Sahelian Governments Continue to Resist Extraditions to Libya

In March, a delegation headed by Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagour attempted – and failed – to convince Mauritanian authorities to extradite Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s former intelligence chief, Abdullah al Senussi, to Libya. About six weeks ago, a Mauritanian court indicted al Senussi, suggesting Mauritanian authorities’ desire to keep him in their country, where he was first arrested. On Wednesday, Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Rahim visited Mauritania (note that Libya sent an even higher-ranking official this time) and asked again for al Senussi’s extradition. AFP adds, “The head of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, had on Tuesday reiterated his administration’s demand for Senussi’s extradition in a phone call to the Mauritanian president.” The Libyan government really wants al Senussi, but I am not sure they will get him.

Meanwhile, Niger reportedly remains unwilling to extradite Col. Qadhafi’s son Saadi back to Libya.

Since Gadhafi arrived [in Niamey], he has led a normal life, eating at restaurants and dancing at nightclubs early into the morning, according to restaurant and nightclub owners and local journalists.

Over the past three months, though, Niger’s government has ordered him to keep a low profile and stay inside his mansion, after comments he made to al-Arabiya television that he was in contact with Gadhafi loyalists and wanted to retake power in Libya.

At the same time, Niger’s government has refused to extradite him, saying that Gadhafi would never receive a fair trial, raising tensions with Libya’s new rulers. “We won’t accept this demand,” said Morou Amadou, Niger’s justice minister. “We won’t extradite someone where he is certain to face the death penalty.”

Here at the blog, commenters and I have puzzled over Sahelian governments’ reasons for such refusals before, without coming to any definitive conclusions. The article excerpted above is worth reading in full, as it notes lingering loyalties to Qadhafi (the father) in Niger but also mentions Niger’s incentives to cooperate with the new government in Libya.   Maybe the loyalties outweigh the other incentives, at least for now.

Sahelian governments may also be internally divided on these issues. The case of Tunisia is instructive:

A row inside Tunisia’s ruling alliance over the extradition of Libya’s former prime minister took a fresh turn late on Monday [June 25] after reports that he had suffered a beating in a Libyan jail.
Tunisia’s post-revolution political alliance had already been plunged into crisis over the affair.
President Moncef Marzouki is furious that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali ordered Mahmudi’s transfer to Libya without his consent.
Marzouki had always opposed the extradition, arguing that Libya’s new regime offered insufficient guarantees of a fair trial. But when Jebali approved the move Sunday [June 24], the president was in southern Tunisia for an official ceremony.
Marzouki, a veteran human rights activist did not sign the extradition order and, according to his adviser, he only found out about Mahmudi’s transfer through the media.
The presidency “considers this decision is illegal, all the more so because it has been done unilaterally and without consulting the president of the republic,” a statement from Marzouki’s office said late Sunday.

Mauritania and Niger may fear, then, that handing over their respective prisoners to the Libyans could result in news of torture, news that might play badly with domestic constituencies in the Sahel and cause public relations headaches. Or, simpler still, perhaps the Sahelian governments simply prefer keeping these controversial figures in their own hands for as long as possible, because in that way they have the most control.

What is your read of these situations?


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.

North African Islamism, Past and Present

Ranging yet again outside my normal area of coverage, I was moved to write a quick post because of an Al Jazeera English segment I saw last night about recent Islamist electoral victories in Morocco and Tunisia and the potential upcoming Islamist victories in Egypt.

My thought was one I’ve had before, and one I’m sure others have pointed out, but it’s worth saying again: the political scene in North Africa now is in some ways (though obviously not all!) a remix of the aborted political transitions of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Islamist political mobilizations of that time were blocked by incumbent regimes (and by the West) at high cost, especially in the case of Algeria, where the military’s intervention to forestall an Islamist electoral triumph helped launch years of brutal civil war. I can’t predict the future and I do not have special insight into what North African Islamists will do with power, but I do think that a) the decision to block Islamists from elected office circa 1991 was a mistake and b) political groups who participate in elections have the right to be judged on what they do after they win, instead of being pre-judged for what they might do if they win.

All this reminds me of the fabulous edited volume Islam, Democracy, and the State in North Africa, which was published in 1997 but is still relevant in my view. My favorite chapter is Dr. Mark Tessler’s “The Origins of Popular Support for Islamist Movements A Political Economy Analysis.” Tessler gives real insight into why young Algerians – including people who were not as religiously pious as one might expect – were drawn to Islamist politics. Highly recommended for those who haven’t read it, and worth reflecting on at this particular moment in the region’s political trajectory.

