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Six weeks and Chadian intervention didn’t stop Boko Haram in Nigeria

damaskPhoto credit to Emmanuel Braun / Reuters.

Nigeria, after a six-week delay, will elect its president today in its fifth regular set of elections since the return of quasi-civilian rule in 1999.chad flag iconnigeria_flag_icon

The reason that Nigerians are voting on March 28 and not on February 14 was to give the Nigerian army the time to subdue Boko Haram, a northern Islamist insurgent group. Facing a tough fight for reelection and skepticism that he can prevent Africa’s most populous country from fragmenting, what does Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan have to show for his six-week campaign extension?

Not so much.

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RELATED: Six weeks can’t defeat Boko Haram —
or fix Nigerian democracy

RELATED: Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy

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Despite exhortions by the Nigerian government that Boko Haram is on the run, there’s evidence that even as military forces take back ground previously lost to insurgents, Boko Haram is changing its tactics — for instance, by increasing the frequency of suicide bombings:

NBC News analyzed JTIC data from the six weeks before and after the day Nigeria postponed the elections. Boko Haram carried out 10 suicide operations between Dec. 28 and Feb. 8, according to the data — which is drawn from a wide spectrum of open-source media reporting. The number of suicide bombings rose to 12 in the six weeks from Feb. 9 to March 23.


What’s more, hours before Nigerians cast their ballots for president, Idriss Déby, the president of neighboring Chad and one of sub-Saharan Africa’s more effective authoritarians, was giving rare interviews to the international media slamming Jonathan’s government. He claimed that the Chadian military was responsible for recent territorial gains, alleging that the Nigerian military is nowhere to be found, leaving Déby (pictured above) and Chadian forces suspended in a quasi-occupation of parts of northern Nigeria:

Mr. Déby’s anger at the Nigerians was barely restrained in the interview. “All we’re doing is standing in place,” Mr. Déby said. “And it is to the advantage of Boko Haram.”

“We’ve been on the terrain for two months, and we haven’t seen a single Nigerian soldier,” he added. “There is a definite deficit of coordination, and a lack of common action.” He said that time was running out for a larger victory against Boko Haram. “Soon it will be rainy season,” he said, explaining that it will be more difficult for troops to maneuver. “This will give Boko Haram a three-month bonus.”

Déby’s actions cut both ways. In one sense, it’s obviously emasculating to the Jonathan government, in particular, that it cannot control security through the entire territory of what is Africa’s largest economy. Like it or not, Déby’s success makes him an increasingly influential stakeholder in Nigerian government. On the other hand, the Chadian soldiers (along with the alleged use of South African and other mercenaries by Jonathan’s government to combat Boko Haram) have made just enough progress to give Jonathan a real shot at holding off his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military head of state between 1983 and 1985 and a four-time contender for the Nigerian presidency. Continue reading Six weeks and Chadian intervention didn’t stop Boko Haram in Nigeria

Does Djotodia’s resignation matter in Central African Republic?


With the resignation of the Central African Republic’s president Michel Djotodia over the weekend, the country has its best chance to transcend the violence of the past month — though with grave questions about future Christian-Muslim relations and the CAR’s ability to move forward with any truly secure, representative government.centrafrique flag

When French troops arrived in Bangui, the country’s capital, in early December, their mission was immediately more difficult than the French mission earlier in 2013 in Mali to stabilize the interim government and rid northern Mali of foreign forces that controlled much of the northern two-thirds of Mali.  Instead, French troops were inserting themselves into an entirely homegrown fiasco — the country’s post-independence record on rule of law, security and democracy is one of the worst (and most tragic) in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Djotodia, as the leader of the Séléka coalition, pushed François Bozizé out of office in March 2013 — Bozizé himself came to power in 2003 in a putsch of his own, pushing Ange-Félix Patassé out of the centrafricaine presidency and organizing elections to ratify his position in 2005 and again in 2011.  Djotodia’s Séléka coalition, which attracted Muslims, but also many Patassé loyalists (Djotodia himself was a former civil servant in the Patassé regime) and a healthy majority of the country’s northern population.

Initially, Djotodia’s selection of Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister was a strong sign that his new government would actually attempt to unite the country — Tiangaye, a human rights attorney with links to both Bozizé and the Séléka coalition, had a strong record as someone who could unite both rebel and government forces.

