Two Recent Reports on Mali by Human Rights Watch and SIPRI

Two new major reports on Mali have appeared recently. Here is a short synopsis/excerpt of each.

1. Human Rights Watch, “Self-Defense Group Abuses in Central Mali” (full report here)

This report concentrates on Bambara and Dogon ethnic self-defense groups in Mali’s central Mopti region, and on the broader dialectic that features (a) jihadist recruitment among the Peul, (b) Bambara and Dogon violence against the Peul, and (c) retaliatory violence by jihadists and Peul communities against the Bambara and Dogon. The report also notes how the Malian state and military, though various forms of both presence and absence, have contributed to the violence.

One thing I really appreciated about the report was that in addition to highlighting jihadism, ethnic tensions, and resource disputes, it also really emphasized how the availability of small arms fuels the conflict. Here is an excerpt from p. 21:

Community leaders from all ethnic groups and security analysts in the region told Human Rights Watch that the proliferation of semi-automatic assault rifles and other weapons in the possession of self-defense and Islamist armed groups was contributing to the lethality of the communal violence.

Many said Mali’s cycles of armed conflict in the north was an obvious factor leading to arms proliferation, but they questioned how, more recently, the self-defense groups had procured so many weapons and ammunition without the government acting to control the problem. A European security expert said: “The Dogon and Bambara self-defense militias have more and more AK-47s (Kalashnikov assault rifles), and seemingly endless stocks of ammunition. These are very poor communities so how can they afford to buy all this stuff?”

Villagers said self-defense or hunting societies were traditionally armed with artisanal or single-barrel shotguns and only started seeing “war guns” within the last few years. “The arms they [militias] are using are not the ones our fathers used,” one market woman said. “When they fired, the earth trembled.”

Many local residents and external observers (including me) are increasingly troubled by the question of where these weapons, and the money used to purchase them, come from.

2. SIPRI, Aurélien Tobie and Grégory Chauzal, “State Services in an Insecure Environment: Perceptions among Civil Society in Mali” (full report here)

This report starts with the finding that Malians by and large want the state to provide essential services but see it as sometimes incapable of doing so. In areas of state weakness or absence, communities are pursuing their own strategies and models. The study is based on a survey, and the variations within responses (by gender, region, topic, etc.) are extremely interesting. Here is one example from pp. 9-10:

The questionnaire also included questions on the best level for decision making, as the issue of decentralization is important in Mali. Initiated in the 1990s, the process of decentralization is regularly debated in the context of the recurring crises. Closer proximity to the decision-making process is sometimes seen as a way to adapt services to local needs and demands…

However, respondents’ preferences for national or decentralized service provision seem to depend on the sector considered: while most respondents were in favour of a nationalized justice system, most preferred transport, water, healthcare and food security to be decentralized. Preferences for education and security were less clear-cut and varied by region, with the South often standing out: respondents in the South tended to favour the nationalization of security policies, whereas those in the North and Central zones wanted them to be decentralized. On the question of education, the opposite pattern appeared: most of the respondents in the South wanted this to be decentralized, whereas those in the North and Central zones wanted a national policy. This may be due to the fact that education is considered a strong vector of integration in Mali and is seen as one of the main instruments for fostering national cohesion. The lack of educational infrastructure in the North, including the absence of a university, has been seen as an obstacle to the development of the regions there.

 

Advertisements

Mali: Roundup on the Reported Death of Amadou Kouffa

In November, media outlets reported that French and Malian forces had killed Amadou/Hamadoun Kouffa, the foremost jihadist in central Mali, on 23 November. A few days later, French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly confirmed Kouffa’s death (see also her initial statements on the raid). An official statement from France’s counterterrorism mission in the Sahel, Operation Barkhane, can be found here. The operation seems to have taken place in the Mopti region of Mali, near the Malian-Mauritanian border.

The organization Kouffa belonged to – Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin (JNIM, the Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims), a part of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – has not yet issued a eulogy. The Mauritanian journalist Muhammad Mahmud Abu al-Ma’ali has said that a source within JNIM denied Kouffa’s death and proclaimed him to be in good health. (See also here.)

