towards radicalization and militancy.”

VOA has more on the report, including interviews with Chatham House analysts.

I hope to read the full report this weekend, but my initial impression is that it could definitely spark some new debates and new thinking about Western approaches to southern Somalia. If you read it, let us know your reaction in the comments.

 

An AQAP Influx into Somalia?

Commanders of Al Shabab in Somalia and of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen have been talking about exchanging fighters for months now, but for the most part it seemed like just talk. This week I started hearing rumors about actual movement of AQAP personnel from Yemen to Somalia (first on Twitter from a private account, so no link), then in outlets like the Saudi Gazette. Now the story is hitting major US and international news outlets.

At least 12 al Qaeda members have crossed from Yemen into Somalia in the last two weeks, bringing money and military expertise to Somali rebels battling the Western-backed government, a senior Somali official said.

[…]

A smaller group — Hizbul Islam — which has an alliance with al Shabaab in Mogadishu, expressed its loyalty to al Qaeda on Wednesday for the first time and invited Osama bin Laden to Somalia.

“Our intelligence shows 12 senior al Qaeda officials came into Somalia from Yemen in the last two weeks,” said Treasury Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman, adding that he had been briefed by Somalia’s intelligence agencies.

“They were sent off to assess the situation to see if al Qaeda may move its biggest military bases to southern Somalia since they are facing a lot of pressure in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.

Osman did not say who the al Qaeda members were nor their positions in the organisation.

[…]”They brought money to al Shabaab which had been facing difficulties to recruit more fighters because of cash shortages,” Osman said.

Some of the foreign commanders had landed in airstrips in the south disguised as humanitarian workers and two were in Mogadishu, he said.

Hizbul Islam’s invitation to bin Laden is a non-story in my eyes. It may tell us something about Hizbul Islam’s rhetorical tactics for claiming the mantle of hardline Islam, and it may tell us something about the rhetoric of Islamist politics in Somalia in general, but jihadi groups around the world would all love to have bin Laden join them. I don’t think he’ll be showing up in southern Somalia any time soon, so it’s just talk too.

The reports of exchanges between AQAP and al Shabab have more meat to them. The story still needs further corroboration in my eyes, and the cynical might say that Somali government officials are seizing an opportunity to tout their anti-terrorism credentials, but if the story is true then it means the links between al Shabab and al Qaeda are getting a significant boost right now. The prospect of collaboration between militants on either side of the Gulf of Aden is unsettling, though AQAP seems to be largely on the defensive now, and al Shabab has not been able to make substantial headway against its foes in the last few months.

This movement between Yemen and Somalia also raises questions about the wisdom of Washington’s strategy in the “Global War on Terror”: what is the point of pushing Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, out of South Asia into the Gulf, and out of the Gulf into the Horn of Africa? These guys will always go somewhere, no matter how much force the US directs at them. That doesn’t mean the US should give up and let Al Qaeda do whatever it wants, but it does say to me that what the US is doing is simply shifting militants around the globe, killing some of them (as well as scores of civilians), but not really solving problems.

Here’s a video from NTV Kenya on the current situation in southern Somalia. It will say little that is news for people who follow the conflict closely, but it gives a nice overview of some of the aspects of the crisis:

Yemen and Somalia, AQAP and al Shabab

Early January:

Sana'a, Yemen

Senior leaders of the Shabab rebels promised Friday to send their fighters beyond Somalia to Yemen and wherever jihad beckoned.

[…]

He said that the fighters had been trained to fight the African Union peacekeeping force and the transitional federal government in Somalia but that Yemen was just across the Gulf of Aden and that “our brothers must be ready for our welcome.”

While it was not clear when or whether the rebels could carry out their threat, the avowed goals signaled a shift in strategy from an Islamist insurgency that has drawn foreign fighters here to one that aims to provide them to insurgencies abroad.

The Shabab have increased their ties with Al Qaeda, which has recently been fighting the American-backed military in Yemen.

Early February:

A Yemen-based al-Qaida group is calling for regional coordination with rebels in Somalia.  The governments of both countries are facing powerful insurgencies from Islamist forces.

The deputy commander of the militant group known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Said Ali al-Shihri, has issued an audio statement urging the Somali al-Shabab militants to join with his group in blocking U.S. maritime shipments to Israel.

I have previously wondered whether al Shabab’s foreign ties were more fantasy than reality, but recent events (such as the death of a Jordanian who was a senior Shabab commander and the rise of American Omar Hammami within al Shabab’s ranks) have demonstrated, even for a skeptic like me, the multinational character of al Shabab’s leadership. And even if the talk on both sides of the Gulf of Aden is just talk, it’s important talk. As I’ve said before, American involvement in either Yemen or Somalia now necessarily means some degree of involvement in the other.