Africa Blog Roundup: Qadhafi and the Sahel, Sankara, Mali, and More

Lesley Anne Warner summarizes General Carter Ham’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee: parts one and two.

Alex de Waal: “African Roles in the Libyan Conflict of 2011.”

Louisa Lombard: “Post-Gaddafi Repercussions in the Sahel.”

Haba Na Haba: “Report on Mutharika’s Death.”

Internally Displaced: “Workshops, the Plague of Juba.”

Alemu Tafesse: “The Ethiopian Muslim Civil Rights Movement.”

Africa Is A Country: “Who Killed Thomas Sankara?”

Africa in DC on an event about northern Mali.

What are you reading today?

Africa News Roundup: Kismayo, Somali Presidential Selection, Boko Haram and Mobile Phones, Senussi, Flooding, and More

VOA: “Politics Hinders Capture of Somalia’s Kismayo” – a major port city and stronghold of Al Shabab.

Somalia’s new parliament plans to select a new president for the country on Monday.

As Nigerian forces continue to battle militants from Boko Haram in Maiduguri and elsewhere, Boko Haram claims responsibility for attacking a number of mobile phone towers in Northern Nigeria.

“The Movement … is fighting to establish an Islamic state and we will wage war against anyone who tries to stop us,” Abul Qaqa, a spokesman, said in a written statement issued from the group’s headquarters in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

“This is the reason we attacked the telecoms firms, because they are providing the security personnel with information used to track our members. We will continue attacking them until they stop,” he said.

The shift in tactics underscores how much trial and error figures in Boko Haram’s thinking, and how unpredictable the group can be. This move will undoubtedly elevate investors’ concerns, as it is the first time I am aware of that the group has conducted a major attack against private businesses. (As commenter Chavuka points out, Boko Haram has attacked newspaper offices in the past.)

Two developments connected to associates and family of dead Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi occurred this week: Mauritania, after months of refusing to extradite former intelligence chief Abdullah al Senussi, deported him to Libya; and Niger has granted the Colonel’s son Saadi permission to travel. Saadi was previously under house arrest.

Also in Niger, the government has charged that international aid for flood victims “is being [illegally] diverted to other places.”

IRIN on flooding in Chad.

A video has been released showing four French hostages in northern Mali, held by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The employees of the French company Areva were kidnapped in Arlit, Niger on September 15, 2010 and were transferred to northern Mali which is now controlled by armed Islamists.

What else is happening in the Sahel?

Libya, Mauritania, and Abdullah al Senussi

During the civil war in Libya last year, various lieutenants and family members of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi fled to North African countries like Algeria and Tunisia, and to Sahelian countries like Mauritania and Niger. The new Libyan government wants to extradite them so that they can stand trial in Libya, but it is getting more cooperation from some countries than others.

One important case concerns Abdullah al Senussi, Qadhafi’s former intelligence chief, who was arrested when entering Mauritania in March. Libyan officials traveled to Mauritania at the time, and for a moment it looked like they had struck a deal to extradite al Senussi. It turned out Mauritanian authorities had not agreed to let him go. This week brought a new chapter in the story when al Senussi was indicted by a Mauritanian court (more here). It seems al Senussi is likely to remain in Mauritania for the time being.

Contrast the approach in Mauritania with the one in Tunisia:

Tunisia will extradite former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s prime minister to Libya and the handover could take place in “days or weeks”, Justice Minister Noureddine Bouheiri said on Tuesday.

Should he be handed over, Al Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi would be the first senior official to be sent back for trial under Libya’s transitional leadership and his extradition could establish a precedent for other countries who have given refuge to or arrested members of Gaddafi’s old entourage.

Mahmoudi served as the Libyan dictator’s prime minister from 2006 until he fled to neighboring Tunisia around the time that rebel fighters took the capital Tripoli in August.

As for the Colonel’s son Saadi Qadhafi, who has taken refuge in Niger, I have seen no news on his extradition since earlier this month, when Niger was still in talks with the Libyan government. It will be interesting to see what fault lines emerge in the region in terms of which countries agree to extraditions, and which refuse or delay.

NATO’s Intervention in Libya Was a Mistake

Christian Caryl of Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab has written a balanced and thoughtful piece that asks whether NATO’s intervention in Libya deserves the blame for precipitating the current chaos in Mali. Mali’s troubles include a(n initially) Tuareg-led rebellion in the north and a coup inspired partly by the northern war; the coup has now given way to an ostensibly civilian-led transition that will likely be rocky.

