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- 10/30/11--21:00: _Niger: Republic of ...
- 11/20/11--16:00: _World: Elections an...
- 02/10/12--09:22: _Chad: Deciphering a...
- 05/13/12--21:00: _Algeria: African El...
- 09/12/12--13:36: _Mali: Peace and sec...
- 09/24/12--12:37: _Niger: For Corrupti...
- 10/05/12--13:51: _Mali: Interview wit...
- 10/18/13--13:06: _Mali: Wake-Up Call ...
- 01/15/16--01:05: _World: What Challen...
- 02/19/16--12:25: _Niger: Voters Weigh...
- 04/03/16--07:42: _Niger: After Runoff...
- 06/29/16--12:07: _Mali: Communiqué de...
- 09/23/16--14:06: _World: Investing in...
- 10/27/16--02:22: _Nigeria: How Nigeri...
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- 06/01/17--10:17: _Chad: Deuxièmes Con...
- Enhancing the security of goods and people
- Ensuring access to economic opportunities
- Improving access to basic services
- Strengthening local and community governance
- Integrating forced returnees from Libya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Algeria.
- 11/20/11--16:00: World: Elections and Stability in West Africa
- 02/10/12--09:22: Chad: Deciphering a Looming Humanitarian Crisis in the Sahel
- 05/13/12--21:00: Algeria: African Elections 2012
- 09/24/12--12:37: Niger: For Corruption, Few Places Worse Than the Sahel
- 01/15/16--01:05: World: What Challenges Does 2016 Hold for Sub-Saharan Africa?
- 02/19/16--12:25: Niger: Voters Weigh Security Concerns in Niger Polls
- 04/03/16--07:42: Niger: After Runoff Win, Niger’s Issoufou Looks to Restore Control
- 10/27/16--02:22: Nigeria: How Nigeria’s Buhari Is Turning the Tide Against Boko Haram
Summary by the International Peace Institute (IPI):
As the regional implications of the crisis in Mali become apparent, there has been speculation as to whether Niger will be the next country in the region to be undermined by Islamist insurgency and separatist rebellion, transnational organized crime, and weak governance practices.
Commentators have drawn parallels between the two countries and the international community has eyed Niger with concern, not least due to its uranium and oil reserves. The government of Niger was, however, addressing the same concerns before events in Mali forced them to the top of international agendas. In October 2012, the government of Niger launched a five year initiative to tackle the security and development challenges in the Sahel-Sahara areas of the country which proposed projects to address the root causes of instability and implement local, national and regional mechanisms to prevent grievances, outside influences or disenfranchisement causing instability and state collapse.
The strategy has five key themes:
Interconnected nature of economic development and security
The strategy for security and development emphasizes that the two are interlinked and one cannot be addressed without the other. The strategy focuses on improving the economic circumstances of the population in recognition that this will neutralize security threats. It examines the challenges to economic growth including climate volatility, agricultural progress and diversification and details initiatives to address these issues, specifically in rural areas. It highlights the importance of infrastructure development and of creating employment opportunities for women and youth, underscoring the resulting security benefits.
Countering the threats
The strategy addresses challenges of security, notably drug trafficking, international terrorism and the exploitation of porous border and ungoverned or under governed spaces by proposing law enforcement, as well as military and border authority capacity building projects. Support for this strand of the strategy has been provided in 2013 by training and funding contributions from the European Union to build the capacity of Niger’s Gendarmerie, Police nationale and Garde nationale.
Provision of services
Key among the specific initiatives are projects to provide food and water security, health care clinics, education, water sanitation and transport infrastructure to the population. The strategy recognizes that the greatest challenges of poverty, the ravages of climate and poor technological progress are more prevalent in the more rural parts of the country and require solutions that engage the country as a whole.
Stakeholder engagement at all levels
The strategy emphasizes the importance of consulting local, national and regional stakeholders. It is inclusive of all sectors and groups within a diverse country, united by a political constitution but with few common priorities. The strategy recognizes this diversity and proposes platforms for dialogue and decentralization to accommodate local concerns. It proposes consultation with traditional leaders and with regional partners to address issues across the Sahel region, beyond the territorial boundaries of Niger.
The strategy recognizes that Niger is impacted by the shifting regional circumstances in North Africa and the Sahel and directly addresses the realities of returnees from Libya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Algeria and now Mali. It addresses the challenges arising from such particularly to regions already vulnerable to food crises. Here the strategy again highlights the imperative for multilevel stakeholder engagement and local consultation, so the appropriate response can be found. It recognizes that the government of Niger must lead responses but recognizes the importance of the engagement of development partners, national and international investors, private sector and civil society organizations.
Rhetoric or results?
The collapse of a similar strategy in Mali demonstrates how admirable rhetoric can fail to bring real progress in the fields of security and development. There is no doubt that the challenges facing Niger are large, however, Niger’s traditionally decentralized society could be the key to the success of this strategy. At a recent seminar on security and development in Sahel-Sahara, convened in Niamey in February 2013, participants urged national, regional and international strategy developers to “think globally and act locally”. Security and development in Niger has global implications but through continued dialogue with local communities and traditional leaders and a focus on finding local economic and cultural solutions, the drafters believe this strategy will have a sustainable impact.
This meeting note summarizes the discussions at a conference organized by the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) in Praia, Cape Verde on May 18-20, 2011. The conference addressed the need for a sustained effort to strengthen electoral processes in West Africa as a means to consolidate peace and democracy in the region.
Many West African countries face numerous challenges in organizing free, fair, and peaceful elections, and the conference discussed the existing regional and national frameworks that support democracy and electoral processes in the subregion. Best practices and lessons learned from recent electoral processes in Cape Verde, Ghana, and Niger were shared, with a view to informing the organization of upcoming elections in neighboring countries. The role and modalities of electoral assistance were also discussed, supported by concrete cases of UNDP’s electoral initiatives in Niger and Guinea.
The conference further underlined the importance of collaborative initiatives in strengthening democratic processes and preventing conflict. Finally, key standards, processes, and actors that can help to build democracy and stability were discussed: human rights and gender-equality norms, electoral litigation, and the role of security forces and the media during electoral processes all present opportunities to reduce election-related violence and improve election outcomes in West Africa.
The note also reprints the full text of the “Praia Declaration on Elections and Stability in West Africa,” which was adopted at the close of the conference.
Posted by Jérémie Labbé
In recent weeks, the United Nations, the European Union, and a number of international humanitarian agencies warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in the semi-arid region of the Sahel—notably in parts of Niger, Mali, Chad, and Mauritania—due to a rapidly deteriorating food security situation. Aid agencies are urging action now to avoid another major crisis in a region regularly subject to large-scale severe malnutrition and famines. The recurrence of crises—the last notable ones in 2005 and 2009—questions the relevance of massive relief operations that address the symptoms without working on the underlying causes.
A recent report by the Sahel Working Group, a network of development and humanitarian NGOs, rightly points to the need to acknowledge the existence of a chronic food and nutrition crisis, and to take adequate measures. This requires bridging the traditional relief-development divide and engaging with the regions’ governments and communities in the longer run to address the root causes of food insecurity.
The recurrence of food and nutrition crises in the Sahel requires a change of approach by aid agencies to avoid endless and costly relapses. There is growing awareness in the aid sector that solutions to chronic food crises lay in a developmental approach that seeks to address the root causes, which implies longer-term commitments and working together with the government, local authorities, and communities. While early emergency response is needed, this response must be part of a longer-term strategy.
However, recent security developments in the region will present particular challenges in terms of access to affected populations. The increased number of well-armed insurgent, terrorist, and criminal groups in the Sahel might justify a narrower humanitarian response that prioritizes acceptance from all parts of the population and perceived independence from the government.
The Sahel region is affected by a situation of chronic food insecurity due to adverse climate and geography conducive to recurrent droughts; widespread underdevelopment and poverty; and structural weaknesses in the areas of agriculture, trade, and social protection policies. Last year, poor rains resulted in bad harvests that contributed to an increase in food prices, further ravaging the poor communities in the region who had not fully recovered from the 2009 drought that destroyed their livelihood. The crisis is further exacerbated by other factors such as the return of several hundred thousand of migrants who fled Libya in 2011—resulting in more mouths to feed and a substantial loss of crucial remittances—and volatile security situation in Northern Nigeria that contributes to distorting regional food markets. This convergence of factors explains that the annual “hunger gap”—the period between two harvests—is expected to begin earlier, be more severe, and last longer than usual.
Risks of widespread malnutrition, which might affect up to 10 million people across the region, according to aid agencies, require immediate action to prevent a worsening situation. A number of governments in the region have reacted early by declaring states of emergency and calling for international aid, while some institutional donors have already contributed or pledged substantial amounts.
To be effective, funds not only need to be disbursed quickly to allow early preventive action, but they also have to be used differently to address some of the causes of chronic food insecurity. Aid agencies must work in the longer term to build the capacity of the region’s governments to address the food situation and be better prepared to crises, to alleviate the vulnerability of populations, and to strengthen their resilience. Critics warned against the tendency in previous crises—notably in Niger in 2005—to bypass and sideline governments, and pleaded for greater involvement of local authorities. In brief, aid agencies are compelled to adopt a more developmental approach and work together with governments of the region, local authorities, and communities, if recurrent relapses into crisis are to be avoided.
