Nigeria Wants to Double the Size of Its Army – It’s probably a bad idea

The Nigerian ground forces wants to add 100,000 new officers and enlisted men to its ranks, doubling its size to 200,000 soldiers, Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Yusuf Buratai announced in a lecture at the National Defense College in Abuja.

In most countries, this would be kind of a big deal, with media, pundits and politicians furiously debating the merits of such a dramatic step. But in Nigeria, only the initial report received some attention in various newspapers. The lack of critical debate around the planned expansion of the armed forces, which according to Buratai will take place over eight years, points to continued tensions between the military establishment and democratic institutions in Nigeria.

Read more on War is Boring.

These Are the Wars That Will Rage in Africa in 2016 – Violent conflict remains in clusters while the continent grows more peaceful

With the exception of Syria, African countries currently get the worst rep when it comes to violence and conflict. Virtually every story coming out of the continent seems to showcase one atrocity or another.

This narrative is both true and false. In 2014, Africa experienced more than half of worldwide conflict incidents, despite having only about 16 percent of the world population. This is a slightly larger share of the world’s conflicts than even during the chaotic years of the post-Cold War 1990s.

But there are two important caveats…

Read more on War is Boring.

U.S. Doubles Down on Failed Military Strategy in Africa

U.S. military forces are taking a more active role in combating the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 30,000 people since its outbreak in 2009 and spread from northeastern Nigeria to neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad. The move is consistent with the general U.S. approach to security on the African continent, which leans heavily on enabling local forces to combat terrorist groups, but which has failed to stem a rise in Islamist violence in recent years.

President Barack Obama notified Congress in mid-October that he had ordered 300 military personnel into northern Cameroon to support reconnaissance flights of MQ-1 Predator drones. U.S. troops will also work with local forces on intelligence gathering and analysis, as well as “enabling operations, border security and response force capability,” according to an unnamed defense official quoted by Voice of America. …

Read more on World Politics Review.

Nigeria’s Terrorist Threats Are Bigger Than Boko Haram

If you heard about Nigeria in recent years, chances are that it was in the context of the Boko Haram insurgency that has plunged the northeastern part of the country into mayhem. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that at least 19,807 people have died in the war.

“Boko Haram” has become a shorthand for the most primitive and brutal form of sectarian violence, in no small part thanks to the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. He has appeared in online videos celebrating the slaughter of civilians, security officers and the abduction of schoolgirls. …

Read more on War is Boring.

Boko Haram Is Far From Defeated – It’ll take more than bullets to stop the Nigerian terror group

After months of defeats, Boko Haram has struck back hard. In a series of attacks on June 22 and 23, 2015, the Islamist group assaulted several villages in northeastern Nigeria.

The militants drove into the towns of Debiro Hawul and Debiro Bi, shot people and burned homes. Miles away, a female suicide bomber killed herself and 10 others in the village of Gujba. Forty people died in the violence. The suicide bomber was 12 years old.

Boko Haram’s war is hardly over — and will drag on indefinitely if the forces fighting the Islamist insurgency don’t change their approach. …

Read more on War is Boring.

Little hope for a peaceful solution in North Mali

Tuareg rebels fighting for an independent Azawad. Photo CC-BY from Flickr user Magharebia.

Since my last post on Mali, a lot of things happened. The coup has officially ended (though it may not be over yet) and the situation in the North has … evolved, to put it mildly.

I will concentrate on developments in the North in this post. As Baz Lecocq has pointed out, we actually know little about what is happening in that region. News are sparse and to my knowledge only one journalist, Salima Tlemçani of the Algerian El Watan, is actually on the ground there. All other journalists and press agencies (me included) get their news from members of the various conflict parties, civilian eye witnesses and of course each other (head to my Twitter stream to get the latest).