Caryl calls the Libyan civil war “a proximate cause for the success of the Tuareg rebellion.” As to the question of whether not just the general crisis in Libya, but also the Western intervention against Qadhafi specifically, is responsible for events in Mali, Caryl’s answer is more qualified. Caryl quotes Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, who argues that Western powers may have been able to do more to prevent the flow of weapons out of Libya. Caryl ends with the exhortation, “Even in situations where there is ample justification for using force against dictators or war criminals, policymakers would be well-advised to take a good look at the possible negative side effects of their actions.”

I would like to endorse Caryl’s position (disclosure: Caryl spoke to me when he was writing the piece) and offer my own personal view that NATO’s intervention in Libya was a mistake (Caryl does not state this view and my views on that point are mine alone). I felt at the time of the intervention that it was a bad move and I believe subsequent events have added weight to that perspective. It is important to assess the outcome of the intervention in Libya both for an understanding of events in North Africa and the Sahel but also because future interventions will be debated, and undertaken, some of them on the premise that Libya represents a success.

I would cite two trends as evidence that the intervention was a mistake: instability inside Libya and fallout in the region. While the civil war would have produced some chaos regardless, I think the chances are strong that without the Western intervention, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s side would have defeated the rebels and Qadhafi would have remained in power, an outcome that would have reduced the resulting regional chaos.

Who knows, right? In the case of a world where Qadhafi survived and triumphed, we’re talking counterfactuals, and in the present, we’re talking about immensely complicated political situations where multiple factors are present. It’s not an experiment in a laboratory that we can run again and again to see what permutations would have caused what precise outcomes. We have to work with flawed and incomplete evidence, surfacing, disappearing, and shifting in real time. Then we cobble together interpretations of that evidence.

But here is the evidence I see.

In Libya:

Protesters are in the streets daily, demanding services and accusing council members of being as corrupt as their Gaddafi predecessors. Officials are similarly quick to describe protesters as puppets of pro-Gaddafi elements.

The Transitional National Council, hastily formed during the early days of the revolt by tribal elders and local leaders, is struggling to replace itself with a representative government. Its flowchart of reforms describes a 20-month process from the drafting of a new constitution to the election of a national legislature.

But Libyans are not in a methodical mood. In Misurata, which saw some of the war’s most intense fighting, the local militia booted the Transitional National Council and held its own election months ahead of schedule.

In Tripoli, the traffic lights work, but are universally ignored.

“Why do you need an AK-47 to tame the traffic?” Sabri Issa, a petroleum services company owner, asked while watching four young militia fighters gruffly directing the clots of cars around Martyrs Square, their automatic rifles waving at windshield height. Two police officers sat in their car a few yards away. “They do nothing to control these guys,” Issa said. “We have a government in name only.”

Some will say those phenomena represent Libya’s “growing pains.” I see them as signs of instability in the present and as ill omens for the future.

In the region:

Tens of thousands of refugees in Niger, Chad, and the countries of North Africa, as well as some in Europe. Further strain on food-insecure communities and governments with limited resources. Exacerbation of anti-Washington sentiments in communities far beyond the proverbial “Arab street” – many people I know in Kano, for example, strongly disagreed with NATO’s decision to intervene. Economic damage stemming from the loss of remittances from workers in Libya to communities south of the Sahara. Diplomatic struggles over the fate of Qadhafi’s lieutenants and family members. Fears that ethnic violence in southeastern Libya will spread to Chad and Sudan. Weapons on the loose. And war in Mali.

The conflict in Mali is certainly multi-causal. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. Had Qadhafi remained in power, a Tuareg rebellion may well still have broken out in Mali at some point. But just because an event is multi-causal does not mean the importance of one of those causes should be minimized. As Dan Murphy writes, “What seems clear is that the timing of all this is inextricably linked to events last year in Libya.” Events did not have to play out in this way and to take the particularly chaotic form they did.

The argument I am making in this piece – that the intervention against Qadhafi was a political mistake – can be complemented by others, especially arguments that question the legal basis within the American system for authorizing American involvement and/or that say the intervention in Libya creates a bad precedent for interventions elsewhere. The intervention also exemplifies a double standard, one noted – and often explained in terms that are cynical about US motives in general* – by people around the world. One can accept these arguments or not; I believe the political argument stands on its own.

