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 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.
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.
RFI (French) reports that over the weekend, Nigerien soldiers in the northeast of their country clashed with armed Chadian bandits. The bandits reportedly fled toward the Nigerien border.
The incident reminds me of a quote (French) I’ve come back to again and again, from Mohamed Anacko, president of Agadez’s regional council. This came in the context of discussing France’s Sahel-wide counterterrorism program, Operation Barkhane, in a 2015 interview:
First of all, I should say that if Barkhane had not been there, the last Nigerien lock would have been forced open during the war in Mali. The national army would not have been able to prevent the terrorists from coming to set up shop in the north. But it is true that from the start, Barkhane suffered from a lack of communication. When you send helicopters and planes into the desert, without having created an information mechanism, you should expect that the populations will see a new form of colonialism in it…The inhabitants do not understand that Barkhane only takes action against certain armed groups. There are gangs, coming from Chad or Sudan for example, that practice looting, particularly since gold panning became important. But Barkhane, because that is not its mission, does not take an interest in them. Neither do the Nigerien security forces, moreover. However, these are the persons who create conditions propitious for the installation of terrorism. The risk is that the population will create militias to defend itself. What’s more, the struggle against terrorism, it’s first of all about intelligence. There must be collaboration with the inhabitants, who know the region. If not, Barkhane will have to content itself with doing tourism in the desert.
Words worth reflecting on.
It’s been a while (.pdf, p. 13) since I’ve written about the periodic waves of strikes by professionals and students in Chad. Here is a recent strike worth noting (French):
On Thursday, 31 May, Chadian lawyers, bailiffs, and notaries joined magistrates in a country-wide strike in order to support a lawyer who was taken to task by security forces…The magistrates decided on the “cessation of all activities throughout the national territory” to protest against the aggression against a lawyer and his clients by the security forces on 22 May in Doba.
RFI (French) provides more details on the incident in Doba:
The Chadian judicial system is today paralyzed by an affair that has shaken it since 22 May. That Tuesday, in Doba, in the south of the country, the justice system released three men accused by the city’s highest political and military authorities of “complicity in associating with wrongdoers” linked with a murky affair of alleged arms possession. Except that the men were then attacked by gendarmes, arrested and beaten up publicly. The affair has since taken on a national dimension…Meeting in general assembly that Sunday, the Order of Lawyers decided to launch a strike in the tribunals for three days, together with a condition: that three high authorities of the oil town of Doba, including the governor and the head of the legion of the gendarmerie, be relieved of their functions and judged.
At least one source (French) reports that the governor has been sacked by presidential decree. If true, that would be a sign of the presidency’s real concern over these strikes. After all, these judicial personnel are highly educated and well-placed people making extremely serious and specific political demands. It’s not easy to ignore them.
I’m up at Foreign Policy today with an article on how Chad is reacting to the Trump administration’s travel ban. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section here.
I’m up at Global Observatory with a piece on Chad. Here’s an excerpt:
The Chadian government is also asking Western and African donors for more development funding. Chad will hold a roundtable in Paris in September to seek contributions for its newly adopted national development plan. Potential partners have already shown a willingness to participate: Deby recently hosted the vice president of the African Development Bank, which is financing projects in Chad’s electricity sector; the Bank confirmed that it will attend the Paris roundtable. The adoption of the development plan was one factor in the IMF’s decision to grant a new loan. The IMF did not make any allusion to Chad’s role in regional security, but other actors are clearly aware of the bargaining power that Chad has with donors because of its security role. Meeting the committee organizing the roundtable, France’s ambassador to Chad asked the Chadian government—according to the paraphrase of a Chadian news site—“to avoid playing the security card.” But the card has already been played, and with effect.
I welcome any comments you may have.