While there is growing consensus for a more inclusive approach, the response will be further complicated by recent developments on the security front that make the region more volatile than it was in previous crises. In recent years, several security threats have emerged in the Sahel: besides separatist Tuareg movements that have existed for decades in Mali and Niger, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and various criminal groups—engaged inter alia in drugs and human trafficking—have expanded their reach and activities in this vast arid region characterized by porous borders and loose state authority. A recent UN assessment mission in the Sahel found that the security situation has further deteriorated following the Libyan crisis in 2011. With the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, a number of foreign recruits of the regime returned to their country of origin while an unquantifiable number of small arms and ammunitions bled into the region, adding to the arsenal of various armed groups. Increased fighting was already reported in recent days in Mali, triggering the displacement of up to 30,000 people, while the deteriorating security situation pushed governments to increase defense spending, to the detriment of social services such as education or health.
The UN assessment mission’s report already highlighted the impact of the deteriorating security situation on humanitarian access to affected populations. It is to be expected that the influx of humanitarian agencies in the months to come, with their corteges of international staff, will unfortunately correspond with more security incidents such as kidnappings for ransom, an increasingly common practice in the region. In such circumstances, aid agencies will likely face a stark choice: engage in long-term strategies and collaborate with authorities, but risk being perceived as siding with the government, jeopardizing access to some affected population; or prioritize an independent humanitarian approach to secure acceptance from all groups and gain broader access, knowing that the impact might be limited to the symptoms of the crisis alone.
Jérémie Labbé is a Senior Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute
Click here to view Interactive map
The crisis in the Sahel will not end unless new responses depart from the traditional “business‐as‐usual” approach. This was the key insight offered in a high‐level roundtable on the Sahel held at the International Peace Institute on September 7, 2012, co‐organized with the African Union (AU) and the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the United Nations. This timely meeting came ahead of the presentation of the UN integrated strategy for the Sahel to the Security Council on September 17, and a high‐level meeting on the Sahel organized by Secretary‐General Ban Ki‐moon in the margins of the general debate of the 67th session of the General Assembly, which also takes place in September.
The half‐day roundtable at IPI aimed to (1) help develop a shared understanding of the problems confronting the Sahel region; (2) take stock of the national, regional, and global responses underway, or being contemplated, to address these problems; and (3) explore additional or alternative response strategies. The meeting was attended by over fifty‐five participants, including officials of the United Nations, permanent representatives to the United Nations—including the ambassadors from Mali,
Niger, Chad, Benin, Morocco, and Turkey—civil society organizations, academics, and experts from think tanks and research institutions, including the Mauritania‐based Centre for Strategies and Security for the Sahel‐Sahara Region.
Since the rainy season began in July, Niger has experienced its worst flooding in eighty years, affecting over 500,000 people. Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, desperately needs international aid to help flood victims. But on September 8, Interior Minister Abdou Labo announced that some aid had been stolen.
This tragedy is yet another challenge for the new government, which has worked to promote transparency and unearth foul play. Authorities have created a hotline to report corruption and established a national anti-corruption body with representation from government, civil society, and private sector. But the fight has not gone smoothly. In July 2011, three months after President Mahamadou Issoufou took office, soldiers angry at firings and probes connected to the anti-corruption campaign plotted to assassinate him. In January of this year, arsonists targeted the Ministry of Justice, destroying key files used in the investigations. Critics even charge (French) that members of the president’s own entourage “have hastened to fill their pockets before packing up.”
Corruption is a problem across the Sahel. Out of 182 countries profiled in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, Sahelian nations occupied some of the worst spots. On a list where the number one country, New Zealand, was the least corrupt, Sahelian countries ranked 100 (Burkina Faso), 112 (Senegal), 118 (Mali), 134 (Eritrea and Niger, tied), 143 (Mauritania and Nigeria, tied), 168 (Chad), and 177 (Sudan).
The problems caused by corruption are legion. Corruption among top politicians and officials drains millions of dollars from public treasuries. When Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha died in 1998, for example, the Washington Post described his regime’s pervasive corruption in these terms:
While he ruled Nigeria from a fortified presidential villa in Nigeria's capital… he and a circle of aides and business partners tapped virtually every stage of the oil business, Nigeria's most important industry and the source of 80 percent of its government revenue. They took kickbacks from foreign companies for licenses to search for oil in the basin and delta of the Niger River and offshore. They got bribes from construction firms that won contracts to build drilling rigs and pipelines.
According to Forbes, Abacha likely amassed over $1 billion in personal wealth. Although corruption at the top is rarely as dramatic as it was under Abacha, numerous Sahelian leaders have been accused of stealing public money or profiting from public projects.
At the same time that corruption deprives ordinary people of needed infrastructure and services, perceptions of corruption weaken people’s faith in their governments. Endemic corruption can hollow out a regime from the inside, weakening its institutions and tarnishing its legitimacy. Mali’s former President Amadou Toumani Touré—though hailed internationally as a democrat, reformer, and ally in the American “war on terror” —oversaw a system tainted by corruption at all levels. When dissatisfied soldiers staged a mutiny-turned-coup, Touré fell quickly, and some Malians applauded. As Dr. Bruce Whitehouse writes, “The putschists capitalised on the popular disappointment with bogus democracy and weak government, using it to justify their actions.”
Corruption does not only exist at the top. Even as ordinary people shake their heads at rumors of corruption among presidents and ministers, their day-to-day experiences of corruption often come at the hands of policemen and minor officials. A 2006 USAID report on corruption in Senegal noted reports of corruption throughout the judiciary, including by criminal police investigators, prosecutors, and judges. Even law clerks, the report said (p. 24), sometimes “simply lose or hide files or they only produce the minutes of the court’s decision in exchange for a payment.” Low-level corruption can turn traffic stops into extortion demands, office visits into cash transactions, and hospital waiting rooms into auction halls where those who pay the most get the best and fastest care. In Nigeria, financial malfeasance is so common that people speak of a “culture of corruption.”
Some Sahelian countries have made serious anti-corruption efforts. As the case of Niger shows, though, leaders who target illegality face powerful foes. And as the case of Senegal shows, corruption probes can turn into political controversies. After taking office in April 2012, Senegal’s new President Macky Sall launched investigations into alleged corruption under his predecessor, President Abdoulaye Wade, summoning former ministers for questioning and confiscating vehicles said to be government property. In the campaigning before legislative elections in July, Wade’s party accused Sall of using the issue of corruption for political gain. Sall’s party won the elections, suggesting that many Senegalese support his efforts, but the campaign controversy shows how intimately linked corruption and politics can be.
The Sahel’s problems with corruption are not entirely unique. But in a region of fragile governments and powerful, violent non-state actors, corruption can fuel conflict and illegal activity. In Chad, oil wealth meant for development instead went to arms purchases so that the government could hold rebels at bay; only after Chad’s rapprochement with its neighbor and sometime rival Sudan in 2010 did attention turn seriously to infrastructure, and much of the spending has been concentrated in the capital. Even now one observer reports that the change is “superficial” in the lives of ordinary people.
Government corruption has also contributed to the problem of drug trafficking in the Sahel. In recent years, West Africa has increasingly become a transit point for illegal drugs. Mali in particular has seen a rise in drug trafficking. The Institute for Security Studies’ Abdelkader Abderrahmane writes, “Traffickers and terrorists have chosen Mali largely due to the serious lack of surveillance, the porous borders of the country, and the high level of corruption in all strata of the army, police and customs.”
From stolen flood relief funds in Niger to the complicity of local government officials in Mali’s drug trade, corruption is a major problem in the Sahel. The success of anti-corruption efforts across the region would do much to restore popular faith in government and return needed funds to development projects. The failure of these efforts, however, would exacerbate the region’s instability.
Originally published in the Global Observatory
David Gressly, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, says governments and donors responded early enough to the food and nutrition crisis in the region that it will be contained for 2012. “I think we’ve now gotten through most of the lean season, which is the period of the greatest risk, without major problems,” he says.
Mr. Gressly sees an opportunity next year to build resilience. “We need to prepare for 2013 to do two major things: one, rebuild households that have suffered from the three droughts since 2005; and secondly, start to work on the chronic nature of the crisis, dealing with the remaining issue of malnutrition. Even in a good year, a quarter of a million children die of malnutrition in the Sahel. A quarter of a million children will die next year, even with the good rains that we see.” He talks about the positive roles some of the governments have played, including Nigeria’s 3N program, Nigériens Nourrissent les Nigériens.
Mr. Gressly also discusses his perspective on Mali, which has caused 400,000 displaced people, saying what is lacking there is a global understanding and assessment of the humanitarian situation. “We get anecdotal information about what’s going on place by place, but I’m not convinced yet we have a comprehensive picture, and that needs to be done, adding that ”monitoring is not as robust as we would normally like.”
