March 22, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 174

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: 2017 French presidential election campaign and the UN counterinsurgency mission in Mali. People: Bill and Nate. Produced: March 20th, 2017.

Episode 174 (51 min):
AFD 174

Further reading:
– 2014: “EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried”
Our partial archives on Mali

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Beware the aid of Chad

Al Jazeera America, “US support for Chad may destabilize the Sahel”:

Washington’s support for Déby assumes U.S. interests in the region align with Chad’s. U.S. policymakers should realize, however, that Chad has demonstrated a vested interest in promoting instability and empowering regional militias. Far from a bulwark of stability, Chad has proved a purveyor of chaos.
[…]
Chad’s domestic policies are no less problematic. The country is one of the world’s least free, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World index. Under Déby’s rule, Chad’s already dismal record for political and civil rights has continued to decline.

 
Related background: Chad: How China Created an African Power – The Globalist: How Chinese investment made Chad a vital Central African military ally of the West.

The previous regime in Chad, ejected in the 1990 coup, was also a close U.S. military ally, with success against Libya but horrible results domestically.

Chad’s regional interference in the past 15 years has included repeatedly supporting rebel groups in Sudan, Central African Republic, and elsewhere, in addition to its provision of support and troops for French and US military operations in Mali and Nigeria. Its Central African Republic intervention, which included overthrowing the government and then sending troops to “keep the peace” in the ensuing chaos, ended in disaster, as I previously recounted on this site:

[…] neighboring regional power Chad announced its intention to withdraw its forces from the 6,000 strong African Union multinational intervention force. (Most of that force will be replaced by the new UN force, rather than supplemented.) Chad’s move followed mounting accusations (which were probably true) that it was not a benevolently intervening impartial force but was rather a full-fledged party to the conflict.

Although it’s never been entirely clear just how much meddling Chad’s government was doing before the reciprocal atrocities in C.A.R. began last year, many Christian civilians on the ground had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Chad was taking sides and facilitating Muslim militia activities. As a result, various Christian militia groups had begun attacking Chadian peacekeepers more and more frequently, culminating in an alleged recent massacre of Christians (supposedly in self-defense) — all of which prompted their decision to depart. The UN’s newly expanded force will mostly be coming from other African nations, like the existing peacekeepers, but UN officials seem relieved to have Chad’s controversial troops out of the picture, without needing to ask them not to participate anymore.

 
The intervention in Nigeria seems to be the one most closely motivated by economic fears (BBC):

Chad has been impatient to act in order to protect its supply routes, crucial to its economy. Goods come through Cameroon’s Far North while it exports oil through a pipeline running through Nigeria’s Adamawa state.

(That state is just south of current Boko Haram territory.)
Wall Street Journal:

Rampaging through northeastern Nigeria and attacking neighboring Cameroon in January, Islamist militants squeezed paths used by herdsmen who walk one of Chad’s main exports—cattle—to market in Nigeria. Boko Haram also choked off the flow of manufactured goods into Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. Prices for everyday imports like plastic tubs have skyrocketed.

 
Nigeria has done very poorly against Boko Haram, but Chad’s deepening involvement (some of it undertaken without the permission of Nigeria’s government) should be at least as troubling to as welcomed by the international community, if not more so.

flag-of-chad

Ceasefire deal reached in northern Mali

Just four days of UN-backed talks in Algeria between the Malian government and ethnically-motivated separatists resulted in an immediate ceasefire in northern Mali.

Islamist rebels, however, did not participate in talks or agree to the deal:

The six groups that signed the ceasefire were mostly Tuareg but also included Arab organisations. Signatories included the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). They did not include groups linked to Al-Qaeda which had fought alongside the MNLA to occupy northern Mali for more than nine months before being ousted in 2013 by French and Malian troops.

 
This ceasefire is the latest stage in winding down — or at least once again pausing — the ongoing, simmering conflict that brought down the Malian government in the south in 2012, led to the proclamation of an (unrecognized) independent state in the north, and brought a French military intervention force into the country in early 2013.

It’s the just the latest step in the seemingly unresolvable north-south resource division conflict that has raged for a century, but which had escalated sharply with the fall of the Qaddafi regime in nearby Libya. The latter had been providing mercenary employment to many jobless, impoverished young men from northern Mali and the Arab Spring ended that arrangement. Additional concerns, such as global warming’s contributions to desertification and drought conditions, also caused a spike in discontent.

The Qaeda-aligned groups who, unsurprisingly, did not participate in the ceasefire deal include a mix of foreign and local fighters. They are likely to continue making trouble in the area for some time to come, unless they head to other pastures, such as the emerging Libyan Civil War and the ISIS satellite provinces rising there.

It’s also unclear how long a ceasefire or peace can endure in northern Mali before breaking down once more, without a wider solution to poverty and resource concerns for the arid, poor region.

As I argued during the 2013 French intervention, the West should seriously consider making a significant anti-poverty investment in northern Mali and other parts of the Sahel, in the tradition of the Marshall Plan, instead of relying on militarized governments and the occasional European or American fighter jet squadron to “fix” these crises briefly.

Senegal, AU launch “universal jurisdiction” prosecution of ex-Chad dictator

Chad’s brutal ex-dictator Hissène Habré will stand trial for war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity in a landmark trial in Senegal. This is huge news if it goes forward because the Senegal trial — undertaken with African Union backing — and will be the African continent’s first-ever use of “universal jurisdiction.”

Universal jurisdiction is a controversial doctrine that allows countries to prosecute people they arrest for significant crimes of mass violence and human rights abuses committed in other places, even without direct interests of or crimes against the prosecuting country. It has been used most heavily by Spain (full story➚).

Habré, who ruled from 1982 until the 1990 coup that brought incumbent President Idriss Déby to power, has been in Senegal since his fall from power. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 and then formally taken to jail in 2013 ahead of the now-upcoming trial. He has been sought by various jurisdictions, including Chad, for his 1980s crimes — which include hundreds if not tens of thousands of political killings and tens or hundreds of thousands of torture victims — but until now he has avoided prosecution.

Universal jurisdiction efforts against him began as far back as 2000. Senegal was initially unsure whether it could apply universal jurisdiction in its domestic courts, but the country is a firm supporter of international justice as a general principle, having been the first country to ratify the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Throughout Habré’s rule he received paramilitary assistance from the United States (via the CIA) as part of Chad’s on-again-off-again war with Libya’s Qaddafi regime. Besides his crimes again humanity, Habré was most notable on the international stage, especially in retrospect, for his pioneering use of Toyota pickup trucks with improvised gun-mounts for highly-mobile desert combat, a tactic he used against the Libyan Army’s tanks to surprisingly strong effect. This tactic’s late 1980s use in the war with Libya may well have influenced the use of pickup trucks with improvised gun mounts in Libya’s 2011 Revolution against Qaddafi, which may have then spread via Libyan fighters to ISIS (and other insurgent groups) in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

There was extensive (albeit secret) U.S. panic when Habré fell from power that CIA-delivered heavy weapons, including the same type of anti-air equipment as what they were delivering to Afghanistan at the same time, might fall into the hands of Qaddafi, who at that point had already brought down the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie.

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in June 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Hey hey ho ho, Blaise Compaoré has got to go.

The 27-year West African regime of dictator Blaise Compaoré appears to be collapsing today in Burkina Faso. [He resigned and handed power to the military on October 31.] Here’s what you need to know…

Who is Blaise Compaoré?

President Blaise Compaoré seized power in a violent coup in 1987 (see Fast Facts) and planned to seek election a 5th consecutive time by amending the constitution.

There are literally close to three dozen opposition parties, which tends to keep them very weak. Compaoré, who lives in a ludicrously vast palace, was also the mastermind of the earlier 1983 coup and has killed off all his former compatriots in purges.

In early 2011, as regimes were collapsing across the world (including former patron Qaddafi), Compaoré survived a presidential guard mutiny over pay and protests across the country over the deaths of protesters at the hand of security forces. Riot police in the capital actually joined that uprising. A compromise with the military over the pay dispute regained their support and suppressed the protests.

burkina-faso-mapHe has been well liked by regional and international leaders for his work in mediating recent conflicts in Mali, Côte D’Ivoire, and Togo. Plus, until this week, the country was one of the most stable for almost three decades. Compaoré has been a key military ally of France in the Sahel and the United States in West Africa.

Protests, however, have been bubbling under the surface over unresolved economic struggles for a year or so. Still, they did not erupt into full-scale pandemonium until this week.

What happened this week?

Tuesday, opposition protests in the capital — over a proposed constitutional amendment to remove presidential term limits, scheduled to be voted on at the parliament today (Thursday) — clashed with police and shut down traffic.

Today, the military was deployed into the streets of the capital. According to the BBC feed and reporting, protesters and sympathizers responded by:
– Seizing the state television headquarters and broadcast center
– Torching the ruling party headquarters
– Seizing the parliament building and burning it to the ground (no place to vote on the amendment now!)
– Looting a hotel where members of parliament typically reside when in the capital
– Burning the homes of several cabinet members
– Marching on the presidential palace
– Shutting down the airport and arresting the president’s brother there (presumably as he attempted to flee the country)
– In other cities, government buildings were also burned or looted and protesters clashed with riot police at street barricades and churches

At least five are dead, probably more. There were reports that some soldiers were standing down or actively assisting the protesters, while other photos showed them still pointing guns. Loyalist forces reportedly fired live bullets into the crowd and a helicopter dropped tear gas.

Some protesters have dubbed this uprising the “Black Spring,” either in ethnic comparison to the Arab Spring or in reference to the violence. (I’ll keep looking into that. Edit: From looking on francophone Twitter, the phrase is “printemps noir,” literally Black Springtime, used alongside and in comparison to “printemps arabe,” the French term for the Arab Spring. French Wikipedia also notes that “Noir,” in addition to being the color black, is the predominant ethno-racial identifier in the French language for any person of color from or descended from the darker-skinned populations of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Burkina Faso. While the same word is also used for “dark” in the sense of dark humor or dark events, which led to my uncertainty, it is being used in the ethno-racial sense here.)

In a written statement, the president declared a nationwide state of emergency, dissolved the cabinet, called for peace and talks with protest leaders:

“A state of emergency is declared across the national territory. The chief of the armed forces is in charge of implementing this decision which enters into effect today. I dissolve the government from today so as to create conditions for change. I’m calling on the leaders of the political opposition to put an end to the protests. I’m pledging from today to open talks with all the actors to end the crisis.”

 
There was some dispute as to the validity of the statement, as it was hard to verify it had actually come from President Compaoré.

There is word that a popular retired military general, former Defense Minister Kouame Lougue, is meeting with the military’s current leadership and may be supported in a coup or transition government by the protesters. If a coup is in progress, this would be at least the sixth since independence, but the first since the end of the Cold War. However, a Reuters photojournalist on the ground, quoted by the BBC, said that many protesters view the current military leadership and soldiers as the protectors of the president and enforcers of the state of emergency; they might not be willing to support such a coup.

The Army announced there would be a transitional cabinet in place for the next twelve months until the 2015 presidential election. It was not clear if this meant Compaoré would remain in office until then under their plan.

Added: In an evening appearance on private channel Canal 3 reported by Le Monde, President Campaoré said he would not resign but would withdraw his proposed amendment to the constitution and step down at the end of his current term next year. I don’t expect that will be the end of it, because I believe he will be pushed out or forced to resign within days.

What was the global response?

The United States National Security Council statement:

The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso resulting from efforts to amend the constitution to enable the incumbent head of state to seek another term after 27 years in office. We believe democratic institutions are strengthened when established rules are adhered to with consistency. We call on all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains.

 
This is a clear criticism of Compaoré’s bid to remove term limits but also leaves room to condemn the uprising if it proves to be the start of mass violence or a military coup.

The United Nations Secretary General dispatched its West Africa Special Envoy to the country, to arrive tomorrow, although it’s not clear how he will arrive, given the closure of the airport.

The government in France, like the United States, appears ready to throw their ally Compaoré to the wolves, having sent their ambassador to meet with opposition leaders.

Most significantly, the African Union, which typically backs incumbent leaders to the bitter end (out of self-interest), condemned the Compaoré government’s constitutional amendment proposal and suggested support for the protesters. The statement:

The Commission also urges the Government of Burkina Faso to respect the wishes of the people as well as the prevailing Constitution of the Republic of Burkina Faso. The Commission reiterates its commitment to zero tolerance on unconstitutional change of Government and respect for the rights of citizens to peaceful protest.

 
While explicitly discouraging a coup or popular overthrow, this statement is probably the most significant sign that this will only end with the president’s removal from power, one way or another. At minimum they will be supporting a voluntary resignation and transfer of power, if that can be achieved before something worse happens.

 

Burkina Faso Fast Facts

Read more

France announces indefinite Sahel deployment

France’s defense minister has just announced plans to create a semi-permanent force of 4,000 troops across the entire Sahel and Sahara in former French West Africa, as it redeploys most of its troops in Mali.

“There will be 1,000 soldiers that remain in Mali, and 3,000 in the Sahel-Sahara zone, the danger zone, the zone of all types of smuggling,” Mr Le Drian said, in a television interview.

“We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date,” he added.

French forces will be based in four regional centres – Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso – Reuters news agency reports.

Smaller bases from which to launch strikes are being set up, with Ivory Coast as the mission’s logistical hub, it adds.

 
I find this development fairly troubling. France should too. Open-ended commitments are rarely a good idea.

However, it’s also not surprising, given the increasing re-involvement of France in the security affairs of its former African colonies in the past decade. A small, permanent force in several locations in or near the Sahel/Sahara is probably the only way (from a feasibility standpoint) that France can both avoid permanent and ineffective occupations (at much higher cost in lives and money) and respond quickly to rising threats, kidnappings, etc., which it feels it must do for its own security.

All the same, this open-ended, rapid-reaction wack-a-mole approach to counterterrorism — where they keep thousands of troops all over West Africa (and Central African Republic nearby) before periodically bursting into neighboring countries for a minute, guns blazing, like Operation Neptune Spear — makes France seem more than a bit neo-colonial.

French troops being airlifted to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)It also seems like an easy step down the path toward becoming completely mired in an unwinnable, transnational counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel — something others have warned against previously often.

As ever, the Sahel needs more of a Marshall Plan development aid strategy than troop deployments.

Backgrounder: Who are the Boko Haram?

Basic Facts

Location: northern Nigeria (and somewhat into southern Niger, the country to the north, where the U.S. has a military drones base)
boko-haram-attacks-nigerian-states-2010-2013

  • Northern Nigeria is mostly Muslim, southern Nigeria is mostly Christian
  • Always a tenuous balance of resources distribution and national leadership affiliation (north vs. south)
  • Boko Haram established circa 2003 but only became seriously active in last few years
  • Hausa language name = “Western Education is Sinful.” [Edit, 5/7/14: Apparently, more properly translated from Hausa as “Fraudulent Colonial Education is Sinful,” a local phrase developed in response to British colonialism and the Roman alphabet being imposed into the country’s North.] Full translated name = Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad.
  • They advocate for the imposition of total Sharia law, instead of the partial Sharia found in most northern states in Nigeria.
  • Violent, coordinated attacks against civilian, Christian, educational, political, military, or police targets across Northern Nigeria
U.S. Perspective / Longterm Outlook
  • U.S. government/military asserts close ties to “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (and thus to Arabian funding and Al Qaeda global network) – however, it may be more of a looser affiliation of convenience (see note at bottom).
  • Boko Haram uprising led in 2013 to an invocation of a state of emergency in the entire northern half of the country by Christian president Goodluck Jonathan. He is originally from the Niger Delta region, in the south, which was the site of a much older terrorism campaign by a different group. Pres. Jonathan has sent a lot of troops north, with mixed success.
  • Local leaders in the north say military approach is doomed to fail and only answer is development and job creation.

Read more