But Djotodia, the CAR’s first Muslim president, had a difficult time uniting the country that he spent years dividing, even after his formal inauguration as interim president in August 2013 and after officially disbanding the Séléka coalition in September 2013.  Dismantling  the Séléka rebels, in fact, may have cost him his sole substantial platform, and it left Djotodia’s forces staggering to fight off the newly formed ‘anti-balaka,’ largely Christian militia that opposed his rule.  As a Muslim president and a relatively lesser-known figure throughout the CAR, Djotodia didn’t bring with him any natural base to the presidency, except the Muslim population in the northeastern corner of the country, which amounts to just 10% of the population.  Each of the two main centrafricaine ethnic groups, the Banda of the east-central heartland of the country, and the Gbaya in the western third of the country, mistrusted Djotodia from the beginning.

What’s more, Djotodia and Tiangaye soon found themselves at odds over the country’s future, depriving the country of one of its most thoughtful and careful leaders (Tiangaye himself stepped down as prime minister on Friday as well).


Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, previously a member of the National Council for Transition (NCT), will serve as acting president until the NCT selects a new president.  Nguendet recognized Djotodia’s presidency shortly after Séléka troops overran Bangui.  Nguendet was quick to call an end to the anarchy, imploring an end to fighting between Muslim and Christian groups, and it’s a strategy that just might work — French and African Union troops have worked for the past two months to keep the violence as minimal as possible.  That hasn’t stopped over 1,000 deaths in December alone and the internal displacement of nearly 500,000 people, but it has prevented the kind of genocide or massacre that the international community worries might otherwise have resulted.  The anti-balaka rebels listed Djotodia’s resignation among their chief demands, so there’s a solid chance that the CAR can retreat from the worst of last month’s fighting.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and a proponent of liberal interventionism on humanitarian grounds, even made a trip to the Central African Republic on December 19 (pictured above), demonstrating how seriously the US government is taking the crisis.  Though the United States has ruled out sending troops to central Africa, they have pledged to assist the 1,600-strong French military force already there.  Notwithstanding Power’s humanitarian concerns, the United States has cause to worry that a militant Muslim minority could transform an anarchic CAR into a staging ground for terrorism — and to foment unrest throughout central Africa, west Africa and the Sahel.  Continue reading Does Djotodia’s resignation matter in Central African Republic?

Longtime centrafricaine attorney Tiangaye key to peaceful CAR resolution


Though the January centrafricaine ceasefire between the administration of François Bozizé and Séléka coalition rebels didn’t last much over two months, its elevation of Nicolas Tiangaye to government may yet provide a solution for governing Central African Republic in a diplomatic impasse that’s become a tricky international issue for African countries from Chad to South Africa.  centrafrique flag

Séléka coalition rebels took control of the capital, Bangui, on March 24, forcing Bozizé into exile, and proclaiming Michel Djotodia as the country’s new interim president.  But the new government just as quickly reappointed Nicolas Tiangaye as the country’s prime minister.  Tiangaye (pictured above), a well-respected constitutional attorney and human rights activist whose role in centrafricaine politics goes back to the 1980s and before, became prime minister pursuant to the January ceasefire agreement.

Where Tiangaye was once the figure that the rebels looked to as ‘their man’ in Bozizé’s government, Tiangaye has now become the man who pro-Bozizé forces now look to as ‘their man’ in the rebel-led government — indeed, both sides continue to praise Tiangaye, who founded the Central African Human Rights League in the 1990s:

“A man of integrity in a sea of corruption,” says one diplomat. “He has integrity. His record is impeccable. He doesn’t compromise,” adds top opposition figure Martin Ziguele. “A good person,” says Eric Massi, spokesman for the Seleka rebels. “We respect him,” adds a member of government.

To the extent that the international community can force a political settlement, all paths go through Tiangaye.

That hasn’t been enough to win the international stamp of approval — Chadian president Idriss Derby, speaking on behalf of the Economic Community of Central African States today, has refused to recognize the self-appointed Djotodia government, and other countries, including the United States, those from the African Union and those from the European Union, have been hesitant to recognize Djotodia, a former civil servant in the administration of Ange-Félix Patassé (Bozizé’s predecessor) and leader of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), only gained power of the broad Séléka rebel group in recent years.

