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…

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Warring Factions Really Like Libya’s Instability

Libya’s chaotic, many-sided conflict keeps getting more complicated. The country’s security forces has fragmented into hundreds of rival militias, the territory has broken apart into dozens of influence zones — which militias actively fight over — and there are two rival parliaments and governments.

Now Libya’s politicians are supporting two different power-sharing deals, neither of which is likely to be implemented in their current forms. Even worse, one of the culprits behind this situation is the Islamic State, which is steadily growing into a threat that Libya’s other armed factions fear could provoke another foreign intervention. …

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Gaddafi’s Legacy Haunts Libya and the World

A little more than four years ago, one of the world’s most extroverted, flamboyant and brutal dictators, Muammar Gaddafi, was dragged from a drainage pipe near the Libyan town of Sirte and lynched.

In turn demonized and schmoozed by Western governments, Gaddafi’s death involved a Predator drone, French Rafale fighter jets, a grenade thrown by his own bodyguard, an angry mob of rebel fighters and possibly a foreign agent.

Like Gaddafi’s end, Libya was a mess after 42 years of dictatorship and a full blown civil war. But unlike Gaddafi, who rests in an unmarked grave somewhere in the desert around Sirte, his country is not at peace today. …

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Libya’s Islamist Rebels Have Their Own Air Forces

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Civil wars are usually asymmetric affairs — the government has large numbers and modern weapons while the opposition has what it can capture on the battlefield or buy on the black market.

In most cases, rebels don’t find or buy supersonic fighter jets.

Libya is different. The country’s complex civil war is a direct result of the 2011 revolution against Muammar Gaddafi. Rebels, aided by NATO aerial support, killed the dictator on Oct. 20, 2011.

After his death, both rebel and loyalist forces fractured. Gaddafi’s vast and modern weapon stockpiles were suddenly available to anyone. Soldiers from all sides of the conflict scooped up the remains of the Libyan air force.

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Lessons on migration

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Very interesting and personal perspective on economic motivations for migration from Africa to Europe in a post by Bruce Whitehouse about a Malian friend of his:

Last year he started talking about emigrating. “I want to leave because there is nothing here. I want to find another country where I can have some money. I’m tired of asking others for help,” he said. He thought about applying for a US visa. He thought about Equatorial Guinea, where he knew someone who had apparently made good money. In the end he decided on Libya, where a friend was working as a carpenter. I warned him not to go. I told him what I’d heard about political instability, armed violence and exploitation of African migrants there. None of it mattered: Lamine bought a bus ticket to Niger, and from there made his way north across the Sahara.

For me the story of Lamine is again confirming that poverty and an absence of hope for the future can be just as powerful as a motivation for people to migrate as war and persecution. And that migrants make very deliberate and well informed choices about the risks they are willing to take.

Source: Desperate for a way out | Bridges from Bamako

African Development Bank pushes for shale gas development

A report (pdf) launched by the African development bank finds substantial potential for natural gas extraction from shale formations in a number of African countries:

Several African countries have potentially viable shale gas deposits, which, if developed, could lead to lower gas prices, increased consumption of natural gas, reduced greenhouse gas emissions from power generation and substantial economic benefits to producer countries, finds a report launched today by the African Development Bank (AfDB). – Press release

But the report also cautions the countries analysed, including Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, South Africa and the Western Sahara that shale gas exploitation is fraught with environmental dangers. From the executive summary:

The production of shale gas by fracking involves a number of environmental risks, and these continue to be of concern to communities near proposed well sites and groups involved with environmental protection. Four key issues have been identified that governments need to take into account in their decision making and regulations for the sector.
I. The large use of water required for fracking – Each well requires a large amount f water (several thousands of cubic meters, which has to be either taken from local water sources or trucked in. […]
II. Water contamination – The chemicals added to the fracturing fluid may escape and pollute water supplies. This can happen at the surface, where better containment can be mandated, or underground through leaks into aquifers, […]

With all of the countries assessed in the report being largely arid (South Africa’s largest shale gas potential is in the Karoo desert) and already confronted with water crises, this is a major issue.

III. Seismic events […]
IV. Venting and flaring of gas – […] The global warming potential of vented gas is so high that allowing a substantial fraction of the produced gas to be vented would raise the total life-cycle emissions of the gas toward those of coal, […]
The AfDB advises prospective producers to use available regulatory tools to minimize environmental risks. Environmental organisations argue that until now the potential environmental harm that shale gas exploitation could cause is not understood very well and that countries should refrain from tapping their reserves of this unconventional resource because of this. But with the report attesting several African countries potential reserves on “game-changer” scale, appetites will likely overcome caution.

What is your take on the report? What weights greater – environmental concerns or potential profits?

