The regional repercussions of the fall of Gadhafi are beginning to come clear as Tuareg militants attacked a total of six towns since Jan. 17. The Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) — the group responsible for the attacks — has been formed only recently and is believed to have many former Gadhafi mercenaries in its ranks. The group has recently claimed to have shot down a MIG bomber, probably with ground-air missiles pilfered from ammunition depots in Libya.
The official objective of the MNLA is the autonomy of the Malian part of Azawad, an area that many Tuareg see as their traditional homeland. But the Sahel Blog points out that the Malian government tried to prevent an escalation by offering concessions to the Tuareg community before the attacks even started. It is also interesting that the MNLA seems to have no interest in liberating those parts of Azawad which are situated in Algeria. The conclusion might be that the string of recent attacks did not happen with the intention to capture territory, but to demonstrate the military strength of the group and to bolster its position on the negotiating table.
Over the last year the terrorist group Boko Haram has made its way from a little known splinter group to an international security threat. Its attacks have become increasingly more sophisticated and cover a much wider area than its original area of operation. The latest hotspot seems to be Kano, which saw a huge attack on Jan. 20 and a number of smaller incidents since then.
While president Goodluck Jonathan has acknowledged the underlying social grievances of the insurgency, the security forces reacted after the known patterns and arrested 158 “suspects” in the days following the attack and killed at least another eleven in various confrontations that ensued.
It is probably save to say that these heavy-handed have little chance of succeeding. The Nigerian state is finding itself in a comparable position to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the same little chance of military success but with much lower military power. While the “Nigeria on the brink” headlines of many news outlets are certainly overblown, there is the real danger of creating a circle of violence, if the real reasons for the ongoing conflict are not tackled swift and decisively.
The Red Cross was ordered by insurgent group Al Shabaab to suspend all its operations in areas controlled by it. This is a potentially devastating blow to many refugees in the impacted areas. It also comes amid continued high levels of fighting, with many direct confrontations between Al Shabaab and the Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union troops stationed in the country.
The last week also saw the first U.S. troop deployment to Somalia since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993: an elite unit rescued two aid workers after three months of captivity from their abductors, killing nine of them in the process. The raid may be a sign of Washington’s increased interest in the region, but does not seem to be accompanied with any measures that would offer a long term perspective to resolving the two decades old civil war in the country.
Tensions erupted in Senegal last week, when the highest court of the country cleared President Wade to run for a third term. The Senegalese constitution limits presidential terms to two, but Wade has argued successfully that as the respective amendment was only enacted in 2008 (after his last reelection) and can not be applied retroactively, that he is allowed to stand for two more terms.
The opposition which includes many young Senegalese disenchanted by the slow progress of the country under Wade reacted immediately by staging large and violent protests, despite a ban on demonstrations. In the ensuing clashes with security forces, two persons were killed.
Senegal has long been a beacon of stability and democracy in West Africa. Wade’s insistence on a third term is seriously endangering this achievement and it will be interesting to watch if western governments will take the situation seriously and put pressure on him to bow out of the race.
South and North Sudan
The situation in the two Sudans is probably best described as “messy” at the moment. Both nations are confronted with severe internal conflict, which they say is due to rebel groups being supported by the respectively other government. Additionally, the governments seem to be on a trajectory to openly go to war with each other. North Sudan has recently seized oil shipments belonging to the South, although it freed the tankers a few days later. To protest this move and to force a decision in an ongoing border dispute, the government of South Sudan has decided to stop oil production altogether. This puts tremendous pressure on the government in the North, which derives most of its income from the oil trade with its southern neighbor.
Under these circumstances there is little chance that the two countries will recover from the aftermath of the long-running civil war that resulted in the independence of South Sudan last year. This would require a stable relationships between the two governments and and open political environment within the two states to ward of continuing internal strife. Both prospects seem to be far fetched at the moment.