The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Senior Policy Analyst, International Peace Institute.
Jérémie Labbé: We are here today with Mr. David Gressly, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel since April, 2012. Mr. Gressly, we are very pleased to have you on the Global Observatory today. Mr. Gressly, to start, could you give us a brief update on the current humanitarian situation in the region.
David Gressly: Thank you very much, it’s a real pleasure to be here as well. Basically what I would like to talk about are the three major crises that we see across the Sahel that are having a humanitarian impact. Specifically, the first would be the food and nutrition crisis that everyone warned about at the end of last year that actually materialized this year due to lack of rains and a shortfall of food production. Secondly is the chronic nature, the structural nature of food insecurity, the malnutrition across the region that requires a long-term response, and third is the crisis in Mali itself.
Addressing each of those, where we are on that: on the food and nutrition crisis, the drought last year was severe, was not as bad as the Horn of Africa, but it was bad enough, projected to have an impact on 18 million people in terms of food insecurity, and projected that 1 million children would be at risk of severe acute malnutrition, potentially dying as a result. I have to say that the results have been reasonably good. The governments of the region responded early to call for assistance. Donors responded reasonably early to start providing that assistance, and we have seen generally on the food security and nutrition side a good response on the ground. I think we’ve now gotten through most of the lean season, which is the period of the greatest risk, without major problems. We’ve already seen 500,000-600,000 children treated for severe acute malnutrition as an example of what’s under way. Last month, over 4 million people received food assistance, so the response is well under way and will be contained I think for 2012.
The prospects for 2013 now look reasonably good. There’s been very good rains this year. In some cases too much–there’s some flooding. But generally, the situation on the ground looks positive for 2013. There’s still a threat of locusts, but they have yet to materialize substantially. So I think what we can say on the acute crisis is that the response was early enough to contain most of the suffering that would have happened, deaths that would have happened without that response.
Now, we need to prepare for 2013 to do two major things: one, rebuild households that have suffered from the three droughts since 2005; and secondly, start to work on the chronic nature of the crisis, dealing with the remaining issue of malnutrition. Even in a good year, a quarter of a million children die of malnutrition in the Sahel. A quarter of a million children will die next year, even with the good rains that we see.
So we need to continue to respond in a way that addresses the needs of those children, even in a good year, and the same with households that are food insecure. That’s where the program of resilience comes in–we can perhaps talk about that in more detail later–the long term development approach that we require to deal with the chronic nature.
The third crisis is the Mali conflict, which basically started in January of this year. It was not expected to be a part of the humanitarian response, but with the conflict in the north, and the fall of the three major regions of the north of Mali into the hands of various armed groups, it became a major humanitarian crisis. To date, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced, either internally inside Mali, or externally in surrounding countries, particularly in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
There, we’ve had I would say less of a more positive response from donors. So far, only some thirty percent, less than forty percent of the needs have been met, which means that the response has been focused on life-saving activities. It also means things like education are not funded or are very poorly funded. I’m concerned about that because children who missed one school year are about to miss their second school year. That poses a number of problems for their long-term prospects. It also makes temptation to join other groups, militia groups and so forth, even greater than it would be otherwise. So that’s an area that I think not only will continue into 2013, but is not adequately addressed as we speak.
Likewise, support to those communities that have welcomed them, whether inside Mali or in the surrounding countries, are not well addressed yet. They’ve been welcome, there’s been no problem with that, but in the long or even the medium term, that could cause tensions, it could cause problems for those host communities.
JL: You mentioned that despite some important remaining humanitarian challenges, basically the humanitarian situation of our world is getting better: above the average, and unexpected positive impact on the food crisis. Yet, you mentioned the resilience agenda and the need to be there in the longer term. Do you think that this improving situation is really good news? Or do you fear that it might actually create some disinterest from donors in this region that is affected by chronic food and insecurity.
DG: I think that answer to both questions is yes. Yes, it is good news because it means that people will do much better in 2013 than they did in 2012, if you want to call that good news. But the risk is very real, that with the good rains that people, governments, regional institutions, donors, partners in general will lose interest and will be caught by surprise again when the next drought happens. It could happen in 2016, it could happen in 2017. That’s why we really have to use this window of opportunity to change how we do business in the aftermath of a crisis of this nature of a drought. We really need to use this time to really focus development activity to those households that are most vulnerable, that have consistently suffered in the face of drought or rising commodity prices.
The good news, I think, is that the political will to do so is there. The governments in many of the countries concerned are recognizing their responsibilities and are looking forward to try to find ways to address this. I think the government of Niger is one very good example of that. I think major donors are also very much seeing that rather than dealing with the humanitarian consequences of the lack of good development in these areas that we should attack the problem itself.
Regional institutions likewise are interested, and I can tell you the UN system is very interested in seeing this. So we have a growing coalition and partnership that wants to make a difference. What’s important in 2013 is for that partnership to be realized, to be made meaningful with real assistance coming on the ground, development assistance to compliment the humanitarian work that I’ve described to attack the chronic nature of the problem. This will require resources going into agriculture and agricultural productivity, water management, irrigation type issues, but it’s not just a production issue, it’s an access issue, social safety nets need to be put in place so that when food is available on the markets, that those who can’t afford it will have access nonetheless.
Nutrition remains a major killer and underestimated as a structural problem in the region, so prevention of malnutrition will remain a major problem and concern. Livelihoods and livelihood improvement, the population in the region is increasing rapidly: currently in the Sahel and the Sahelian countries we were talking about, over 100 million people live there. That’s likely to double in the next 25 years. The kinds of traditional subsistence agriculture that we see will need to be transformed. Livelihoods will need to be transformed for that kind of population, and the work for that needs to start today, not 20 years from now. So resilience is an important part of what needs to be done to avoid the kinds of response that we’ve required this year, which is 1.6 billion dollars, a smaller investment over a period of time can over that period of time reduce the requirements for major humanitarian intervention.
JL: You mentioned the positive role of some governments in the region in response to this crisis, notably the Nigerian government. This government has put in place an initiative called 3N that stands for Les Nigériens Nourrissent les Nigériens, the French for “Nigerians feeding Nigerians.” Could you tell us a bit more and briefly describe this initiative. What is it about?
DG: Well, it’s a very important initiative by the Nigerian government, and I think we should applaud that. Basically, it’s looking at all the areas that I just described in terms of a comprehensive government program that’s being put in place together with partners like the UN system, the World Bank, the European Union, the US government, etc. I think all of this is a very important opportunity. It’s a government that signaled very early that they were going to have a problem, but also was in a position to design a response, looking at agricultural productivity, looking at prevention of malnutrition, looking at social services and safety nets, a comprehensive program that covers all of those areas, and one that I think that really is worth supporting.
I know that there will be a roundtable in Paris in early November to bring donors and other interested partners around to see how collectively we can support this effort, which I think is very much needed in Niger, but all I can do at this point is just applaud the government of Niger for its focus on this. I think we need to see it in its context. When we look at the Mali crisis itself, we see that it has an impact on other countries. In Niger, they have had to reallocate funds for their own national defense because of the problems of insecurity on their borders. In many ways, this kind of insecurity, this kind of political crisis that we see in Mali represents the greatest threat to any resilience program on the ground, and the fact that they’ve had to allocate resources for that purpose that could have gone for resilience I think is a good example as you are to find. So I think in all of these things a search not only for a development solution but also for a political solution is imperative if we are to avoid long-term humanitarian assistance in the region, and hopefully we’ll see that kind of approach in the next several months.
JL: In your role as Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, I guess that one of your objectives is to encourage the replication of such good practices and good initiatives as the one we just mentioned about in Niger. Did you have any success in this undertaking, in encouraging other governments in the region to replicate these kinds of very positive responses?
DG: Well, in the various discussions that we’ve had over the last several months, we’ve seen a very positive approach by many governments, whether it’s in Burkina Faso, Chad—I can also mention Mauritania has its own programs as well—trying to address this same set of issues. They approach it obviously in different ways, based upon their national context. But I think there is a broad understanding that goes beyond Niger. Niger I think is a very good example, by not only its government, by the partners on the ground as well, who’ve worked I think extremely well, particularly since 2010 on these kinds of issues with good success.
We have seen the kind that a response on the humanitarian side this year was we were able to see a really rapid buildup because there was a good foundation to work with. So I think that combination of a proactive government, and a UN system that’s very much working in an integrated fashion, committed donors on the ground is a very positive one and one that we’re seeing how we can try to replicate in other areas, and Chad’s another opportunity where that could be done.
So I think, yes, we are working on that. I think Niger is advancing in many ways in that regard, but many governments in the region are also interested in pursuing that same thing, and I think it’s now important for those partners who have serious financing to put on the table to do so and make real these aspirations.
JL: You mentioned several times the complicated situation in Mali. I’d like to focus more on this country now. Could you tell us a bit more about the situation on the ground in terms of humanitarian needs of the population, and also develop a bit the issue of humanitarian access, and the difficulties in this regard. Who are the actors, the humanitarian actors present in the region, how can you deliver aid?
