Category Archives: Mali

Return to the Mothership

Yesterday was my first day back at CNA, the place I’ve affectionately called “The Mothership” for the past fifteen months of my assignment at the Center for Complex Operations. While at CCO, I was working on an analysis of the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), which is an interagency U.S. government program to counter terrorism and violent extremism in the Maghreb and Sahel. I’m hoping my report will be published by the end of February – inshallah.

Working on this project, I learned a lot about the complexity of foreign assistance, and how much more I have yet to learn on the topic. I’m a very hands on learner, so fortunately I had to travel to nine of the ten TSCTP countries. At the time I traveled, I’d accordingly code-named them for security reasons: African Country A (Niger), African Country B (Chad), African Country C (Mali), African Country D (Senegal), African Country E (Morocco), African Country F (Algeria), African Country G (Nigeria), African Country H (Mauritania), and African Country I (Burkina Faso).

Here’s a few pics from my travels & some blurbs about the kinds of things I got myself into when I wasn’t working.

Niger River, Niamey

View of the Niger River from my hotel room in Niamey

Niger Grand Mosquee

Entrance to the Grande Mosquée de Niamey

Niger Prayer Rugs

Prayer Rugs at the Grand Mosque

Police Academy

Niger Police Academy course

Lesley & the Gendarmes

Chillin w/the Gendarmes. As you do.

Bamako Sunset

Bamako sunset

Grilled Capitain

Grilled Capitaine fish in Bamako. Nom nom.

Dakar skyline

View of Dakar skyline from overloaded speedboat. When asked if the boat would make it back to Dakar, the guy driving said “On va essayer!” (We’re going to try!)

M'Bour Poolside

Terrace in M’Bour (south of Dakar) on a dune overlooking the ocean. Best office I’ve had to date.

Hassan II Mosque (I)

Grande Mosquée Hassan II at sunset in Casablanca

Moroccan Countryside (1)

Moroccan village on the road to Ouarzazate

Hassan II Mosque (2)

Inside the Hassan II Mosque in Casa

Sunset on Camels

Selfie on a camel. What what.

Heyyy Camel

Riding a camel was on the bucket list, even though it’s très touristy. But I didn’t like the way this dude was looking at me.

Tombouctou Sign

Famous sign in Zagora that says 52 days to Timbuktu by camel

My Tajine

I made my first tajine! It had chicken, peas, and artichokes. It was compellingly mediocre – but my teacher was not to blame.

Moroccan Countryside (2)

Road trip through the Atlas Mountains

Kittens!

The real reason my tajine was uninspiring was b/c THERE WERE KITTENS!!! I played with them instead of listening to the instructor.

Mauritanian Ice Cream

My favorite Mauritanian ice cream: “Beat milk goat for a long time to get dessert.”


Toilet Sign

In case you forget how to use the toilet, here are some overly details instructions.

Burkina Lounge

If you fly Air France enough, they sometimes decide treat you a little better than something they wiped off their shoe. Here’s the lounge in Ouaga. Klassy!




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Meeting the Demand for African-led, Internationally Supported Peace Interventions

The Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings has continued its tradition of asking its experts and colleagues to identify what they consider to be the key issues for Africa in the coming year in “Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2014.” The format of the report is as follows (and includes a contribution from yours truly):

In my section on Meeting the Demand for African-led, Internationally Supported Peace Interventions,  I argue call for regional and sub-regional organizations in Africa to better prepare their troops for rapid deployment in responding to escalating conflicts on the continent.

Following the release of the Foresight Africa Report, Brookings is hosting a discussion with  leading Africa experts on the most important challenges the continent will face in 2014 on January 7 (today) from 10 to 1130am EST. You can register for the live webcast and join the conversation on Twitter using #ForesightAfrica.

Rumor has it Nigerian troops leaving Mali, MINUSMA

Yesterday, Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper reported that President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the withdrawal of Nigerian troops currently deployed to Mali. Nigerian troops initially entered Mali in January 2013 as part of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), and had come under the command of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), effective 1 July and authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 2100. With 4,684 troops currently participating in UN peacekeeping operations around the world, Nigeria is the third largest African contributor to such missions. In Mali in particular, as of mid-June, Nigeria had 991 troops in Mali (according to my numbers), meaning that one out of every six AFISMA soldiers came from Nigeria.

At this point, I’ve considered a few reasons that could be behind Nigeria’s motivation to withdraw from Mali:

  • The first, and most likely reason Nigeria may pull out of Mali is the uptick in Boko Haram violence in northern Nigeria. In mid-May, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and the government believed that the progress of the security forces’ subsequent offensive was encouraging. However, Boko Haram’s continued attacks on soft targets in northern Nigeria, such as the pre-dawn attack on a secondary school in Yobe state earlier this month may have led the Nigerian government to reconsider its commitment in Mali.
  • For a second reason Nigeria may be withdrawing from Mali, recall the criticisms levied against the Nigerian military in the fall of 2012 – just before its deployment to Mali. The Nigerian military was accused of being incapable of carrying out forward operations in Mali, to which the Nigerian government rebutted that the military had proper training for an engagement in Mali, but simply required funding and logistic support. Furthermore, as the most capable military in West Africa, Nigeria had previously been successful in restoring peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Truth be told, all ECOWAS troop contributing nations faced significant difficulties deploying troops to Mali, so pre-deployment challenges were not unique to Nigeria, but rather a common problem that afflicts many African deployments to peacekeeping missions.
  • The third, and in my opinion, least likely reason is that Nigeria was slighted by the selection of Major General Jean Bosco Kazura of Rwanda as the MINUSMA Force Commander instead of Major General Shehu Adbulkadir from Nigeria, who had been the AFISMA force commander since January. If you had been following the debates surrounding the selection of the MINUSMA force commander closely, you might recall that there had been speculation of a competition between Nigeria and Chad for the position of MINUSMA force commander. Chadian President Idris Déby sought the position for Chad as recognition of the role that Chadian troops had played in the January-February offensive to clear northern Mali of Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM, et al.  Allegedly, in order to avoid choosing between Chad and Nigeria, the UN chose Kazura – a force commander from neither country who has the added benefit of being francophone. Again, this seems like the least likely motivation because, quite simply put, it seems petty.

