Portraits of Malian Refugee Camps in Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso

Alongside armed conflict in northern Mali, Mali and its neighbors are experiencing a refugee crisis. I keep bringing this up in an effort to ensure that the scale of the crisis will not be ignored. UNHCR’s country pages for Mali and Mauritania show that massive numbers of people have been displaced: over 200,000 inside Mali, 70,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, and 40,000 in Burkina Faso. Those numbers are all expected to rise by year’s end, to a total of approximately 540,000.

A few portraits from camps:


The Mangaïze camp was officially created in May, following an influx of a large number of Malian families fleeing to Niger, said Idrissa Abou, a member of Niger’s National Commission for Refugees.
Besides a monthly food ration, refugees have access to drinking water from three small boreholes and primary health care. There are sanitation facilities with 250 showers and toilets, and a household waste management system. Refugees also have access to administrative services, a school and, with the opening of a police station, a security service.

“At the moment, there are 1,522 families, which amounts to a population of 6,037 mainly made up of Malian refugees, but there are also Nigerien returnees,” Abou told IPS, adding that an overwhelming majority of the refugees are from Ménaka, the closest Malian town to the Ouallam municipality in south-western Niger. He added that the numbers in the camp had increased in February after some 1,700 refugees from the nearby Bani Bangou camp were transferred to Mangaïze.


Nearly 67,000 refugees—mainly women and children—have arrived in the border town of Fassala, Mauritania, since January 2012. “At the border crossing at Fassala, Mauritania, people are arriving thirsty and showing signs of fatigue,” explains Karl Nawezi, MSF project manager in Mauritania. After being registered by the authorities, refugees wait in a transit camp before being transferred to Mbera, a small, isolated village in the Mauritanian desert, just 30 kilometers [about 19 miles] from the Mali border.

The refugees in Mbera are totally dependent on humanitarian aid. An insufficient number of tents has been distributed, however. Families are assembled under large tents called “meeting points” that leave them exposed to the elements. Fed up with waiting, some construct their own makeshift shelters out of straw mats and pieces of fabric to protect themselves from sand and dust storms. “In Mauritania, as is the case elsewhere [in the Sahel refugee camps], people are suffering from diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin infections because of the poor conditions in the camps,” says Nawezi.

And France24 has a video report from Burkina Faso here.

Quick Items: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Mali, Goodluck Jonathan Visits Yobe and Borno [Updated]

Two noteworthy stories:

Mauritania and Mali

In a speech on Monday, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz expressed greater openness than in the recent past to the idea of Mauritanian deployments in Mali. Mauritanian forces chased fighters from Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb into northern Mali at several points in 2010 and 2011, but during 2012 Abdel Aziz stated repeatedly that Mauritania would not intervene in Mali.

On Monday Abdel Aziz also emphasized his country’s role in “encircling [hardline Islamist fighters] in the north of Mali in order to enable Malian units to intervene and finish them off in their dens.” ANI (Arabic) has more on the speech.


On February 28, governors from an alliance of Nigerian opposition parties held a day-long conference in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, epicenter of the violent Boko Haram sect. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust commented, “the fact that the governors took the bull by the horns and held their meeting in Maiduguri, despite security reports that there may be attacks and blasts by suspected insurgents speak volume of their determination to give the [ruling] Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a run for its money.”

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is set to visit the northeastern states of Yobe and Borno (where Maiduguri is the capital) today. One source says this visit “will be his first to the troubled states since his assumption of office.” Residents in Borno and Yobe interviewed by Leadership expressed a range of views about the visit, with some optimistic that Jonathan may use the moment to announce compensation programs or other initiatives, and others fearful that the visit will bring an even tighter security lockdown.

The Sultan of Sokoto, meanwhile, called on Jonathan this week to offer an amnesty to Boko Haram fighters. The Sultan said, “If there is amnesty declared we believe so many of those young men who have been tired of running and hiding will come out and embrace that amnesty.”

UPDATE: Reuters:

“I cannot talk about amnesty with Boko Haram now until they come out and show themselves,” Jonathan told reporters in Yobe state capital Damaturu, a town regularly hit by the sect’s guerrilla-style bomb and gun attacks.

See also Chike’s remarks in the comments section below.

A Call for De-Salafization in Mauritania

Mauritania’s Al Akhbar (Arabic) reports that a group of political and human rights activists in that country have released a statement calling for “confronting Salafi thought.” These campaigners “expressed their displeasure with the security services’ tolerance of ‘activists for the idea of hatred’.” I could not find the text of the statement. The signatories, as mentioned by Al Akhbar, include prominent anti-slavery activists like Boubacar Ould Messaoud (bio in French here) and Biram Ould Abeid (article on him in French here).