But let’s be honest. Although political correctness might prevent them from saying so, I imagine some who supported the intervention in Libya feel that the regional consequences matter little. Mali, though formerly upheld as a model of “African democracy,” is usually seen as geopolitically peripheral, as are Niger and Chad. Whatever chaos results there, supporters may still feel the intervention was worthwhile. And I believe that some American elites, even if they express concern about “anti-Americanism” overseas, would not substantially adjust major policy decisions to take into account how those decisions might affect perceptions of Washington in Kano, or Nairobi, or Jakarta. The political consequences of the intervention that I cite will not necessarily trouble such thinkers – and that probably warrants a post of its own.

Finally there is the moral argument. To say that the intervention was a mistake opens me up to accusations that I am an apologist for Qadhafi, for dictators, for violence against civilians. I am not. Those accusers I would point back to the question of double standards, to situations past and present when Washington dismissed calls for intervention. Those who use the language of absolute morality in American politics are often relativists cloaking their specific interests and preferences in a mantle of righteousness – I look elsewhere for the sources of my moral vision. And I would point the accusers to the consequences. We have heard, with Iraq and with Libya, that interventions would be neat and straightforward. The aftermath of interventions has been anything but.

*I do not believe that the intervention in Libya was primarily motivated by Western thirst for Libyan oil but a serious analysis of the consequences of the intervention must take into account the fact that many people around the world believe that was the primary motivation. Perceptions matter even if one disagrees with them.

Ex-Qadhafi Personnel Complicate Life for Mauritania, Too [UPDATED]

Last Thursday, I wrote about the complexity of relations between Niger and Libya, as Niger seeks to honor its loyalties to the regime of fallen Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi while simultaneously avoiding the anger of the new government in Libya. News that Niger had given a government appointment to one of Qadhafi’s former lieutenants put that complexity in the spotlight, though Niger ultimately withdrew the appointment to placate the new leaders in Libya.

Mauritania, too, must deal with the fallout of Qadhafi’s ouster. On Saturday, Mauritanian authorities arrested Abdallah al Senoussi, the Colonel’s former intelligence chief. Senoussi reportedly flew into Mauritania from Morocco, traveling on a “fake Malian passport.” The arrest marks the end of a months-long manhunt that had African and European officials searching for Senoussi inside Libya and Mali (at one time Libya also suspected he was in Chad). Senoussi is wanted for prosecution by both France and the International Criminal Court.

The dynamics of Senoussi’s arrest in Mauritania are markedly different than the issue of Bashir Saleh Bashir’s appointment in Niger, just as Mauritania’s stance toward the Libyan revolution was different from Niger’s. Mauritania was in fact among the first Sahelian governments to recognize the rebels and break with Qadhafi, and Mauritania has not openly sheltered Qadhafi’s family and comrades in the way that Niger has. Yet this does not mean that sorting out Senoussi’s fate comes with no diplomatic complexities:

Authorities from Libya, France and the International Criminal Court at The Hague quickly announced their resolve to have Mr. Senussi turned over to their jurisdictions. Each is focused on different prosecutions, making Mauritania’s decision over extradition politically sensitive and legally significant.


It isn’t yet clear how Mauritania will respond to the competing claims of extradition. A former French colony, Mauritania has had checkered relations with most Western nations—but close ties with Gadhafi—since the current president took over after a military coup in 2008. The country isn’t a signatory to the treaty that created the ICC, a court that is intended to try crimes against humanity or war crimes that national courts can’t or won’t prosecute.

France said over the weekend that Mr. Senussi’s arrest was the result of joint efforts by Paris and Nouakchott, but gave no other details.

Mauritanian Communications Minister Hamdi Mahjoud said his government was holding Mr. Senussi in a police station in Nouakchott and will consider the claims against him.

A Libyan delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour, is scheduled to meet with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz today.

To say that Abdel Aziz had “close relations with Qadhafi” is a bit of a simplification. Qadhafi, indeed, initially opposed the coup that Abdel Aziz led. Also, as I mentioned above, Abdel Aziz was willing to break with Qadhafi relatively early in the game in 2011. But the larger point – that Mauritania’s decision about Senoussi will have ramifications for its future relationship with the new government in Libya – certainly stands. As I said with regarding Bashir’s case in Niger, Qadhafi may be gone, but his presence is still a force in Sahelian politics.