In the beginning of the Tuareg rebellion, there were reasons for hoping that this would go over relatively peaceful. The Malian government under Touré was either unwilling or unable to resist the rebels, so not much blood was spilled in the first two months of the conflict. This ironically contributed to the coup against Touré, but the junta that took over from him was even less competent in the military quarter and the remaining army strongholds in the North collapsed virtually without a fight. The Tuareg rebels – by then it was clear that at least two groups of them existed which cooperated – quickly pushed the army out of all the “Azawad”.

But now things seem to start escalating. The MNLA and Ansar Dine – the two main Tuareg rebel factions in the North – are in an uneasy relationship. The MNLA is mostly described as secular and nationalistic, with an independent Azawad as its main goal. Ansar Dine in turn is a Salafist movement, which wants to introduce Sharia law to the whole of Mali, but is opposed to an independent Azawad.

Ansar Dine also seems to have taken AQIM into the boat, especially in the area around Timbuktu. Leaders of AQIM were seen in the city attending a meeting with the leadership of Ansar Dine. Meanwhile a splinter group of AQIM has appeared in Gao, where it has abducted eight Algerian diplomats from the local consulate.

On monday then reports began surfacing of a new militia, the FLNA. This seems to be a group mainly made up of ethnic Arabs from the Timbuktu area, who may want to use it as a vehicle to secure their economic interests (read: smuggling routes) against possible encroachment from the Tuareg rebels or the foreigners of AQIM.

Into this mix of current interests and agendas of course feeds as well a long history of grievances and unsettled scores, often stemming from the last Taureg insurrections. Apart from political and/or religious motivation, kinship ties and historical relations between ethnic/social groups play an important role.

In this complex situation, large scale violence between the various armed groups can easily erupt and will be hard to contain once it takes place. Some of the deadliest phases of the Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s did take place only after the conflict with the Malian state was over and the various rebel factions began fighting each other.

Even worse, the political elite in the South seems to be quite willing to attempt a military solution from their side as well. The AFP quoted Malian government and military officials saying that the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram had hundreds of fighters in Gao. This is of course very likely bullshit of the highest order and the AFP should be fined for repeating such abstruse claims without giving the necessary context.

But it shows that the institutions of Mali still bank on painting all Tuareg rebels as fanatic Islamists, thereby trying to delegitimize their demands and grievances and possibly hoping for military hope from Western countries terrified of a “Saharan Afghanistan”.

A military involvement of the Malian army (or any other army for that matter) would of course drastically increase the chances for large scale violence in the North, without giving much hope for a quick resolution. And in the face of the upcoming hunger crisis, it is probably time that matters most.

What do you think, how could a degeneration into large-scale violence in the North be avoided?

Sahel food crisis: The situation in Chad

A mother feeds her severely malnourished son at the Action Against Hunger/UNICEF-run nutrition feeding centre at Mao district hospital in Kanem, western Chad. IRIN photo.

I’m currently writing a series of posts looking at the state of the Sahel food crisis. The first part, a regional overview, was published here. Over the coming days I will look at the other countries that are impacted by the food crisis, so come back if you like to know more!

I’m beginning my country-by-country analysis of the Sahel food crisis with Chad, as it is this country that will probably bear the brunt of what is coming has already arrived.

First the facts: parts of Chad have already descended into full-blown emergency, with thousands of children being admitted to nutrition treatment centers. Action Contre la Faim (ACF) also reports on numerous deaths due to late admission of children to the centers. The district of Kanem seems to be the most heavily impacted at the moment.

In a normal year, the lean period would only be about to begin, but this year, several developments converge to deliver a situation which will only get worse over the next months:

First is of course the erratic and low rainfall over the last year. According to the FAO, agricultural production was 50% lower in 2011 than it was the year before.

But the effect of this is worsened by several man-made factors. Firstly, Chad is situated between several active conflict zones: Libya, northern Nigeria and Darfur. Libya was traditionally an important source of remittances from Chadian guest workers. These had to flee during the Libyan civil war, as black Africans increasingly became targets of revenge killings by the Libyan rebels.

