Pete’s Africa Round-Up

06.03.12

Categorie: Africa, Africa Round-Up, Pete Doerrie |
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Picture: Bombs and attacks by Boko Haram gunmen have claimed hundreds of lives in Nigeria over last months. Zeit.de photo.

Picture: Bombs and attacks by Boko Haram gunmen have claimed hundreds of lives in Nigeria over last months. Zeit.de photo.

by PETER DOERRIE

Burkina Faso
Ten people were killed in clashes between neighboring communities in Guenon, a village about 80 kilometers south of the capital Ouagadougou. According to reports by state media, the deaths resulted from a dispute about the position of the local chief, who at the moment is a member of the Akonga ethnic group. This is a longstanding grievance of the Liliou group, who have pleaded for a chief of their own. Tensions escalated over the weekend, when the son of the current chief was killed with nine further people dying and about 100 houses burned down in the ensuing fighting.

Usually Burkina Faso is seen as one of the most stable countries in West Africa, with little tradition of violent inter-communal fighting. But violent mutinies have erupted over the last year, which many observers explained with the dissatisfaction with the current government, headed since over 20 years by President Blaise Campaoré. It remains to be seen how and if this latest outbreak of violence fits into this picture. Watch this space for further information, as I’m in Burkina at the moment and will continue reporting on developments here.

Mali
The insurgency of Tuareg fighters in northern Mali continues. Unlike in earlier Tuareg rebellions, the fighters this time are not shying away from attacking and holding bigger towns.

The military tactics have remained largely the same though: groups of fighters mounted on fast four-wheel drives are staging surprise attacks on villages and towns. The local garrisons of the Malian army are usually overwhelmed and forced to retreat soon, as the Tuareg can boast heavy weaponry and the element of surprise. If faced with too great resistance, or with the threat of reinforcements, the rebels retreat quickly into the desert.

While the Malian government has shown willingness to negotiate a settlement, a diplomatic solution of the conflict has so been elusive. This may be due to the distrust of many young Tuareg, who have seen similar rebellions in the past result in agreements, which were never honored. Now, they feel that they have the tactical advantage on their side, with the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya providing them with abundant former-Libyan weapons, possibly even surface-to-air missiles. Until this equation changes, a settlement will probably have to include meaningful autonomy for the Azawad, the area claimed by the rebels as their homeland.

But the biggest threat for the population of the conflict areas may not be the military operations themselves. If the fighting continues it will disrupt every effort to alleviate the suffering which is caused by the approaching hunger crisis in the Sahel countries. Already, thousands of people have fled the area, which makes it much harder to provide them with food and medical care. If hostilities continue, the situation will like deteriorate further.

Nigeria
Boko Haram remains the biggest story in Nigeria. The Islamist terrorist group targets the Nigerian security forces and civilian population in northern Nigeria almost daily now, in a string that is described as “micro-attacks” by the Sahel Blog.

At the same time criticism of how the security forces handle the situation gets louder. While arrests and killings of “suspects” happen daily, it remains unclear if all of these persons actually are Boko Haram operatives. Few high-ranking members of the movement have been captured or killed until now and even massive presence of military and police has not really curbed the capacity of the group to organize attacks. At the same time the same military presence makes daily life hard for ordinary Nigerians, who have to navigate countless road blocks and are confronted with police brutality in the northern hotspots.

As the current strategy to control the threat of Boko Haram is clearly not working, one would assume that alternative routes would be pursued. But one of the main conditions to reach for example a negotiated solution has not even been addressed yet: nobody really knows what Boko Haram actually wants. Elizabeth Dickinson argues that the group seeks primarily chaos — as a way to destroy the current status quo, which is perceived by many Nigerians as deeply unjust. If this is true, then a solution to this conflict will have to go way further than simply erecting more roadblocks.

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One Response to “Pete’s Africa Round-Up”

  1. [...] The military tactics have remained largely the same though: groups of fighters mounted on fast four-wheel drives are staging surprise attacks on villages and towns. The local garrisons of the Malian army are usually overwhelmed and forced to retreat soon, as the Tuareg can boast heavy weaponry and the element of surprise. If faced with too great resistance, or with the threat of reinforcements, the rebels retreat quickly into the desert. […] [...]

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