DG: Overall, I think the most important thing to start with, which is counterintuitive, is that 80 percent of the humanitarian requirements in Mali are actually in the south of Mali. It’s where 90 percent of the population lives, and with the food and nutrition crisis that we saw this year actually most of the humanitarian needs were in the south. It’s easy to forget that because of the political issues with the north. Now, in the south, I think the situation is largely–as I described it across the Sahel–a reasonably good response, an improving situation from 2012, so the focus will be the same there as in the other countries: rebuilding and focusing on the chronic nature of food and security and malnutrition.
As for the north, I mentioned the displacement, which is already a significant problem. For those who remain behind, the situation is not totally dire but extremely difficult. The economy in the north has basically collapsed with the movement of the armed groups into the area, though trade continues into northern Mali, both from the South and from other countries. Humanitarian assistance is coming in, basically unhindered by armed groups on the ground. I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s easy, but it does work.
The WFP is currently delivering food to 170,000 people a month in the north of Mali, using the river based out of the logistics base in Mopti, using the river to make those distributions further north. UNICEF and WHO are putting in a lot of assistance through local NGOs and international NGOs, which remain on the ground. What we have found is that Malian humanitarian workers regardless of who they work for are still very welcome in the north of Mali and are still effective, and it’s through those channels that humanitarian assistance is now going.
Initially, there was some issue over whether some of these groups should be involved in the distribution or protection of that assistance, but that seems to have now been resolved, and humanitarian work basically is done distributing without the involvement of other groups; it’s directly to the communities themselves. So it seems to be working for the moment, certainly in the major cities in the north.
What we’re lacking right now are two major things: one is a global understanding, assessment of the humanitarian situation. We get anecdotal information about what’s going on place by place, but I’m not convinced yet we have a comprehensive picture, and that needs to be done; and secondly, the fact that we’re doing it through the system I described means that monitoring is not as robust as we would normally like. So we need to strengthen our ability to monitor how assistance is delivered. The fact that things go reasonably well for the moment does not mean that that will continue like that indefinitely, so we need to do a better job I believe on the risk management of that assistance, and we’re working on that with the humanitarian team on the ground.
We also need to be aware of the potential consequences of the degradation of security. Either internal conflict or military intervention could change that dynamic once again, so we’re preparing contingencies for that as we speak, in the case that things get considerably worse.
JL: Mr. Gressly, thank you very much for joining us today on the Global Observatory, and I wish you the best of luck for the complicated task ahead.
DG: Thank you very much, it’s very much a pleasure to be here today, thank you.
Originally published by the Global Observatory
“There’s a lot of good news” from Mali, according to Bert Koenders, special representative of the secretary-general and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. “After the occupation of the country and after the coup d' état and all the tension, the Malians have taken the initiative in their own hands,” he said in an interview with the Global Observatory.
The high turnout in recent, successful presidential elections and the agreement signed by the government and opposition groups have created the basis for inclusive talks in the country, according to Koenders, whose peacekeeping mission launched in July. “So I would say the first three months of this new peacekeeping operation was in a positive setting, thanks to the cooperation of the international community, but especially thanks to the Malians.”
Today, “the country is much safer than before,” said Koenders. “I think it's clear that after the intervention of the French and African forces, the capacities of some of the jihadist extremist forces have substantially reduced,” he added, referring to al-Qaida-linked groups that had occupied northern parts of the country before French and African interventions in early 2013.
Nonetheless, these groups “are also timing their own efforts and their own activities, and therefore we should remain extremely vigilant,” he said. A suicide attack in Timbuktu, shelling and explosives under a bridge in Gao—these are some of the incidents seen in Mali in recent weeks, and “that means a wake-up call is necessary,” he said.
“It's important that we have an acceleration of our troop generation process,” said Koenders. “On the development side, I think a lot has been promised with a large solidarity of the international community with Mali. But at the same time [there are] immediate needs for humanitarian support.”
Upcoming parliamentary elections in November and December also present complex security and logistical demands. “It is very necessary now to invest in the coming weeks in confidence building, in negotiations, in conflict prevention, and in ensuring that these elections can be held in a peaceful atmosphere,” Koenders said.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations at the International Peace Institute.
Warren Hoge: My guest today in the Global Observatory is Bert Koenders, special representative of the secretary-general and head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA. He is a seasoned international policymaker on development, humanitarian, governance, and conflict management issues, and he has also been the Dutch minister for development cooperation and a member of the Dutch House of Representatives.
Mali, a country that borders on seven others, located in the Sahel, has been going through a convulsive transition that has attracted the world's attention. The country has, in less than two years, experienced a coup d'état; an occupation of a substantial part of the country, first by separatist Tuareg rebels and then by al-Qaida-linked armed groups and jihadists; and a French military intervention. In recent months, though, there had been more positive developments—among them, the creation of MINUSMA—though the threat from terrorists and jihadists remains.
So Bert, take me first through the encouraging developments, and then we'll discuss the substantial challenges that remain. What's the good news?
Bert Koenders: There's a lot of good news. The first good news is that after the occupation of the country and after the coup d' état and all the tension, the Malians have taken the initiative in their own hands. They have largely participated in the presidential elections and have shown that they want to put their mark on the future of Mali. These were elections without major violent incidents, and they were generally perceived by all observer missions as a very positive development for the country.
The second is that the agreement of Ouagadougou was signed by the government and two of the armed opposition groups in the north, which created the basis not only for organizing these elections in the country but also to have intensive, inclusive talks sixty days after the inauguration of the new president. So I would say the first three months of this new peacekeeping operation was in a positive setting, thanks to the cooperation of the international community, but especially thanks to the Malians.
WH: How secure is Mali now from the threat of the return of jihadists? There have been terrorist incidents. Are you worried that they could succeed in stalling the progress that's being made now?
BK: I think it's clear that after the intervention of the French and African forces, the capacities of some of the jihadist extremist forces have been substantially reduced. The country is much safer than before. Security incidents are less, but—and that's the but-side of this answer, and I mentioned that also yesterday to the Security Council—we have seen in the last couple of weeks a shelling of the town of Gao; we have seen a suicide attack in Timbuktu; we have seen explosives under a bridge in a neighborhood of Gao. That means a wake-up call is necessary. These groups are also timing their own efforts and their own activities, and therefore we should remain extremely vigilant. That's also the reason why we have a robust mandate for the peacekeeping force.
WH: Tell me about that mandate, because it does have a situation that I think is unique to peacekeeping forces right now, which is that it acts parallel with the other two forces in Mali—namely, the Malian army and the French. Is that working?
BK: At the moment I think the cooperation, or better said the coordination, between the military forces in the country is going well. We all have our own mandates, but they are not controversial (in the sense they are not seen as positive by the overall majority of the population). Of course, some of the extremist forces might not necessarily like that, but it is for the United Nations a mandate of human security, of protection of civilians. The MNLA, the Haut Conseil, and the groups in the north, the government, the citizens—they want us to be there in order to assist in the protection of civilians. At the same time we're doing negotiations and that's always very interesting. Sometimes one side says that you are partisan for the other and vice versa. But that's the role of facilitator of the UN.
WH: Bert, Mali is a proud and independent country, it was once known as a darling for donors, but in the last couple of years it has suffered intervention from the outside. And yet we're told that the Malians welcomed the French intervention. If that is the case, have they welcomed the United Nations?
BK: Yes they do. In general, people like the fact that there is support for Mali, and not only in the security field but also in the development field, in the protection of human rights, and so on and so forth. That doesn't take away that we have to take this mandate with a lot of humility. The Malians do not like it when the UN forces are everywhere present with cars and big offices and things like that. We have to show modesty; we have to show leadership; we have to be supportive; and we have to realize that there are only Malian solutions to Malian problems.
WH: On Wednesday, you told the Security Council that you needed enablers and you mentioned helicopters as being one of those enablers you needed. Also, I note that the international support for humanitarian emergency aid, I'm told that it's only at about 37 percent of funding right now. What do you need that you are not getting in both of these areas?
BK: Thank you very much for this question. It's always nice to answer something like that. What we need—because we are always tested, there are issues on the ground, we have to show that we are protecting the civilians—it's important that we have an acceleration of our troop generation process. It’s not easy because it's a very difficult terrain, and there are high temperatures—the logistical things are extremely complex. But it's true that we need more enablers, and you mentioned some of those military helicopters, utility helicopters, but also rotary wings, engineers.
To give you an example, if you work in the north, it’s very difficult for the military personnel and civilian personnel, so you need engineers to help with landing possibilities for planes so that people can stay in secure areas, and so on and so forth. So that's why I pleaded for an acceleration of the troop-contributing process.
On the development side, I think a lot has been promised with a large solidarity of the international community with Mali. But at the same time [there are] immediate needs for humanitarian support, for the high levels of malnutrition that we see in some parts of the country, with one in five children being at risk of losing their lives because of malnutrition. We need money for what we call early recovery, and it can be done by reformulating some of the long-term programs to ensure that early recovery programs can be used for it. But also, [we] really [need] to have some increase in humanitarian aid.
