Category Archives: Africa – International

The Sudanese connection in African ivory poaching

African Arguments

Ivory, insurgency and crime in central Africa: the Sudans connection – By Keith Somerville

keith somervilleAt the beginning of August, the minutes of a meeting of intelligence chiefs from African states were released, revealing the extent to which poaching and the smuggling of ivory and rhino horn were being used to fund insurgent groups in South Sudan, Al Shabaab in Somalia and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

A separate report – published in the 19 August volume of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – estimated that poachers have killed 100,000 elephants in Africa in the last three years.  The rate of killing has been in excess of 7% – even higher in Central Africa – while the average annual population increase is only 5%.  This suggests a process of attrition that could lead to the extinction of the elephant, including in South Sudan.

Ivory funds insurgency and militias

The African intelligence meeting minutes, reported by South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, said that poaching was a serious political/security problem as well as an environmental one and that there was “a great deal of evidence of fledgling linkages between poaching and wildlife trafficking…and transnational organised criminal activities, including terrorism and weapons proliferation”. They said that they had information that groups from South Sudan were benefiting from the poaching and trafficking of wildlife. The security chiefs recommended that the matter be treated as a transnational security concern.

They were less forthcoming about the role of African armed forces – including the Sudanese government-backed Janjaweed militias and the Ugandan army – in poaching and the smuggling of ivory.  Khartoum has traditionally been a route for ivory smuggling and the strong Chinese role in economic projects in Sudan increases its importance as a transit point for the illegal tusk trade.

Central Africa, where Sudanese poachers are active and help run the smuggling routes out of the continent, has a particularly high rate of killing of forest elephants. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol estimate that the region’s scattered elephant populations declined by 64% between 2002 and 2011.

The Sudan connection

Not all the poaching can be attributed to insurgent groups, but in areas of central and east Africa they are playing a major role. There is evidence of links between the Janjaweed in Darfur and the LRA; and also highly-mobile Chadian groups opposed to the Deby government. The Arabic-speaking communities from which the Janjaweed have been drawn have traditionally been involved in cross-border trade within the region and there is evidence of them carrying out poaching raids as far west as Cameroon as well as in Chad and CAR, and of being a key link in the chain that gets the ivory out of Africa to Vietnam, China and other destinations in Asia.

One piece of evidence that links the Sudanese militias to poaching across neighbouring states is the ammunition retrieved by Maisha Consulting, a group assisting a number of states with anti-poaching measures. They have found ammunition that matches series and types held by the Sudanese army’s arsenal in Khartoum – the Sudanese military being the main sources of arms and ammunition for the Janjaweed.

The event that drew most attention to the role and interconnections of insurgent groups in poaching was the killing two years ago of up to 450 elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park, northern Cameroon. Local wildlife officials blamed horse-borne poachers from the Janjaweed and allied Chadian groups.

The Sudanese militia, notorious for its role in the Darfur conflict, has also carried out extensive raiding in Chad. Its other role, as a buyer and smuggler of ivory poached by other groups, is said by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to involve trading weapons and ammunition for ivory with groups like the LRA, which enables them to survive as a military force.

The plethora of armed groups in Darfur, especially the pro-government militias, are blamed as well for regular and destructive raids into CAR’s Dzanga Sangha reserve and Chad’s Zakouma national park, where an estimated 3,000 elephants have been killed in three years. Large groups of heavily armed poachers on horseback from Darfur are blamed by the Chadian authorities for the poaching.

The Chadian government has now committed heavily armed military units to protect the park, less from a commitment to protect wildlife than to prevent ivory being used to fund Chadian rebels groups.

CITES and UNEP studies suggest that the elephant is extinct in Sudan, with the only populations to be found in South Sudan.

South Sudan’s elephants in crisis

The conflict in South Sudan is having a serious effect on the elephant populations there. In July 2013, the South Sudanese government and the World Conservation Society (WCS) launched a programme to protect the country’s remaining herds.  They had declined over the years of the second Sudanese civil war from in excess of 80,000 in the 1960s-70s to an estimated 5,000 in 2013. These last remaining elephants were under threat from poachers, many linked with South Sudanese armed groups, and the LRA. The WCS said at the launch of the programme that the future of the elephants was particularly endangered by the presence of rebel militias fighting the SPLA.

