Khalifa Haftar’s Visit to Niger

On 6 August, Libya’s Khalifa Haftar – head of the Libyan National Army, the most prominent politician in northeastern Libya, and a key rival of Libya’s Government of National Accord – visited Niger. There, he met Nigerien President Mahamdou Issoufou as well as senior Nigerien military officers.

Haftar is not Libya’s head of state, but as one observer commented, it looked a bit like “head of state protocol” for Haftar in Niger, or at least a very respectful welcome. See this official tweet from the Nigerien presidency:

Similarly, Libya analyst Jalel Harchaoui took issue with RFI’s headline calling the visit “discreet/low profile.”

No news reports that I have seen, nor the Nigerien presidency’s website, have given an official readout of what was discussed at the meeting. Various analyses have placed the visit in the context of Haftar’s ambitions to dominate/conquer southern Libya, and the corresponding need to coordinate to some extent with Libya’s southern neighbors.

I am aware of at least one past visit by Haftar to Chad, in September 2016, but I am not aware of him paying another diplomatic visit like this to another Sahelian country (and no, I am not counting his capture in Chad in the 1980s as a “visit” in this sense) since he returned to Libya in 2011.

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Oath-Swearing and Laïcité in Chad

In May, Chad embarked on its Fourth Republic. Its new constitution, approved by parliament in April, effectively allows the president (Idriss Deby) to serve two more, six-year terms past his current term – i.e., to remain in office until 2033.

The constitution also contains a new article (105) requiring new cabinet ministers to swear an oath in front of the President and “following the confessional formula sanctioned by the law.” I haven’t been able to track down the precise wording that the Supreme Court requires, but essentially it seems that ministers at the swearing-in ceremony on 10 May had to swear either on a Qur’an or a Bible, and had to invoke the name of God (using the word Allah, although apparently Deby intervened in one case to allow one minister to use the French word “Dieu” or “God”).*

A bigger deal was the situation of Rosine Amane Djibergui, the minister-designate for civil aviation. She refused to swear to God under any name, stating that she felt the demand contradicted the secularity (laïcité) of the Chadian state. She was effectively fired on the spot and replaced by a general. You can watch video of the incident here. Several other sub-cabinet officials were also fired for refusing to swear, in their case because they were Christians who hold that swearing contradicts their faith (a position some Christians took in early America, which is why you sometimes see the phrase “swear or affirm,” for example in the presidential oath of office).

Several Christian pastors have since publicly taken up the issue, arguing that the oath-swearing violates principles of laïcité.

It’s possible that all this bespeaks a nefarious intention on Deby’s part to undermine laïcité or even to “Islamize” Chad, but I actually wonder whether it’s not just about a certain sloppiness and aversion to dissent – in other words, perhaps the authorities didn’t really think through the idea of a new swearing-in formula, or perhaps they adopted it under pressure from one particular lobby group. In either case, the authorities likely didn’t expect any dissent and were probably caught off guard by Djibergui’s stance. In the moment, their reflexive urge was to shut her down, so they just followed that instinct. Deby’s people, I think, are not used to being challenged, especially to their faces.

This is not to say that there was no consultation on the formula. The day before the incident with Djibergui, Deby met with the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, the vicar-general of the diocese of N’Djamena, and the deputy secretary-general of the Coalition of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad. Presumably they signed off on the new formula, which may also help explain why authorities may have felt caught off guard (and been instinctively defensive) when they started getting objections to the oaths.

On a related note, the head of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs died in January, but the succession involved almost pure continuity: his deputy took over, preserving the power of the Tijaniyya Sufi order within the Council, and two other major religious figures associated with the Council basically moved up one level in the hierarchy.

*Practitioners of other religions also apparently have an option to swear on their “ancestral rite.”

A Police Census in Chad, With Encouragement from the World Bank and the IMF

Chad is conducting a census (French) of its police. Every officer must present himself or herself to be physically counted – otherwise, they will not receive their salaries.

The move makes sense on its face – who wants ghost workers, especially ghost police? – but it may provoke some real discontent. Viewed in context, this census seems like the latest in a wave of state measures that have upset public employees. Different groups of employees have been striking over the past few years, often over issues of pay but sometimes over broader complaints alleging a lack of basic fairness in the country. If the police do not see the census as fair or as fairly executed, further strikes may be in the cards. The police census, moreover, is apparently a kind of test exercise for a full census of all public employees.

Another part of the context is that according to RFI (see link above), this move comes with the encouragement of the World Bank, while according to VOA (French) it comes with the encouragement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The World Bank pledged $1.1 billion in loans to Chad back in September 2017, which will support the implementation of Chad’s three-year National Development Plan (.pdf, French). The IMF pledged $312 million back in June 2017 under a three-year Extended Credit Facility. (Chad also obtained other large pledges from various donors and investors at a September 2017 roundtable in Paris.)

I could not find any language about the census in World Bank documents, but here is one brief mention in an IMF document (see .pdf available through this link, p. 3).