There are three markers, I think, for Mali that at least [help] us understand why some of these developments have taken place and the country is not so resilient to resist issues of extremism and drug trafficking, and so on. It's geography, it’s demography, and it's ecology.
On geography it's a very complex country, very large with an underpopulated north and a very densely populated south, living in two different worlds in a difficult regional setting. When you talk about ecology, I think, it's important. It's one of the harshest climates in the world, where we see a process of desertification, which already led in the '80s and '90s—even before that—to the departure of many Tuaregs in order to find a living elsewhere. So if we don't look at these fundamental issues of desertification, then I think we're missing the boat. And the last one is demography: Poverty and growth of population often goes together. [If] you go to Mali [or] Niger, the average amount of children for one woman is almost seven.
So you can imagine that this combined consequence of a difficult geological, geographical situation, high growth rates of the population, and desertification at least complicate the problems of Mali to be resilient against some of these forces—that then might become bigger than they are themselves.
WH: I'm told that there are about a 170,000 refugees in places like Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso, and that there are about 100,000 IDPs. Are refugees being repatriated, and are IDPs returning as I imagine is the case from the south to the north?
BK: The figures on the IDPs are much more promising than the refugees. There are large amounts of IDPs that are coming back to the north—I think over 100,000 at the moment. And in September alone we saw a large return of refugees from Mauritania—I think it was 1,300. Nevertheless, a lot still has to be done there, and I think one of the crucial ingredients is security in the areas where people return to, as well as justice and social services in those areas. Justice to ensure that people do not take the law into their own hands, and people can safely return. And early recovery is again important to have some social services so that people can return to a place where they can restart their activities.
WH: The elections that were held this summer that resulted in a new president being inaugurated on September 19th are now to be followed by legislative elections. Are you confident that they will take place with the same success and participation levels that you had with the presidential elections?
BK: I would hope so. I think these are elections of proximity—people can elect their own legislators. It will be therefore also more complex security-wise and logistical-wise because, there is not one constituency, there are many more—including in parts of the country where so far no agreement has yet been reached on inclusive peace talks. It is very necessary now to invest in the coming weeks in confidence building, in negotiations, in conflict prevention, and in ensuring that these elections can be held in a peaceful atmosphere.
WH: Well, Bert Koenders, you take on the tough assignments; you were here last year in January as the SRSG for the Côte d'Ivoire, and now from Mali. I'm glad that in all these cases, you come to IPI and tell us what you're doing, why you're doing it, and I invite you to come back. You don’t have to come up with another job or another country. We'd be interested in following what goes on in Mali and I wish you good luck with that.
BK: Well, thank you very much, and thank you for the invitation. It's extremely rewarding for me to be invited to talk to so many people, including yourself.
Originally published in the Global Observatory
By Ryan Cummings
Akin to its physical landscape, the political environment of Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 varied greatly from country to country. On a positive note, elections in politically polarized countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire concluded relatively peacefully, despite the shadow of political violence looming large. Burkina Faso, which entered the year in political limbo following the ousting of long-serving president Blaise Compaoré, also elected its first democratic government, thwarting a coup attempt by the deposed leader’s presidential guard in the process.
In another encouraging development, 2015 also marked the nadir of the West African Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people since the virus was first reported in the region in early 2012. Just today, the World Health Organization declared Liberia—the last affected country—Ebola-free.
However, while last year saw Sub-Saharan Africa overcome a number of important challenges, it also saw the continuation and often the creation of social, political, and economic obstacles that will define the continent’s security outlook in 2016.
In West Africa, 2015 saw the threat posed by Islamist extremist groups both evolve and expand across the region. This was best exemplified by developments linked to Boko Haram, which not only pledged its allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS)—becoming that group’s largest affiliate in the process—but also exported its insurgency outside of Nigeria’s borders. With punitive measures by Nigeria and its Lake Chad Basin neighbors expected to continue in the coming year, retaliatory attacks in the form of suicide bombings, kidnappings, and armed raids will likely persist, if not increase, in parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger in 2016.
Of particular concern is the possibility that Boko Haram will attempt to adopt the operating protocols of ISIS-affiliates elsewhere, targeting Western interests in the respective areas of operation. This year may also see groups affiliated with al-Qaeda continue to demonstrate their relevance in the international jihadi fraternity now dominated by ISIS and its various _wilayats_, or provinces. Mali’s desert north will likely remain the primary operational theater for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates, for example. As demonstrated in 2015, further devastating attacks in the south of the country, including Bamako, are also possible, as is the expansion of militant activity to neighboring countries such as Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
Islamist extremism is also expected to remain a feature of East Africa’s security environment. However, the coming year may see the primary driver of that threat, al-Shabaab, being as much at war with itself as with its primary adversaries, namely the governments of Somalia, Kenya, and their African Union (AU) allies. A tug-of-war between ISIS and al-Qaeda for control of al-Shabaab leadership could see the movement fracture, pitting opposing factions against each other in a war for ideological and territorial supremacy. While this could potentially weaken al-Shabaab, it could also make the group deadlier, with opposing factions using acts of violence as a yardstick for gaining pre-eminence.
In Central Africa, 2015 concluded with a fragile peace being forged in the conflict-ridden nations of South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). In both of these, warring factions have committed to ceasefires and democratic processes aimed at finding a binding peace. However, the disparate and decentralized nature of their primary actors raises concerns as to the willingness to adhere to these processes. Furthermore, the devastating socioeconomic impacts of the wars could themselves serve as catalysts for chronic political instability and associated insecurity in 2016.
While conflict may have declined by the end of the year in South Sudan and CAR, they certainly increased in Burundi. Pierre Nkurunziza’s re-election to an unprecedented third successive presidential term continues to incite violence against and in support of his regime. This unrest has killed 400 people, and displaced 220,000 others, since April 2015. With concerns that the country may be regressing to a civil war fought along ethnic and political lines, the AU has pledged to deploy a peacekeeping force mandated to protect civilians. This proposal has been vehemently rejected by Nkurunziza, who will likely persist in suppressing both opposition to his regime.
In the Great Lakes, 2016 will more than likely be shaped by elections to be held in several states. The first poll is set for Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni will face the greatest challenge to his near three-decade long rule on February 18th. The incumbent will find an opponent of equal political and financial clout in prominent businessman and fellow National Resistance Movement stalwart Amama Mbabazi, whom Museveni removed as prime minister in September 2014. Both camps have already accused the other of sponsoring militias to incite violence in the lead-up to the election. There are credible concerns that a win for either leader could have violent repercussions for Uganda.
Landmark elections are also scheduled to take place in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and neighboring Republic of the Congo. While the outcome of these polls has the potential to shift the political trajectories of both countries, the period leading up to the elections will be equally defining, with Joseph Kabila in the DRC and Denis Sassou-Nguesso in the Republic of the Congo both seeking contentious third terms that will require constitutional amendments. Attempts to facilitate this have already seen, and will likely continue to see, both leaders face widespread and violent opposition.
In southern Africa, faltering economic conditions brought about by dwindling oil prices, environmental conditions, and infrastructure carry the potential to catalyze civil unrest. Angola, whose peacetime economy was rebuilt almost solely off oil revenue, is facing rising inflation, a depreciating currency, and burgeoning unemployment as a result of the falling prices. The Angolan government, already beset by accusations of corruption, maladministration, and repression, may find it difficult to placate an increasingly vocal and frustrated citizenry should the economic downturn persist.
In South Africa, finally, a combination of water and power shortages could also restrict economic growth, cut food production, and lead to job losses in sectors dependent on the provision of these resources. Apart from leading to an uptick in protest activity and increasing already substantial crime rates, the prevailing economic conditions could influence voting behavior in the country’s forthcoming municipal elections. Some analysts believe that a poor showing for the ruling African National Congress in the local elections could lead to the recalling of controversial president Jacob Zuma—a move which itself could see violent reprisals by his supporters.
Originally Published in the Global Observatory
Niger will hold general elections on February 21st, with President Mahamadou Issoufou up for re-election to a second term. The outcome will have repercussions for the interplay of security and democracy across the Sahel region. A win by the incumbent will not necessarily mean that democracy is in retreat, but it will indicate that Issoufou’s increasingly tough approach to domestic dissent in Niger does not have immediate electoral consequences.
Issoufou took office in 2011, after a brief interlude of military rule. Since 1993, Niger’s democratic aspirations have followed a zig-zagging trajectory, with three transfers of power from military rulers to civilians (1993, 1999, 2011), three military coups (1996, 1999, and 2010), and the anti-democratic actions of one civilian president, Mamadou Tandja, who overstayed his welcome in 2009 through a flawed constitutional referendum that extended his tenure in office. Tandja’s decision provoked the coup that ultimately brought Issoufou to power: six months after the referendum, military officers bloodlessly removed Tandja’s government and organized new elections. Issoufou, a long-time opposition leader who belonged to the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism won the 2011 elections.
