Mali: ‘Bandits’ attack truck on Gao – Ansago road

Unidentified armed men attacked a truck carrying goods and passengers on the Niger river road from Gao to Ansago on Monday. The truck’s driver was killed, several wounded, and the bandits made off with cash and property. This was somewhere between 100 and 200 km west northwest of the attack on a Nigerien military post that same morning, and more than 300 km south of the carjacking of two aid workers near Kidal last week. See my comments on the carjacking for a summary of what I think is going on (short answer guns + poverty + demobed insurgency + corruption = crime). Please leave your Bin Laden fantasies at the door.

Follow up: (2010-03-13)

An anonymous commentator on the message board poses these details: “The attack is locally attributed to Peul individuals. The truck is owned by Ely Ould Hennoun an Arab trader who resides in Bamako. A young Arab died (the driver) and a Tuareg who accompanied him was seriously wounded in the head. … The killers stole two Thuraya satellite phones and the small sum of about 25,000 FCFA [~ 38 Euros]… This at the cost of two lives.”

I haven’t the vaguest clue if the ethnic insinuations are true, and it would be sad should the Gao-ites be overly concerned about ethnic identity in this sort of crime. But it speaks to the general insecurity and the desperate straits of northern Mali, that someone would kill for a handful of goods. It certainly doesn’t suggest that everyone there is flush with drug money.

Niger: Military post raided on Mali border

Reports are coming in of an attack by unknown assailants on the army post at Tiloa, a village around 12km from the Malian border. Several soldiers were killed. North of the more inhabited Zarmaganda plateau, Tiola is a tiny stop in the desert north of Tondikiwindi rural commune, Ouallam Department, Tillabéri Region. This is the same area in which Nigerien forces clashed with alleged AQIM members last year after a Saudi hunting party was attacked. It is west southwest of where tourists were kidnapped (likely by AQIM themselves) before that, including one Briton who was murdered. More prosaically, this area, just north of sedentary agriculture ends, is a prime smuggling location and an east-west transit route of Tuareg and Arab nomads between Gao and the Air mountains. It is also 20-30 km north of an area plagued by recurring conflict between sedentary and nomadic communities that goes back to before the 19th century.

Niger: Canadian gold company reporting two new strikes

The Canadian run Samira Hill mine near the Niger/Burkina border reports two new expansions. Pres. Tandja received the first gold bar in 07, and apparently signed big deals in 2009, of which this is fruition. SEMAFO CEO Benoit La Salle: "The Samira Horizon remains an important mining district for SEMAFO, hence our decision earlier this year to proceed with a two-year $6,000,000 exploration program on the property…. We are encouraged by these new discoveries at Samira Hill, the results of which may become part of our reserves and resources base and ultimately extend mine life. We believe that our continued exploration programs to fully define the property will ultimately benefit from existing infrastructures and contribute to increase value for our shareholders." It would be interesting to see the full contracts signed with the Tandja government, and where that cash went, and to see if any went to protect the nearby W Transboundry Park from the arsenic pools used to process ore.

Niger: Mining protestors squat French hq in Niamey

A Dakar based corespondent for Kenya's Nation paper reports says that Nigerien activists have set up camp at French government uranium miners AREVA's Niamey offices. There is as of yet no independent confirmation of this, or if they are occupying the offices. The name given in the report is "Areva ne fera pas la loi au Niger" ("Aveva is not the law of Niger") This same slogan is used by Tuareg activists of the Tchinaghen collective of Agadez, as well as French anti-neocolonial campaigners Suivre. Activists have long tried to draw attention to the horrible radioactive pollution, the awful working conditions, and the neocolonial exploitation of the huge open pit mines in the Arlit area of the Nigerien Sahara. These provide %40 of the fuel for France's nuclear power industry, upon which they are dependent for electricity. See

Togo:A foregone conclusion

Togo is holding a presidential election today. Success, according to the international community, will be if the army does not butcher voters and soldiers are not photographed running from polling stations with voting boxes under their arms. While these may seem low standards, that was the 2005 election, in which Faure Gnassingbé the son of a 22 year dictator, was jobbed into power by the army after his father's death, and thousands fled the country. Today's outcome is foregone. The main opposition candidate, son of the first President of Togo whom Faure's father murdered, was excluded from running. A relative unknown, Jean Pierre Fabre, was chosen in his stead, rumored to have been pushed by the government itself. While the ruling RPT is divided too (Faure's brother, Kpatcha had much party support before being arrested in 2009), this is a single round election facing five members of what one candidate himself called the "most stupid and criminal opposition in the sub-region."