I have never seen a really definitive biography of Kouffa, but some profiles can be found here and here.

There is a lot to say about Kouffa, but I want to start with a roundup of the coverage of his reported death:

  • The Malian journalist Adam Thiam makes a number of excellent points here, including how one might know whether Kouffa is dead in the absence of a eulogy (e.g., if Kouffa’s wives go into formal mourning, or if he does not surface soon on WhatsApp messages, or if a successor is named). Thiam goes on to say, “It will be difficult to find a natural successor with the stature of the late preacher. But the bleeding will not necessarily stop.” Thiam notes that various root causes of the insurgency in the center are still in place, ranging from Malian army abuses to ethnic and resource conflicts to the continued influence of Iyad ag Ghali, JNIM’s leader. Thiam also notes, sagely, that Kouffa’s death may have unanticipated consequences.
  • An in-depth report at Le Monde surveys Kouffa’s life and career and discusses the potential impact of his death.
  • Also at Le Monde, Thomas Hofnung warns – in a similar vein to Thiam – that by killing Kouffa, France/Mali struck at the top of the pyramid while failing to halt the expansion of that pyramid’s base. Hofnung emphasizes the issue of governance in the center and preventing “a war of all against all.”
  • On Twitter, MENASTREAM wrote a thread giving important details and context about the raid and its significance, including the very important point that Kouffa had recently appeared in a video, and that there seems to be something of a trend where jihadist leaders who expose themselves by making videos can end up quickly targeted and killed by counterterrorism forces. See MENASTREAM’s thread on that video here, and the video itself is here.
  • Both MENASTREAM and Aurelien Tobie, in a separate thread, note another important detail about the raid: as many as thirty JNIM/Kouffa fighters, including other officials of the group, were reportedly killed alongside Kouffa. So the group’s losses may extend well beyond just their regional leader.
  • Arabic-language Mauritanian media outlets such as Sahara Medias have also covered the raid in some depth, but have not, in my view, added many distinctive details.

New Report: “Mali’s Tragic But Persistent Status Quo”

I have a new report out with Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The report, “Mali’s Tragic But Persistent Status Quo,” looks at why some politicians – especially in Bamako and Kidal – have maintained power and influence for years, even amid Mali’s multi-faceted crisis. The report is based on field research trips I took to Bamako in January and March of this year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The report makes two, interrelated arguments. First, armed conflict in Mali benefits certain politicians and does not typically threaten manyother politicians’ survival or interests. The central state would almost certainly prefer to end the conflict, but its limited means prevent it from doing so. Thus the central authorities seek ways to manage and shape the endemic violence that they cannot eliminate. The management of violence in both northern and central Mali revolves around controlling regional capitals (or making deals with the de facto administrative authorities there) and accepting that state authority progressively diminishes as one leaves the regional capitals and moves into the surrounding areas.

[…]

The report’s second main argument is that the formal, externally- backed mechanisms intended to stabilize Mali and resolve its conflicts are implicated in perpetuating violence. The peace process envisioned by the 2015 Algiers Accord has been rocky and problematic. Alongside implementation problems, the design of the Accord unwittingly encourages ambitious politicians and violent entrepreneurs to create new militias as a means of seeking representation in the structures established through the Accord. Nevertheless, foreign powers appear comfortable with both the Bamako-based political class and the Tuareg hereditary elite in Kidal, occasionally contemplating sanctions against members of the latter but showing no appetite to displace either group. Moreover, as two experts put it, “In some ways, Bamako’s elites are more connected to the realities of cities outside Mali than to what is happening in the centre or north of the country.”

I welcome any feedback you have on the report.

Notes on the Carter Center’s Second Report on Mali’s Peace Process

The Carter Center is the independent observer designated to follow the implementation of Mali’s peace process as envisioned by the 2015 Algiers Accord. The selection of an independent observer is itself one part of the Accord’s implementation. The Carter Center released its first report in May 2018, and released its second report on 26 October.