Rich Links: No Gas in Ghana, No Phosphate in Nambia, But More Oil in Libya

Some worthwhile reading from around the web:

Namibia bans phosphate mining

The Namibian government has declared a moratorium on phosphate mining in coastal waters. This is a reaction to ongoing protests from the fishing industry. The government and mining companies had plans to start exploiting the underwater reserves of phosphate, but mining phosphate at sea has never been done before. Fishermen and their employers — fish is one of Namibia’s most important exports — are afraid of possible negative environmental consequences of the mining endeavour. Mining Review

No gas for Ghana

The gas pipeline delivering natural liquified gas from the Jubilee oil field to several gas power stations in Ghana won’t be ready until 2014. The pipeline was due to go online at the beginning of this year, but the sinking of a ship with supplies and financing problems delayed are delaying completion. Ghana experiences severe power outages since a shipping accident made gas supply from Nigeria unreliable and solving the energy crisis has been a main campaign issue in the recent elections. AllAfrica/The Cronicle

Oil flows again in Libya

About thirty per cent of Libya’s oil production capacity has come back online, after militias opened the valves on an important pipeline in the west of the country. Several militias and regional groups are using oil flows to put the Libyan government under pressure in negotiations over jobs, payment and decentralisation of political power. Libyan oil is mostly exported to southern Europe and the row has led to rising prices on world markets. New York Times

Rich Links: Diamonds, Oil and Charcoal

Diamonds from Zimbabwe return to European markets

According to a Zimbabwean newspaper, the European Union has begun the process of delisting the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) from the E.U. sanctions list. That would allow the ZMDC, a state-owned enterprise, to sell diamonds from the controversial Marange mine in the E.U. Main proponent of the lifting of the sanction was Belgium, which also hosts the biggest market for diamonds in the E.U. AllAfrica

Blockage of Libyan oil harbours continues

Militias continue to block most oil exports in Libya, reports the German tageszeitung. These militias want to strengthen their position in negotiations with the government about regional autonomy and religious questions. Libya depends heavily on oil for its export earnings. taz

United Nations want Gulf states to crack down on Somali charcoal smuggling

The U.N. has urged the governments of the countries in the Arabic Gulf, especially the United Arab Emirates, to respect a U.N. embargo on the export of charcoal from Somalia. The charcoal trade is one of the main sources of income for Al Shabaab, an Islamist militia fighting against the U.N. supported government in Somalia. Its main trading partners are traders from the UAE. Shabelle Media

African governments are pushing for better resource deals with China

China finds it harder to impose its own terms for resource deals in Africa. African governments are keen on setting the rules for infrastructure development and environmental protection. New York Times

Son of Liberia’s president steps down from national oil company

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was widely criticised for putting her son into a powerful position, heading the national oil company. Now he stepped down, citing the recently achieved completion of the sector reform process, with which his work would be complete. Baobab

World Politics Review: The Origins and Consequences of Tuareg Nationalism

World Politics Review has brought out a new special on “peoples without borders”. They look at Kurdish, Basque and Tuareg minorities in their respective countries, and I am happy to tell you that I contributed a feature article on Tuareg nationalism for the issue:

At the beginning of April, after a loose coalition of Tuareg rebel groups forced the Malian army to abandon Timbuktu, one of the armed factions involved in the fighting didn’t lose much time in announcing its ultimate objective: “We, the people of Azawad declare irrevocably the independence of the state of Azawad,”read the communiqué issued by the National Liberation Movement of Azawad — known by its French acronym, MNLA — five days after the ancient city fell.

The bold declaration is of course mostly wishful thinking. No state or international organization has recognized the independence of Azawad, as the Tuareg refer to the border-spanning region they inhabit, and it is unlikely that this will change in the near future. The situation in northern Mali remains chaotic, with various armed groups, criminal networks and terrorist organizations competing for influence, while the Malian government and army still reel from the effects of a coup d’état that shook the capital of Bamako in March.

But the Tuareg bid for independence does not come from out of thin air, nor does it come at a normal time for the countries of the Sahel region and North Africa. Tuareg minorities in Mali and Niger have fought for self-determination for more than 100 years. And following the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya last year, regional political dynamics are evolving rapidly, which may yet prove to be either a boon or bane for those Tuareg rebels interested in independence.

Tuareg nationalism as a political ideology is rooted in the effects of colonization. It was sharpened by decades of marginalization and oppression, and has since become a useful tool in the hands of regional powerbrokers. Yet today, even as the MNLA makes the boldest bid yet for Tuareg self-determination, many Tuareg have actually come to accept the countries they live in as legitimate, making the future of Tuareg nationalism as well as its implications increasingly difficult to discern. […]

World Politics Review is a subscription journal. It’s well worth your money, but you can read the rest of this article for free, if you follow this link.

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.