[UPDATE]: Senussi will go to Libya.

Niger: Ambivalent Response to Presence of Qadhafi Loyalists

Several pieces in the last few days have reported on the different sentiments that exist in Niger regarding the presence of former Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s lieutenants and supporters in Niger. The ambivalence that characterizes the Nigerien population’s feelings toward the Libyan conflict also seems to extend to the Nigerien government, whose policies toward post-Qadhafi Libya are somewhat mixed.

The BBC gives a street-level view from the capital, Niamey, of Nigeriens’ attitudes toward the influx of Qadhafi loyalists:

[A water-seller] says Niger has “no choice but to host them because they are Muslims”.

“Islam says one cannot deliver a Muslim brother to their enemies,” he says.

“But we fear that weapons might enter our country along with former Tuareg rebels,” he adds.

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, has a video report from the northern city of Agadez showing Tuaregs pledging support for Qadhafi.

These different attitudes among the population add to the pressure the Libyan civil war has put on Niger’s government, which is trying to balance its welcome for Qadhafi supporters against its cognizance of the new political reality in the region. Niger has recognized the rebel Transitional National Council in Libya, but sheltering Qadhafi’s lieutenants sends a message that Niger’s memories of Qadhafi’s influence remain strong. Yet again, Niger’s government is deeply concerned by the arrival of Qadhafi supporters, and is not only trying to, as VOA reports, step up security on the border, but is also keeping Qadhafi’s son Saadi “under a kind of house arrest” in Niamey. The Nigerien authorities, in other words, are treading carefully in an attempt to stay in the good graces of the new Libyan rulers to the north, pro-Qadhafi factions in their own country, and the international community.

Uganda and North Africa

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has, it seems, been paying attention to the “Arab spring” since it began. During the Ugandan presidential elections in February, in which Museveni won a fourth official term, government authorities banned the use of certain words in text messaging. These included “Egypt”, “bullet,” “people power,” “Tunisia”, “Mubarak”, “dictator”, “teargas”, “army”, “police”, “gun”, “Ben Ali” and “UPDF,” the last term being the acronym of the Ugandan armed forces.

Not too long afterward, NATION intervened in Libya, and Museveni was upset. In late March, he wrote a widely circulated article for Foreign Policy in which he cited double standards in the West’s treatment of Libya (versus, for example, Bahrain), lamented what he saw as the bypassing of the African Union in the decisionmaking process, and expressed concern about the potentially long-lasting, negative consequences of the intervention. Whether one agrees with Museveni or not (and I do on some issues), the point is that Museveni seems to fear how the “Arab spring” might reshape African politics.

During the spring, Uganda saw the “Walk to Work” movement, in which opposition leader Kizza Besigye mobilized hundreds to protest high food and fuel prices. These protests were primarily related to domestic troubles, rather than foreign influences, but the harshness of the government crackdown hinted that “the nearby Arab Spring revolutions can’t be far from Museveni’s mind.”

This week, Ugandan activists made explicit reference to the North African revolutions:

Pressure group Activists 4 Change wants to hold a rally in the capital Kampala on Friday to “celebrate people power in North Africa” following the overthrow of the leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The group has emailed invitations accompanied by a flyer featuring photos of the toppled rulers crossed out — with Uganda’s long-serving President Yoweri Museveni lined up as the next to go.

Police banned the rally. If activists push forward, as they have in the past, there could be bloodshed again.

Talk of an “African spring” has largely crested and fallen. President Blaise Compaore retained power in Burkina Faso, the sub-Saharan African country which experienced perhaps the most serious protests this year. Gabon’s President Ali Bongo withstood major protests there. Museveni is unlikely to fall any time soon. And leaders who look vulnerable, like Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, are not under threat so much because of contagion from North Africa, but because pent-up local grievances are coming to the fore amid (pre-)electoral campaigning.

Still, the “Arab spring” has changed the way activists in countries like Uganda frame their demands and view heads of state. And it has changed how heads of state view their own position. Going forward, both sides will likely continue to mull over the lessons of the North African revolutions, with each side trying to stay once step ahead of the other on the organizational, technological, and political levels.