News and Issues
Contributing authors/reseachers :Suzanne Visschedijk and Eric Ignatius (IG)

Bissau junta sets two-year roadmap to elections

Thu Apr 19, 2012 6:51am GMT By Alberto Dabo

BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's military junta said on Wednesday it would take two years to restore democratic rule in the West African state through elections that will be set by a soon-to-be-named caretaker government. The announcement came after broad international condemnation of the shadowy "Military Command" which seized power last week and cut short a presidential poll by detaining its front-runner, former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior. The former Portuguese colony has seen several coups and army revolts since independence in 1974. The latest coup was a blow to efforts by Western donors to reduce military meddling in the country's politics and counter the influence of drug-trafficking cartels using Guinea-Bissau as a transshipment point.

"The restoration of power to civilians will happen little by little," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Daha Bana na Walna told reporters after the Military Command issued a decree dissolving the country's public institutions and announcing a "transition period that will last two years." The decree said that a civilian-led council would soon be formed to guide the transition process to simultaneous presidential and legislative elections. The plan was signed by 19 political parties, but not Guinea- Bissau's biggest one, PAIGC.

Gomes Junior is a member of the PAIGC and was expected to win a presidential election run-off on April 29 before it was pre-empted by the coup. The long-serving former prime minister was unpopular with military chiefs because he supported plans to reform the bloated army, which is accused by Western security agencies of involvement in drug-trafficking.

The junta has said it acted to head off what it alleged was a secret pact between Gomes Junior and Angola, which had been providing military trainers and advisers, to "annihilate Guinea-Bissau's armed forces". A spokesman for the party of rival presidential candidate Kumba Yala - who shares his Balanta ethnicity with a quarter of the country and most of the military - said the junta's plan was positive and added that the creation of a transitional council would lead to a return of civilian rule.

The African Union suspended Guinea-Bissau on Tuesday and West African regional bloc ECOWAS has insisted Gomes Junior be released and "constitutional order" restored. ECOWAS officials met with junta leaders earlier this week. Guinea-Bissau's coup was the second in West Africa in less than a month. A March 22 military takeover in Mali left that Sahel country split in two, with Tuareg and Islamist rebels holding the north. Many residents of the capital Bissau were leaving the city for the interior or to offshore islands due to fears of increasing instability.

A boat carrying more than 20 passengers fleeing Bissau capsized late on Tuesday, killing ten people including five children, according to a port official.



Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

by Alex Thurston

Yesterday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released new figures on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Attacks are increasing: out of 102 reported incidents in the first quarter of 2012, "Ten reports were received from Nigeria...equalling the same number reported in Nigeria for the whole of last year."

The United Nations' International Maritime Organization has also noted an increase in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea. In February of this year, the UN's Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe called for "a united front" against the problem:

While regional States and organizations have carried out initiatives designed to counter piracy and armed robbery against ships at the national and regional levels, the threat not only persists but appears to be gaining ground in a region where the high-value assets the pirates target are abundant.

Last November, France "launched a three-year plan to train local forces and provide surveillance for anti-piracy operations in Benin, Togo and Ghana." As the number of attacks in the area continues to rise, other nations may deepen their involvement in the issue as well.

The Christian Science Monitor elaborates on the causes of piracy in West Africa:

Like piracy off the coast of Somalia, the high-seas attacks in the Gulf of Guinea – extending from Ivory Coast in the West toward Nigeria, and down toward the Democratic Republic of Congo -- are driven by a combination of economic opportunism by existing criminal gangs, and the lack of governmental capacity to rein in those criminal gangs on shore. Militias in Nigeria’s restive Niger Delta region have long carried out attacks on land-based oil pipelines, siphoning off crude oil in a practice called “illegal bunkering.”

In recent years, these attacks have extended to commercial shipping, and today’s West African pirates hijack ships and direct them to meet up with other large tanker ships specially contracted to offload the volumes of stolen crude oil.

Incidents in Somalia, meanwhile, have decreased (43 in Q1 of 2012 versus 97 in Q1 of 2011). IMB's report says that "disruptive actions and pre-emptive strikes by the navies in the region" are responsible for the drop, although the threat is "still high."




Sall Sworn in As Senegal President

Posted Monday, April 2nd, 2012 at 10:30 am

Senegal's new president, Macky Sall, has taken the oath of office, completing a smooth transition of power in the West African nation. Mr. Sall was sworn in Monday before thousands of dignitaries in a tent decorated with the red, yellow and green colors of Senegal's flag. In brief remarks, he promised to uphold the constitution and the law and protect Senegal's territorial integrity and independence.

He said, “Before God, and before the Senegalese nation, I swear to fulfill faithfully the role of the president of the Republic of Senegal, to observe and make others observe scrupulously the disposals of the constitution and the law, to dedicate all my efforts to the defense of the constitutional institutions, the unity of the territory and national independence and never to spare any efforts in the realization of African unity.”

The new leader defeated former president Abdoulaye Wade in a March 25 runoff election with about 65 percent of the vote. The 85-year-old Wade had angered many Senegalese with his decision seek a third term, despite a two-term limit in the constitution. Riots during the election campaign killed six people. Mr. Wade's concession after losing the runoff reinforced Senegal's reputation as a stable democracy. Instability remains a problem in West Africa, where four of Senegal's neighbors have experienced coups or coup attempts in the past five years. President Sall is 50 years old and previously spent three years as prime minister under Mr. Wade. After falling from favor, he broke with Mr. Wade's party in 2008, formed his own party, and served as mayor in his hometown of Fatick. Mr. Wade won the first round of the presidential election in February. But the other opposition candidates endorsed Mr. Sall, who promised to lower basic food costs and reform the government.

