This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood are joined by Sahel Project Director Jean-Hervé Jezequel to discuss how Sahelian states and their main backers in France can use dialogue and better governance to craft a more effective strategy against Islamist insurgents.
Jihadist violence escalated as spate of attacks left over 200 civilians dead in south west, and authorities foiled coup attempt days before inauguration of president-elect. Suspected jihadist combatants 21 March raided villages of Intazayene, Bakorat and Wistane near Mali border in Tahoua region (south west), killing at least 141 civilians, and further fuelling intercommunal tensions. In neighbouring Tillabery region (also south west), suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) 15 March ambushed passenger vehicles near Chinagoder locality and Darey-Dey village, Ouallam department, reportedly leaving at least 66 mainly ethnic Zarma civilians dead; govt next day said killings were “targeted”. Suspected ISGS also launched other raids in Ouallam, notably killing eight in Dinara village 9 March and six in Kaourakeri village next day. Unidentified assailants 10 March killed at least 11 in three villages in Tillabery. In Diffa region in south east, suspected Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) or Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) 1 March killed four civilians near Garin Wanzam settlement, Gueskérou commune; overnight 2-3 March attacked gendarmerie in Mainé-Soroa town, killing two gendarmes. Meanwhile, presidential runner-up Mahamane Ousmane 8 March filed appeal with Constitutional Court to contest preliminary results of 21 Feb run-off vote, citing irregularities including abnormally high participation in nomadic communes and electoral officials forced to sign records at gunpoint. Constitutional Court 21 March however confirmed ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum as next president; Bazoum due to take office 2 April in first democratic transition of power in country’s history. Ousmane next day denounced “violation” of constitution, saying his appeal had not been examined. Military unit overnight 30-31 March reportedly assaulted presidential palace, but presidential guard repelled assault; govt 31 March said several people had been arrested and condemned attack on “democracy and the rule of law”. U.S.-trained police unit 2 March seized 17 tons cannabis resin worth FCFA 20bn in capital Niamey; authorities subsequently arrested 11 Nigerien nationals and two Algerians in connection with seizure, including former Tuareg rebel and tribal chief El Hadj Ghoumour Atouwa alias “Bidika”.
Since 2013, when it sent troops to Mali, France has led international efforts to root out Islamist militancy from the Sahel. Yet the jihadist threat has grown. Paris and its partners should reorient their military-centred approach toward helping improve governance in the region.
Islamist militants are making further inroads into Tillabery, a region on Niger’s border with Mali. To fend off the threat, Niamey should supplement its counter-insurgency campaign with initiatives aimed at soothing communal tensions along the frontier and starting dialogue with locals in the jihadists’ orbit.
Trafficking – a catch-all term for illicit movement of goods and people – has long sustained livelihoods in northern Niger. But conflicts are emerging due to heightened competition and European pressure to curb migration. Authorities should persevere in managing the extralegal exchange to contain violence.
Au Mali, au Burkina Faso et au Niger, le boom aurifère représente une nouvelle source de financement, voire un terrain de recrutement pour divers groupes armés, y compris jihadistes. Les Etats sahéliens devraient rétablir leur présence aux abords des mines d’or et mieux formaliser l’exploitation aurifère artisanale.
Le primat donné aux réponses militaires et le recours à des groupes armés à base communautaire pour combattre les mouvements jihadistes implantés dans la zone frontalière entre le Niger et le Mali n’ont fait qu’accentuer les tensions intercommunautaires. Les autorités nigériennes doivent adopter une approche plus politique, incluant réconciliation entre communautés, dialogue avec les militants et amnistie dans certains cas.
Créée en février 2017, la Force conjointe du G5 Sahel est une force de nouvelle génération dans un espace sahélien où se bousculent des initiatives militaires et diplomatiques parfois concurrentes. Il ne suffira pas de fournir des armes et de l’argent pour résoudre les crises sahéliennes. Pour atteindre ses objectifs, la force doit gagner la confiance des populations et des puissances régionales et obtenir leur soutien.
Il faut voir ces attaques [au Niger] comme une forme de punition collective contre ces communautés où une résistance s'organise.
Niger has faced growing insecurity on many of its borders. [It] is one of the major challenges that the upcoming administration will have to face.
The problem, in Niger’s case, is that policies aimed at disrupting trafficking in the north could inadvertently end up fueling instability.
The main fault-line for conflict in the Mali-Niger border has shifted. A year ago, it was drawn between communities. Now it lies between militants loosely fighting under an IS banner and state forces.
Les groupes djihadistes sont passés experts dans l’instrumentalisation des conflits pour mieux s'implanter.
Jihadist groups present since the 2012 crisis in Mali exploited local unrest and the weak presence of the state in northern Mali to launch cross-border attacks against the Nigerien army... Despite direct support from Chadian troops since 2015 and closer collaboration with the Nigerian army, Nigerien forces have been unable to fully secure the border with Nigeria from attacks, including some linked to the Islamic State.
Crisis group's Sahel Senior Analyst Hannah Armstrong and Africa Deputy Program Director Dino Mahtani held a panel moderated by our Director for Africa Regional Advocacy Elissa Jobson, on the renewed spike in jihadist attacks in Niger’s Tillabery region and Niamey’s response to it.
L’analyste Hannah Armstrong regrette que Niamey délaisse le dialogue avec les communautés frontalières de la région de Tillabéri, notamment les nomades peuls.
Originally published in Le Monde
Au Niger, alors que le ramadan va débuter dans la soirée du 23 avril, les tensions autour de la fermeture des mosquées dans le contexte de la pandémie de Covid-19 s’accentuent. Le gouvernement devrait autoriser la réouverture des mosquées en la conditionnant au respect strict des règles sanitaires préconisées par l’OMS.
Crisis Group's Sahel Expert Hannah Armstrong explains that trafficking has long sustained livelihoods in northern Niger. But conflicts are emerging due to heightened competition and European pressure to curb migration. Authorities should persevere in managing the extralegal exchange to contain violence.