Niger: Tandja’s spymaster’s wasted funds

"Norbert" in Niamey's "Le Courrier" paper has interesting piece on the ineffectiveness of Tandja's Interior Minister Abouba Albadé. Albadé, a Tandja-ist of the first water served briefly as PM and importantly headed up the police and internal paramiltary (FNIS) services. He was one of the men most associated with Tandja's power grab. While the author refers to Albadé's well funded "Gestapo", the fall of the President suggests those funds may have gone somewhere other than for intelligence. Le Courrier repeats rumors that Albadé was getting 120,000 Euros a year directly from Tandja. When PM Ali Gamatie (on whom the writer hangs the Hausa slur "Bak'in Bature" : essentially "an Uncle Tom") tried to cut the funds, Albadé went over his head to keep them. The piece ends with a bizarrely obscure Diderot quote from his 1769 harangue against Frederick II ("Pages contre un tyran"), saying that when power praise "truth" while lying, people may only yearn for truth even more. True?

Niger: Council of Ministers names former PM’s offical Secretary General

Niger's state paper reports a preliminary meeting of Ministers were given instruction by the Junta Head of State Cmdt. Salou Djibo on Wednesday (3 March). A "Secretary General" of the Council was named: Mrs. Adama Saliah Gazibo. The report describes her as a Judge, which she is. But she was also one of the chief officials of former PM Hama Amadou, the once scion of Tandja who later became his arch foe. Hama is seen by some conspiratorially minded as the backer of this coup. Adama Saliah Gazibo's appointment won't help this. She is also the official who famously attempted to discredit the slavery testimony of a Nigerienne Mariama Oumarou's at the 2001 Durban racism conference. About the girl, who was married at 15 to a Nigerian by her Tuareg noble master and used as a servant and raped, Saliah said a Niger court "found that the girl's marriage was legitimate under traditional law. This girl should not come here and disgrace her country when the legal process has done its work."

Mali: Crime and guns in the north threaten health work

Médecins du Monde Belgium reports that three of their health workers were carjacked in the desert north of Youwarou Cercle, Kidal Region on 2 March. Men armed with AK-47s stole a landrover and abandoned the workers in the desert. The MMB workers were part of a anti-Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm) clinic in Youwarou. Sadly, such car robberies are not unknown, especially after the wave of weapons that flooded the region during the 2007-2008 insurgency. Similar robberies from aid agencies were reported after the 1990s and the 2006 violence, with cars taken across the border to Mauritania or as far away as Morocco to be sold. While I'm sure someone will blame "terrorists" it seems clear if you give young men guns and no jobs, especially in a region with a centuries old tradition of trade / smuggling, you'll get car robberies. I would hope government might deal with these issues before calling in AFRICOM with their missiles and bombs.

AFRICOM: Ghana in the crosshairs

Crossed Crocodiles blog, long focused on the expansion of AFRICOM, contrasts a host of quotes which illustrate what US Military African Command leaders say to the Ghanaian press VS. what they elsewhere proclaim are their intentions. Unsurprisingly, the US military and State Department are quite clear that they wish to set up a permanent offshore presence along the oilfields and trade routes of West Africa, especially Ghana. The US calls this "Seabasing". "Seabasing will allow the use of the world’s oceans as large or small scale Joint, Multinational and Interagency bases for operations without dependence on ports or airfields ashore. We must be present to be a part of the solution and protect our interests." At the same time they are telling Ghanaians who ask if they wish to establish bases: "We have done absolutely nothing that would substantiate that impression, and we’re not going to do anything. There is no intention of setting up bases in Africa." The scramble is in full swing.