Also for what it’s worth I think Libya, then as now, is moving to a different rhythm than the rest of the region.

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.

AQIM in the News: A Roundup

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist group responsible for numerous kidnappings and attacks during the past few years, made headlines steadily during the last week. Here are some of the most important stories:

  • In Niger, AQIM is one of the major challenges confronting Mahamadou Issoufou, the country’s recently elected president. Reuters reports.
  • On April 25, Mauritanian troops captured an “important collaborator” of AQIM in Mali. This arrest forms part of Mauritania’s ongoing and “vast operation to hunt down supporters and accomplices of the northwest African branch of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel.” Mauritania’s aggressive approach contrasts with the actions Mali has taken, and will form an interesting point of reference as Niger’s new strategy takes shape.
  • On April 26, AQIM released a video featuring four French hostages currently held in Mali or Niger. The video centered on AQIM’s demand that France withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan. The four captives are the remaining members of an initial group of seven, three of whom were released in February. AFP has more on AQIM’s demands concerning Afghanistan.
  • Also on April 26, “Spain’s secretary of state for security Antonio Camacho arrived in Mauritania…to discuss the fight against [AQIM] and its campaign of kidnapping Westerners.” Camacho’s tour of the Sahel includes Mali and Niger, where he will also discuss counterterrorism cooperation.
  • At an event on April 27, Daniel Benjamin of the US Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism discussed AQIM in the context of global trends in Al Qaeda’s activities. Benjamin detailed a long-standing “shift in activity toward the affiliates” that includes AQIM. Benjamin also commented that “the instability in Libya and the transition in Tunisia may provide AQIM with new openings.” Further commentary on AQIM’s role in Libya comes from James Dorsey.
  • Also on April 27, a bomb in Algeria killed two policemen. This attack may be the work of AQIM, which has claimed responsibility for another bombing that took place on April 15 (also in Algeria).
  • On April 28, Algeria announced plans to give $10 million in aid to Mali, part of which will go toward development in areas where AQIM operates. AFP suggests that this move reflects Algerian concerns about Mali’s effectiveness with regard to AQIM: “Algeria has long considered Mali as a regional weak link in the fight against terrorism and criminality.”

Taken together, these articles raise questions about AQIM’s global ambitions (what is its reach?) and its strategy (what does it want?). Despite AQIM’s demands regarding Afghanistan, most observers seem to be focusing on the group’s immediate influence in the Sahel and North Africa. The big question seems to be whether AQIM can combine its criminal activities in the desert zone with its political ambitions in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and elsewhere.

Libya’s African Mercenaries: History, Politics, and Controversy

As anti-Qadhafi forces in Libya take control of different parts of the country, I think it is more accurate to call the events there a civil war, rather than simply “protests.” One contentious issue in this civil war is Qadhafi’s use of mercenaries from elsewhere in Africa. As the situation in Libya rapidly evolves, determining who the mercenaries are – and who is not a mercenary – has challenged both observers and the anti-Qadhafi forces. It seems clear that there are foreign mercenaries fighting in Libya, but it also appears that some innocent sub-Saharan African migrants have found themselves in danger over false charges. This post gives some background on the situation.

Historically, Qadhafi has long used mercenaries as advisers and soldiers. African poverty has created a substantial pool of potential mercenaries, and it is likely Qadhafi is now using some of these hired guns against his own people.

Foreign mercenaries are likely to be less squeamish about shooting at local people.

“They are likely to better trained – a small unit that can be relied upon. They might also have experience of fighting battles and therefore be more capable if push comes to shove,” [said author Adam Roberts].

The view was echoed by Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch. “It’s hard to get your own people to shoot your own people,” he said. “In this kind of situation, you can see why mercenaries would be an advantage because it’s easier to get foreigners to shoot at Libyans than to get Libyans to shoot at Libyans.”

Some of the foreign fighters in Libya also seem to come from groups that have long-standing political and financial ties to the Colonel. Qadhafi’s sustained and deep involvement in African politics, especially the affairs of neighboring countries like Sudan, Chad, and Niger, has included “funding and training many fighting groups and rebel organizations in West Africa and other places.” Qadhafi’s relationship with Chad is especially intense. These ties not only affected the trajectory of conflicts outside Libya, but also shaped the composition of Libya’s security forces:

Over the years, says [Thierry] Vircoulon [of International Crisis Group], Libya has welcomed many foreign fighters from Chad, Mali, Niger, and elsewhere to naturalize, and Qaddafi has set up special units entirely composed of foreign fighters.