Here are my notes on the latter. To me the most striking passages involved (a) the Carter Center’s concerns about the Accord Monitoring Committee (CSA) and (b) the report’s observations about the Operational Coordination Mechanism (MOC) and civilians’ negative perceptions of it in Gao. Here are some key excerpts:

  • The overall tone is mixed, leaning cautiously optimistic. From p. 3: “The observation period was marked by modest but real progress as well as by a significant pause in implementation caused by the presidential election. While progress has been made in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), other obstacles remain, particularly the establishment of the Interim Authorities and the Operational Coordination Mechanism (Mécanisme opérationnel de coordination – MOC) as fully operational. Despite their continued commitment to the agreement, this mixed record underlines the fact that the Malian parties (government of Mali, Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad [CMA]), and the Plateforme des mouvements du 14 juin d’Alger [Platform]) remain reluctant to advance quickly.”
  • After noting implementation challenges related to the structures created by the Accord and the signatories’ postures, the report goes on to note other challenges to peace. From p. 4: “Two challenges external to the agreement itself impede progress – the crisis in central Mali and criminal economic activity. The crisis in central Mali could overtax the resources initially earmarked for the execution of the agreement, while the ‘criminal economy’ – whose link with the implementation of the agreement has been sufficiently documented by the report of the group of experts established pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2374 (2017) – slows and discourages implementation.” For background on the crisis in central Mali, this report is a good place to start for Anglophones; for those who read French, I would add this report as well. The report of the UN group of experts can be found here, and my own notes on it are here. Finally, the Carter Center report discusses these two issues (central Mali and criminal economic activity) a bit more on p. 13.
  • The report makes numerous critiques of the Monitoring Committee/Comité de suivi de l’accord (CSA). From p. 6: “Normally scheduled monthly, only three CSA sessions were held during the five-month observation period, due in large part to the presidential election. These sessions lasted only a single day, and sometimes just a few hours. During these sessions, a blockage on a particular topic occasionally led to the suspension or end of a session. The CSA ratifies, often without discussion or formal decision, the actions or agreements made by the parties…The appointment of the minister of social cohesion [see here – AT] is a significant clarification of thegovernment’s presence in the CSA. At the same time, the Independent Observer notes that senior officials of the CMA, based in Kidal, regularly call into question the conclusions or decisions negotiated by representatives in Bamako. The Platform coalition is often marked by wide differences between its members, which impact and slow decision-making.”
  • The report also focuses in on the difference between the formal installation of the interim authorities in northern areas and their actual functioning. From p. 9: “At the regional level, Interim Authorities have been established officially in Kidal (February 2017), Gao and Ménaka (March 2017), and Timbuktu and Taoudéni (April 2017). However, none are in fact operational because they lack budgets to carry out their missions, including the provision of basic services…Over and above these specific obstacles, the Independent Observer expresses concern about the lack of initiative shown by the government to empower the Interim Authorities. Because of the absence of a budget and activities, the Interim Authorities are gradually being undermined and the government’s good faith called into question.”
  • The report has strong words about the MOC, writing that it is operation but deeply hamstrung in Gao, and “not operational” in Timbuktu and Kidal (p. 10). Significantly, the report notes that in Gao, “the population complains of growing insecurity and tends to attribute the increase in banditry and crime to the presence of MOC members.” In other words, the issue is not just about budgets and technical implementation but also about perceptions. The dynamic the report notes is a very dangerous one.

 

 

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy in Europe and West Africa

It took the Trump administration an unusually long time to appoint an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. When the nominee was ultimate chosen, it was Tibor Nagy, a retired Foreign Service officer who had served as ambassador to Guinea and Ethiopia. His swearing-in took place in September (see his remarks from that ceremony here).

Nagy is now on his first trip overseas (I think) since taking his post. Lasting from 29 October to 10 November, the trip will take him to the United Kingdom, France, Togo (November 1), Guinea (November 2-4), Mali (November 4-7), and Nigeria (November 7-10). From the official statement, let’s just excerpt the part about Mali and Nigeria:

In Bamako, Mali on November 4-7, Assistant Secretary Nagy will hold meetings with Malian government officials, host a trade and entrepreneurship roundtable, and meet with YALI alumni.

