peter tinti

independent journalist

Category: niger

Niger: The Stable Sahelian State, For Now

Think Africa Press

Despite an outward image of stability, Niger can’t be used as a model for Mali’s reconstruction.

When Mahamadou Issoufou was elected President of Niger in March 2011, he inherited a country which lacked many of the basic trappings of a state. A desperately poor, landlocked nation of 17 million straddling the southern edge of the Sahara, Niger has suffered from violent rebellions, chronic famine, cyclical droughts and flash floods, all of which are exacerbated by limited state capacity and decades of failed governance.

External shocks emanating from the multiple weak states with which Niger shares long borders have further threatened Niger’s stability. The fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 saw some 200,000 Nigeriens who were living in Libya, some of whom were working as mercenaries, return to Niger. The result was a sudden influx of arms, unemployed battle-hardened men, and the decimation of livelihoods for entire communities reliant on remittances earned abroad.

The ensuing conflict Mali in 2012 saw tens of thousands of Malians seeking refuge in Niger, straining local communities who were already on the brink of starvation. Most recently, several thousand more refugees have spilled into southern Niger from northern Nigeria, where the government is caught up in a nasty counterinsurgency against Boko Haram.

In late May, Islamist militants affiliated with Mokhtar Belmokhtar — an Algerian national and veteran terror operative in the Sahara and Sahel with links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — carried out twin bombings in northern Niger, targeting military barracks in the town of Agadez and a uranium mine near Arlit. The attacks were allegedly carried out to avenge the death of Abou Zeid, an AQIM leader who had been killed by Chadian troops in Mali. Subsequently, many feared that the destabilising violence that has plagued Niger’s neighbours had finally arrived within its own borders.

Click here to continue reading.

As Security Focus on Niger Grows, U.S.-France Tensions Brew: Part II

World Politics Review

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part investigative series on U.S. and French counterterrorism efforts in Niger. Part I examines Niger’s emergence as a target of terrorist groups active in the Sahel region. Part II will examine the growing U.S. security presence in Niger, and the nascent tensions with France over how best to counter terror and bolster Niger’s security.

Though much has been made of Niger’s recent ascendance as a key U.S. ally in the Sahel region, the country had already begun to distinguish itself as a useful counterterrorism ally in Department of Defense circles as early as 2006. However, political issues, namely a constitutional crisis in 2009 and a military coup in 2010, complicated the relationship. Once elections were held and Niger’s democracy was restored in 2011, the U.S. was eager to “re-normalize” relations and expand cooperation.

Further impetus to deepen security ties was added by the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011—which drove an estimated 200,000 Nigeriens living in Libya, many of whom were armed fighters, back to Niger—as well as the ensuing collapse of Mali in 2012.

The U.S. and Niger signed a status of forces agreement, which had been in the works since 2007, in January 2013, after which U.S. military activities in the country significantly increased.

In February, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would be sending about 100 troops to Niger. Their mission, according to a U.S. Africa Command spokesperson reached by email, is to provide support “for intelligence collection and facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali.”

However, one U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested the number of U.S. military personnel, some of whom might be contractors, is “almost certainly” higher than 100. Several sources, including Nigeriens and outside analysts in Niger, described the U.S. military presence as “palpable,” “very visible” and “obvious.” In February, the U.S. also began flying an unspecified number of unarmed Predator drones out of the national airport in the capital, Niamey.

Click here to continue reading.

As Security Focus on Niger Grows, U.S.-France Tensions Brew: Part I

World Politics Review

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part investigative series on U.S. and French counterterrorism efforts in Niger. Part I examines Niger’s emergence as a target of terrorist groups active in the Sahel region. Part II will examine the growing U.S. security presence in Niger, and the nascent tensions with France over how best to counter terror and bolster Niger’s security.

Until May 23, Niger, a desperately poor, landlocked country of 17 million that shares long borders with volatile states including Mali, Algeria, Libya and Nigeria, had been spared from the violence that has plagued its neighbors over the past two years. But when Islamist militants launched simultaneous attacks in the country’s north, killing 26 and injuring dozens more, Niger suddenly found itself fighting battles at home that it had hoped others would fight abroad.