Niger: Short bio of a new Minister and spokesman

Mahaman Laouali Dan Dah, who was appointed by the CSRD junta on Monday as Minister of Secondary Education, has also been appointed spokesman for the new provisional government. Laouali Dan Dah is an interesting character: a gadfly under the Bare regime, he led the Magistrates union SAMAN (syndicat autonome des magistrats du Niger), and was nominated for the CENI electoral commission. After the April 1999 coup he served as Justice Minister, and has since run his own law firm in Niamey. More generally, Laouali Dan Dah seems a representative – if particularly distinguished – member of the provisional government. These are technocratic professionals who have a record of opposing the worst excesses of Nigerien regimes, but have no qualms about working with all other political poles of the society.

Niger: Farmers migrate north looking for work, and find little

The UN's IRIN news has a piece well worth reading in full: "NIGER: Food pressures spread north" along with the a portrait of a southern Niger farmer ("Mariama Adao, 'We help each other… but it is hard'") whose crop failures have driven her to seek work in the equally troubled north. The two paint a more subtle picture of the problems facing a third of Niger's population, all most all of whom depend on small scale farms or pastoralism just to get by. A recent FEWS report from neighboring Mali stresses how the stop and start rains of last June have done in the northern seasonal pastures upon which local pastoralists rely, causing a cascade of pressure as they move south into well producing farms. In pockets of Niger's south we had the same effect: crops withered after spotty rains. Mariama Adao from Matameye migrated early looking for farm work in Agadez to find that floods there had halved the work available. This is how in a poor society any mixed harvest could become a disaster.

Niger: More Tandja loyalists freed

Libération-Niger reports that three security heads were freed from custody: Col. Hamidou Maïgari, head of the 600 man Presidential Guard under Tandja was freed along with a Captain of the same unit. Both were held at Camp Bagagi Iya, best known for the football stadium where the FNIS and Army teams play. The later is headed by junta no 2 Col. Pele Hima Mamadou, coincidentally or not.

As noted earlier, Army Colonel Abdou Sidikou Issa was just transferred to head the FNIS (which commands the Guard). The former FNIS head Colonel Assoumane Abdou remained loyal to Tandja, and is one of only a handful of top commanders to have disappeared from the scene. Most others previously seen as close to Tandja have rallied to the new Junta. Liberation also points out that Col. Bagué, Tandja's Aide de camp (and conflated in some earlier reports with CSRD Secretary Col. Abdoulaye Badie), was released by the junta several days earlier.

Niger: Junta appeals to authority

Like many nations, Nigeriens make a distinction between "political" figures and "National" figures. Of course this distinction is artificial and changeable: deposed President Tandja tried to position himself as "above" politics, as a justification for taking dictatorial powers, and see where that got him. But one of the most interesting re-appearances of the last few weeks is former President-Général (1987-1991/3) Ali Saibou. At the time he was the weak consensus candidate after the death of Seyni Kountché, hard man of the 1974-1991 military Junta. He vacillated about democracy, oversaw a brief bloody crackdown on dissent, and then gave up meekly to a citizens council and stayed on as a figurehead for two years. Living in obscurity, he has been visited by both the coup leaders and the PM in recent days, who hold him up as "a chief of state who loved Niger". With the other living ex-heads of state (Ousmane and Tandja) still active politically, Saibou seems sainted.

Niger: Other appointments for military titans

I've argued that continuity and inclusiveness is the watchword of the new CSRD junta in Niger. Some additional appointments announced today underscore this. Disgraced Tandja Military chief and co-conspirator General Moumouni Boureïma's aide Col Abdou Sidikou Issa is one of the main field commanders to rise from the 99 coup. He was Prefect of Maradi in 99, chief of the Zinder Defence Zone at the beginning of the recent Tuareg conflict, and moved in the highest army circles. He's now been named as the head of the FNIS the paramilitary force of the Interior Ministry, which also runs the Presidential Guard. Général de Brigade Seyni Garba, one of the four Joint Chief generals thought loyal to Tandja and Boureima (along with Mai Manga Oumara, Abdou Kaza, and Mamadou Ousseini, now all Ministers) is Inspector General of the Gendarmerie. Pele Hima Hamadou, presumed Junta no. 2, is made Counselor to the President with Rank of Minister: so technically that's six officers now ministers.