As described in the article, the statement links the spread of “Salafi culture” (issues of dress, gender, etc.) with political “extremism” and with forced Arabization of black Africans. “The utopia Salafis preach is founded on nothing but the ruins of African culture, through a continuous, deceitful Arabizing process characterized by terrifying the masses and tearing them away from their roots.”

It is no accident that the statement comes in the context of military intervention in neighboring Mali. Its signers support the intervention. The statement frames Islamist rule in northern Mali as part of the effort to enforce Arabization against black Africans.

Mauritanian authorities have arrested a few Salafis in recent weeks on suspicions of having links to jihadist groups. This does not mean that anti-slavery activists’ concerns are driving state policy. Anti-slavery activists in Mauritania have their own difficulties with the state – Abeid was detained for four months in 2012 (.pdf) over politico-religious controversies, and there is a long history of racial tensions in Mauritania. It should also be said that if authorities detain Salafis with family ties to imprisoned jihadists, or arrest students, that is not necessarily a country-wide crackdown on Salafis. Yet anti-Salafi discourses do seem to be coming from several corners of Mauritanian society right now, and as the war in Mali continues we may hear more calls for de-Salafization in Mauritania.

Africa Blog Roundup: CAR Rebellion, Ethiopia’s Muslim Protests, Sahelian Ulama, and More

Tendai Marima: “[Central African Republic] Peace Deal Yet to Translate into Reality.”

CPJ: “Ethiopian Journalist Arrested for Covering Muslim Protests.”

Scott Straus: “Wars Do End: Why Conflict in Africa Is Falling.”

Peter Tinti: “Understanding Northern Mali: Local Context Is Everything.”

Andrew Lebovich: “Analyzing Foreign Influence and Jihadi Networks in Nigeria.”

Lissnup: “Timbuktu Who’s Who.” It doesn’t get more thorough than this in publicly available sources I’ve seen. Truly excellent work.


Religious leaders from Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania this week decided that the most effective way to support peace and eradicate extremist ideas would be to work as a team.

The imams, who initially came together in November to condemn the extremism in Mali, met in Algiers on Wednesday (January 30th) to formally launch the League of Ulemas of the Sahel.

Imams of the Maliki rite across the Sahel will work to educate youth about the dangers of extremism, particularly by working closely with mosques and youth centres, said Algerian imam Youcef Mechri, the new body’s secretary-general.

Amb. John Campbell: “Dutch Court Finds for Shell in Niger Delta Pollution Case.”

Laine Strutton: “A Powerful Image of Oil.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Villa Somalia Bombing Shows Danger of ‘Defectors’.”

Tolu Ogunlesi on digital journalism and its prospects in Nigeria.

What are you reading?

Africa News Roundup: Davos and Africa, Arrests in Mauritania, Darfur Talks, and More

Reuters: “At Davos, Bankers Close in on Africa.”

French and Malian soldiers may take Gao soon.

Timbuktu is apparently something of a ghost town at the moment.

AFRICOM: “AFRICOM Commander Addresses Concerns, Potential Solutions in Mali.”


“Mauritanian police arrested eight students of the Islamic University in Laâyoune, 800km northeast of Nouakchott, and accused them of having ties with the extremist Islamist groups in northern Mali,” Sahara Media reported on Monday (January 21st). [Original story in Arabic here – six of them seem to have been subsequently freed (Arabic).]

Another young Mauritanian was arrested Monday in Guerou, 600km east of Nouakchott, Al-Akhbar reported.


Somali security forces will not be able to replace African troops until the international community provides “predictable” funding for their training, according to the United Nations.
“The withdrawal, whether it’s Ethiopian or Amisom, is contingent upon adequate replacement by the Somali forces,” Augustine Mahiga, the UN sectrerary-general’s special representative to the Horn of Africa nation, said in an interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The pace at which Somali forces are being trained is not as fast because there hasn’t been predictable funding.”

Sudan Tribune: “The Sudanese government and a rebel faction of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have agreed on an agenda to negotiate a peace deal, an international official told the UN Security Council (UNSC).”

IRIN: “Chad’s Health System Struggles to Combat Malnutrition.”

What else is happening?

Crises in Mali: Roundup of Reactions from the Region

News is coming fast out of the Sahel these days, so I may default to roundups many days this week rather than attempting cohesive analytical pieces. Today’s roundup is about Mali and the overlapping crises there, but indirectly: the links below discuss reactions, both verbal and physical, by a variety of actors in the surrounding region. Before we jump into regional news, though, one important resource on the situation inside Mali is AP’s timeline of the French intervention.