West Africa fears of drug terrorism links
by Staff Writers
Bissau, Guinea-Bissau (UPI) Apr 2, 2012

Seizures of Latin American cocaine in West Africa, now a major oil-producing zone, has heightened fears that an alliance is emerging between the cartels and al-Qaida militants in North Africa, the main smuggling route to Europe, and other groups.

Guinea-Bissau, which the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London calls the region's "first narco-state," is one of the main conduits for cocaine shipped across the Atlantic in ships and aircraft. The cocaine cartels control the narcotics trade in West Africa, through links with corrupt regimes and criminal gangs. "Porous borders and a lack of communication between different countries' police and customs services makes the entire region attractive to drug traffickers but conditions in several individual countries have proved particularly inviting," the IISS said in a recent study.

Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony and the world's fifth poorest states, is "particularly appealing to drugs smugglers because of the unpatrolled archipelago of islands off its coast that makes detection of shipping difficult." The 82 islands, some with airstrips, are monitored by one rusty coast guard ship. Official figures suggest that 98 percent of Guinea-Bissau's gross domestic product comes from the export of cashew nuts. But, U.N. investigators say up to 2,200 pounds of cocaine is flown in every night, along with an unknown amount by sea. An estimated 50 Colombia drug traffickers in Bissau control the narcotics trade and the military and most politicians are believed to be in their pocket. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime warned as far back as 2008 that 'the former Gold Coast is turning into the Coke Coast."

"The 2009 assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira may or may not have been drug-related but he was thought to be deeply involved in the cocaine trade and drug-enforcement agencies had complained about his failure to crack down on narco-trafficking," the IISS observed. The U.N. agency estimated in mid-2011 that at least 50 tons of cocaine passes through West Africa every year. The agency estimates that one-quarter of the cocaine consumed in Western Europe, with a street value of up to $18 billion, reaches there through West Africa. Once in West Africa, the cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela is split into smaller consignments for shipment to Europe. From Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Ghana, Benin and Nigeria, one of Africa's top oil producers, the narcotics are moved northward into the semi-arid Sahel region below the Sahara Desert that spans the continent from Atlantic to the Red Sea. There the smugglers work with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Tuareg tribesmen, which are seen to be operating together in moving the drugs to the Mediterranean coast in Morocco and Algeria for shipment into southern Europe.

AQIM uses the funds it acquires in the operations to buy weapons and finance attacks across the region, where it is developing alliances with other groups amid the political turmoil of the so-called Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings. U.S. authorities say Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim movement in Lebanon backed by Iran and Syria, is heavily involved in the drug trade to fund its war against Israel and its political and social programs. The IISS says that "Lebanese involvement in the Â… drugs trade and a strong Lebanese presence in the capital, Bissau, have led to the presumption that the trade is a source of funds for Hezbollah." Hezbollah denies such allegations but U.S. authorities have in recent months identified several Lebanese nationals as being linked to South American drug cartels and Hezbollah. On Dec. 13, Ayman Jouma, a Lebanese, was indicted in U.S. district court in Virginia on charges of running a drug-trafficking and money-laundering ring through which he allegedly funneled funds to Hezbollah. At about the same time, the U.S. Treasury charged that the Lebanese Canadian Bank of Beirut was involved in money laundering and financing a "terrorist organization," Hezbollah, by handling money from Arab businessmen based in West Africa where there is a large Lebanese, mainly Shiite, community. It said these men, mainly Shiite and often known Hezbollah supporters, used LCB for businesses in the region that appeared to be fronts to move funds to Hezbollah. The bank has denied the charges.

 EU Force Grows Amid Anti Piracy Successes (MARCH UPDATE)

March 2nd 2012 EU NAFVOR Disrupts Pirate Group

EU NAFVOR warship FGS BERLIN has successfully engineered the release of an Indian flagged dhow and crew, disrupting a Pirate Action Group and destroying two attack skiffs.

Read the full article here:

March 7th 2012 EU Naval Force Warships Provide Assistance to Stricken Vessel in Gulf of Aden

Over the past few days EUNAVFOR warships, operating as part of the EU’s counter-piracy mission codenamed Operation ATALANTA, have provided life-saving assistance to a stricken dhow, with 12 crew and 92 passengers onboard, including a pregnant woman and 33 children.

Read the full article here:

March 16th 2012 EU NAVAL FORCE Flagship ESPS Patino Holds Successful Media Day in Mombasa 15 March

A media day was held onboard the EU Naval Force Spanish flagship, ESPS PATIÑO alongside Mombasa Port on Thursday 15 March.  The event was hosted by the EU Naval Force Commander, Rear Admiral Jorge Manso and the EU’s Head of Delegation in Kenya, Mr. Lodewijk Briёt.

Read the full article here:

March 16th 2012 French Surveillance Jet Aircraft Provides a Boost in Capability to EU Counter-Piracy Forces in Somalia

French Falcon 50 joins EUNAVFOR

Read the full article here:

March 22nd 2012 Prince of Asturias visits EUNAVFOR units in Gulf of Aden

On 21 March 2012, the Spanish Crown Prince, Felipe de Borbon, visited Spanish service men and women deployed as part of EUNAVFOR in the Gulf of Aden.

Read the full article here:

March 23rd 2012 European Counter Piracy Naval Forces Strengthened by Two French Warships

As of 23 March 2012 the Counter-Piracy force of the European Union (EUNAVFOR) which normally includes between 4 and 7 warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa will be joined by two new warships of the French navy; Frigate FS GEORGES LEYGUES and Amphibious Assault Ship FS DIXMUDE.

Read the full article here:

March 23rd 2012 EU Extends Counter Piracy Mission Off Coast of Somalia

On Friday 23 March 2012 the Council of the European Union confirmed its intention to extend the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) counter-piracy mission, Operation ATLANATA off the Somali coast until December 2014. At the same time the Council also extended the area of operations to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters.