Niger, like many other Francophone African countries—and some other non-Francophone ones, for that matter—operates a two-round electoral system. If no candidate captures a majority in the first round of voting, the presidential election will go to a second round where only the top two vote-earners compete. Such systems encourage a proliferation of candidates and parties, especially in open elections where there is no incumbent. Elections in Francophone West Africa often follow one of three scenarios: If there is no incumbent, the election typically goes to a second round. If there is a popular incumbent or an incumbent facing his first re-election, the incumbent typically wins on the first round. If the incumbent is unpopular or is attempting to overstay his welcome, the election often goes to a second round, and the opposition often successfully unites to defeat the incumbent.
One unintended consequence of the two-round system is that it incentivizes incumbents to prevent their re-election contests from going to a second round. Often, such incumbents know better than anyone how a unified opposition can unseat a sitting president. Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal is one recent example of a candidate who came to power as a long-time opposition leader and triumphed in a second-round upset (2000), and later lost the presidency when he contested as an unpopular incumbent (2012).
In 2011, Niger had an open election, and Issoufou emerged as the leading candidate in the first round, though his score of 36% meant that the contest went to a second round. Issoufou defeated Seyni Oumarou of the National Movement for the Society of Democracy, the party of the ousted Tandja. Issoufou won a convincing victory, 58% to 42%, and took office enjoying a considerable amount of domestic and international goodwill.
Growing Securitization of Niger
Issoufou has won acclaim—some deserved and some exaggerated—for keeping Niger a relative island of stability amid the crises gripping several of its neighbors: Mali, Libya, and Nigeria. Niger has not been completely immune to insecurity under Issoufou: fragments of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb perpetrated major suicide bombings in the northern towns of Arlit and Agadez in May 2013, and Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect has repeatedly attacked Niger’s southeastern Diffa region. Nonetheless, many observers have credited Issoufou with preventing a larger deterioration of stability in the country. When rebels from northern Mali’s Tuareg ethnic group rose up against their government in 2011-2012, Niger’s Tuareg stayed quiet. Some observers credited the difference to Issoufou’s calculated political outreach to Tuareg in northern Niger—outreach that included appointing a Tuareg prime minister.
Issoufou’s presidency has seen an uptick in Western powers’ interest in security cooperation with Niger, and in using Niger as a site from which to attempt to manage insecurity in the Sahel region. Even before Issoufou took office, Niger was part of various counterterrorism initiatives in the Sahel, such as the United States’ Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership. Under Issoufou, Niger has become the site of at least two US drone bases. It was Chad, Niger’s relatively stable eastern neighbor, that became the leading provider of combat troops to ground operations against jihadists in Mali (an effort to which Niger also contributed), but Niger joined forces in early 2015 to enter Nigerian territory and dislodge Boko Haram from towns that the sect then controlled. Niger is increasingly seen as an important counterterrorism actor in the Sahel and in Nigeria. International Crisis Group has warned, however, that “an excessive focus on external threats can overshadow important internal dynamics, such as communal tensions, a democratic deficit and the growing marginalisation of poor, rural societies.”
Back home, the rising securitization of the Sahel, and of Niger, has led to a narrowing of Niger’s political and civil society arenas. In May 2015, authorities detained two prominent civil society activists—Moussa Tchangari and Nouhou Arzik—for criticizing the government’s handling of the fight against Boko Haram. In the Diffa Region, the government has repeatedly declared a state of emergency, and concerns have grown about security forces’ treatment of civilians, especially displaced persons. Meanwhile, some Nigeriens have criticized Issoufou for drawing so close to the West; such criticism was a factor in provoking violent protests in January 2015 after Issoufou marched with other world leaders in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
The narrowing of political space is arguably visible in the elections as well. In June 2014, Nigerien authorities arrested Hama Amadou, President of Niger’s National Assembly, on charges of trafficking in babies. Two months later, Amadou fled the country, claiming that the charges against him were politically motivated. When he returned to Niger in November 2015, he was arrested at the airport, his protesting supporters were dispersed by the police, and four journalists covering the crisis were detained. From prison, Amadou has campaigned for the presidency. He has been allowed to register as a candidate for the Democratic Movement of Niger but has been denied bail. If Amadou is innocent of the charges, as many observers presume him to be, then his continued detention appears to be a move by Issoufou to hamstring a major challenger. Other notable politicians are also campaigning for the presidency—Seyni Oumarou, 2011’s runner-up, and former President Mahamane Ousmane—but the advantages of incumbency, and the support Issoufou’s administration still retains among many parts of Niger, may prove decisive.
by Alex Thurston
Niger held the second round of its presidential elections on March 20th. Amid a partial opposition boycott and the medical and legal difficulties facing his main challenger, incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou won a sweeping victory. Issoufou will begin his second term in a climate suffused with worries about security throughout West Africa. It is a climate that could reinforce his international image as a key player in regional stabilization efforts. At the same time, the mechanisms of his victory included significant repression of dissent, raising questions about whether Niger’s domestic political space will contract further in the five years to come.
With recent attacks on upscale hotels in Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali—including a fresh attack on March 22nd—and with ongoing violence in the Lake Chad Basin associated with Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, Issoufou can expect regional security to be a major theme during his second term. This will mark substantial continuity with the recent past. As I have written previously in the Global Observatory and elsewhere, Issoufou’s firm term was marked by securitization—his administration’s focus on combating al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram, while preventing any domestic rebellions—and by a partial closure of political space, involving arrests of opposition leaders and civil society activists.
Analyst Tommy Miles has argued that “by 2013, the wheels had come off” Issoufou’s promised program of domestic development and prosperity for Niger. The president embraced the “War on Terror,” Miles explains, in part because of these domestic setbacks. Whatever the cause, security is a major element of Issoufou’s platform; after casting his own vote on March 20th, he said, “A single term in office is not enough to overcome all the challenges, in particular I am thinking of the security challenges.”
If 2013 marked the beginning of intensive securitization in Niger, that was also the date when Issoufou’s winning electoral coalition from 2011 fragmented, most notably when the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hama Amadou, moved into the opposition. From August 2013 to the present, the political climate has been tense in Niger; this is symbolized by Amadou’s exile from Niger from 2014-2015, and his imprisonment from 2015-2016, even as he emerged to become Issoufou’s main challenger in this year’s elections.
During this electoral campaign, Issoufou has not engaged in the kind of blatant vote rigging that some of his West African peers have attempted. If he had, one would not have expected him to fall short of the 50% mark in the first round, which took place on February 21st. Such a result would have allowed him to win outright; his tally of 48% triggered a runoff with Amadou, who had placed second with nearly 18%. Yet Issoufou used law enforcement to tremendously constrain Amadou’s campaign, holding the former speaker in a remote prison and arresting other politicians as well as prominent opposition voices from wider society, such as the singer Hamsou Garba. The second-round voting occurred amid a heavy security deployment and restrictions on political assembly in the capital Niamey.
In the end, Amadou was not even present in Niger on the day of second-round voting; on March 16th, he was evacuated to France for medical treatment, leading to considerable speculation that his imprisonment had left him greatly weakened. Matters were further complicated by a partial opposition boycott of the second round. An opposition coalition, COPA 2016, announced the boycott in early March, but Amadou’s name remained on the ballot and he did not officially withdraw.
Suppression of the opposition and the boycott confusion helped Issoufou to achieve a decisive second-round victory: nearly 93% voted for him, and around 7% for Amadou, though Amadou may gain a bit as further results are released. According to official preliminary results, turnout fell somewhat, from nearly 67% in the first round to just over 60% in the second, and the official estimate of the overall second round turnout rate has been reported as 56%. Yet lower turnout alone may not explain the outcome: if the official results are credible, this means that Issoufou may have not only courted the non-Amadou opposition, but also attracted some of Amadou’s own supporters. COPA 2016 has rejected the second round as a “sham,” but if Issoufou’s high numbers hold in the final results, he will likely claim a sweeping mandate for continuity.
This victory does not, however, position Issoufou to become an absolutist ruler in Niger; there are historical limits to what the country’s political system will tolerate. Issoufou began his first term in 2011 after winning an election organized by a short-lived, caretaker military regime. That regime came to power in 2010 after the previous civilian president, Mamadou Tandja, rammed through a constitutional referendum that gave him a third, extra-constitutional term in office. Tandja’s experience may lead Issoufou to never even consider raising the issue of a third term for himself.
Looking ahead, Issoufou’s immediate concerns center on security, both in terms of restoring full control over the southeastern Diffa Region, which has been badly affected by Boko Haram, and by preventing attacks elsewhere, especially in the capital. The spate of hotel attacks in West Africa has governments, expatriates, and major businesses spooked, and Issoufou will be at pains to ensure that Niamey does not become the next site of a hotel assault. The emphasis on prevention will likely lead Issoufou to continue pressuring the international community to escalate its military interventions in Libya, Niger’s least stable neighbor.