The Boma national park in Jonglei state has one of the most important savannah ecosystems in the region. Fighting in mid-2013 between government forces and the Murle rebel group led by David Yau Yau led to the destruction of park infrastructure, the killing of three wildlife rangers and the almost total disruption of conservation and wildlife protection programmes in the park and surrounding areas.

A report by Born Free USA and the US Centre for Defence Analysis suggested that the killing of park officials was carried out by the South Sudan armed forces (SPLA) sent to drive out Yau Yau’s fighters. The officials killed, including park warden Brigadier Kolo Pino, were all from the Murle community.

Earlier this year, in Lantoto National Park, in Central Equatoria state on the border with the DRC, at least six elephants were killed for their tusks. The park’s warden, Colonel Joseph Taban, reported that continuous poaching was being carried out by groups armed with machine guns. There was no clear evidence which groups – whether rebels or criminal gangs – were involved. Taban said the weapons being used were very different from the bows and arrows used by local people to poach for meat.

The park borders the Garamba National Park in DR Congo, where the LRA, the Ugandan army and the Janjaweed have all been suspected of engaging in poaching. Born Free USA has said that SPLA forces and former members of the army have also been heavily involved in poaching in Garamba.

The conflict between President Salva Kiir and forces loyal to Riek Machar, which began in December last year, has had devastating humanitarian consequences, with over 10,000 dead and nearly two million displaced. It is also having a serious environmental effect, and reducing the economic options, beyond oil, open to the country.  The possibilities of wildlife tourism are declining rapidly.

An advisor to the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, Lt-Gen Alfred Akuch Omoli, said recently that, “Since the start of this conflict we have noticed that poaching has become terrible. Rebels are poaching and the government forces are also poaching because they are all fighting in rural areas and the only available food they can get is wild meat”. Officials have also noted an increase in elephant poaching for their tusks, but avoided saying whether this was by rebel groups, local people or government forces.

The WCS’s deputy director for South Sudan said in June that a number of the elephants given radio collars under the protection programme launched in 2013 had been killed. The WCS warned in December 2012, a year before the start of the civil war that without a decline in poaching South Sudan’s elephants could disappear within five years.  The security, humanitarian and economic effects of the civil war could hasten their demise.

Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, teaches journalism at the Centre for Journalism, University of Kent and edits Africa News and Analysis (

AU calls for synchronised security talks on Sudanese conflicts

Sudan Tribune

September 15, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AUPSC) has finally opted for separate, but synchronised discussions on security measures between the warring Sudanese parties before they can engage in the internal dialogue process.

JPEG - 32.6 kb
A general view of a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council (Photo courtesy of the African Union)

The Sudanese government and Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) agreed on the need for a comprehensive and inclusive process to reach peace and restore democracy in the country.

The government and rebel groups, however, diverged on how to proceed and where this political process was to be conducted.

While the government says the rebels should come and directly discuss ceasefire and security arrangements before joining the negotiating table with other stakeholders, the latter has demanded a humanitarian cessation of hostilities followed by separate negotiations abroad on the security arrangements and matters related to the war areas after which discussions on the new constitution can begin.

The AUPSC, in a resolution released on 15 September, following its 456 meeting acknowledged that the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) and its chairman Thabo Mbeki will play the midwifery role of the national dialogue by brokering the security talks as well as an all parties conference in Addis Ababa to agree on a framework agreement for the political process.

“The negotiations on cessation of hostilities, immediately leading to a comprehensive security arrangements agreement, should resume at the earliest opportunity, under the auspices of the AUHIP and in collaboration and coordination with the JSR/JCM ‘Mohamed Ibn Chambas),” partly reads the AUPSC resolution.

“The negotiations on the cessation of hostilities for the Two Areas and for Darfur should be conducted in a synchronized manner,” it further added.

A rebel group, Sudan Liberation Movement – Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) warned last week that they would not accept a humanitarian cessation of hostilities, but requested that security measures be implemented to protect civilians in the war affected zones.