  • The Guardian with a regional map.
  • The Washington Post on the regional refugee crisis.
  • Al Jazeera on the January 19 Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) summit in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. More here, with details on the ECOWAS force, its leaders, etc. (The other key acronym to know is AFISMA or the African-led International Support Mission in Mali).
  • Liberte (French) on the upcoming African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 29, and the question of funding for an ECOWAS force in Mali.
  • Troop movements/announcements/news: Senegal, Benin, Liberia, Nigeria, and Chad (French). Not a comprehensive list, of course.


Yesterday, at a press conference on the recent hostage tragedy in In Amenas, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated (French) that Algeria “will not send one soldier to Mali” and will concentrate on “protecting its borders and its territory.” Sellal added that Algeria “encourages dialogue among the different parties” in Mali.


This blog post (French), from a site with which I am not familiar, does a nice job laying out Niger’s attitudes toward the situation in Mali. Key points include Niger’s preference for securing Malian territorial integrity before holding elections, and Niger’s view that the situation in Mali is, for Niger, an internal security threat as well as a Malian problem. You can read an interview Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum gave to RFI here (French).


Al Bawaba depicts widespread opposition to the French operation in Mali, and to the possibility of Mauritanian military involvement there, among religious and political leaders in Mauritania. A coalition of three parties, however, supports intervention in Mali (Arabic, French). Mauritania has placed areas along its border with Mali under military control (French).


On January 19, gunmen attacked a Nigerian military unit in Okene, Kogi State, killing two and wounding five. The unit was preparing to deploy to Mali. The Nigerian military has blamed Boko Haram for the attack. Jama’a Ansar al Muslimin fi Bilad al Sudan (Arabic: The Society of Defenders of Muslims in the Land of the Blacks), a purported splinter group from Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the incident, saying that it was targeting the unit because of Nigeria’s involvement in the Mali intervention. IRIN (link above) has more on “JAMBS.” The group’s statement (which was issued in English, from what I can tell) is here.

Any other news? Please let us know in the comments.

Africa News Roundup: Mopti Area Clashes, Malian Refugees, Lake Chad, and More

More on the clashes around Mopti, Mali and on international reactions:

  • NYT: “Mali Government Is Left Reeling After Islamists Take Village Long Held by Army.” The village in question is Konna (more on the conquest of Konna from France24 here). NYT adds, “The Islamists now threaten a major airfield some 25 miles away at the town of Sévaré, which is also the home of a significant army base. And 10 miles from Sévaré is the historic river city of Mopti, the last major town [i.e., in this area] controlled by the Malian government, with a population of more than 100,000.” Information from different sources is still highly confusing and contradictory at times; for example, NYT describes Konna as “a sleepy mud-brick village,” while France24 calls it “a city of 50,000 people.”
  • Al Jazeera: “UN urges swift deployment of troops to Mali”
  • AP: “President Francois Hollande said Friday that France will be ready to intervene to stop al-Qaida-linked militants in Mali who have been moving toward its capital.” According to Sahara Medias (Arabic),  four planes carrying French special forces arrived in Sevare from Chad on Thursday night. More here.
  • Reuters: “France, Nigeria and Senegal are already providing Malian government forces with assistance on the ground against Islamist insurgents, a defense ministry spokesman said on Friday.”


In Mbéra refugee camp in eastern Mauritania, home to 55,000 Malians, just under one child in five is malnourished, and 4.6 percent are severely malnourished – two to three times the national average, according to a just-released November survey by NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).

IRIN again:

Around 800 Nigerien families have been relocated from areas along the River Niger as water levels during annual flooding are expected to rise above normal and last until February.

The river is predicted to rise 540-565cm, which while not as high as recorded during the August 2012 flooding when it rose to 618cm, is above the 530cm alert level, the Niger Basin Authority said in a recent statement.

The flooding comes just a few months after more than 500,000 people were displaced and over 80 killed by floods in Niger following torrential rains in August and September 2012 which inundated thousands of rice farms.

On January 7, a Senegalese man set himself on fire outside the residence of President Macky Sall, and died the following day. “Cheikh Mbaye, 32, apparently said that life was better under ex-President Abdoulaye Wade, local media report.”

Reuters: “Two weeks of fighting in Sudan’s Darfur has displaced 30,000 people who are in need for food and shelter, the United Nations said after some of the worst clashes in the western region for months.” Recent UN News reports here and here.

Horseed Media: “Turkish Doctors to Train Specialists in Somalia”

Two on Nigeria:

  • Bloomberg: “The Nigeria police introduced a code of conduct for its officers to deal with allegations of extra- judicial killings and other abuses made by rights groups including Amnesty International.”
  • Al Jazeera: “Once counted as the largest water reservoirs in Africa, Nigeria’s Lake Chad is rapidly shrinking due to excessive use and climate change. The lake supplies water to four different countries, but it could dry up by the end of the century.”

What else happened this week?