The coordinated attacks, which included armed gunmen and suicide bombers detonating two car bombs, targeted a military camp in the desert city of Agadez and a French-operated uranium mine in the remote town of Arlit.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, an al-Qaida offshoot known locally as Mujao, claimed responsibility for both attacks. An online statement reportedly signed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian national and veteran jihadi who led the deadly attack on the In Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria last January, claimed that he “supervised” the attack on Arlit in conjunction with Mujao.

Nine days later, 22 inmates, some of whom are linked to terrorist groups, escaped after Islamist gunmen attacked a prison in the capital city, Niamey. Though the prison raid was initially attributed to Mujao, suspicion quickly turned to Boko Haram, an Islamist sect based out of Nigeria that has been at the forefront of bloody, intercommunal violence in northern Nigeria.

Click here to continue reading.

Mali has war in January, elections in July. Is this too much?

CS Monitor

Malians vote Sunday with new biometric ID cards in a quickly cobbled-together election that some call ‘shambolic’ and others say is needed.

Bamako, Mali: The West African nation of Mali will hold presidential elections this Sunday, less than seven months after the French military intervened to drive Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda in the country’s north.

The West African nation of Mali will hold presidential elections this Sunday, less than seven months after the French military intervened to drive Islamist rebels linked to Al Qaeda in the country’s north.

As Malians prepare to go to the polls, however, a chaotic voter-registration process and lingering security concerns call into question whether the elections will be truly free and fair.

Mali’s interim government and the international community are betting that expedited elections that they have both pushed will help Mali move forward after nearly 18 months of instability.

Speaking to reporters in Paris earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon went so far as to say, “The results, even if the election is imperfect, must be respected by all parties.”

With Mali and the broader Sahel increasingly viewed as a place where Al Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as drug traffickers, may try to take advantage of porous borders and weak states, Mali stands as a test case for the international community’s commitment to the region.

Yet many commentators fear that rushed elections risk further destabilizing an already divided nation, and worry that the international community, particularly France and the United States, are favoring elections and the appearance of democracy over stability and good governance.

One Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the elections as a “calculated gamble,” suggesting that delaying the vote would “do little to fix any of the current problems and would potentially pave the way for new ones.”

Click here to continue reading.

US bounties changes strategy on West African jihadis

CS Monitor

The US is offering up to $23 million for information leading to the location of Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and Al Qaeda operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Bamako, Mali: The US is offering $23 million worth of rewards for information on key leaders of terrorist organizations in West Africa.

The list of Islamist militants – released yesterday by the US State Department’s “Reward for Justice” program – reads like a who’s-who of prominent jihadists responsible for a string of deadly attacks and high-profile kidnappings throughout North and West Africa in recent years.

The highest reward of up to $7 million is for information leading to the location of Abubakar Shekau, who leads the Nigeria-based Boko Haram group that has terrorized the northeast region of Nigeria.

The call for information marks the first time the US is offering cash in exchange for tips on leaders of Islamist groups in West Africa, and may suggest a shift in US thinking regarding the threat posed by Islamist militants in the region. Until recently, most analysts viewed terror cells in Africa as domestic groups with local agendas and few experts considered these groups a direct threat to the US.

Click here to continue reading.

Double bombing in Niger may have links to Algeria attack

CS Monitor

A note purporting to be from former Al Qaeda operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for bombings at military camp and uranium mine in Niger. Belmokhtar plotted deadly attacks on Western firms in Algeria, and was thought to be killed in early March.

Bamako, Mali – Islamist militants launched simultaneous attacks in Niger on Thursday, killing 26 people and injuring dozens more.

The coordinated attacks – which included armed gunmen and suicide bombers detonating two car bombs – targeted a military camp in the desert city of Agadez and a French-operated uranium mine in the remote town of Arlit.

The dual attacks come amid growing fear that the conflict in northern Mali, as well as Islamist insurgencies in Nigeria and southern Libya, could further destabilize the region. Until yesterday, Niger – a poor, landlocked country of 17 million – had largely been spared from the violence that has plagued its neighbors over the last year.

Click here to continue reading.