Read the full article here:

March 26th 2012 Portuguese Frigate Joins European Forces against Piracy in the Horn of Africa

On Monday 26th March one of Portugal’s largest warships, the Vasco de Gama Class frigate NRP CORTE REAL added its name to the list of EU ships (EUNAVFOR) operating in the Horn of Africa.

Read the full article here:

March 27th 2012 French Navy ship FS MARNE leaves Toulon with next EU NAVFOR Force Commander on board

French Navy command and replenishment ship FS MARNE left Toulon on 25 March and is heading towards the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin, with the future EU NAVFOR Force Commander, Rear-Admiral Dupuis and his staff on board.

Read the full article here:

March 28th 2012 EU Naval Force Ensures Pirate Action Group is Incapable of Further Crime (UPDATE)

On 26th March EU NAVFOR Flagship ESPS PATINO located a Yemeni suspected of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Read the full article here:

March 28th 2012 Would Be Pirates Captured By European Naval Forces

EU Counter Piracy Naval Forces (EUNAVFOR) have tracked down and stopped a group of suspected pirates who were believed to have tried to attack a Hong-Kong flagged tanker approximately 400 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia.

Read the full article here:

March 30th 2012 European Naval Forces Help Somali Fishermen off Mogadishu Coast

On Thursday 29th March Spanish warship ESPS INFANTA ELENA, operating as part of the European counter piracy force (EUNAVFOR), came to the aid of a Somali fishing vessel, adrift off the coast of Mogadishu.

Read the full article here:



Three Recent Coups in West Africa and How They Played Out

by Alex Thurston

Many questions still surround the ongoing attempted military takeover in Mali: What motivated it? Will there be a counter-coup? What does it mean? What are its implications for the rebellion in the north and the future of Malian democracy? What are its implications for other countries? Answers to these questions will take shape over time, and Mali will follow its own path. In the meantime it is useful to think about other recent military coups in West Africa and how they played out.

The coups in question took place in Mauritania (2008), Guinea (2008), and Niger (2010), all of which border Mali. One commonality is that all three countries experienced coups at moments of perceived crisis. Another commonality is that they all eventually held elections. However, each took a different path towards its coup and towards the resolution of the coup. One key takeaway, indeed, is that coups can follow very different trajectories.

The order is chronological. This post fleshes out - and adds to - arguments I made here.


Mauritania's history, following the end of one-party rule in 1978, includes four successful coups: 1978, 1984, 2005, and 2008. While the coups of 1978 and 1984 installed military regimes, the 2005 coup was motivated by increasing domestic tension under the rule of Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya. This tension stemmed partly from Ould Taya's limited toleration for democratization. The coup leaders organized open elections, and a civilian president was in 2007. Feelings within parts of the military leadership that the civilian regime was politically fecklessness and weak, especially in the face of a perceived Islamist and jihadist threat, prompted a coup in August 2008. The leader of that coup, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, had been a key participant in the 2005 coup. In 2009, the junta oversaw presidential elections. Abdel Aziz ran as a civilian and won. He remains in power today.


Guinea has had two successful coups: one in 1984, at the death of independence-era leader President Sekou Toure, and one in December 2008, at the death of President Lansana Conte, who came to power in the coup of 1984. The junta installed in 2008 was led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Camara promised that elections would take place and that he would not stand, but tensions rose as his promises came to appear hollow and his behavior became erratic. In September 2009, soldiers brutally cracked down on an opposition rally in the capital. Then, in December 2009, one of Camara's guards shot him in the head. The junta leader lived, but was flown to Morocco, later to Burkina Faso, and was not permitted to re-enter Guinea. Power passed to General Sekouba Konate, who oversaw a two-round election in June/November 2010. The elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud. The winner, long-time opposition leader Alpha Conde, is still president.


In Niger, four successful coups have occurred: the 1974 coup that overthrew independence-era President Hamani Diori; a 1996 coup that installed Colonel Ibrahim Mainassara after several attempted civilian governments; the 1999 assassination of Mainassara by his bodyguards, who then organized civilian elections which were won by President Mamadou Tandja; and the February 2010 coup that ousted Tandja after he amended the constitution and remained in power beyond his original two-term limit. The 2010 coup, led by Colonel Salou Djibo, shows continuities with the 1999 coup: Djibo's junta, appearing to consider itself the referee of Nigerien democracy, relatively quickly organized civilian elections. This two-round contest, held in January/March 2011, was won by opposition leader and current President Mahamadou Issoufou.


What lessons do these examples offer? I can think of four:

  1. These coups came out of (perceived) crisis. In addition to the big triggers I mention above - a sense of civilian incompetence in the face of threats, the death of a long-time leader, or the refusal of a leader to leave office - other problems were at work in each case, ones that civilian leaders struggled to deal with. Mauritania was juggling domestic unrest, non-violent Islamist political activism, and jihadist violence. Guinea saw military mutinies in 2008. Niger had experienced drought and famine. Military leaders seized power, it seems, in part because they feared further such situations would deteriorate further. This seems to have been the case in Mali as well.
  2. Coup leaders quickly adopted the rhetoric of democracy. Within months if not days of taking power, these military juntas were promising elections and, in Mauritania and Niger, working to organize them. This, too, holds for Mali, at least at the rhetorical level; vague promises to restore democracy have already surfaced.
  3. (Promises of) elections served different purposes for each junta. In Guinea, many came to see Camara's promises as a tactic he exploited to delay having to clarify his status and his intentions. In Mauritania, elections brought a large measure of continuity. Some protesters in Mauritania believe the elections did not really end military rule; in this view, elections were an exercise Abdel Aziz went through to legitimate his rule. In Niger, finally, the junta lived up to its promises, and its leaders did not compete in the election. With Mali, how this junta will use/abuse the promise of democracy will be a key question.
  4. Coup leaders who cause chaos are overthrown in coups. I take this observation from the case of Camara (who only survived by luck) in Guinea and that of Mainassara in Niger. It arguably also applies to Ould Taya in Mauritania and even to General Sani Abacha in Nigeria, who rumor says was poisoned by treachery in 1998. In each case, the new military leaders exemplified a more sober style of leadership and transitioned fairly quickly to civilian democracy. The implication for Mali's new junta, then, is that if they are seen to be dragging the country further into chaos and dragging their feet on democracy, there could be yet another coup in the coming years.

