Category Archives: Africa

How Republican are Alassane Ouattara’s “Republican Forces”?

Posted by Moussa Fofana and Yvan Guichaoua


Laurent Gbagbo’s stubborn efforts to cling to power despite his electoral defeat have pushed his rival Alassane Ouattara to use force to gain effective presidency of Côte d’Ivoire. This choice is politically costly. It partially alters the legitimacy Ouattara won through the ballot box. It also raises the profiles of those who ousted Gbagbo through the gun: the former rebels, who were opportunistically rebranded “Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire” (RFCI) just before the assault against the security forces which remained loyal to the ex-president.

The political promotion of the ex-rebels triggers a series of questions respectively pertaining to their capacity to ensure security in the country, to the intentions of their chiefs, to the future of the forms of governance they have established in the north and to the process of demobilization of their low-level combatants.

It is worth stressing that the bulk of Ouattara’s troops do not generally correspond to the portrait of ‘traditional warriors’ from the north seeking ethnic revenge – this idea is more ideological than empirically grounded. The few serious sociological investigations available show the wide array of drivers of enlistment in the ex-rebel forces. Some may be opportunistic and personal. Others have to do with the deep moral outrage caused by the institutionalization of the discriminatory ideology of “Ivoirité” under Bédié and Gbagbo which made many Northerners feel like second-class citizens.

Furthermore, new untrained recruits might have been mobilized in Abidjan immediately before the fall of Gbagbo but most of the pro-Ouattara fighters were professional soldiers or enrolled in a process of professionalization as part of the integration programs stemming from the 2007 Ouagadougou peace accords. The army that fought for Ouattara in 2011 bears little resemblance to the hastily mobilized forces that fought Gbagbo’s troops in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2002. Ouattara’s RFCI were also rapidly reinforced by regular army soldiers abandoning Gbagbo as defeat got closer. The ‘Republican’ quality of this new and unusual composite of security forces still needs to be tested, though.

The first test concerns the capacity of the RFCI to secure the country’s territory and prevent atrocities. The RFCI’s accomplishments so far are hardly commendable. The minimum, consisting in capturing Gbagbo alive and avoiding the bloodbath prophesized by his followers, has been achieved. But, according to the international NGO Human Rights Watch, some members of the RFCI were involved in the massacres perpetrated in Duekoue. Similarly, the conquest of Abidjan was accompanied by bloody reprisals for the attacks perpetrated by the pro-Gbagbo militias after the elections in November.

A second major security concern relates to the future of the ‘comzones’, which is the name given to rebel officers who have been ruling the northern territories for almost a decade and who commanded the troops which ultimately dislodged Gbagbo. The comzones are important for at least two reasons: because of their ability to mobilise militarily and because of their hold on informal economic and political networks which buttress the forms of governance dominant in the north. Therefore, the comzones’ expectations in the post-Gbagbo era are not only related to their contribution to Ouattara’s rise to power; they also depend on the opportunity cost of relinquishing the advantages they derive from their northern fiefdoms. The popular legitimacy of the newly nominated préfets and the fulfilment of Ouattara’s promises of decentralization will be key assets permitting political and economic transition and the dismantling of comzones’ influence in the north.

On a personal level, the comzones’ ambitions vary. Some have already expressed their intention to quit the army. Others hope to move up the military hierarchy. The man holding the key role in the shaping of the comzones’ future is Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s current Prime Minister, whose trajectory so far has been questionable. Crimes that were perpetrated by the ‘New Forces’ under his command expose him to international prosecution and the recent killing of his old rival Ibrahim Coulibaly in Abidjan shows that interpersonal vendettas among ex-rebels are not over. Soro is due to leave office as part of an electoral deal between Ouattara and his circumstantial ally Henri Konan Bédié. Soro’s resignation will be a welcome signal that power now belongs to civil authorities.

A third yardstick in Ivorian security politics concerns the demobilization of thousands of combatants from all sides. Most pro-Ouattara combatants expect some kind of compensation for what they perceive as a sacrifice for the cause while pro-Gbagbo militias may still trade their surrender. Reintegration programs plan to offer mostly economic reward to those returning to civilian life, and fresh flows of funding should satisfy the most pressing demands. In the longer term however, the dangerous effects on people’s lives of years of socialization through the gun will have to be addressed.

The window of opportunity to restore Republican behaviour among reconfigured Ivorian security forces is narrow. The resolve shown by Ivorian authorities to introduce positive changes will be the best indicator for Ivoirians that impunity and arbitrariness inherited from the war are over.


The Genesis of Terrorism in the Sahara: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Posted by Yvan Guichaoua

Yvan Guichoua

In January 2011, a terrorist group self-branded Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped a young French NGO worker and his visiting friend in one of the poshest restaurants of Niamey, Niger’s state capital. En route to a probable hideout in Mali’s mountainous north, the kidnappers and their hostages were stopped by the military intervention of French troops during which the two Frenchmen eventually died. This episode is so far the most spectacular action carried out by AQIM which stunningly demonstrated its capacity to hit any target in the vast Saharan zone it has been roaming for years.