How this atmosphere will affect the political space at home is an open question. In May 2015, Nigerien security forces detained human rights activists who had criticized the government’s handling of security and humanitarian issues amid the anti-Boko Haram campaign in Diffa. On the one hand, with the elections now past, Issoufou could be more tolerant of criticism; on the other hand, security measures may become increasingly forceful, including against civilians. The administration may decide that it wants to avoid international embarrassment and muffle the few domestic activists who have the access and platforms to document and publicize controversial developments in remote regions. If there are further detentions of human rights activists, it will be one sign that securitization in Niger is still coming with a significant price.
Originally Published in the Global Observatory
Dakar, 28 juin 2016 - Le Bureau des Nations Unies pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest et le Sahel (UNOWAS), l'Institut International de la Paix (IPI) et le Département fédéral des affaires étrangères de la Confédération suisse (DFAE), ont organisé une rencontre de haut niveau sur le thème : « Investir dans la Paix et la Prévention de la Violence en Afrique de l’Ouest et au Sahel ».
Cette rencontre, première en son genre, a réuni pendant deux jours à Dakar, les 27 et 28 juin 2016, une cinquantaine d’experts et de praticiens, de représentants des organisations régionales et internationales, de membres du corps diplomatique, de gouvernements, de la société civile, ainsi que des médias, en provenance notamment d’Afrique de l’Ouest, du Sahel et d’Afrique du Nord.
Au-delà du traitement sécuritaire, nécessaire pour contrecarrer l’extrémisme violent, la rencontre de Dakar a mis l’accent sur l’urgence d’apporter une réponse cohérente et efficace qui privilégie l’investissement dans la paix et la prévention de la violence comme fonctions de la gouvernance inclusive et le développement équitable.
A cet égard, les participants ont utilisé le Plan d’Action du Secrétaire général des Nations Unies pour la prévention de l'extrémisme violent (A/70/674) de décembre 2015 comme une référence dans leurs échanges afin d’identifier des mesures efficaces et des politiques durables pour prévenir l'extrémisme violent.
Les discussions ont pris pour point de départ les réalités de terrain et les perceptions locales, nationales et régionales de l’extrémisme violent dans l’espace sahélo-saharien. Les participants ont mis en évidence de multiples expériences de prévention et ont souligné l’effectivité des approches fondées sur l’inclusivité politique, sociale et économique comme mécanisme favorisant l’émergence d’alternatives à la violence et à l’extrémisme violent.
Les organisateurs ont sollicité les vues des participants sur la nécessité et la meilleure façon de poursuivre une telle discussion à travers des actions / projets / initiatives concrètes présentés au cours de la rencontre, au niveau sous régional et au-delà.
Faisant écho à l’initiative du Secrétaire général des Nations Unies, les organisateurs ont également tenu à rappeler à la clôture des travaux, la nécessité pour la communauté internationale d’agir en synergie pour une approche coordonnée et inclusive pour faire face à la propagation de l’intolérance et de la haine dans le monde. Ils se sont aussi engagés à poursuivre leur engagement commun à travers l’appui à des initiatives locales, nationales et régionales visant à mettre en oeuvre des initiatives et projets permettant d’accentuer la prévention de la violence et de promouvoir la paix.
Un rapport contenant les questions débattues durant cette rencontre et les diverses approches discutées, ainsi que les recommandations proposées par les participants sera publié prochainement et fera l’objet d’une communication de la part des organisateurs.
UNOWAS, IPI et le DFAE organiseront au courant du mois de juillet prochain au siège d’IPI à New York, une séance de restitution des conclusions de la rencontre.
UNOWAS : Kouider Zerrouk, Chef de Communication et Information Publique – email@example.com
IPI : Arthur Boutellis, Directeur du Centre pour les Operations de Paix, International Peace Institute (IPI) – firstname.lastname@example.org
DFAE suisse : Carol Mottet, Conseillère principale, Division Sécurité humaine, Département fédéral des affaires étrangères, Suisse – email@example.com
West Africa and the Sahel-Sahara region are faced with peace and security challenges that weaken states and affect state-citizen relations. The emergence and proliferation of violent extremist groups aggravate the climate of fear and insecurity, and the actions of these groups affect peace efforts, sustainable development, and human rights. Faced with this reality, policymakers have recognized that preventing violence requires a multidisciplinary and multistakeholder approach. This approach needs to address the underlying conditions that lead individuals to join violent extremist groups, as well as the need to reintegrate members of these groups who wish to return to their original environment.
In the course of the last decade, efforts to solve the problem of violent extremism have consisted primarily of a series of security measures largely inspired by strategies used to fight terrorism. But experience has shown that such strategies are inadequate and at times fuel further extremism. This experience has led international organizations and states to adopt more preventive approaches, such as those detailed in the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism issued by the UN secretary-general on December 24, 2015. 1 During the presentation of this plan, the secretary-general emphasized that “many years of experience have proven that short-sighted policies, failed leadership, heavy-handed approaches, a single-minded focus only on security measures and an utter disregard for human rights have often made things worse.” It is therefore urgent to identify more effective measures and sustainable policies to prevent violent extremism.
In this context, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the International Peace Institute (IPI), and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs co-organized a regional seminar in Dakar, Senegal, on June 27 and 28, 2016, to explore alternative measures to address the violent extremism afflicting the region. This meeting brought together sixty participants from fourteen countries, including political leaders, members of civil society (men, women, and youth), and religious and traditional authorities, as well as representatives of the media (in their capacity as experts), the private sector, governments, and regional and international organizations.
by Alex Fielding
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has faced an imposing array of security, political, economic, and crime-related challenges since his historic election win in March 2015, with the country officially entering into recession in August this year. However, one notable positive development has been a revamped counterinsurgency campaign against Boko Haram extremists in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin area stretching into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Attacks by the group are forecast to claim about 3,500 lives in 2016, a third the number of fatalities in 2015 and the conflict’s lowest total since 2012. Buhari’s transformation of the military response to Boko Haram provides some useful counterinsurgency lessons to other conflict areas with respect to regional cooperation, security sector reforms, and enlisting the support and assistance of local vigilante groups.
First, following years of failed attempts at regional operation planning and intelligence sharing, Buhari has worked far more effectively with his Chadian, Nigerien, and Cameroonian neighbors. The regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) framework has allowed joint operations between these countries, while Chadian and Nigerien troops have been permitted to intervene on Nigerian territory in the Lake Chad area. This resulted in the gradual recapture of nearly all of Boko Haram-controlled territory, which, at its peak in late 2014, covered an area the size of Belgium.
While independently corroborated information is scarce in the northeast, with official military statements being the main source of information, the tide is undoubtedly turning under Buhari’s direction. Much remains to be done on the regional front, but since the beginning of 2016 plausible reports have emerged of joint Cameroonian-Nigerian operations in Borno state, Chadian troops coming to the aid of Nigerien neighbors in the Lake Chad Basin, as well as direct cooperation between the counterinsurgency forces of Niger and Nigeria.
Second, Buhari has replaced the upper echelon of the military hierarchy, moved its anti-Boko Haram command headquarters from the capital Abuja to Maiduguri in Borno, and investigated more than 300 companies and officers for corruption in the security budget, even detaining some individuals. Buhari’s reformist agenda has also prompted the United States to expand its military aid, which was restricted due to human rights concerns under Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Military aid from the US, France, the United Kingdom, and other allies has also taken the form of training, equipment and intelligence sharing for Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, including US surveillance drones operating out of northern Cameroon. This has boosted morale and improved the capabilities of Nigerian and regional MNJTF troops.
Last, but certainly not least, more effective cooperation with local vigilante groups known as the Civilian Joint Task Forces (CJTF) has increased the army’s intelligence gathering capabilities, operational reach, and overall momentum. Under Jonathan’s presidency, the army was accused of indiscriminate crackdowns, arrests, and extrajudicial killings of perceived Boko Haram sympathizers across the northeast, turning away many potential counterinsurgency allies. A northern Muslim himself, Buhari’s improved collaboration with locals in Boko Haram’s operational theater has also been assisted by a backlash against the brutality of attacks on Muslim civilians in mosques and marketplaces carried out by erstwhile Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who considered anyone who did not subscribe to his ruthless insurgency to be a legitimate target.
This cooperation with local fighters has also been employed by Cameroon, where a network of vigilantes are sharing intelligence and tracking suspected suicide bombers with state-provided motorbikes and bicycles in the porous border area between its Far North Region and neighboring Borno. There are inherent risks in empowering local vigilantes in terms of accountability, possible infiltration by Boko Haram supporters, and upsetting local power dynamics. Cameroon has also been accused of arbitrarily arresting and dismissing perceived Boko Haram collaborators from the vigilante camp, which could lead to increased distrust and backlash from locals. However, the reality is that conventional soldiers lack the local knowledge and ability to effectively patrol vast expanses of rugged terrain, as witnessed in the Congo’s dismal efforts to neutralize armed groups in their eastern Kivu provinces. Vigilante groups thus remain a useful and at times underutilized resource in counterinsurgency campaigns.
Looking ahead, the numerous Boko Haram factions do not appear to have the unity, capacity, or interest at this time to regain control over large swaths of territory as a kind of Nigerian caliphate, with their activities too vulnerable to the robust counterinsurgency campaign. Moreover, the Islamic State-backed faction loyal to Abu Musab al-Barnawi—known as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)—with its stronghold in the Lake Chad region, appears more intent on highly publicized ambushes of military targets rather than Shekau’s trademark indiscriminate suicide bombings at marketplaces and mosques, which lost favor with ISIS. This was evidenced by ISWAP’s claim of having killed 40 MNJTF troops in Malam Fatori on September 21 and at least 20 more in Ghashgar on October 16. While internal divides have weakened Boko Haram, its numerous factions remain a potent, albeit diminished, security threat. There are no signs of negotiations to end the insurgency on the horizon, which is unsurprising given the common goal across the militant factions to overthrow the Nigerian government.
Turning the tide definitively on Boko Haram will require a more permanent state security presence in recently liberated areas, with the cooperation of local leaders, broader economic recovery programs, humanitarian assistance spearheaded by the international community, and increased involvement of moderate northern Muslim leaders in countering violent extremism in their midst. The task will not be easy, with 20% of Nigerian Muslims holding a favorable view of ISIS, and Buhari having to direct his attention and political capital to a host of other threats. Nevertheless, the Nigerian president has proven a number of critics wrong in putting Boko Haram firmly on the back foot, with a critical opportunity for Western donors to build on the momentum in providing military, humanitarian, and economic assistance to the long-neglected northeast.
Alex Fielding is an Intelligence Manager in the Africa Division of Max Security Solutions. @alexpfielding.
Originally Published in the Global Observatory
by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin
Across peace and development initiatives, the exclusion of women comes at a high cost. Without women’s equal participation, peace agreements are more fragile, peacekeeping missions are less credible and safe, and economies are less prosperous.
A recent report from the United Nations Development Programme adds to the growing body of evidence on the very real costs of exclusion and the positive impact of women’s participation. UNDP’s second Africa Human Development Report, Accelerating Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Africa, serves up “a stark reminder that gender equality is a critical enabler of all development.”
While human development is on the rise across Africa, with some of the poorest countries making the greatest strides over the past 20 years, the gender gap remains a major barrier to full economic growth. The UNDP report compiles and presents strong evidence on this link: When a country’s gender inequality increases by 1%, its human development decreases by 0.75%. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the gender gap costs the economy an average of $95 billion and up to $105 billion per year. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only human rights, they are smart economic policy.
In an interview with the _Global Observatory__,_ Ayodele Odusola, UNDP’s Chief Economist for Africa, said that many heads of state in Africa have reacted strongly to the report. They’ve expressed surprise at both the gaps still to be overcome and the potential positive economic impact that gender equality can bring.
The report also makes an important link between gender, development, and peace. Studies show that increasing women’s participation and representation in leadership and decision-making positions leads to higher levels of peacefulness and better development outcomes for society. Closing the gender gap helps restore trust and confidence and enhances the sustainability of policies and resilience of communities. Despite this evidence, globally, political and economic participation have been the slowest areas of gender inequality to change when compared with women’s educational attainment and health advances.
Where communities are affected by fragility, gender equality becomes critical to violence prevention. “Before we started the study,” said Odusola, “we thought that involving women in conflict resolution was the focus. Later, we realized that’s just a part of it. The only way to create a sustainable and peaceful society is to prevent conflict through the involvement of women in articulating development priorities.”
The report features reflections from Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and Nobel laureate, and highlights the participation (or often the exclusion) of women in peace processes across Africa. It emphasizes an often overlooked effect of women’s economic empowerment: their increased ability to influence peace processes and ultimately participate in political life. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported in 2010, women’s economic participation not only contributes to durable peace, “greater participation in the workforce often provides women with the resources, status and networks needed to enter the political sphere, whether by contesting elections or engaging in civic activism.”
Most African countries have set up ministries and institutions focused exclusively on women or women and families, following the conventional practice in other regions. To advance gender equality, the UNDP report argues, African states need to integrate it as a shared responsibility across institutions and ministries. But national mainstreaming is not enough. “You cannot accelerate gender equality or women’s empowerment without deconstructing the harmful social norms in the society. It’s not possible,” Odusola said.
Social norms and cultural barriers are at the center of the report’s analysis, revealing great differences across the African continent. Where traditional and community leaders have been engaged as champions, progress has been achieved. In Niger and Burkina Faso, for instance, the _Ecole des maris_(“school for husbands”) project gathers influential men at the community-level to discuss family planning, gender-based violence, and girls’ education. This peer group for men advocates for more gender equality and, according to Odusola, “has made more progress in two to three years than the previous two to three decades of programs.”
Integrating a gender lens, as Odusola explained, is not only about women. It reveals much more detail about inclusion and exclusion in society. For example, in Lesotho and Swaziland, UNDP found more girls than boys enrolled in school. “At the age of 12, many boys migrate to South Africa to work in the mines. Boys drop out of secondary school in great numbers and we see reverse parity,” said Odusola.
Through regional consultations for the report, UNDP researchers discussed gender and inclusion in communities affected by extremism in sub-Saharan Africa. In these often marginalized communities, “Poverty is endemic, inequality is endemic, and one way they thought to correct that is to be a government for themselves. So they create a parallel government, and conflict starts,” said Odusola. To prevent violence, communities called for more inclusive decision-making processes that include women, youth, and other excluded groups, to build a sense of ownership and responsibility in their society.
This call for more participatory policymaking is echoed in recent international agendas, including the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. A gender lens can provide an organizing principle for addressing and implementing not only the sole goal on gender, but all of the global goals. As the Africa Human Development Report proposes, “… gender equality should be the lens for operationalizing a ‘leave no one behind’ agenda.” From stable societies to communities affected by violence, the potential of gender equality is clear; as this report concludes, “If development is not engendered, it is endangered.”
Originally Published in the Global Observatory
N’Djamena, 1 juin 2017– Le Système des Nations Unies, l'Institut International de la Paix (IPI) et le Département fédéral des affaires étrangères de la Confédération suisse (DFAE), ont organisé une rencontre de haut niveau sur le thème : « Investir dans la Paix et la Prévention de la Violence au Sahel-Sahara ».
Ces deuxièmes conversations, officiellement lancées le 31 mai par la Secrétaire d'État aux affaires étrangères du Tchad, Dr Haoua Outman Djameh, font suite à celles organisées à Dakar en juin 2016. Elles ont réuni près de 100 participants, composés d’experts, de praticiens, de représentants des organisations régionales et internationales, de gouvernements, de la société civile, ainsi que des médias et des forces de défense et de sécurité, en provenance notamment d’Afrique Centrale, d’Afrique de l’Ouest, et d’Afrique du Nord.
Au-delà de la réponse sécuritaire, nécessaire pour faire face au terrorisme, la rencontre de N’Djamena a mis l’accent sur la nécessité d’apporter une réponse cohérente et efficace qui privilégie l’investissement dans la paix et la prévention de la violence comme des alternatives concrètes répondant aux aspirations de ceux qui peuvent être tentés par la violence. Cette réponse se doit d’être multipartenaire et intégrer les acteurs humanitaires, du développement, et de la pérennisation de la paix.
Les acteurs régionaux, nationaux et locaux participants à la rencontre ont fait le diagnostic des manifestations concrètes de l'extrémisme violent dans le Sahel-Sahara en général et dans la région du bassin du lac Tchad en particulier, y compris les dynamiques socio-économiques, politiques et transfrontalières qui peuvent favoriser la violence. Les conversations ont porté sur la question de l’investissement dans la paix et la prévention de la violence à travers des cadres de consultations entre gouvernants et gouvernés, et ont exploré le rôle préventif que peuvent jouer les médias et les forces de défense et de sécurité.
Un rapport de cette rencontre, contenant les diverses approches discutées, et les recommandations, sera rédigé et fera l’objet d’une communication de la part des organisateurs. Les conclusions de la réunion feront également l’objet de plaidoyers auprès des gouvernements de la sous-région et de restitutions, y compris à New York.
Les participants se sont engagés à poursuivre ces conversations afin d’aider à mettre en œuvre des initiatives et projets qui favorisent le renforcement de la prévention de la violence, l’atteinte des objectifs de développement durable, et la promotion de la paix.
Les organisateurs s’engagent à poursuivre le processus des conversations régionales pour la prévention de la violence et de l’extrémisme violent, et en faire un espace de dialogue destiné à appuyer l’émergence d’initiatives efficaces et inclusives en faveur de la promotion de la paix et de la stabilité.
Contacts IPI :
Arthur Boutellis, Directeur du Centre pour les Operations de Paix, International Peace Institute (IPI) – firstname.lastname@example.org
DFAE Suisse : Carol Mottet, Conseillère principale, Division Sécurité humaine, Département fédéral des affaires étrangères, Suisse – email@example.com
UNOWAS : Kouider Zerrouk, Chef de Communication et Information Publique - firstname.lastname@example.org