By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats
What strikes me the most on my arrival in the city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, is the number of boys roaming the streets. Here in the heartland of the Islamist insurgency that has afflicted Nigeria for the past few years, children as young as four or five spend their days weaving among the chaotic traffic and begging for food. Sent to religious boarding schools by families too poor to properly support them, they are known as almajiris.
This word is borrowed from Arabic for someone who leaves home in search of Islamic instruction, but northern Nigeria’s almajiris live a precarious existence. Some must make ideal recruits for Muslim Boko Haram militants plotting bomb attacks against their Christian compatriots.
By Claire Willman, Director-General’s Office
Why would one of Africa’s most wanted and most ruthless men walk into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital, asking that he be transferred to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands? That must have been the question on the mind of surprised American embassy staff in Kigali when M23 rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda unexpectedly handed himself in to them last week. He has since been transferred to The Hague, where he made his first appearance today on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
‘The Terminator’, as Ntaganda is nicknamed, was an unlikely candidate to surrender. His reputation for murder, pillage, persecution, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers stands out even in a country with numerous brutal rebel leaders.
A member of numerous Rwandan and Congolese militias since the 1990s, he has been wanted by the ICC since 2006, for abuses committed during his time with the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) – although by 2006 he had joined the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) militia.
Additionally, his most recent movement, March 23 (M23), was formed last April partly in order to protect him from growing pressure to arrest him under the ICC warrant.
Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.
But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.
By Islam Al Tayeb, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East
More than 18 months after South Sudan seceded from Sudan, oil remains a sticking point between the two countries. Last week, the stalemate appeared as intractable as ever, with South Sudan announcing plans to sell petroleum to Israel, and politicians in Khartoum vowing that no South Sudanese exports would reach Israel via Sudanese territory. A meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his southern counterpart Salva Kiir before an African Union conference in Ethiopia this weekend (above) failed to break months of deadlock. There has now been no oil production in, or exports, from South Sudan for a year, depriving the government in Juba of around 98% of its budgeted revenues.
By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats
Until it permitted the French air force to fly through its airspace into Mali this weekend, Algeria had been protesting for months that it would not welcome any outside military intervention to quell the rebellion in its southern neighbour. The hostage crisis unfolding in the Algerian desert, following an attack by militants on the In Amenas gas plant, one of the country’s largest, has starkly demonstrated the risks of reprisal.
So one of the most interesting questions is what accounted for Algeria’s change of heart. This is difficult to answer because decision-making in Algiers is famously opaque, and the country often takes an ambiguous stance on regional security issues.
By Francois Heisbourg, IISS chairman
PARIS – On 11 January, French military forces entered Mali, taking and inflicting casualties in a war as sudden as it is important.
Even at this early stage, broadly applicable lessons can be drawn from the conflict. Although the future course of the fighting is laden with risks, skillful diplomacy can turn it into a major opportunity in the struggle against international terrorism.
The French intervention was prompted by the combined offensive towards Bamako, the capital of Mali, of the three jihadi organisations which seized control of the northern half of the country last year. This unforeseen attack prompted the president of Mali to ask France for immediate help.
By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst
Somalia: a long road ahead
Somalia marked an important milestone last week, as it swore in its new and first formal parliament in 20 years, but another key measure of its progress – the selection of a new president – has failed to materialise. Some real progress on its political transition, women’s rights and security has given Somalia an undeniable feeling of optimism and forward momentum. But each area of progress faces old realities: the ‘roadmap’ to transition and the parliament itself are marred by corruption and intimidation, women’s rights face huge challenges from the prevalent political culture, and the al-Shabaab insurgency remains a security threat despite some significant military gains by African Union forces. Somalia’s ability to leave these problems behind decisively depends on the new government – which may not be fully formed for some time. Read the rest of this entry »
Julius Malema, the expelled youth leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), is using South Africa’s mine tragedy to try to propel himself back into the political arena. After police killed 34 and injured 78 in a shootout with striking workers at the Lonmin platinum mine outside Rustenburg last week, Malema travelled to the region and, speaking to a 3,000-strong crowd, called on President Jacob Zuma to step down over the ‘massacre’.
The firebrand political organiser wants mines nationalised. He has remained involved with the dispute this week, accompanying striking miners when they opened murder cases against the police and addressing a memorial service for the dead miners earlier today.
By Randolph Bell, Managing Director, IISS-US
Al-Shabaab has been spotted in Kenya more often recently. It has been just over a year since the Somali Islamist group was ousted from Mogadishu by African Union and Somali troops. The city is relatively peaceful for the first time in years (above), and although presidential elections due on 20 August have been postponed, its first official parliament in two decades was sworn in this week. After a ten-month campaign, Kenyan troops are poised to take the port city of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s last stronghold in Somalia.
However, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, al-Shabaab launched two new attacks recently, killing four and injuring eleven. That brings to around 30 the number of attacks it has been implicated in, or suspected of, in Kenya in the past year, since the high-profile kidnappings of first a British and then a French tourist in September and October 2011 respectively.
By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate, Transnational Threats
Earlier this year, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan described Boko Haram, the Islamist group responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in his country, as having global ambitions. A senior Nigerian military commander has put it more starkly: ‘Boko Haram is al-Qaeda’. Many US and UK politicians have called for the group to be proscribed as a terrorist group; the US Department of State recently designated leader Abubakr Shekau – and two others with ties to the group – as terrorists.
In truth, however, it is difficult to quantify the risk that Boko Haram presents outside Nigeria or to say for certain that it is on the verge of becoming an international – rather than a local – threat.