The group is now considered a major terrorist threat in the area. Presently, it still holds five European hostages (four French workers of the multinational AREVA kidnapped in the northern Niger mining town Arlit and an Italian tourist abducted near Djanet in Algeria) and shows no hurry to release them. Many more Europeans have been detained by AQIM since January 2007, the group’s official birth date. One of them was executed, another one died in obscure circumstances but most of them have been released against the payment of generous ransoms. Crucially though, most of AQIM’s victims are nationals of the countries where the armed outfit operates: Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.

AQIM’s operational capacity in the Sahara today is the outcome of a gradual encroachment in a territory to which it did not originally belong. AQIM is the outgrowth of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), created by Islamist radicals during the Algerian civil war and repelled southward by Algerian security forces. Historically, it had little social support base it could rely on in the desert. It had little following, too (a few hundred men at most). The core of its combatants is composed of Jihadist fighters trained in Afghanistan and sharing a strong warlike ethos.

How can a violent group sustain itself in a region it is largely alien to? The hardly controllable Saharan terrain might be an enabling factor but does not constitute the sole explanation: AQIM didn’t fill in a political void. I would argue that the GSPC, which became AQIM in 2007, managed to gain a foothold in Algeria’s bordering Saharan countries through a combination of smart business strategies, astute efforts to foster a modus vivendi with local populations and, indirectly, permissive circumstances engendered by regional central governments’ policies. Importantly, too, taking the name Al Qaeda in the first place was a far from benign move: it almost magically upgraded the disparate gathering of Jihadists to the status of unitary transnational threat, making the fetishism of acronym work at full steam among the western diplomacies and media.

The economic and consequently logistical consolidation of AQIM was permitted by the bonanza of ransoms paid by the hostages’ home countries but also a deep involvement of the Salafist group in cross border trafficking. All sorts of commodities travel the desert illegally: food, electrical appliances, cigarettes but also stolen cars, drugs and arms. Another bountiful trans-Saharan business also consists in transporting human “loads” – as local drivers put it – of African migrants back and forth. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of AQIM’s most prominent figures, is said to control significant shares of these pervasive traffics and to extort taxes from other smugglers. Anecdotally, when I asked young inhabitants of Tamanrasset what they knew about AQIM in 2009, the first answers that came up pointed to their reputation as big traffickers and the mechanical excellence of their cars. It is worth noting that AQIM, while probably a big player, does not fully control cross-border smuggling which flourishes throughout West Africa and rapidly becomes institutionalised, reaching state circles. In the same way, ransom extortion does not just benefit AQIM but also intermediaries and negotiations brokers connected to states.

Along with carving out a sizeable space in the local political economy, AQIM chiefs built alliances with some local Tuareg leaders, involving sufficient collaboration to let AQIM’s activities prosper. Such alliances are by no means the rule and might only be temporary. They owe little to religious or ideological connections (although AQIM figures might have a fanbase among the region’s disenfranchised youths) and, more likely, a lot to the micro-politics of parochial and economic rivalries in the area. Some background circumstances also enabled them: for decades now, sections of the economically and politically marginalized Tuareg society have been taking up arms against the central governments of Niamey and Bamako without achieving much in developmental or political terms. Protracted low intensity insurgency in Mali and Niger’s respective northern provinces was not only accompanied by reluctance among some Tuaregs to cooperate with their national central authorities but it has also facilitated the proliferation of banditry in the region, providing AQIM with enthusiastic potential subcontractors. Many of the latest kidnappings claimed by AQIM were actually not perpetrated by AQIM members but by local criminals selling back their catches to the Salafist outfit.

Confronted by AQIM’s growing influence in the Sahara, the national authorities of the region  and their military backers, France and the United States, have provided discordant responses. The US seem to collaborate actively with Algeria, which has been infuriated by European governments’ proneness to cede to AQIM’s demands in exchange of the liberation of their hostages. Similarly, Algerian authorities point accusing fingers to the alleged incompetence of the Malian military. Meanwhile, France has developed privileged security cooperation with Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, which is not welcomed by Algeria, and whose results remain to be seen. One does not need to endorse conspiracy theories to realise that the countries supposedly involved in the counter-terrorist effort have differing agendas and views over the strategies to follow and their timing.

The spectacular rise of a secular revolutionary movement in Arab countries in the past weeks is certainly not good news for Al Qaeda on a global level. As far as AQIM is concerned though, there is much more to consider than just the weakening of an ideology. The criminalisation of the Sahel’s political economy might cause more enduring damage than the Jihad.

This article originally appeared in the openDemocracy Security section.