On the expenditure side, a key priority for the authorities has been to exercise stricter control over current spending. As part of these efforts, the authorities are committed to reducing the wage bill to a sustainable level in line with staff recommendations. In this regard, they have implemented several measures to contain the wage bill, including by introducing a hiring freeze in civil services, limiting wage increases, and reducing bonuses and benefits. Partly, as a result of these moves, social tensions have exacerbated, but have subsequently weakened following agreements reached between the government and unions that helped preserve positive prospects for reducing the wage bill. Going forward, they are planning a civil service census, while exploring avenues for modernizing the payroll management system and reforming the civil service to achieve increased cost efficiency and transparency.

Am I missing something, or is this just another round of structural adjustment?

The New Mauritanian G5 Joint Force Commander and His Chadian Deputy

Late last week French and Mauritanian media that the new G5 Sahel Joint Force commander will be Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi. He replaces Malian General Didier Dacko, whose removal was one outcome of the 2 July meeting of Sahelian and French heads of state in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Ould Sidi is Mauritania’s Vice Chief of Army Staff. He is mentioned in a few brief news items at the Mauritanian Army’s website (example), but other than that I can’t find much information about him, either in French or in Arabic (here is the Arabic spelling of his name, for those curious).

La Tribune reports that at the G5 Sahel Joint Force, Ould Sidi’s deputy will be Chadian General Oumar Bikimo Jean, whose French-language Wikipedia page (which is pretty well sourced) is here.

Sahelian Governments’ Readouts of the 2 July Nouakchott Meeting on the G5 Sahel

On 2 July, amid the African Union summit in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, the presidents of France and five Sahelian countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) met to discuss Sahelian security generally and the G5 Sahel Joint Force specifically. One outcome of the meeting was the sack of the Joint Force’s commander, Malian General Didier Dacko.

For French speakers, though, I thought it would be useful to round up all the official readouts of the meeting I could find. The Chadian presidency and the Nigerien presidency released official statements, while Mali’s president did a wide-ranging interview with France24 on the margins of the summit and (so far as I could tell) Burkina Faso’s president did not release a readout, just two comments on Twitter. As for Mauritania, the official Agence Mauritanienne d’Information released a readout here. Finally, the French president’s remarks to the press can be found here.

To me the most interesting readout was the Nigerien version, which had a few highlights (other than the main theme of the meeting, which seems to have been “let’s get this thing going a lot more”):

  • The G5 countries will now move to rebuild the damaged force headquarters in Sévaré, Mali;
  • They will continue to pursue a United Nations Chapter Seven mandate for the force (more backstory here), which might help resolve some of its financial problems; and
  • The regional governments will meet again in Nouakchott on 6 December.

On the G5 Sahel Joint Force’s Change of Command

On 29 June, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM, a Saharan jihadist formation that is part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb) attacked the headquarters of the G5 Sahel Joint Force in Sévaré, central Mali. JNIM has claimed responsibility for several other recent attacks as well.

On 2 July, at the African Union summit in Mali’s neighbor Nouakchott, Sahelian heads of state, in consultation with French President Emmanuel Macron, decided to remove (French) the commander of the G5 joint force (see the readout of the meeting here). That commander was Malian General Didier Dacko.

You can read a bit of background on Dacko here (French). Dacko had long experience fighting jihadists and rebels in central and northern Mali, although with a mixed record. The French newspaper L’Express has also written (French) that he had ties to the northern pro-government militia leader El Hajj Ag Gamou, and that his ties to Ag Gamou enmeshed him in a web of northern contacts that includes some pretty shady people. (Arguably, this is true of many northern Malian elites and other senior military officers). In any case, Dacko headed the G5 Sahel Joint Force for a little over a year.

According to multiple sources, Dacko will be replaced by a yet-to-be-named officer from Mauritania, while Dacko’s Burkinabé deputy will be replaced by an officer from Chad. One prominent French blogger concludes, “One thing seems certain. The French army prefers to count on the much more seasoned armies of Chad and Mauritania than on their Malian partner.”

Finally, one might point out that the G5 Joint Force’s problems run quite deep – deeper than one commander.

 

Chad: The End of the Judicial Strike(?)

RFI (French) reports that as of yesterday, Chadian judicial personnel (lawyers, magistrates, bailiffs, etc.) halted their month-long strike, which I wrote a little about earlier this month. The strikers won some major political victories, including the sacking and arrest of the governor of Doba (French). The strike has raised fundamental issues of accountability – the immediate trigger was an incident in Doba where gendarmes reportedly attacked a lawyer. Given that these are systemic issues, RFI wisely notes that “clouds remain.” RFI quotes the head of the magistrates’ union: “There have been similar cases in the past. We continue to ask, to demand that the security and protection of magistrates really be a reality. This question is fundamental.”

The University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group, in their weekly roundup, has a few more items related to the strike and other judicial matters.