Niger: Junta names new military joint chiefs

While Monday's announcement kicked three long standing generals up to provisional ministers, the junta in Niger has named the new joint chiefs, with continuity to the fore (again). Those how moved up to ministerial positions were replaced by their adjutants. Air Corps General Souleymane (Seyni) Salou, one of the four officers favored by Tandja, is now Joint Chief, with the only obvious political casualty of the coup former joint Chief Général de Division Moumouni Boureima still under arrest. With Gen. Mamadou Ousseini a Minister, his adjutant Col. Salifou Mody (Modi) is head of the Army. He's another member of the Junta and member of the 99 junta. Air Col. Hassane Mossi, the former adjutant becomes head of Air Forces. He too is on the CSRD junta. Their assistants are previously anonymous Colonels Didili Amadou (to the Chief), Iro Oumarou (Army), and Issa Hamza (air). Note that Gen Seyni Salou, for having been bought off by Tandja, now appears beside Djibo Salou in meetings.

Niger: First provisional government

The CSRD Junta has named (1 March) a provisional government of 20 ministers. Apart form President Salou Djibo, there are five military men all from the highest levels, including Generals Mamadou Ousseini, Mai Manga Oumara, Abdou Kaza who were just below Tandja's Military Chief Boureima, and considered loyalists to that regime. They are joined by Colonels Ahmed Mohamed and Diallo Amadou who were members of Wanke's 1999 junta. Their five portfolios make this the most military officers in a government since Gen. Ali Saibou's 11 March 1991 government, the last prior to democratization. The only other new Minister (other than PM Danda) to have served at this level: Minister of Education Dan Dah, who was Justice Minister under Wanke. Of the less known remaining, five are women, the most of any Nigerien government. Only time will tell if these civilian ministers hold powerful posts past the transition, or are influential over the junta.

Please don’t mention the football: Old Firm 2010, 1

Change the names, and this is 1994 all over again. Lou Macari, poor Tommy Burns, Charlie Nicholas, Big Pierre van Hooijdonk, John Collins, and even Tony Mobray. With Hugh Dallas keeping it on track. Huns sit back, Celts attack but don't have the personnel to keep it up. A dodgy call or two, and that's an old firm match. Bah. "Rangers appeared content to sit deep and hit Celtic on the break … The visitors were reduced to 10 men with 66 minutes gone when _____ received a straight red after he and ____ (Basile Boli?) clashed, but it looked a harsh decision as the Rangers man tumbled to the ground. _____'s dismissal knocked Celtic off their stride and Rangers looked to capitalise on their numerical advantage. Rangers, who move 10 points ahead with a game in hand, will believe the victory all but secures their second successive title. "

Niger: With Tandja out, aid groups can talk about famine

Abdoulaye Tiemogo, Editor of Niamey opposition paper Le Canard Dechaine, is quoted in this well done AP article "Niger: Once-taboo topic of hunger spoken again".
Niger's first post-independence coup came amid another food crisis in 1974, and "the soldiers who took power justified it by saying the president at the time could not feed the population… That's why they're still afraid of words like famine," said Tiemogo, who spent three months in prison and seven in exile for publishing articles critical of Tandja. A government report in December on the country's latest food crisis may have only come to light because Tiemogo obtained a leaked copy… The failure to publish accurate statistics can have "dramatic consequences," Tiemogo said. "If you don't know what's really going on, you can't react to it, and it's the population that suffers. People die."

Niger: The composition of the CSRD announced

Libération-Niger reports that Cmdt. Salou Djibou has announced the membership of the CSRD junta. They are:
Président : Le Chef d'Escadron SALOU DJIBO
• Secrétaire Permanent : Colonel ABDOULAYE BADIE
• Membres du Conseil :
• Colonel GOUKOYE ABDOULKARIM, Porte-parole du Conseil ;
• Colonel SALIFOU MODY ;
• Lieutenant-Colonel ADAMOU GARBA ;
• Lieutenant-Colonel AMADOU MADOUGOU WONKOYE ;
• Lieutenant-Colonel CHAÏBOU IDRISSA ;
• Lieutenant-Colonel ABOUBACAR AMADOU SANDA ;
• Lieutenant-Colonel MAMANE SOULEY ;
• Chef de Bataillon ABDOURAMANE IBRAHIM ;
• Lieutenant ISSA AMADOU ;
• Sous-Lieutenant ARZIKA TCHIEMOGO.

