Boko Haram routs multi-national force, seizes Nigerian base

Just days after Cameroon had to scramble planes to repulse as many as a thousand Boko Haram fighters who had overrun the Achigachia military base and five border villages in Cameroon, Nigeria’s strategically significant military base at Baga, near the border of Chad, fell to Boko Haram in a clear rout for the multi-national force stationed there, who apparently put up no resistance:

A senator in Borno state said troops had abandoned the base in the town of Baga after it was attacked on Saturday. Residents of Baga, who fled by boat to neighbouring Chad, said many people had been killed and the town set ablaze.

Baga, scene of a Nigerian army massacre in 2013, was the last town in the Borno North area [one of three Senate districts in the state] under government control. It hosted the base of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), made up of troops from Nigeria, Chad and Niger.
Residents who fled to Chad said they had woken to heavy gunfire as militants stormed Baga early on Saturday, attacking from all directions. They said they had decided to flee when they saw the multi-national troops running away.
In April 2013, at least 37 people were killed and 2,275 homes destroyed in Baga by troops hunting Boko Haram fighters who had attacked a patrol, Human Rights Watch reported.

Cooperation between the armed forces of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and other nearby countries has been extremely limited and there has not been much trust. This new failure, involving one of the few points of direct integration, is likely to reinforce that tension among the anti-Boko Haram alliance members. That in turn will make it harder to prevent Boko Haram from easily moving back and forth across national borders to stage attacks on the alliance.

Still image (via AFP) from the Boko Haram video communiqué received October 31, 2014.

Still image (via AFP) from a Boko Haram video communiqué received October 31, 2014.

NGO caught experimenting on Ebola patients in Sierra Leone

The Al Jazeera headline above is misleading and would be way scarier if corrected: It’s not an “Ebola drug” being tested on Africans, it’s a completely unrelated drug (a heart medication) that some Italian NGO decided unilaterally also works against Ebola, even though it doesn’t and there’s no evidence to support that claim. British medics are saying that they think the use of this drug is actually killing more patients with Ebola, and the British government demanded that the Italians stop using it. It was also not approved for use by the local government.

As the Liberian author of the Al Jazeera piece says, abuses like this are exactly why locals don’t trust “Western medicine” in the first place. From the colonial era to — as she discusses — Tuskegee and Guatemala, or even to the more recent fake CIA vaccination program in Pakistan, there are simply a lot of good reasons for the poor and vulnerable populations of the world to fear medical “assistance” from Western governments and doctors. This disgusting abuse in Sierra Leone is only likely to worsen that fear, even as local medical facilities and staff have been completely overwhelmed and outsiders have become necessary to halt the outbreak.

Moreover, the author notes that Ebola has been around since 1975, so “urgency” is hardly a valid excuse to throw all the ethical rules of drug testing out the window.

Credit: Wikimedia

Credit: Wikimedia

Cameroon deepens involvement against Boko Haram

Following a coordinated, massive assault by Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants on Cameroonian targets, the government of Cameroon for the first time ordered airstrikes and rocket strikes on the attacking fighters. BBC:

About 1,000 militants attacked five villages, including Amchide, and seized the nearby Achigachia military base, where they raised their black flag, army spokesman Lt Col Didier Badjeck told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. He said President Paul Biya then personally ordered the air force to intervene, forcing the militants out.

The base was reportedly retaken and the attackers repulsed. According the Cameroonian military, one soldier was killed and 41 Boko Haram members were killed. It was not immediately clear what aircraft participated in the counterattack, given the very weak state of the country’s air force.

This marks a significant development in Cameroon’s involvement in the regional war against Boko Haram. Thus far the country has been primarily concerned with trying to secure the border with Nigeria to stop militants trying to cross over.


What happens to Nigeria’s PDP if oil prices keep falling?

A lot of foreign policies and domestic spending programs in 2014 have, like the best laid plans o’ mice and men, been severely disrupted by the dropping world oil prices as supply jumps significantly. Those countries with a particularly heavy economic and governmental dependence on oil exports — including Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria — are especially susceptible to policy disruption.

On our upcoming episode of the “Arsenal For Democracy” show, my radio co-host Nate pointed out that if global crude oil prices keep falling, certainly Nigeria as a whole is going to be in for a pretty bumpy ride, but none more so than the country’s ruling party, the PDP. They’ve ridden the ten-fold increase in crude prices (higher even, at times before now) since taking power in 1999 to a lot of sketchy, payola-infused campaign victories. It’ll be much harder to buy votes, 15 years into power, if revenues drop sharply.
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Kano: Boko Haram strikes Nigeria’s 2nd largest city

Reuters reports on a major terrorist attack yesterday in Kano, Nigeria’s second most populous city:

Gunmen set off three bombs and opened fire on worshippers at the central mosque in north Nigeria’s biggest city Kano, killing at least 81 people on Friday, witnesses and police said, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of Islamist Boko Haram militants.
The mosque is next to the palace of the emir of Kano, the second highest Islamic authority in Africa’s most populous country, although the emir himself, former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi, was not present.

It is presumed to be the work of Boko Haram, although it is fairly far outside their normal recent range of operations in northern Nigeria.

This is a direct attack on the authority of the Emir of Kano, one of the most progressive high ranking Muslim religious leaders in the world right now, as I previously examined:

But there are already plenty of Muslim scholars, Sunni Imams and other interpreters of holy text and Islamic law who are quite progressive and forward thinking. In their quiet way, they have obtained the support of the vast majority of the faithful – those who have opposed the extremist acts supposedly committed in their names.

Take for example, the recently elevated Emir of Kano — one of the most significant semi-religious offices in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. Muhammad Sanusi II, formerly Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, used to be Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

In stark contrast with groups like Boko Haram, Sanusi supports education for girls, ending child marriage, protecting women’s rights, investment attraction for the north, a “Marshall Plan” for agricultural upgrades and more. Moreover, he believes all of this is based in – and required by – his religion.

That in itself is a threat to the group, but he has been specifically very vocally opposed to Boko Haram, according to Reuters:

Islamic leaders sometimes shy away from direct criticism of Boko Haram for fear of reprisals. But Kano’s emir Sanusi, angered by atrocities such as the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in April, has been increasingly vocal.

Sanusi was quoted in the local press as calling on Nigerians this month to defend themselves against Boko Haram. During a broadcast recitation of the Koran he was reported to have said: “These people, when they attack towns, they kill boys and enslave girls. People must stand resolute … They should acquire what they can to defend themselves. People must not wait for soldiers to protect them.”

This is surely meant to try to silence him.


Lt. Col. Isaac Zida: The Wolf of Ouagadougou

I think we can safely conclude, as feared, that Isaac Zida’s military government has not ended, just rebranded itself.

Look how civilian this not-military government in Burkina Faso is… So civilian… mmm…

Burkina Faso authorities issued a decree on Sunday announcing an interim government, with President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida also taking on the key ministries of foreign affairs and defence.

Of the 26 posts available, the army claimed six, including mines, communications and the interior ministry. Other members were drawn from civil society groups and a medley of political parties.

To recap: 23% of the cabinet portfolios in this “civilian” transitional government are now held by military officers, including basically the five most important ministries in the country, internally and externally.

Zida seems to be a much more smooth operator than previously anticipated. He’s the wolf inside the democratic transition sheep’s clothing.

Civilian Kafando takes Faso presidency, but with military premier

Yesterday, Burkina Faso made the next step in its transition with Michel Kafando, the country’s former longtime UN Ambassador, being formally sworn in as the civilian Interim President until elections are held next November.

However, in a troubling development announced Wednesday, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida — who headed the military government for three week’s following the October 31 and November 1 coups, was appointed Interim Prime Minister, the crucial post which will actually appoint all the cabinet ministers for the coming year.

Civilians consider Zida’s appointment as a betrayal of their “revolution” and Guy Herve Kam, spokesman for the Citizen Broom association said “we are worried, but that’s all.”

There are reports that Western diplomats have advised against Zida’s nomination.

A senior military official revealed that the military and the politicians had a gentleman agreement. He said that “it was on this understanding that we gave the post of president… to civilians.”

In another worrying turn, it was revealed that the Transitional Charter governing the country for the next twelve months will include an interim legislature, as opposed to the restoration of the existing (elected) National Assembly, suspended by the military during the coup. That would make sense if the principle of the move was to rectify the fact that the Assembly’s composition is heavily skewed toward the ruling party of former dictator Blaise Compaoré, except that we have no idea who will choose its members. And that’s a bad sign…

As traced on this blog in the past three weeks, initially promising suggestions of a representative process to choose an interim president from suggestions by a wide range of interest groups and constituencies ended up simply evolving into the military submitting a short list of candidates (with a clear preference for Kafando), followed by the appointment of the coup leader to the prime minister’s post. We can reasonably expect a similarly flawed selection process for the temporary legislature, with a heavy hand of the military behind the scenes.

However, as I argued previously, it’s still possible (though unlikely) that this is less a power grab and more a recognition of political realities in a country stunted by 27 years of one-man-one-party rule and fractured opposition:

In fact, I’m not fully convinced that a stable transition is even possible in Burkina Faso without substantial military involvement (and heavy supervision from the international community). On the one hand, military-guided transitions to democracy have a super high failure rate (not sure if that’s adjusted for economics though); so that’s an argument for a rapid transfer. But on the other hand, Burkina Faso has 40+ political parties, an absurd and borderline non-functional constitution (now suspended by the military), no legitimate successor to the presidency, and so on. Thus, I’m kind of thinking the military might actually be the only valid option here for overseeing the transition, as it serves as a unifying factor cutting across competing affiliations.

I just don’t think Zida can be trusted any more, if he ever could, now that he’s maneuvered himself into the premiership, a job he has no place being — both in terms of governance experience and in terms of permitting a legitimate transition to democratic, civilian rule.

And then there’s this reminder from Reuters:

Zida, previously considered a close ally of the president, received counter-terrorism training in the United States in 2012 on recommendation from the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou. He attended a second U.S. military course in Botswana.