Northern Mali: Tuareg Rebellion State of Play and Map

by Alex Thurston

A few days ago, IRIN posted a useful backgrounder on the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali. Read it and it becomes clear that the rebels - the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad or MNLA - have, at least in the short-term, achieved some of their top military priorities:

When the MNLA began hostilities with the attack on Ménaka on January 17, it announced its main targets as Kidal, Tombouctou and Gao, the three provincial capitals of the “septentrion”, or far north, all of which would be part of a “liberated Azawad”.

Azawad refers to the idea of an independent Tuareg state in northern Mali.

The rebels were scoring victories even before the coup in southern Mali on March 22, but confusion in the south has helped the MNLA rapidly conquer their main targets. Kidal fell on Friday, Gao on Saturday, and Timbuktu some time between Sunday and today (on a side note, I really appreciate that the BBC refers to Timbuktu as "the last northern army stronghold," highlighting its current significance, rather than as "the fabled ancient desert blah blah blah," as many other outlets are wont to do).

The dynamics of the rebellion in the north are complicated by the fact that several groups are operating at once. There is the MNLA, which wants independence. There is Ancar Dine (Arabic: "Supporters/Defenders of the Faith"), which says it wants to impose shari'a in Mali. There is Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which may see the rebellion as an opportunity to deepen its presence in the region. Such hopes on AQIM's part may be in vain. Kal - who writes, "Northern Mali is not fated for AQIM to make it its home or be a major player in the region’s internal politics" - analyzes the interplay between those groups here. Ranked by size, the MNLA is the most important force.

Even these few paragraphs should hint that the politics within and around the rebellion going forward will be quite complicated. This complexity makes it important to take things one step at a time.

First, it remains to be seen exactly what will shake out in southern Mali. The junta in the capital Bamako has agreed to reinstate the constitution (it had briefly substituted a new one) and return power to civilians. So the coup is over, right? Well, not yet. As the BBC points out, "They have not stepped down and there are no clear arrangements for a transition of power." More clarity will come today, as the Economic Community of West African States decides what sanctions to impose on the junta, and how the junta responds - especially what kind of timeline it proposes for a civilian handover. Many details must still be ironed out before anyone will know clearly who rules in Bamako.

Second, it remains to be seen whether rebels' military victories translate into lasting political control. Fragmentation within the rebel camp, and confusion about which political vision will be imposed, could make administering newly conquered territories difficult or lead to infighting, which could turn large number of civilians against the rebels. Another question will be whether the rebels receive much international recognition, and my feeling is that they will not. Both African leaders and outside governments have been reluctant to see any re-drawing of maps in Africa - South Sudan fought two civil wars over a period of fifty years, and endured a six-year transition process, before achieving independence, while the proto-state of Somaliland has been functioning (without the international recognition it craves) for two decades. It's hard to get recognized if you're a wannabe new state.

In this case, I do not believe Mali's neighbors will be keen to recognize the Azawad. As Peter Tinti writes, the MNLA says its territorial ambitions are limited to Mali but "the prospect of a rebellion that crosses several borders" - ie, into other areas with Tuareg populations, such as Niger, Algeria, and Libya - would "freak out the international community." There are a lot of forces, in other words, that militate against international recognition for a state called Azawad, even if the rebels are able to control the area de facto in the coming weeks (months? years?).

Events in Mali have moved very quickly and are continuing to do so. Once again, I recommend turning to Twitter for the latest, especially the feeds of Martin VoglMartin Plaut,Peter DorrieHannah ArmstrongTommy Miles, and Andrew Lebovich. I leave you with a map below, highlighting (from west to east) Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, and with a link to a much nicer map at Wikipedia, that gives an overview of major battle sites.




In New York City's Little Senegal, support for President-elect Macky Sall was strong in last week's elections, and celebration at his win has been equally pronounced.

An Oxfam press release from yesterday:

Growing insecurity in Mali and northern Nigeria is disrupting the supply of food to communities suffering from a major food crisis affecting 13 million people in West Africa, said international aid agency Oxfam today.

The conflict in northern Mali, one of the driving factors of last week’s coup d’état and the temporary closure of borders, had already posed a major risk to vulnerable communities in Mali and the region. Now there are signs that the escalation in the country’s instability is further affecting the already serious food insecurity across West Africa, meaning a rapid increase in humanitarian assistance to the region is urgently needed.

Meanwhile, rebels in northern Mali yesterday captured the town of Kidal (map), one of the three "capitals" of Azawad, the nation the rebels say they want to slice out of Mali. The other two capitals, Gao and Timbuktu, lie further south. Leader of the recent coup in Mali Captain Amadou Sanogo appealed for international help against the rebels, but his regime faces the withdrawal of US aid and the threat, by the Economic Community of West African States, to close the country's borders. The Nigerian Senate, meanwhile, "is pushing for military action against Malian coup plotters."

In other Nigeria news, two teams of suspected Boko Haram members attacked a police station and a bank yesterday in the northeast.

Jeune Afrique (French) on the re-organization of Guinea's army under the new civilian regime. Guinea experienced a military coup in late 2008, but returned to civilian control in late 2010.

Somaliland is suffering a serious drought.

Further south, southern Somali rebel movement al Shabab continues to lose territory to the government and its allies.