The Council, however, took in consideration a demand by the rebel and opposition parties on the need for a preparatory meeting to fix the rules of the national dialogue and agree on how to implement its outcome.

“A meeting of the Sudanese parties to discuss relevant process issues, in order to pave the way for the National Dialogue should be held at the AU Headquarters under the facilitation of the AUHIP,” decided the AUPSC.

The regional peace and security body emphasised the need to establish a conducive environment for the national dialogue and urged the Khartoum government to implement confidence-building measures.

Among these measures, the 15-member council mentions the release of all political detainees and prisoners, enacting the necessary legislations to ensure political freedoms and the freedom of expression and publication, and ensuring that the judiciary will be the only institution to adjudicate such matters.

But before any engagement in the internal process and in line with the AUPSC decision, the government has been requested to provide the “necessary guarantees for the armed groups freely to participate in the national dialogue, once the comprehensive ceasefire and security arrangements agreements have been concluded”.

Khartoum also has to facilitate humanitarian assistance to all populations in war-affected areas.


The African body called on the international community to provide “economic support package to Sudan, including expediting debt relief and extending concessionary loans”.

It also appealed to the United States and the European Union to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Sudan “ in order to contribute positively towards the creation of enabling conditions for the success of the national dialogue”.

Some EU countries consider the lift of economic sanctions imposed on Sudan and debt relief as they follow closely the ongoing efforts to hold the political process and to ensure effective implementation of its outcome.

On 9 August, the American acting chargé d’affaires David Kaeupur met with Sudanese presidential assistant Ibrahim Ghandour to hand over a message from US special envoy Donald Booth on the national dialogue.

Booth, in his message, expressed his government’s support to the internal process and encouraged Khartoum to create the necessary conditions for a genuine, holistic and inclusive dialogue.


South Africa and US – the CIA slur

Mail and Guardian

SA’s reaction to Kebby Maphatsoe’s CIA comments is a far cry from the tense relationship with the US under Thabo Mbeki, writes Verashni Pillay.

The realisation of the US’s economic importance to South Africa is one of the factors that has changed the relationship between the two countries. (AFP)

It was a record-fast apology from a South African government official.

Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Kebby Maphatsoe apologised and withdrew his statements that public protector Thuli Madonsela was linked to the CIA within just four days last week.

“These chapter nine institutions were created by the ANC but are now being used against us, and if you ask why, it is the Central Intelligence Agency. Ama [the] Americans want their own CEO in South Africa and we must not allow that,” he said.

Maphatsoe first made the statements at an event on a Saturday, confirmed it to a journalist on the Sunday and by the following Tuesday had withdrawn the statement.

In that time, he came under a fair amount of pressure to do so from two quarters: the public protector herself, who threatened legal action over the statements, and the United States embassy in South Africa.

The US ambassador, in a series of tweets following Maphatsoe’s original comments, condemned the statements, and later said he would lodge a formal complaint. The very next day Maphatsoe issued a statement of apology and retraction.

The last line of the statement made it clear whose pressure held the most weight.

“However, the behaviour and conduct of the public protector remains a source of concern to us,” Maphatsoe said in a final kicker aimed at the public protector, given her reports into senior figures within Maphatsoe’s party, the ruling ANC.

While he has since expanded on his disdain for Madonsela in subsequent interviews, he has been very careful to steer clear of ever invoking the US’s ire again.

This shows how far South African and US diplomatic relations have come in our recent democratic history.

These days it is unthinkable that a member of cabinet could make such insinuations about a foreign country.

But it wasn’t so long ago that our president himself had said worse about the US.

Mbeki’s attacks on the West
Former president Thabo Mbeki, at the height of his paranoia and Aids denialism, delivered a blistering attack on the West and their views on the Aids epidemic in South Africa.

In an address to ANC parliamentarians at a caucus meeting on September 28 2000, the Mail & Guardian reported at the time that Mbeki accused the CIA of working covertly alongside the US pharmaceutical industry to undermine him as he posed a risk to drug company profits. In a subsequent BBC Hard Talk interview, Mbeki denied the story as a “pure invention”, despite numerous MPs confirming the comments.