As it stands now, the CAR has been suspended from the African Union, which also froze the Séléka rebels’ assets and imposed a travel ban on Séléka leaders.

That’s in part because Djotodia, days after taking power, dissolved the country’s parliament and suspended the country’s constitution for a three-year period, claiming that he would hold power through 2016, when new elections would be called — a timeline that much of the international community thinks is too slow.  Djotodia was appointed in February 2013 as a deputy prime minister for national defense under the auspices of the ill-fated ceasefire agreement.

It’s also because, in taking power, rebels killed 13 South Africans troops, out of a contingent of around 200 that came to Bangui ostensibly to protect South African mining, oil and other contracts.

Continue reading Longtime centrafricaine attorney Tiangaye key to peaceful CAR resolution

How to approach transatlantic security and the ‘bubble’ problem in the Sahel


Security experts — including Julianne Smith, deputy national security advisor to U.S. vice president Joe Biden — gathered at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies Thursday to discuss transatlantic security from Mali to Afghanistan.chad flag iconniger flag iconMali Flag Iconburkina faso flag iconmauritania flag

Among the newest issues on the transatlantic security agenda in the wake of France’s seemingly successful military incursion into northern Mali last month, is how NATO, the European Union, the United States and, increasingly, the African Union, can facilitate a lasting peace in the region.  Indeed, atlantic-comminity.org, a transatlantic online think tank, is engaging a week-long ‘theme week’ on security in the Sahel.

From Mali to …?

But even as the world — from Paris to Washington to Bamako — celebrates the liberation of Timbuktu and other key northern Malian cities from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other Islamic radical groups, tough questions remain about how to repair Mali, which still must arrive upon a peaceful settlement with Tuareg separatists in the north and return back to its peaceful, democratic path.

Even tougher questions remain about how to prevent another problem in any of the other countries in the Sahel — it’s not hard to draw a line between the influx of NATO-provided arms to Libya in 2011 and 2012 and the increasing instability in northern Mali.  It’s not hard to imagine that the French military success so heralded today in Mali could become the catalyst that causes, say, 2014’s crisis in Mauritania.  Or really any number of shaky nation-states in the western Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad.  Or southern Algeria.  Or, even worse, a relatively peaceful and stable west Africa.

Sarah Cliffe, a United Nations assistant secretary general for civilian capabilities, compared it to the regional problem in Central America in the 1980s — success in one country would result in another problem bubbling up in another country.  She argued that a regional solution is indeed necessary, primarily through political and security means and thereafter through economic means.

Hans Binnendijk, a senior fellow at SAIS’s Center for Transatlantic Relations, argues that Mali represents one of three kinds of transatlantic action:

  • the most formal approach, an ‘all-in’ response from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (i.e., a response based on the Washington Treaty’s Article Five that states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members), as has been the case with the NATO action in Afghanistan since October 2001;
  • a less formal approach is a kind of ‘coalition of the willing’ among NATO members to take action, as was the case in the NATO-led assistance provided to Libyan rebels in the service of ousting longtime rule Muammar Gaddafi;
  • in contrast, the Malian approach was even more ad hoc, because one nation (France) simply acted because Mali’s government was running out of time.

James Townsend, deputy U.S. assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, argued that Mali has become a laboratory for transatlantic security, in terms of providing an example for how transatlantic responses to crises may be organized in the future, noting that we’ll see more crises like Mali (though it’s hardly clear that the French leadership, already concerned about the taint of Françafrique, has much of an appetite for becoming a near-permanent military presence throughout its former African colonial empire).

Townsend is probably right, but his remarks reminded me of the old adage — if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

That’s to say that military and security responses to Mali can only achieve a limited amount of success without economic development and political engagement — and it’s not clear that transatlantic allies have much, if any, strategy for Mali, let alone the Sahel, where military force can’t resolve the issues of, for example, how to bring Tuareg rebels to the table to build a stable version of the Malian state, how to approach water policy and climate change in the Sahel in light of more frequent droughts, how to end human slavery in Mauritania, how to address the Darfur refugees that remain in Chad, or how international institutions can facilitate the development 21st century Sahelian economies.

It’s great that AQIM has been ousted from Timbuktu, but what long-term relief can we take from a ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy that shifts the threat from country to country, year after year?

Continue reading How to approach transatlantic security and the ‘bubble’ problem in the Sahel