Other rebels, who stand to suffer if Qadhafi falls, have been willing to join the fighting in Libya:

[Peter] Bouckaert [of Human Rights Watch] described the fighters from Chad as men “who were not mercenaries specifically recruited to defend Gadhafi but members of (a Chadian) rebel movement Gadhafi has been funding and training for many years who would lose that support if he fell.”

That gives us at least three categories of foreign fighters in Libya: foreigners who are part of the formal security forces, foreigners who are fighting for Qadhafi for political reasons, and foreigners who are killing Libyans primarily for money. Let’s add two more: those were coerced into fighting, and innocent persons accused of being mercenaries.

Regarding coercion, here is the account of one young Chadian:

“A man at the bus station in Sabha offered me a job and said I would get a free flight to Tripoli,” said Mohammed, a boy of about 16 who said he had arrived looking for work in the southern Libyan town only two weeks ago from Chad, where he had earned a living as a shepherd.

Instead of Tripoli, he was flown to an airport near the scruffy seaside town of Al-Bayda and had a gun thrust into his hands on the plane.

Gaddafi’s commanders told the ragbag army they had rounded up that rebels had taken over the eastern towns. The colonel would reward them if they killed protesters. If they refused, they would be shot themselves. The result was bloody mayhem.

Finally, we have innocent victims. Reports and speculation have indicated that in some cases anti-Qadhafi Libyans have turned on African migrants that did not participate in the fighting at all.

With mercenaries and suspected mercenaries coming from so many different backgrounds, and with chaos in Libya, what will happen to Africans accused of fighting for Qadhafi? Some, currently held in jails by anti-Qadhafi forces, are “nervously await[ing] their fate.” Others will die in battle, of course, or in lynchings. Still others may escape back across the border.

What will not happen to the mercenaries, apparently, is prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

The US insisted that the UN resolution [on Libya] was worded so that no one from an outside country that is not a member of the ICC could be prosecuted for their actions in Libya.

This means that mercenaries from countries such as Algeria, Ethiopia and Tunisia – which have all been named by rebel Libyan diplomats to the UN as being among the countries involved – would escape prosecution even if they were captured, because their nations are not members of the court.

The move was seen as an attempt to prevent a precedent that could see Americans prosecuted by the ICC for alleged crimes in other conflicts.

Toppling the Colonel is obviously the foremost goal for the anti-Qadhafi forces. But the problem of dealing with captured and accused mercenaries is one the rebels will have to solve if they take power – and, given the US’s stance on the issue, one they will have to deal with primarily at the domestic level. The issue of mercenaries will also affect the tone of Libya’s relations with other African countries in the post-Qadhafi era, if indeed that era comes.

A Self-Immolation in Senegal

Recently I have become preoccupied with watching how the Arab protests influence political conversations and activism in sub-Saharan Africa. The Arab protests have attracted attention and commentary across Africa, but their impact varies by country. Some countries’ political climates have made them particularly receptive to revolutionary tactics and ideas.

This intersection of regional currents and local problems has occurred in Senegal, which suffers from rising costs of living, an electricity crisis, and a widespread feeling that President Abdoulaye Wade is trying to prepare the way for a “dynastic” transfer of power to his son. It still seems unlikely that Senegal will see an Egypt-style protest movement, but last week’s self-immolation of a former soldier shows that events in North Africa have resonated deeply with some segments of the population in this West African country.

AFP reports:

Oumar Bocoum doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself alight outside President Abdoulaye Wade’s official residence on Friday, in a protest mirroring several immolations across the Arab world in recent weeks.

Bocoum was believed to be one of a group of former soldiers seeking an increase in their pensions. Some of them have threatened to set themselves on fire if their demands are not met.


Weekend newspapers reported that Bocoum parked his scooter in front of a nearby administrative building before heading to the palace. He succeeded in torching himself despite guards’ attempts to stop him.

Newspapers reported that he was carrying a piece of paper on which was written “Work or Die”.

The BBC adds that another man fatally burned himself in front of Wade’s palace in 2008, but Bocoum’s actions will potentially receive greater attention in the wake of the revolution in Tunisia. A number of journalists and politicians in Senegal have commented on the incident already, with one opposition leader saying the act sends a “plurality of messages” about “despair” and “frustration” in the country (French).

With widespread discontent among youth, former soldiers (Fr), religious leaders (Fr), and others, Bocoum’s suicide has wider implications than the death of just one man. Again, I don’t see this as the start of a Senegalese revolution – but I do see it as a dramatic warning to President Wade that he must take Senegal’s interlocking crises with the utmost seriousness.