Regardless of Nigeria’s motivation for potentially pulling its troops from Mali, I believe that the impact would have been worst if Nigeria had not deployed as part of AFISMA in the first place. If you think of French, Chadian, and AFISMA roles and missions in Mali since January in terms of “clear, hold, build” the French and the Chadians were the “clear” element, while the Nigerians as part of AFISMA were the “hold” element. (I don’t think we’re at the “build” stage as yet.) If Nigeria, as the seat of ECOWAS and the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations in ECOWAS, had not been part of that initial AFISMA deployment, it is unlikely that the force would have gotten off the ground in the first place. So yeah, it wouldn’t be great if the Nigerians end up pulling out of MINUSMA, but in my opinion, it could have been far worse had they not contributed to AFISMA in the first place.

Security Challenges in Libya and the Sahel (CNA Workshop Report)

Over the past two years, the world has witnessed a redrawing of the geopolitical map of the Middle East and North Africa. The responsibility for regional security and stability – which Western governments once relied on the area’s authoritarian regimes to ensure – now falls to the transitional or newly elected governments that replaced the ousted old orders. Although in some countries the new leadership has succeeded in promoting a degree of stability during this transitional period, in Libya the turbulent social and economic forces that drove out the long-lived regime of Muammar Qaddafi have yet to settle. The rise of powerful militias that have filled the security void in Libya challenge the authority of the new government. Absent Qaddafi’s political and economic influence, Libya and its neighbors are at risk of a new wave of civil conflict and economic deterioration.

On October 16, CNA’s Center for Strategic Studies hosted a workshop to explore the repercussions of the Libyan Revolution — for Libya itself and for states in the broader Sahel region, particularly Mali. The workshop brought together noted academics and experts from the United States and abroad. The report summarizing the main themes of the workshop can be found here.

In near term, containment may be the name of the game in Mali

If you’re following the news on Mali, you’ve no doubt seen the most recent developments in the political crisis in Bamako in which the military junta “encouraged” or “facilitated” the resignation of PM Cheikh Modibo Diarra on Tuesday. (For thorough roundup of analyses and reactions to this incident, I would refer you here).

Two months ago, I wrote a post called “UN inches closer to approving ECOWAS intervention in Mali” and I thought I’d add some additional insights to it in light of recent developments.

In recent months, there have been no fewer than a gajillion (to use an analytical term) reports of ECOWAS drafting a plan for intervention and the UNSC telling them they’re on the right track, but not quite there. Amidst reports that a military intervention is inevitable, some differences have come to light vis-à-vis how the international community should approach said intervention.

  • France favors swift approval by the UNSC of ECOWAS’ most recent intervention plan – a process complicated by the fact that Captain Sanogo has consistently been opposed to foreign intervention, and has successfully removed one of the key figures calling for such an intervention - PM Diarra.
  • The United States has been more cautious in its support, favoring a dual-phase intervention that commences in the south with the training of the Mali Armed Forces (MAF) that would ideally complement (an actual, rather than cosmetic) political transition in Bamako. The second phase would then involve a mandate for military intervention to reconquer the north.

The way I see it, the United States’ reticence to throw unconditional support behind an ECOWAS-led intervention is primarily influenced by two factors.

  • The first is the legacy of the arguably haphazard intervention in Libya that did not consider the broader regional implications of military intervention. I sense little appetite on the part of the United States to be held responsible for endorsing an ECOWAS intervention if it goes north and exacerbates the situation, or fails outright.
  • To understand the second factor, you really need to take a closer look at the lessons of the African Union intervention in Somalia. In particular, the United States touts the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as a potential model for an ECOWAS-led intervention in Mali. Notably, AMISOM came into being because of a regional and international demand signal for such an intervention force in Somalia. However, it was continually plagued with trying to determine how to achieve its objectives when troop contributions and funding were either unpredictable or altogether not forthcoming. As a result, it was only four and a half years into its mandate and over $385 million USD later that it started to see success. I think that although the U.S. sees AMISOM as a model for African-led conflict resolution supported by the international community, it simply lacks the time or the money to make the same mistake – in spite of a similar demand signal for intervention in Mali. Hence the requirement for extensive planning for concept of operations, troop commitments, and a resourcing plan prior to a mandate for intervention.

I think there’s a general consensus that Mali is a festering sore in the Sahel and that someone needs to do something about it, but the means and modalities are still TBD. In the mean time, I don’t foresee U.S. boots on the ground – at least the kind of boots you or I would even be aware of (wink, wink). But I would not be surprised if the U.S. approach to northern Mali is containment. Like in Somalia and the broader Horn of Africa, I see this as an approach in which the U.S. focuses on ensuring that the activities of AQIM, Ansar Dine, and MUJAO are confined to northern Mali and do not spread to Algeria, Niger, or Mauritania. I could also see this approach utilizing kinetic means (i.e., drone strikes) to disrupt terrorist operations in northern Mali, as well as non-kinetic means (i.e., public diplomacy programs) focused on countering violent extremism in Niger and Mauritania.

Until the political situation in Bamako becomes less unstable, the U.S. and European allies can agree on an approach to intervention, and ECOWAS can get boots on the ground (perhaps not until late 2013), I think containment is going to be the name of the game in northern Mali.

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