Following a border clash between the two nations this week, Sudan and South Sudan are set to hold more talks today on final status issues such as oil revenue sharing. Yesterday, rebels in Sudan's South Kordofan State reportedly began new attacks.


Africa Blog Roundup: Two-Round Electoral Systems, War in Mali, Media in Somalia, and More

by Alex Thurston

Dibussi Tande on the difference having a two-round election system can make, and why Cameroon (for historical reasons) does not have one:

The Republic of Senegal has a new president following run-off elections which resulted in the defeat of outgoing President Abdoulaye Wade by Macky Sall, his one-time protégé and former Prime Minister. One of the main reasons for Macky's victory is Senegal’s two-round electoral system, which calls for a second round of voting if no candidate obtains more that 50% of votes cast. This is unlike countries such as Cameroon which have a one-round/first-past-the-post electoral system.

In the first round of voting, President Wade obtained 34.81% of votes cast while Sall obtained 26.58%. If this had been the first-past-the-post system practiced in Cameroon, Wade would still be President of Senegal...

The two-round system is a potent tool for dislodging sit-tight incumbents, especially in the face of a splintered opposition (there were 14 candidates in the first round of elections in Senegal).

Erin in Juba provides a snarky perspective on life in South Sudan during the oil shutdown.

Mali continues to grapple with war and the aftermath of the recent coup. Dr. Gregory Mann says Mali's democracy is "Down But Not Out." Lesley Warner looks at the trajectory of the war with a post entitled, "After the Loss of Kidal and Gao, What Next for the MNLA and CNRDR" - the MNLA being the rebels in the north (The National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) and the CNRDR being the military junta in Bamako (the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State).

Peter Dorrie continues his series on the Sahelian food crisis with a look at Burkina Faso. He writes,

Burkina will be one of the least impacted countries of this year’s hunger crisis. This is due to its geographical advantages, but also the early and relatively comprehensive reaction by the government and NGOs. Still, many people will be off worse after the crisis than they were before. Lets hope that they won’t be forgotten as soon as the crisis is declared over.

Carmen McCain, "The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate: South Africa, Nigeria, and the World."

Laine Strutton reflects on the way her interlocutors in the Niger Delta talk about the 1990s, and what implications this case has for larger questions of  security and/vs. freedom.

Amb. John Cambell argues, "Africa Unlikely to Win World Bank Presidency."

And Amb. David Shinn flags a new report on the Somali media landscape.

EU Extends Counter Piracy Mission Off Coast of Somalia  

On Friday 23 March 2012 the Council of the European Union confirmed its intention to extend the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) counter-piracy mission, Operation ATLANATA off the Somali coast until December 2014.  At the same time the Council also extended the area of operations to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters. 

Today’s decision will enable Operation Atalanta Forces to work directly with the Transitional  Federal Government and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy in the coastal areas.  In accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the Somali government has notified the UN Secretary General of its acceptance of the EU’s offer for this new collaboration. 

Speaking about the extension of the mandate and area of operations, Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, who is the Operational Commander of the EU Naval Force, said “The extension of the mandate until the end of 2014 confirms the EU’s commitment to fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa.    Piracy has caused so much misery to the Somali people and to the crews of ships transiting the area and it is right that we continue to move forward in our efforts”.


EU set to back strikes on Somali pirate lairs 23/03/2012   (IG) Picture

The European Union will likely approve plans Friday to strike Somali pirate equipment on beaches, widening the scope of its naval operations four years into a mission to protect shipping.Germany had voiced reservations about plans to allow EU warships to fire at trucks, supplies, boats and fuel stowed on the coast of Somalia, but a minister indicated Thursday that Berlin would now back the plans.
"I expect that we will find a consensus," German deputy defence minister Christian Schmidt told reporters on arrival for a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels.The decision is expected to be taken when EU foreign ministers meet Friday, one day after the defence chiefs, EU officials said.

The expanded mandate, however, will have to be submitted to the German parliament for approval, he added.The ministers will also formally approve the extension of the EU mission, Operation Atalanta, until December 2014.EU officials have stressed that the new mandate would not call for the deployment of troops on the ground in Somalia.

Nine EU naval ships are currently operating off the Horn of Africa, escorting vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia and policing the key shipping route to thwart pirate attacks.

Source: AFP


Pirate attacks on merchant vessels in Africa pose a threat with ripple effects for U.S. homeland security and must be tackled as such, security industry experts say.

The industry's experts want specialist teams from commercial security firms deployed on every ship that sails in the danger zone in east Africa, where most recent piracy incidents have taken place.

"Success at sea by the early Somali pirates has attracted major organized-crime syndicates, Muslim extremists and a more robust and sophisticated confederacy of operatives," Jim Jorrie, chief executive officer of ESPADA marine services argued in the March 2012 issue of Homeland Security Today magazine.

"While this is all happening half a world away, it has put more operating cash in the hands of extremists, including al-Qaida -- and that should be of no small concern for us in the United States," Jorrie said.

New post on Sahel Blog

Africa News Roundup: Mauritania in Mali, Suicide Attack in Mogadishu, Museveni Impeachment Attempt, South Sudan Violence, and More

by Alex Thurston

Mauritania's army continues to hunt members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) inside Mali, but Mauritania's government denies supporting the Tuareg rebellion in the region.

On Wednesday, a suicide attack occurred at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. The rebel movement al Shabab has claimed responsibility. Such events, in my view, boost the predictions of analysts who said that al Shabab's withdrawal from Mogadishu would change the nature of the conflict there, rather than ending it.

The US military says that 2011 saw a major increase in bomb attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia.

Ethiopian troops are still preparing to hand over areas in Somalia to African Union troops.

The administration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni says an impeachment bid against the president has little chance of success.

The BBC re-examines Uganda's role in Somalia.

The LA Times looks at ethnic violence in South SudanAlan Boswell, meanwhile, writes that the government's army - the Sudan People's Liberation Army or SPLA - is "part of the problem."

Here in Jonglei state, where tit-for-tat raids have billowed into a full-scale internal war between the Murle and Lou Nuer tribes, South Sudan's army has become part of the problem, despite the $270 million in American aid it's received since a 2005 U.S.-brokered peace deal led last year to the creation of the country.

A broad group of U.S. activists who forged close ties with the South Sudanese rebel movement spurred that deal to end Sudan's decades-long civil war. They included churches from then-President George W. Bush's hometown of Midland, Texas, the Congressional Black Caucus and celebrities such as actor George Clooney.

The violence, and the role of the South Sudanese military in it, points out the difficulty of a legacy in which the U.S. and influential activists remain supporters of a government that often lies at the heart of the problem. Even with its poor human rights record, South Sudan continues to be the darling of its committed backers.

New post on al-Wasat - الوسط

The End of a Romance? Omar Hammami’s Relationship with Somalia’s Al-Shabab

by Ibn Siqilli

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

In a 1:10-minute video posted on YouTube on March 16, Omar Hammami, until now the most prominent non-Somali foreign member of the Somali insurgent-jihadi movement Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of the Warrior-Youth; Al-Shabab/Al-Shabaab), issued an "urgentmessage (sic)" to "whoever it [the message] may reach among the Muslims" in which he said that he feared for his life following a dispute with Al-Shabab following "differences" over matters of "shari'a and strategy."   Sitting in front of the black-and-white flag emblazoned with the Muslim testament of faith (shahada) that Al-Shabab uses, Hammami, who is referred to in transnational Sunni jihadi (hereafter "jihadi") circles as "Abu Mansur al-Amriki [the American]," does not elaborate on the nature of his dispute with Al-Shabab or whether the dispute was with the movement's leadership generally or specific members of the insurgent leadership cadre, in which they are also reportedly divisions and disputes over several issues including the response to the famine threatening the Horn of Africa and local or glocal versus full-fledged transnational militancy. The room appears to be the same or similar one in a photograph of Hammami that was posted to jihadi Internet forums in December 2011, though it is impossible to tell for sure.

The release of this video from the American citizen who is perhaps most famous for his terrible hip hop songs such as "Send Me a Cruise" and "Blow by Blow" has caused considerable consternation among segments of the cyber jihadi community.  The dispute appears to be genuine has become stronger with the release of multiple messages via Al-Shabab's official or affiliated media outlets earlier today.  Given the potential importance of this news, it is worth reviewing Hammami's lengthy relationship with Al-Shabab.

Hammami (b. 1984), a native of Daphne, Alabama and son of a Syrian Muslim father and a Protestant Christian American mother, traveled to Somalia in late November 2006 from Egypt.  According to his former best friend Bernie Culveyhouse, he likely traveled to the East African country because of a desire to aid the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), an umbrella movement that, in 2006, brought the first real semblance of law and order to civil war-torn Somalia  since the fall of dictator Siyaad Barre in 1991.  It is believed that Hammami joined Al-Shabab, which formed part of the UIC's military wing.  In 2007, wearing a kuffiya scarf over his face and only showing his eyes, he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera Arabic and made an appeal to Americans to heed the example of Somalia.

Hammami became most well known, however, following his starring role in Ambush at Bardale, a 31-minute video released in late March 2009.  The video, produced by Al-Shabab's media department, then simply referred to as such, documents an ambush by insurgents led by Hammami against an Ethiopian military convoy near the city of Baidoa, capital of the Bay region, in western Somalia in early August 2008.  In the video Hammami, speaking in English, lectures a group of Al-Shabab fighters on hadith, the Qur'an, and strategic and ideological matters concerning the movement's "jihad" and standing in "ribat," or guardianship over Muslim lands.  Ambush at Bardale also includes Hammami's first two hip hop songs, "Blow by Blow" and "Hum Hum," which feature him and a second unidentified English speaker. Hammami later addresses the camera in Arabic.

Despite his very public persona in the news media, particularly in North America, Hammami's exact position and role in Al-Shabab has largely been the subject of speculation.  According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's designation of him as an international terrorist, Hammami is (or was) a "military tactician, recruitment strategist, and financial manager" for Al-Shabab.  The designation also accuses him of being involved in the planning of an October 2008 suicide attack in Puntland carried out by U.S. citizen and Al-Shabab fighter Shirwa Ahmed.  Open source material with regard to his role, particularly insurgent primary sources, is generally ambiguous.  In the three official Al-Shabab videos that he's appeared in, he has been referred to as "shaykh" and "the brother (al-akh)."  The first title is traditionally an honorific title describing either a societal or religious leader though jihadi groups use the term so frequently that the term's meaning is often of limited use with regards to determining an individual's specific role.  The second is a term of endearment used by Muslims generally to describe a fellow male Muslim.  In the statement reporting the Hammami-led ambush of Ethiopian forces at Bardale, the Daphne native was referred to as a "field commander" (al-qa'id al-maydani).  His exact role, if any, in the upper echelons of Al-Shabab's leadership cadre is unclear, at least in open source materials.

In January 2008 the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a shadowy jihadi media outlet and distribution network that has for years facilitated the distribution of Al-Shabab's statements and other media material online, released a 5-page essay penned by Hammami and addressed to "the mujahideen in particular and the Muslims in general."  In the essay, he criticized the UIC and discussed the differences between it and Al-Shabab.  Whereas the former restricted itself to the "boundaries placed by the Taaghoot [Taghut; tyrant-rulers]," Al-Shabab had "a global goal" that included the formation of a jihadi caliphate, a transnational state, in "all parts of the world."  Hammami criticized the UIC's poor treatment of foreign fighters, the "muhajireen" (emigrants) who traveled to aid their Somali Muslim brethren.  Toward the end of his essay, the American discusses Al-Shabab's purported program or "path" (Minhaj).  How definitive in terms of guidance his discussion of the movement's program was, however, is unclear.  Al-Shabab's Somali leaders and more important non-Somali foreign leaders and affiliated Al-Qa'ida Central operatives, such as the late Saleh 'Ali Saleh al-Nabhan and Fazul 'Abdullah Muhammad, were likely more influential on the formation of the movement's ideology.  If continuous reports about purported internal divisions are true, Al-Shabab's leaders are divided on a number of issues, though this cleavages have not yet precipitated the actual break-up of the movement.  Currently Al-Shabab has a leadership cadre that includes a number of prominent Somali preacher-ideologues, including some who have lived in diaspora communities such as Fu'ad Muhammad Khalaf and 'Abd al-Qadir Mu'min.  Together with political leaders such as the movement's amir Ahmed Godane, spokesman 'Ali Mahamoud Rage ('Ali Dheere), Robow, and Aweys, these individuals have likely been more influential over the construction of Al-Shabab's ideology as a movement than Hammami.

Hammami has appeared a number of times at public Al-Shabab functions including a celebration for the children of the movement's "martyrs" in 2009 or 2010.  His most high profile appearance was at a lengthy conference entitled "We are All Usama" held by Al-Shabab in the Lower Shabelle region south of Mogadishu in mid May 2011 following the killing of Al-Qa'ida Central founder-leader Usama bin Laden by U.S. forces earlier that month in Pakistan.

In photographs released by Al-Shabab and affiliated/sympathetic media outlets, Hammami was pictured alongside a number of senior Al-Shabab leaders including Rahanweyn leader Mukhtar "Abu Mansur" Robow, Hasan Dahir Aweys, Lower Shaballe governor Muhammad Abu 'Abdullah, preachers 'Abd al-Qadir Mu'min and Fu'ad Muhammad Khalaf "Shongole," and Banaadir governor Muhammad Hasan 'Umar Abu 'Abd al-Rahman.  In Ambush at Bardale Hammami also appeared alongside Robow planning the ambush against Ethiopian forces.  In that footage and in photographs and video footage from the conference dedicated to Bin Laden.two appeared quite friendly with one another.

The amount of media attention that Hammami has attracted is likely disproportionate to his actual role and importance to Al-Shabab.  This is not to say that he was not important to the movement's recruitment efforts, particularly among English-speakers.  It is interesting to note that Al-Shabab had already recruited dozens of mostly Somali youth in the U.S., Canada, and Britain before its public video unveiling of Hammami in Ambush at Bardale, though this fact does not discount the possibility/likelihood that he was involved prior in an advisory role.

Hammami, as mentioned previously, has appeared in three official video releases produced by Al-Shabab's media wing, Ambush at Bardale, the September 2009-release Labbayk Ya Usama, and an April 2010 release about a celebration held for children of killed insurgents.  In Labbayk Ya Usama Hammami's makes a brief non-speaking appearance and is shown observing and directing training of Al-Shabab "special forces" and meeting with other Al-Shabab commanders.  He speaks at the celebration for the children of the "martyrs," though the children seem more interested in their toys and food, alongside 'Ali Rage.  Hammami's hip hop songs, both those released independently (or at least unbranded) of Al-Shabab's media department and the two featured in Ambush at Bardale, were branded as being from "Ghaba Productions."  His most recent lecture, "Lessons Learned," appeared on YouTube and the Ansar al-Mujahideen English jihadi Internet forum on October 7, 2011 and was subsequently released on other web sites including the predominantly Somali language al-Qimma al-Islamiyya (Islamic Summit) forum.  The latter link was later not working and was possibly removed by forum administrators.  In November, the lecture was translated from English into Arabic by the al-Masada (Place of Lions) Media Foundation, the media office of the al-Shumukh al-Islam (Islamic pride/glory) Internet forum.  Comparisons made by some of Hammami with Anwar al-'Awlaqi are frankly absurd.  Unlike Hammami, al-'Awlaqi had some semblance of religious legitimacy, at least prior to his public embrace of Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and militancy.  While Hammami was able to speak a caricatured youth slang, it is unlikely that his religious arguments for jihad or even his personal life story carried the same authoritativeness and weight of al-'Awlaqi's, since the latter gave up a successful public life and leadership role in the U.S. in order to embrace "true Islam," at least according to the American-Yemeni preacher's self-image and the image constructed by AQAP and other jihadis.

The open question is why would Hammami make such a public break with Al-Shabab now?  Speculation in some media coverage and on social media networks, primarily Twitter, has been that the dispute may be related to the movement's formalizing of its affiliation with Al-Qa'ida Central (AQC) in early February.  This is certainly a possibility.  Praising the charismatic persona of Bin Laden is still a step below being an actual member of an AQC affiliated movement or group, which perhaps Hammami finds undesirable, if only for reasons of personal safety particularly after the U.S. government's targeted killing of Anwar al-'Awlaqi on September 30 of last year in Yemen.  Given Al-Shabab's public embrace of the decision to formally affiliate with AQC, demonstrated by a number of high profile public celebrations in regions under insurgent control that have been attended by many but not all of its senior leadership (at least based on insurgent photographs), the reverse seems unlikely, that is that Hammami broke with Al-Shabab because he supported the affiliation while insurgent leaders opposed it.  The possibility that some Al-Shabab leaders are not as supportive of the affiliation remains.  Robow and Aweys, for example, were not in photographs of insurgent-organized public celebrations in Lower Shabelle and other regions and they have only just begun to reappear in insurgent-affiliated media following the announcement by Godane and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The exact reasons for this, it should be noted, are unclear. It is possible that the break between Hammami and Al-Shabab's leadership, if true, is unrelated to the affiliation and concerns other issues, such as the insurgent movement's application of its particularly harsh and philistine interpretation of shari'a.  Al-Shabab has actively promoted its own version of law and order, a harsh one for sure, and has attempted to establish its control over local shari'a courts through its Office of the Judiciary, which has held "training sessions" for judges from all the regions under insurgent control.

Others suggest that the break may be related to suspicions by Al-Shabab's domestic leadership with regard to "foreign fighters."  It is important to remember that there are several different types of such fighters in insurgent ranks.  First, there are those, likely the smallest number, who, like Hammami, are non-Somalis.  This group includes Arabs, South Asians or those of South Asian descent, possibly from Horn of Africa countries, Americans, and Europeans.  Second, there are ethnic Somalis from the diaspora.  Third, there are non-Somalis from in and around the Horn of Africa.  Available evidence, including from insurgent media, is that this group remains welcome by Al-Shabab's leadership and indeed is increasingly the target of insurgent recruitment efforts.  This includes the affiliation of Ahmad Iman 'Ali and the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya and the appearance of Swahili-speaking Al-Shabab fighters in insurgent videos, particularly since the November 2010 release of Message to the Umma: And Inspire the Believers.

Al-Shabab today, in a series of Tweets via its Arabic and English-language Twitter accounts and in an official statement released on jihadi Internet forums, denies that Hammami's life is endanger and says that he still enjoys the "benefits of brotherhood" with the "mujahideen."  The affair will remain purely the subject of speculation until more concrete information emerges

LUANDA, Jan. 29 (NNN-ANGOP):The national director for Environment, Kamia Carvalho, has reiterated that deforestation, contamination of rivers and oceans, exploration of minerals and dumping of solid wastes as the country’s ...

ACCRA, Jan. 29, (NNN-GNA):The Human Resource Directorate of the Ghana Police Service has announced that artisan applicants in the current recruitment exercise will be undertaking their physical body screening, practical ...

26.01.2012 Navy Seals Rescue Aid Workers Held in Nation

US commandos swooped into lawless Somalia and rescued two Western aid workers held for three months by armed pirates in a daring pre-dawn raid approved by President Barack Obama.

In a rare US incursion into Somalia, elite Navy SEALs flying at least six military helicopters flew in to pluck an American, Jessica Buchanan, and Dane Poul Thisted to safety in a firefight that left all nine kidnappers dead.

Obama, who had been updated regularly about the kidnapping by his top defense staff, gave the green light late on Monday night for the risky operation on learning that 32-year-old Buchanan's health was in danger.

"Jessica's health was failing," Vice President Joe Biden said on ABC's Good Morning America show. "They concluded they should go at this time. The president gave the go."

03.01.12 East Africa: EU Mulls Expanding Anti-Piracy Mission to Beaches - Germany

The European Union is weighing expanding its anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa to include targeting equipment stored on Somali beaches, Germany said Friday

03.Jan 2012 . Taiwan Mulls Armed Guards on Board Ships to Deter Pirates. 201201030919

Taiwan is considering a plan to place armed guards on board local ships that sail in pirate-infested waters, especially off Somalia, officials and media said Tuesday. "The proposal has been under evaluation, but details of how it can be done have not been finalised," an official at the transportation ministry told AFP, declining to give his name. Industry officials said the proposed measures would not be implemented until an amendment to the law governing guns and firearms that bars the employment of armed guards on board local vessels.


Reduced Risk of Pirate Attacks to Cut Freight Costs

Freight costs and insurance premiums are expected to drop later this year if the decreasing risk of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden is sustained.

The reduction in both people held captive for ransom and pirate attacks has been attributed to concerted effort by the international community to make the Indian Ocean safe.


29 December, 2011.

Merchant Ship Crews Held Hostage in Somalia

19 December, 2011.

EU NAVFOR Escorts a Convoy of Humanitarian Aid Ships into Somalia: The Spanish auxiliary oiler and replenishment ship, the SPS PATINO, Flagship of the EU NAVFOR, with the Force Commander, Captain Jorge Manso Revilla embarked, has recently com. . .

19 December, 2011.

Australia to Host Counter-Piracy Conference in 2012

Australia will host a counter-piracy conference in Perth next year as part of its ongoing commitment to international counter-piracy efforts. On October 28, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd ...

9 December, 2011.

Interview with Henk Swarttouw, Former Chairman of the CGPCS

This interview was first published in the Global Observatory ( Reprinted with permission.] Henk Swarttouw served as the 10th plenary session Chairman of the ...

8 December, 2011.

IMO Assembly Adopts Resolution on Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships. [Source: IMO] The 27th Assembly of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted various resolutions including a resolution urging Governments to continue their efforts to combat piracy a ...

1 December, 2011.

UNODC to Host a Conference on Illicit Financial Flows related to Piracy off the ...

The UNODC Global Programme against Money Laundering (GPML) is preparing to host its second Conference on Illicit Financial Flows related to Piracy off the Coast of Somalia in Djibouti from December 14 ...

29 November, 2011.

IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea 2011 Goes to Hijacked Ship Master Capta ...

Source: IMO (] Captain Seog Hae-gyun of the Republic of Korea, Master of the chemical tanker Samho Jewelry, has been pre ...

29 November, 2011.

UNSC Extends Authorization to Use "All Necessary Means" to Combat Piracy in Coop ... [Source: UN Press Release (] Condemning and deploring all acts of piracy and armed robbery against vessels in the waters off the coast of So ...

28 November, 2011.

The 10th Plenary Session of the CGPCS Ends with Fruitful Discussions

November 17, 2011, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) held its 10th Plenary Meeting under the chairmanship of the Netherlands. The CGPCS participants gathered to check on ...

22 November, 2011.

International Counter Piracy Collaboration Helps NATO to Foil Pirates

Source: Operation Ocean Shield (] On November 12, 2011, a successful operation between a NATO warship and a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft resulted in the location a ...


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