The final stop on the trip will be Abuja, Nigeria. Assistant Secretary Nagy will have meetings with government officials, members of the American business community, religious leaders, civil society organizations, youth groups, and he will deliver a speech at Baze University on U.S.-Africa relations.

I was not previously familiar with Baze University, which is located in Abuja. Its website is here.

Nagy laid out more of his agenda in a blog post. After describing his past experiences in/with Africa, he wrote:

On this trip, I have set out four themes as part of my engagement. The first is to promote stronger trade and commercial ties between the United States and Africa by creating a level playing field across African markets for all companies, regardless of where they come from.

This means placing an emphasis on rule of law, transparency, recourse for investors, and fighting corruption.

My second priority is harnessing the potential of Africa’s youth as a force for economic ingenuity and prosperity.

[…a section on demographics follows…]

My third goal is to advance peace and security through partnerships with African governments and regional mechanisms. The transnational challenges of terrorism and extremism in the Sahel, Northern Nigeria, Somalia, and now in Central Africa, and the rise of Boko Harem [don’t blame me – AT], Al Qaeda in the Magreb, ISIS West Africa, and Al Shabaab, require new, determined regional approaches to counteract these groups. This includes better-trained and paid African security and law enforcement.

I look forward to engaging productively with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and what I hope will be an inclusive and re-energized Intergovernmental Authority for Government.

Finally, I want to set the record straight – the United States has an unwavering commitment to the continent and its people. From the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief to Power Africa, to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Feed the Future, the Young African Leaders Initiative, and numerous other development and exchange programs, the United States has stood side-by-side with African nations since de-colonization to improve livelihoods, increase life expectancy, open our markets to African exports, promote democracy and human rights, and elevate Africa’s place in the world.

If you’re eager too more information on the trip, Jeune Afrique interviewed Nagy about his intentions for the trip, and about his views on the recent Cameroonian presidential elections, the upcoming presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the role of China in Africa, and other issues – but honestly, I found nothing of great interest in the interview.

Nagy has gotten some good will from the Africanist community in Washington so far, including this glowing write-up of his swearing-in remarks. That write-up was penned by former a Ambassador to Botswana and Senior Africa Director at Obama’s National Security Council, Michelle Gavin, who almost certainly would have had a high Africa-related post in a hypothetical Hillary Clinton administration. For me, though, this is part of the problem – U.S. Africa policy is often so blandly articulated, and so focused on the recurring themes of stability, security, and development, that it can seem like a mere technocratic exercise, rather than a set of political choices. Those choices should be controversial (it’s politics!), but somehow U.S. Africa policy (more than for other regions, I think), seems to be structured around cliches. So I don’t have high expectations for what this trip will yield.

 

New Post at The Maydan: “An Emerging Post-Salafi Current in West Africa and Beyond”

This post, up today at The Maydan, is a somewhat tentative argument from me (i.e., I might be completely wrong, but I wanted to explore the them). It deals with the question of whether there is something we might call “post-Salafism,” i.e. a trend within the Salafi movement that reaches much more accommodating positions toward Sufis and other non-Salafis. I consider the kinds of internal contradictions and limitations within Salafi politics that seem to be propelling some Salafi (or post-Salafi) openings toward Sufism in Mali, Mauritania, and even the United States. I look forward to your feedback!

New Paper: “Political Settlements with Jihadists in Algeria and the Sahel”

I have a new paper out today with the West African Papers Series of the OECD. The series is part of a partnership between the OECD’s Sahel and West Africa Club and the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group. The paper is entitled “Political Settlements with Jihadists in Algeria and the Sahel.” It looks at past experiences in the region and argues that settlements with jihadists can be either stabilizing or destabilizing depending on their parameters. The paper goes on to argue, in keeping with arguments I’ve explored here on the blog, that dialogue with jihadists in Mali is worth attempting.