“These comments during the Mbeki time were very common,” said Dr Scott Firsing, an international relations expert with Monash University. “It was common practice from 1994 to earn political points with the ANC by bashing the US and the imperialists.”

Mbeki’s disastrous Aids denialism would continue for some years, and the US’s Aids work in the country made things worse. In 2003 the US under George Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar).

A US embassy official who worked in South Africa at the time spoke about the strained relationship.

“Under the Mbeki years things got difficult. To be frank, at the beginning of Pepfar there was a real crisis so we worked through a lot of NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] … to get the response out there as quickly as possible, at times not going through the department of health.”

In official responses the US embassy noted that it had spent $4.2-billion on HIV and Aids programmes in South Africa over the past 10 years.

In addition, when Pepfar started, the US themselves were vastly unpopular under Bush’s tenure, thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afganistan. This reflected on US diplomatic relations across the world and, compounded by the particular issues of the Mbeki regime, led to an all-time relational low between the two countries.

“At the point where it was the Mbeki administration it was a low point for the US around the world. Under the Bush administration the US was incredibly unpopular,” said Christopher Woods, researcher in economic diplomacy with the South African Institute of International Relations.

There was a rumour on the diplomatic circuit that at the lowest point Mbeki had entirely stopped talking to one US ambassador.

‘Obama effect’
So how did the relationship improve so dramatically that a few tweets by an annoyed US ambassador could effect such a quick apology?

A number of factors, the experts agree, which include the ‘Obama effect’, the realisation of the US’s economic importance to South Africa and, quite simply, having a different sort of ambassador under Gaspard, a close Obama aid who is a visionary and media-savvy leader himself.

“The US embassy previously was quite closed,” said Firsing. “Ambassador Gaspard has been quite open – almost like a celebrity on TV. I can’t think of many other countries in Africa that gets a close friend of the president as an ambassador … He was running the democrat party in America.”

Gaspard has a background in trade unions and civil movements. In contrast, previous ambassadors, such as Eric Bost, who was in South Africa between 2006 and 2009, were very closely related to Bush, with a background in the Food and Drug Administration in Texas.

“Jendayi Frazer [US ambassador to South Africa before Bost] and Bost were both political animals in a way and they did not appreciate the way the South African government was responding to America and certainly the Mbeki administration returned the favour,” said political analyst and former US diplomat Brooks J Spector.

Meanwhile, the election of a different kind of president in America, particularly a black man, eased the tensions between the countries under President Jacob Zuma’s new administration in South Africa, and the sticking points around HIV and Aids were done away with.

Economic incentives
And then there were the economic incentives of the relationship.

“The numbers for SA are extraordinarily,” said Spector, referencing the job benefits of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) .

US embassy spokesperson Jack Hillmeyer noted that Agoa has been a boon to South Africa. “It’s a one-way trade concession that we have been giving to African countries since 2000,” said Hillmeyer. The 60 000 cars exported to the US in 2012 would never have been assembled here in South Africa if it weren’t for Agoa.”

Spector estimated that, with knock-on effects, Agoa had created 150 000 jobs as a whole in South Africa.

“There was a sort of sudden: ‘Hey, this matters, it is not an ideological thing. The diplomatic relationship matters because they affect the welfare and well being of the country’.”

And Gaspard’s tweets in that context probably came as a surprise.

“He basically said you can’t just say this stuff. You can’t just fling these charges around without there being a response and I suspect the local folks were a touch startled by that,” said Spector. “Now there is an understanding that you can’t lightly say someone is an agent of someone’s intelligence community without there being a repercussion of some sort – especially when it isn’t true.”

The relationship between the ANC-led government and the US in South Africa is perhaps not as strong as it was under Nelson Mandela and the Bill Clinton administration immediately after South Africa’s move to democracy. But it’s certainly come a very long way from where it was under Mbeki and Bush.

US to send troops to Liberia to “fight” ebola


Ebola outbreak: Barack Obama ‘to pledge US troops to fight virus’

A health worker brings a woman suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus to an ambulance in Monrovia, Liberia (15 September)The World Health Organisation warned recently that thousands more cases could occur in Liberia

US President Barack Obama is to announce plans on Tuesday to send 3,000 troops to Liberia to help fight the Ebola virus, US officials say.

It is understood the US military will oversee building new treatment centres and help train medical staff.

There has been criticism of the slow international response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are the worst-hit countries. The outbreak has killed more than 2,400 people.

More than half of those killed by the virus have been in Liberia. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned recently that the country could see thousands of more cases.

Volunteers wearing t-shirts of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) show a placard to raise awareness on the symptoms of the Ebola in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (15 September 2014)The US says that a priority should be to train healthcare workers
Gloves and rubber boots forming part of the Ebola prevention gear for health workers drying in the sun in Monrovia, Liberia, on 8 September 2014. More than half the deaths from the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak have been in Liberia

United Nations officials will discuss the international response to the outbreak at a meeting in Geneva.

US officials said the aim of the country’s anti-Ebola initiative is to:

  • Train up to 500 healthcare workers a week
  • Construct 17 heathcare facilities, each with about 100 beds
  • Establish a joint command based in Monrovia, Liberia, to co-ordinate between US and international relief efforts
  • Distribute home healthcare kits to thousands of households
  • Conduct a home and community-based campaign to train local people in how to handle patients

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appealed directly to Mr Obama for help in tackling the outbreak.

Several disease experts have welcomed the US plan, though some also question its focus on Liberia.

“We should see all of West Africa now as one big outbreak,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, quoted in The New York Times. “It’s very clear we have to deal with all the areas with Ebola.”

On Monday, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama said greater and faster outside help was needed.

Ebola spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.

Liberian health care workers on an Ebola burial team collect the body of an Ebola victim in Paynesville on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia on 9 September 2014.

Liberia at a glance:

  • Infrastructure devastated by a 14-year civil war
  • About 250,000 people killed in the conflict that ended in 2003
  • One doctor to treat nearly 100,000 people before Ebola outbreak
  • Ebola cases this year: 2,046
  • Ebola deaths this year: 1,224
  • Population: 4.4 million

Source: WHO


Nigeria – 12 soldiers sentenced to death for firing on commander


12 soldiers who attacked GOC sentenced to death


Soldiers standing trial for mutiny.

 A military court sitting in Abuja on Monday found 13 out of the 18 soldiers standing trial for mutiny and other offences guilty.

Twelve of the convicted soldiers were sentenced to death, five were discharged and acquitted while the remaining one was jailed for 28 days with hard labour.

The soldiers had on May 14, 2014 fired shots at the General Officer Commanding the newly created 7 Division of Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Mohammmed, in Maiduguri.

The act is viewed in the military as mutiny.

Those discharged are David Robert, Mohammed Sani, Iseh Ubong, Sebastine Gwaba and Naaman Samuel.

Jeremiah Echocho was sentenced to 28 days with hard labour.

Those who were sentenced to death are Jasper Braidolor, David Musa, Friday Onuh, Yusuf Shuaibu, Igonmu Emmanuel, Andrew Ugbede, Nurudeen Ahmed, Ifeanyi Alukagba, Alao Samuel, Amadi Chukwuma, Alan Linus, and Stephen Clement.

They were found guilty of criminal conspiracy, mutiny, attempt to commit murder (shooting of the vehicle of the GOC); insubordination to a particular order; insubordination and false accusation.

The President of the Court Martial, Maj. Gen. C.C. Okonkwo, said the 12 soldiers were found guilty of three of the most heinous charges bars.

The legal team of the convicts pleaded with the court martial to temper justice with mercy.

The team reeled out pathetic stories about the family backgrounds of the convicted servicemen.

One was said to be the only son of his octogenarian widowed mother.

Another is the father of a five-month-old baby.

The defence team argued that giving them maximum sentence would do more harm than good, adding that it would increase the agony of their dependants.

The attack on the GOC and his men reportedly occurred when they visited the cantonment.

Military court

The Maimalari Cantonment is the headquarters of 7 Division, the newest Division of the Nigerian Army.

Military sources said that soldiers at the cantonment had been complaining of insufficient ammunition, food and allowances prior to the GOC’s visit.

They were also reportedly unhappy and their morale was at its lowest ebb because there had not been troop rotation for a long time since their deployment to combat Boko Haram terrorists in the North- East.

“The GOC’s visit coincided with the arrival of the corpses of soldiers killed in an ambush in Chibok on the night of May 13, 2014.

“The apparently agitated soldiers, on sighting the corpses of their slain colleagues became hysteric. Some opened fire on the GOC, who was lucky to have escaped unhurt. However, the bullets hit and seriously injured some of his bodyguards, who also fled to safety,” the source said.


New UN mission in Central African Republic should urgently improve protection for civilians

Human Rights Watch

Displacement camp at the Kaga-Bandoro catholic parish where several thousand civilians from the town and nearby Mbres are seeking safety from attacks.

The new United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic should urgently improve protection for civilians in eastern and central parts of the country where sectarian violence is increasing, Human Rights Watch and Stichting Vluchteling, a Netherlands refugee foundation, said today. The new mission is to take over peacekeeping responsibilities from African Union forces on September 15, 2014.

During two research missions to the country, in July and September, one conducted jointly with Stichting Vluchteling, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of at least 146 people since June in and around the towns of Bambari and Bakala in Ouaka prefecture, Mbres in Nana-Gribizi prefecture, and Dekoa in Kémo prefecture. This figure represents only a fraction of the total reported to have occurred since many killings were in remote areas that are difficult to reach.

“Civilians are being killed by all sides at an alarming rate and people are desperate for protection,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There is no time to lose. The new UN mission urgently needs to get more troops into eastern and central areas and take bold steps to protect civilians from these brutal attacks.”

The Central African Republic has been in acute crisis since early 2013, when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a campaign characterized by widespread killing of civilians, burning and looting of homes, and other serious crimes. In mid-2013, groups calling themselves the anti-balaka organized to fight against the Seleka. The anti-balaka began committing large-scale reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians and later against others.

The deadly cycle of sectarian violence has been escalating in central and eastern parts of the country in recent months, particularly in Ouaka and Nana-Gribizi prefectures, despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the two factions in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, on July 23, 2014.

Some 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, known as MISCA, who began to deploy in October 2013, and 2,000 French peacekeeping troops deployed as part of Operation Sangaris in December 2013, have been struggling to protect civilians. Thousands have died in the violence, some 500,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes, and 300,000 have fled across the borders as refugees, many of them Muslims.

While the presence of AU and French peacekeepers has helped deter some of the violence, it has not stopped attacks on civilians. In Dekoa, a town where peacekeepers are based, most of the population has crowded into a makeshift displacement camp around the Catholic parish desperately seeking safety from Seleka fighters. On September 9, 2014, the Seleka shot and killed three men, one of them elderly, only 200 meters from the camp. A Human Rights Watch researcher working nearby heard the shots and interviewed the witnesses.

Of the recent 146 killings that Human Rights Watch documented, at least 59 were in Bambari, where French and African Union peacekeepers are based. Of the 59, 27 were killed in July while taking shelter in a displacement camp at Bambari’s Saint Joseph’s Parish and the adjacent Bishop’s residence.

Civilians were also attacked in or near their villages, when they fled or attempted to hide from their attackers. The attackers tied up some victims, then slit their throats.

In one case on June 19 in Sabanga, a village a few kilometers from Bakala, a small group of civilians hiding from the Seleka was attacked. Five members of one family were killed, including a 7-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy. A witness said: “There were bullets whistling everywhere. We ran in every direction but those who were hit could not run away. The Seleka continued to shoot even those who were injured.”

In another case, in the Kajbi gold mine, near Morobanda in June, anti-balaka militias buried a man alive and killed another with a machete for speaking to the Seleka. One witness told Human Rights Watch in despair: “We are trapped between the anti-balaka and the Seleka. We cannot breathe.”


“  HRW

Nigeria – Boko Haram exposes state’s frightening vulnerability


Nigeria: Boko Haram Threat Dangerously Exploited By Elites

Photo: Premium Times

Nigerian soldiers on patrol in Maiduguri.


The author, who travels widely in Nigeria and interacts with political, business and civil society leaders of varying views, requested that his name not be used.

Among Nigeria’s political class, the only issue of current interest seems to be the 2015 election. But Nigeria is facing a threat that should be everyone’s chief concern – the growing strength of Boko Haram, which in recent weeks has captured a string of towns across Borno, this country’s second largest state.

Approximately 20 percent of Nigerian territory may now be under insurgent occupation, including Bama, a strategic town commanding the most important approaches from neighboring Chad and Cameroon to the Borno capital, Maiduguri.

From a “back-to-basics” radical fringe religious movement, Boko Haram has rapidly metamorphosed into a well-organized military force. In stark contrast to earlier crude hit-and-run attacks, its fighters are now capturing and holding territory. Advancing at a lightning pace, they have all but decimated the forward presence of the most powerful army in west Africa.

If recent successes continue, Boko Haram could soon encircle Maiduguri, a city of three million people. In skirmish after skirmish in the north-east of the country, Boko Haram has simply walked in and seized towns as the poorly-armed and equipped soldiery fled, not willing to stand and die for a nation whose legitimacy is widely seen as compromised by the rapacious avarice of its elites.

Beyond territorial gains, Boko Haram has exposed frightening vulnerabilities at the heart of the Nigerian state. After decades of meddling with politics, the army finds itself outmatched by an enemy willing to fight and die for its cause. Institutionalized corruption and the greed of the officers has eroded esprit de corps.

Contributing to the crisis is the fact that most of the officers are political appointees, whose promotions are based on ethnicity and loyalty to the powerful, not on their astuteness in military affairs.

In a country where pursuit of power regularly trumps a sense of responsibility to the citizenry, Boko Haram is used as a political football to score cynical personal and partisan goals. Representatives of leading political parties repeatedly try to convince the electorate that Boko Haram is a tool created by their opponents – the other parties – to discredit them.

Sadly, many of the electorate seem to have come to believe this propaganda. Much of Nigeria’s media, itself divided on ethnic lines, is awash with lurid allegations by adventurists and rabble-rousers spouting dark conspiracy theories. Many are choosing to see Boko Haram as a government plot to destroy the mostly Muslim north of the country, while others believe northern politicians are secretly backing the insurgency to discredit the President, a southerner and a Christian.

The upcoming elections will likely be one of the most bitterly contested since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999. Conducting the free and fair elections that the government has pledged will impose additional strain on the capacity of security forces.

Providing election security in most of the nation will likely require a drawing down of troops from the north, thus presenting Boko Haram with a further strategic opening.

The threat needs to be treated with utmost urgency. What is at stake is not just the territorial integrity of the Nigerian state but also its residual legitimacy and its survival as a multi-ethnic, multi religious country.

Further advances in Borno, including even a temporary takeover of Maiduguri, could be accompanied by persecution of the large Christian population there, which could provoke backlash against Muslims by Christians in the south.

Major losses of territory to Boko Haram would continue to undermine the military’s prestige and effectiveness, while further emboldening separatist movements across the country.

As Boko Haram becomes stronger, so does its ideology of fundamentalism and hatred. As more and more youth huddle under the black jihadi flag, disillusioned with the predatory nature of the state and seeking solace in the nihilistic medieval ideology of the insurgents, they repudiate the idea of Nigeria as an inclusive progressive state.

And the danger extends beyond Nigeria, which as the continent’s most populous country and one of its wealthiest and most powerful, long stood as an inspiration for many across Africa. A consolidation by Boko Haram of control over Borno State territory offers a springboard to launch further incursions into areas of Niger, Cameroon and Chad – weak states that would have difficulty surviving the onslaught.

With political leaders largely ignoring the looming threat to focus on their own futures, the world risks the rise of a new arc of instability from Libya through large swaths of west Africa. Such a spread of parochial, violent hatreds would decisively dash hopes of this being an African century. allAfrica