The ongoing attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria in turn prompted the government there to close all borders to its northern neighbors. This has hit many people in Kanem hard, as they used to sell cattle to Nigeria for income generation.

Additionally, these conflicts have led to a “pipeline constraints”: food aid is usually delivered by ship and road. Chad is landlocked and especially Nigeria would normally be a natural transit route for food aid delivery.

Adding to this are several internal issues. The health system of Chad is in its best times described as “dysfunctional”, being underfinanced and having not nearly enough staff to cope with the demand.

The government of Chad was also very late to admit the need for help. This has further slowed down the delivery of food aid, as international organizations and NGOs have to get government approval to start their activities. It may also have contributed to the relatively low amount of financing currently available for Chad; While financing requests for Niger have been met to almost 40%, requests for Chad have been financed only by 25% so far, according to OCHA.

Taking action in Chad has become a matter of urgency. Both local and international governments should increase their activities and financial contribution to keep the situation from spinning out of control.

WarIsBoring: Africa Round-Up

Picture: Bombs and attacks by Boko Haram gunmen have claimed hundreds of lives in Nigeria over last months. Zeit.de photo.

Burkina Faso
Ten people were killed in clashes between neighboring communities in Guenon, a village about 80 kilometers south of the capital Ouagadougou. According to reports by state media, the deaths resulted from a dispute about the position of the local chief, who at the moment is a member of the Akonga ethnic group. This is a longstanding grievance of the Liliou group, who have pleaded for a chief of their own. Tensions escalated over the weekend, when the son of the current chief was killed with nine further people dying and about 100 houses burned down in the ensuing fighting.

Usually Burkina Faso is seen as one of the most stable countries in West Africa, with little tradition of violent inter-communal fighting. But violent mutinies have erupted over the last year, which many observers explained with the dissatisfaction with the current government, headed since over 20 years by President Blaise Campaoré. It remains to be seen how and if this latest outbreak of violence fits into this picture. Watch this space for further information, as I’m in Burkina at the moment and will continue reporting on developments here.

Mali
The insurgency of Tuareg fighters in northern Mali continues. Unlike in earlier Tuareg rebellions, the fighters this time are not shying away from attacking and holding bigger towns.

The military tactics have remained largely the same though: groups of fighters mounted on fast four-wheel drives are staging surprise attacks on villages and towns. The local garrisons of the Malian army are usually overwhelmed and forced to retreat soon, as the Tuareg can boast heavy weaponry and the element of surprise. If faced with too great resistance, or with the threat of reinforcements, the rebels retreat quickly into the desert. […]

Read more about Mali and Nigeria over at the full version on WarisBoring.com!

 

WarIsBoring: Africa Round-Up

Tuareg rebels. Al Jazeera photo.

Mali

The regional repercussions of the fall of Gadhafi are beginning to come clear as Tuareg militants attacked a total of six towns since Jan. 17. The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) — the group responsible for the attacks — has been formed only recently and is believed to have many former Gadhafi mercenaries in its ranks. The group has recently claimed to have shot down a MIG bomber, probably with ground-air missiles pilfered from ammunition depots in Libya.

The official objective of the MNLA is the autonomy of the Malian part of Azawad, an area that many Tuareg see as their traditional homeland. But the Sahel Blog points out that the Malian government tried to prevent an escalation by offering concessions to the Tuareg community before the attacks even started. It is also interesting that the MNLA seems to have no interest in liberating those parts of Azawad which are situated in Algeria. The conclusion might be that the string of recent attacks did not happen with the intention to capture territory, but to demonstrate the military strength of the group and to bolster its position on the negotiating table.

Nigeria

Over the last year the terrorist group Boko Haram has made its way from a little known splinter group to an international security threat. Its attacks have become increasingly more sophisticated and cover a much wider area than its original area of operation. The latest hotspot seems to be Kano, which saw a huge attack on Jan. 20 and a number of smaller incidents since then. […]

Read the rest (covering developments in Somalia, Sengeal and the Sudans) over at WarIsBoring.com.