Niger: Behind the scenes at a coup

Christophe Boisbouvier in Jeune Afrique was a veritable "Roman de cle", detailing how the February 18 Coup happened behind the scenes, according to his inside sources. I haven't the room to detail every revelation, but here are some of the top.

Tandja cut the pay and dismisses 37 members of the Presidential Guard in February. When the attack came, it was only elements of this FNIS unit that resisted, while others helped the attackers. He had delivered regular bribes (as detailed in a previous piece by Boisbouvier) to the Joint chiefs of 30 000 to 76 000 euros, but nothing for anyone else. He even made large payments to the former Tuareg rebel leaders to assure their peace deal. The coup was finalized at a 10AM meeting at the Supply Camp run by Djibo, along with a Captain Sirfi of the Air Corps who had contacts in the FNIS unit guarding Tandja. Pele and other top officers were not present at the coup, and the President and Ministers were quickly captured, but allowed their phones.

Fifteen dead in Timbuktu mosque stampede – police (Reuters)

Thursday evening was Maoulid (Mawlid) the celebration of the Prophet's birth that is a carnival like holiday across West Africa. Sadly, construction barriers near Timbuktu's famous Djingareyber mosque caused crowds that resulted in a panic and stampede. Police say 15 people, including two children, were killed and that another 41 people were injured. "Every year for Maouloud people come to the grand mosque, but this year construction blocked some of the roads," said Imam Abdramane ben Effayouti. "People took to narrow alleys, there was jostling, and the tragedy occurred." Very sad.

Niger´s junta puts all mining contracts “under study”?

Xinhua picks out a phrase in CSRD spokesman Col Goukoye's statement on the 24th for scrutiny. Scrutiny indeed, as this is China, France, and Canada's biggest concern. Goukoye declared that all mining contracts were certainly going to be looked at more carefully and that "everything is going to be done in equity and justice." Referring to possible corruption charges against past officials, he said: "We are definitely going to hold those state officials accountable. That is a priority. An absolute priority. It is a must that we do this and instructions have been given to those charged with this issue to ensure that the payments that are supposed to be done at the expiry date are made at that time." Remember that Col. Hima Hamidou, number three or four in the 1999 junta and number two now, was on a corruption commission shortly after Ibrahim Bare Mainassara was overthrown. It's August 1999 conclusion recovered some 2000M CFA but no high profile convictions. Expect a similar result.

AQIM: Former hostage Peter Camatte speaks

In a press appearance in Bamako Peter Camatte, the French-Malian NGO head who was held by the AQIM described his captors as "fanatics". His description of the Algerian Abdelhamid Abou Zeïd's group was "Fanatics, who thought no one but them were real Muslims". He said the group was %70-%80 youths, with whom he could communicate with only a few broken English, because most didn't speak any French. He said they sat in the desert, baking, in "unhygienic" conditions, with the only water "absolutely disgusting". These men didn't kidnap him, but he was "sold" to them by a Malian criminal gang. I'm going to go out on a limb (again): it's Algeria's problem with terrorists (who seem to have a lot of cash, via Western government's ransoms) meeting impoverished, armed Malian smugglers. So just which one is dumping the problem of their failed politics on the other?

Niger: Who’s under arrest, Mk. IV

Liberation (Niamey) reports Col. Gukoye (the CSRD spokesman) listed out yesterday (24th) who the junta currently has under arrest apart from Tandja. And despite the statements previously that these people were released, they are "under arrest", not just under surveillance in their homes. They are (all "former"): PM Ali Badjo Gamatié, Minister of Justice Garba Lompo, Minister of Finance Ali Lamine Zeine, Minister of Mines Mohamed Abdoulahi, Minister of Equipment Lamido Mounouni and Interior Minister Albadé Abouba. This leaves out two formerly reported, MNSD party head Seini Oumarou and Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou.