Category Archives: North Africa

Mapping Africa’s Natural Resources

Al Jazeera

Mapping Africa’s natural resources

An overview of the continent’s main natural resources.

28 Oct 2016 07:34 GMT |

Africa remains a key territory on the global map. Rich in oil and natural resources, the continent holds a strategic position.

It is the world’s fastest-growing region for foreign direct investment, and it has approximately 30 percent of the earth’s remaining mineral resources.

It’s home to more than 40 different nations, and around 2,000 languages. Sub-Saharan Africa has six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. North Africa counts with vast oil and natural gas deposits; the Sahara holds the most strategic nuclear ore; and resources such as coltan, gold, and copper, among many others, are abundant on the continent.

The region is full of promise and untapped riches – from oil and minerals and land to vast amounts of people capital – yet, it has struggled since colonial times to truly realise its potential.

For more: Shadow War in the Sahara

Correction, 24/10/2016: An earlier version of this graphic used a basemap which did not accurately show disputed Western Sahara. The map has been corrected.

Source: Al Jazeera

Africa – France and US in shadow war in Mali and the Sahel

Al Jazeera

‘War on terror’ or competition for natural resources? A look at the US and French military presence in Africa.

  • Africa is the world’s fastest-growing region for foreign direct investment
  • Nearly $2tn of investments in African oil and gas are expected in the next two decades
  • The continent’s population will more than double to 2.3 billion people by 2050
  • Africa has approximately 30 percent of the earth’s remaining mineral resources
Sources: Al Jazeera, CIA Factbook

Africa remains a key territory on the global chessboard of the 21st century. Rich in oil and natural resources, the continent holds a strategic position.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. North Africa counts with vast oil and natural gas deposits, the Sahara holds the most strategic nuclear ore, and resources like coltan, gold, copper among many others are abundant in the continent.

Whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa, if not the whole of Africa.

Doulaye Konate, Association of African Historians

But despite its position and resources, conflict and chaos have spread throughout the continent. At the heart of this turmoil is a strategic territory: the Sahel.

The region that straddles the Sahara to the north and the savannas in the south has become an important new front in the so-called war against terrorism.

But is the official narrative, the fight against terrorism, masking a larger battle? Have the resource wars of the 21st century already begun?

“What we are currently experiencing can be described as ‘a new scramble for Africa’,” says Jean Batou, Professor of History at Lausanne University.

‘Whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa’

At the centre of the troubled region of the Sahel is the nation of Mali, which is among the world’s poorest. Unemployment is rampant and most people survive hand to mouth.

Yet, back in the 13th century, the Mali empire extended over much of West Africa and was extraordinarily wealthy and powerful. Ivory and gold made it a major crossroad for global trade of the time. But inevitably, these resources lead to conquests.

“We are the transition between North Africa and Africa that reaches the ocean and the forests. This gives us an important strategic position: whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa – if not the whole of Africa… That’s why this region became so coveted,” says Doulaye Konate from the Association of African Historians.

The imperial European powers unveiled their plans to colonise Mali and the rest of Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1885. Britain, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, each got their share.

“The arrival of colonisation tore us apart. It felt like a cut, almost like a surgical operation,” Konate says.

The French colonial empire extended over much of western and northern Africa, but in the late 1950s the winds of freedom started blowing across Africa, and France was to lose all its colonies.

However, the euphoria of independence was short. France retained troops, bases and political influence over its former colonies: the policy of “France-Afrique” was born.

“France was Africa’s watchdog, defending the West in the region,” says Antoine Glazer, author of France-Afrique.

Colonisation of Algeria: the French landing in Algeria in a coastal town of Sidi Ferruch in 1830. [Liebig series: L’origine de diverses colonies/The origin of various colonies, 1922, No 1). (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images]

The US and the threat of ‘terrorism’

In the 1960s, the discovery of huge oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea attracted a new player: the United States.

The US made military as well as economic investments on the African continent and Africa became a battleground in the Cold War.

In 1992, the US launched a so-called humanitarian intervention in the strategic Horn of Africa. The US sent 28,000 soldiers to Somalia to help put an end to a civil war. The operation ended in disaster two years later after American soldiers were captured and killed, images of their mutilated bodies broadcast around the world. They decided to withdraw.

In 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center reconfigured the geo-politics of the world. The United States launched a war in Afghanistan – a war that would soon spread far beyond.

A few months after September 11, the US military returned to the Horn of Africa with plans to stay. They established their first military base in Djibouti.

“The Sahel played a key role in looking at the movement of weapons, the movement of potential foreign fighters, and organised crime…,” says Rudolph Atallah, the former Director of Africa Counter-Terrorism, US Department of Defense.

American President George Bush visits US soldiers in Somalia [Larry Downing/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images]

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM)

The United States is the only country to have divided the world into separate military sectors to monitor and patrol, NORTHCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM and now AFRICOM.

Under the stated goals of fighting terrorism and providing humanitarian assistance, AFRICOM implanted itself on the continent, conducting military exercises with a growing number of African countries.

RELATED: The consequences of the US war on terrorism in Africa

The establishment of AFRICOM was key for the consolidation of US interests in Africa.

The Americans sought to establish the headquarters of AFRICOM as well as a headquarter for the CIA in Mali. The problem was that the Africans had a common position of refusing the establishment of new military bases.

This opposition forced the US to set up the command of AFRICOM thousands of miles away, in Stuttgart, Germany.

Muammar Gaddafi: The ‘mad dog of the Middle East’

Nelson Mandela’s view was almost identical to Gaddafi’s that there would be no African forces commanded by foreign military officials, and there would be no foreign militaries occupying any part of Africa or operating within Africa.

Maximilian Forte, author

African resistance to AFRICOM was spearheaded by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

President Ronald Reagan had labelled him the ‘mad dog of the Middle East’ and had tried to assassinate him in 1986 by bombing his palace.

The Libyan leader’s independence and influence flowed from the vast petroleum reserves, the largest in Africa, which he had nationalised when he took power.

Gaddafi wanted to demonstrate that Africa could develop without depending on the western banking system or the International Monetary Fund.

“From the beginning of his political career as a leader, Muammar Gaddafi was opposed to a foreign military presence in Africa. One of the first things he did after coming to power in 1969 was to expel the British and US military bases in Libya itself,” Maximilian Forte, the author of Nato’s war on Lybia and Africa, explains.

But in March 2011, as the Arab’s Spring spread through North Africa, France and the United States decided to act. This was AFRICOM’S first war and its commander in chief was the first African-­American president.

RELATED: Orphans of the Sahara

The fall of Gaddafi produced a shockwave that would be felt far beyond Libya.

“Unfortunately there was not a very good handle on the 40,000 plus weapons that Gaddafi had, so quickly, over 35,000 disappeared,” Atallah says.

Some of the weapons fell into the hands of the Libyan rebels. Others, including anti-­tank and anti-­aircraft missiles, fell into the hands of Tuareg fighters who fought alongside Gaddafi.

The heavily armed Tuaregs formed a new fighting force, the MNLA, and launched an offensive against the government in Bamako in January 2012.

Tuareg and other rebel forces invaded the major cities of northern Mali. Despite years of training and millions spent, the West’s greatest fear became a reality: a so-called Islamic state was established in northern Mali.

“Nobody believed that a few hundred ‘Jihadist fighters” would take over [Bamako] a city of three million people where they had no significant presence,” says Batou.

But soon the French armed forces lent their support to the Malian units. The rebel advance was stopped and in just two weeks, the French regained the north. The French army claimed to have killed hundreds of so-called terrorists. The former colonial power had become the savior of the country.

Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, right, and South African President Nelson Mandela salute the crowd as they arrive at the congress centre in Zuwarah, Libya [AP Photo/Enric Marti]

‘The El Dorado of the Sahel’

Despite the chaos, wars and revolutions, the interest of Europeans, Americans and the Chinese, remains high in what may be the largest untapped oil reserves on the continent, “the El Dorado of the Sahel”, which extends from Mauritania to Algeria across north Mali.

The interest of major US energy companies in Africa has not decreased. The needs of Asia and Europe will not stop growing. Nearly $2tn of investments in African oil and gas are expected in the next two decades.

“We all know oil resources are becoming increasingly rare. The last major reserves of oil in Africa will become increasingly important. Pre-positioning oneself with a view to exploiting these resources is vital,” says Batou.

RELATED: The new scramble for Africa

In May 2014, US President Barack Obama announced that he would allocate an additional $5bn to the fight against global terrorism.

An increasing number of African governments have signed on to the AFRICOM programme, like in Niger, where the US military brought together African forces composed of 1,000 soldiers from 17 countries for military exercises.

The US have also established drone bases in Djibouti, Niger, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles, and sent troops to Liberia during the Ebola crisis in 2014.

Not to be outdone, France also announced plans to increase its presence in the Sahel with a redeployment of 3,000 troops.

The increasing militarisation of Africa is a new profit centre, coveted by the military-industrial complex with millions of dollars of contracts for arms manufacturers and private contractors.

More than 130 years after the Berlin Conference, a new division of the African continent is underway as new powers seek to ensure oil supplies, strategic minerals, arable land and even the water under the desert sands.

“In reality, the big issues are not being addressed. It is as though the West lives off wars, as though wars need to be created, for them to justify their power,” says Imam Mahmoud Dicko, president of the Islamic High Council of Mali.

Source: Al Jazeera

US to build $50m drone sight in Niger

Stars and Stripes

An MQ-9 Reaper performs a low pass during a first-ever air show demonstration at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., on May 28, 2016. U.S. Africa Command is expected to soon conduct surveillance operations at a new outpost in Niger, which is the only country in western Africa that has agreed to host MQ-9 Reapers.

 

By JOHN VANDIVER (http://www.stripes.com/reporters/2.1272?author=John_Vandiver) |

Published: September 30, 2016 STUTTGART, Germany —

A new base under construction in Niger could be capable of hosting armed U.S. drones, a sign that a counterterrorism mission in western Africa, focused until now on surveillance, has the potential to turn lethal, according to a news report.

The military is building a new site to host U.S. unmanned aircraft in Agadez, Niger, a strategic outpost that also puts Libya in the sights of long­range MQ­9 Reaper drones, according to The Intercept, an investigative news site.

The government of Niger, the only western Africa country to allow MQ­9 Reapers, will allow for armed drone flights, The Intercept reported, citing a previously classified U.S. document. “Moving operations to Agadez aligns persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) to current and emerging threats over Niger & Chad, supports French regionalization and extends range to cover south Libya and Nigeria,” says a Pentagon document obtained by the Intercept.

For several years, the U.S. has been conducting remotely piloted surveillance out of Niger, a launching pad for reconnaissance on Islamic militant groups operating in Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere. Those operations have been based in Niamey, Niger’s capital, but will shift to Agadez. So far, there have been no reports of offensive airstrikes by the U.S. in the region.

U.S. Africa Command declined to say whether it intended to conduct armed drone flights in the future out of Agadez, where the U.S. base is expected to open next year. “The types of aircraft operating from Agadez will depend on available assets, the regional requirements of our host nations, and the requirements to meet mutual security goals,”

Samantha Reho, an AFRICOM spokeswoman, said in an email. “The arming of any aircraft, including remotely piloted aircraft, is done with the approval of and upon coordination with the Government of Niger.” AFRICOM, citing operational security concerns, said it would not discuss specifics about military efforts or “speculate on potential future activities or operations.”

“The location in Agadez will improve U.S. Africa Command’s capability to facilitate intelligence sharing that better support Niger and other partner nations, such as Nigeria, Chad, Mali and neighbors in the region and will improve our capability to respond to regional security issues,” Reho said. Instability in western Africa has been a growing concern for the United States.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the militant group Boko Haram has been blamed for the killing of more than 10,000 people in 2015 and ranks as possibly the world’s most deadly terrorist group. While Boko Haram has not demonstrated a capacity to target the West, it has launched attacks on neighboring Niger and Cameroon, where the U.S. also conducts surveillance flights using deployed personnel.

“Security threats in the region underscore the need to conduct continuous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in West Africa and to share information with partners conducting operations in the region,” Reho said. “Due to the vast geography of Africa, Agadez is an ideal, central location to enable ISR collection to face the security threat across the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin region.”

In Africa, the U.S. military has become more overtly focused on counterterrorism operations in recent years. After years of operating in secret in Somalia, the U.S. now acknowledges that it has a small number of special operations forces in the country to assist local troops in their fight against the militant group Al­Shabab. In addition, U.S. airstrikes in support of Somali and U.S. troops on the ground have become more frequent. Meanwhile, AFRICOM is routinely launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Libya, where for two months warplanes have been targeting militants in the coastal town of Sirte.

vandiver.john@stripes.com (mailto:vandiver.john@stripes.com)

 

BBC

US invests $50m in Niger drone base for counterterrorism

  • 30 September 2016
Reaper unmanned aircraftImage 

The US is investing at least $50m in a military air base in Niger that will be capable of deploying drones.

The US already has a presence in the capital Niamey, where it shares an airbase with France’s anti-Islamist force, Operation Barkhane.

MQ-9 Reaper drones are stationed there.

But the new facility, in the central city of Agadez, will give Washington greater ability to use drones against Islamist extremists in neighbouring countries like Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon, Michelle Baldanza, confirmed the US had agreed to pay for a new runway and “associated pavements, facilities and infrastructure”.

She estimated the cost at $50m but The Intercept, which first reported the story, said it is projected to cost twice that.

The investigative news site reports that it has obtained files that show the project is considered “the most important US military construction effort in Africa” and will be completed in 2017.

Drones, also known as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or RPAs (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) are used by the military for surveillance and to drop bombs, in places where it is too risky or difficult to send a pilot.

map of Niger showing capital Niamey in south west and Agadez, where the base is, in centre

Sudan – Amnesty International accuses Khartoum of using chemical weapons in Darfur

Reuters

Sudan’s government has carried out at least 30 likely chemical weapons attacks in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January using what two experts concluded was a probable blister agent, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The rights group estimated that up to 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons agents.

The most recent attack occurred on Sept. 9 and Amnesty said its investigation was based on satellite imagery, more than 200 interviews and expert analysis of images showing injuries.

“The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. The evidence we have gathered is credible and portrays a regime that is intent on directing attacks against the civilian population in Darfur without any fear of international retribution,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of Crisis Research.

Sudanese U.N. Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed said in a statement that the Amnesty report was “utterly unfounded” and that Sudan does not possess any type of chemical weapons.

“The allegations of use of chemical weapons by Sudanese Armed Forces is baseless and fabricated. The ultimate objective of such wild accusation, is to steer confusion in the on-going processes aimed at deepening peace and stability and enhancing economic development and social cohesion in Sudan,” he said.

Amnesty said it had presented its findings to two independent chemical weapons experts.

“Both concluded that the evidence strongly suggested exposure to vesicants, or blister agents, such as the chemical warfare agents sulphur mustard, lewisite or nitrogen mustard,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Sudan joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1999 under which members agree to never use toxic arms.

A joint African Union-United Nations force, known as UNAMID, has been stationed in Darfur since 2007. Security remains fragile in Darfur, where mainly non-Arab tribes have been fighting the Arab-led government in Khartoum, and the government is struggling to control rural areas.

Some 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur since the conflict began in 2003, the U.N. says, while 4.4 million people need aid and over 2.5 million have been displaced.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in 2009 and 2010 on charges of war crimes and genocide in his drive to crush the Darfur revolt.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

Sudan threatens to close border with South Sudan over support for rebels

Reuters

Sudan said on Sunday it would close its border with South Sudan within days if its neighbour did not expel militant groups, the government told state media.

Sudan regularly accuses its neighbour of backing insurgents in the Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions that run along its southern border.

South Sudan split away from Sudan in 2011 after decades of civil war fuelled by ethnic divides and disputes over oil.

Sudan may close border if Juba does not expel rebels


South Sudan FVP Taban Deng Gai (L) meets President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir (R) at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, August 22, 2016. (Anadolu Agency/AFP- Photo)

September 2016 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese government Sunday it would close border with the South Sudan if the government of President Salva Kiir does not implement its pledge to expel Sudanese armed groups waging war in the two Areas and Darfur.

Last August Khartoum and Juba said that First Vice President Taban Deng Gai discussed during his meetings with the Sudanese officials the presence of rebel group in South Sudan and pledged to take tangible measures within three weeks.

Last week, South Sudanese Army Spokesperson, Lul Ruai Koang, told Sudan Tribune that they will expels rebels fighting its northern neighbour once it receives directives from the high command.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kamal Ismail said South Sudan’s First Vice President Taban Deng Gai pledged during his recent visit to Khartoum to expel rebel movements from its territory within 21 days.

“Juba’s failure to commit itself to this agreement entails stopping the transit of humanitarian aid through Sudanese territory to the South Sudan,” he said in statements to the semi-official Sudanese Media Centre (SMC).

The minister further stressed that they are closely monitoring and watching Juba’s decision on this respect.

“South Sudanese political authorities have to take a clear decision providing to expel (rebel) movements” and “there is no excuse for those who have been warned.” he stressed.

Khartoum and Juba trade accusations of support to rebel groups since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011.

The peace agreement on the resolution of the South Sudanese conflict signed in August 2015 provides that the transitional government in Juba would expel Sudanese armed movement.

However hopes for the implementation of the peace agreement fade and observers say Machar group is preparing for a new war against the government in Juba.

(ST)

Is there is new era emerging of relations between Sudan and South Sudan?

Sudan Tribune


(KHARTOUM/JUBA) – Sudan and South Sudan appear to be on the verge of bringing their relations to a new level following the current visit of First-Vice President Taban Deng Gai to Khartoum which Juba hopes would normalize ties between the two nations particularly as it faces mounting international pressures.

JPEG - 22.2 kb
South Sudan President Salva Kiir (R) and his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir look on during a photo opportunity at the state house in capital Juba January 6, 2014 (Reuters/James Akena)

On the one side, Gai and his senior economic and military delegation who arrived in the Sudanese capital on Sunday, have discussed outstanding issues between the two countries including security, border and oil issues.

However, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit seems to have sought to gain support of the Sudanese government in the face of the heavy international pressure that he encountered following the escape of his former First Vice-President Riek Machar which exacerbated the humanitarian and security situation in the newborn state.

Kiir had written a special letter to his Sudanese counterpart Omer al-Bashir expressing full commitment to implement all cooperation agreement signed between the two countries in 2012 before asking Khartoum to deal the same way with his government.

He also underscored his personal commitment to work to achieve a homegrown solution to stopping the war that brought his country to the brink of economic collapse.

“Let me be clear my brother, Omer al-Bashir and members of your government that we are not opposed to the regional support. We need support of the region, particularly countries like Sudan but this support should be supplementary. It should be a supplementary to our own so it is not rejected by the people. The region also needs to know that imported solutions aren’t the answer. We have many examples where external intervention had been short lived in other countries. Only a domestic solution realised from understanding people’s needs and aspirations that can be permanent”, Kiir explained in the special letter addressed to al-Bashir, copy of which Sudan Tribune obtained.

The South Sudanese government has declined to respond to a UN Security Council Resolution 2304 that authorized sending extra 4,000 troops to boost UN peacekeepers in country with a mandate to fight rival forces considering the move a violation to its sovereignty.

Washington is standing behind the resolution to send extra troops to South Sudan, saying it would participate to the protection of civilians in the country.

“It is absolutely indisputable that we need to push for the deployment of the regional force which has been approved by the UN Security Council” said US Secretary of State John Kerry during his meeting with five Foreign Ministers from the regional bloc IGAD on Monday in Nairobi.

“With respect to the protection force, let me make it clear: The protection force is limited by definition, not a response to the overall crisis within the country as a whole, because clearly, there are many people with weapons in many parts of the country, and a protection force of 4,000 people will not have the capacity to cover all those bases,” the top U.S. diplomat said.

“But the hope is that with a transitional government that is now committed to the full implementation of the peace agreement and that has already begun to implement that peace agreement, that a force with a presence in Juba itself, which is where most of the violence took place during the last round, will be able to guarantee access for everybody, and that includes people trying to prevent the violence,” he added.

Earlier this month Sudan declined a proposal by some international partners to conduct a solo mediation between the warring parties in South Sudan and also refused to send troops within the regional force, saying it doesn’t want to create any sensitivities with the conflicting parties.

“Sudan is sticking to its role within the IGAD only,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Garib Allah Khidir, told reporters on August 2.

In his special letter, Kiir further projected the future of South Sudan to be brighter, saying the country was now moving forward after the appointment of Gai as his new first deputy in unity government in place of armed opposition leader, his main political rival for top office in the country, Riek Machar.

“We are moving towards a brighter future and the international community should support and not weaken us, the letter adds in part. It further added that South Sudan doesn’t need lessons on human rights from the international community. “Respecting human rights is enshrined in our culture, heritage and it is part of our values system. We are more respectful of human rights in terms of commitment and action,” it added.

It was apparent from Kiir’s letter that Juba seeks to win the trust of Khartoum by sending clear signals to assure the latter that it intends to open a new chapter in relations.

Also, these signals were sent by Gai when he directly addressed Khartoum’s major concern about the security file between the two countries and particularly with regard to Juba’s support for the Sudanese rebels saying his country is keen to resolve the outstanding security issues within three weeks.

On Monday, Gai also sent amessage from Khartoum to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N) demanding the rebel group to resort to the peaceful settlement with the Sudanese government.

He stressed that his country wouldn’t serve as a launching pad for any Sudanese who wants to continue the war against Khartoum, adding “we hope that Sudan wouldn’t serve as a launching pad for Machar”.

South Sudan’s First Vice President Gai also on Tuesday denied that Darfur movements and SPLM-N are currently present in South Sudan’s territory, saying mutual accusations between the two countries “would continue until we agree on a verification mechanism”.

“We would go to Addis Ababa and all places where these [rebel] movements have presence and tell them that appropriate time has come to achieve peace and we would render the necessary support and advise them in a kind manner” he said.

“We advise them [SPLM-N] that wartime is over, and we say to them that your brothers in South Sudan shouldn’t suffer because of you, for even if the South didn’t support you Sudan is making use of that [pretext]” he added.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan on July 9th 2011 following a referendum on whether the semi-autonomous region should remain a part of the country or become independent. 99% of the southern Sudanese voters chose independence.

Relations between the two nations soured after South Sudan’s independence following a series of disputes over a number of issues.

(ST)

Mauritania – jailed anti-slavery activists might serve 15 years

Reuters

A tribunal in Mauritania has sentenced 13 anti-slavery activists to up to 15 years in prison for their role in a riot in June in a decision condemned on Friday by international campaigners as a “devastating blow”.

The West African nation is a focus of activism by the modern anti-slavery movement over a practice believed to affect between four and 20 percent of the population.

Authorities arrested the 13 members of the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) in late June and early July after a protest against eviction by residents of a slum in the capital Nouakchott, many of whom are themselves former slaves.

Several police officers were injured in the demonstration.

“The sentences are a devastating blow to the Mauritanian anti-slavery movement,” said Sarah Mathewson, Africa Programme Manager at Anti-Slavery International. “The activists are clearly being targeted by the government for their work to expose and denounce slavery, still commonplace in the country.”

A tribunal found the defendants guilty on Thursday of counts including attacks against the government, armed assembly and membership of an unrecognized organization.

The defendants said they were not present at the June protests and that the trial was a politically-motivated attempt by the government to discredit their organization.

IRA vice president Brahim Ramdane called the verdicts a “parody of justice” and said the group’s lawyers were deciding how to respond.

Mauritania has attempted to crack down on slavery and last year passed a law making it a crime against humanity and doubling prison terms for offenders. Campaigners say it will not be enough to stamp out the practice.

Other anti-slavery campaigners, including those in the IRA, have also faced stiff sentences. IRA head Birame Ould Abeid has been jailed several times. He also came a distant second in a 2014 presidential election.

(Reporting By Kissima Diagana; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)