Darfur: In search of durable solutions

Posted by Chiara Altare.

While the world’s attention has turned to south Sudan and its preparation for independence on 9th July, life is going on in the region of Darfur, which has been affected by conflict since 2003. The question is: how are people managing to make a living?

In the past eight years of violence, the majority of the Darfur population has been somehow affected by the conflict, violence and displacement, either directly or indirectly. 2 to 300,000 people have died, some 3 million people have been displaced, livelihood opportunities have changed and people have adapted their livelihoods to the new situation.

Although violence has significantly decreased and humanitarian assistance has been provided, the overall situation has improved less than expected and desired: global acute malnutrition among children under the age of 5 has been decreasing since 2003 in many of the areas from which data is available, especially in West and South Darfur. However, it has not gone below the internationally recognized threshold for emergency (10%) indicating that the situation remains precarious.

In North Darfur, malnutrition and food insecurity remain high, which, in a situation of limited humanitarian access, can easily become a new emergency. The biggest improvement can be seen in mortality (both among adults and children), which has significantly decreased, thanks to both a reduction in violence and an increased provision of medical assistance. Both the crude mortality rate and under 5 mortality rate are well below emergency level.

This applies however only to the areas where humanitarian assistance is possible: unfortunately several regions are not accessible to any humanitarian assistance and therefore not covered with medical and nutrition programmes. This implies that the severity of the situation in these areas is unknown.  

Long term prospects do not promise any clear improvement: the current peace consultations in Doha are not reaching the expected agreement among the numerous actors involved and therefore no peace agreement seems possible in the near future. In addition, recent escalating attacks of the army and rebel groups on the civilian population caused new displacement in North Darfur where around 15,000 people moved to Zamzam camp (between December 2010 and February 2011), making living conditions in the already crowded camp even more critical. Assistance to the civilian population therefore remains limited due to both insecurity and governmental restrictions for humanitarian and peacekeeping interventions. 

In the meantime, the Darfur population is showing an extreme ability to adapt: through diversification of economic activities, adaptation to the urban setting, changing food and life habits, and accepting humanitarian assistance. However, how sustainable can this be? What are the real chances for the population living in camps or in the camp periphery or among the host communities? Which opportunities are available for those who may plan to return to their place of origin in rural areas?

The search for durable solutions is one of the key priorities of the government of Sudan as presented in the Humanitarian Assistance Strategy in Darfur (November 2010) which stresses the need for a shift from emergency assistance to recovery and long term interventions. This reorientation however has to be carefully planned so as to ensure that humanitarian needs are not underestimated. The call is for a contiguum approach, in which humanitarian interventions occur simultaneously with developmental interventions according to the different needs of the population throughout the large and diverse region of Darfur.

In this context, two of the MICROCON partners (IDS and CRED) together with the Ahfad University for Women (Omdurman, Sudan) have started a study on livelihoods, nutrition and public health in Darfur. The study is funded by the European Commission and involves the FAO, UNICEF, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the Humanitarian Assistance Commission. The study aims at investigating how livelihoods have changed since 2003 and how this has affected the health and nutrition status of the household members.

There are two innovations in this study: first, it combines information on both livelihoods, and nutritional/health characteristics of the Darfur households. Only by bringing together these two sets of information will it be possible to better understand the underlying causes of malnutrition and identify which types of households are more vulnerable. This will facilitate targeting specific population groups who are more at risk.

Second, the study will gather both qualitative and quantitative data. A household survey is currently being prepared: demographic, social, economic information will be collected, together with anthropometric measurement and data on feeding and care practices. With this tool, we aim to capture important information from a representative sample which will provide us with a comprehensive understanding of livelihoods in Darfur. Qualitative data will complement this information and provide a deeper insight into how lives have been affected by the conflict and what are the expectations of the population for the coming years. 

The results of the study will be available towards the end of this year and will be used by the Sudanese government and the international community for readdressing their interventions in Darfur.

The Art of Clinging to Power: Laurent Gbagbo and the Post-election Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire

Posted by Morten Bøås and Anne Hatløy


After a few relatively quiet years in West Africa, the region has once again returned to international headlines due to conflict and political violence. This time it is Côte d’Ivoire, and the turmoil started when the opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won the presidential election on November 29 last year. This election was supposed to contribute to peace and reconciliation, but it clearly did not. There is no doubt that Ouattara won the election, and Gbagbo must know that he lost it, but he also unfortunately seems to believe that if he just clings to power long enough, sooner or later ECOWAS, the United Nations and the international community at large will rest its case and allow him to remain in power: as the ‘rightful’ president or in the worst case, in Gbagbo’s eyes, forcing on him a national unity government solution of the same type as the one negotiated in the aftermath of the Kenyan post-election violence in 2007.

This would be a bad solution as it will set the democratic agenda in Africa several decades back, and therefore attempting to ‘master the art of clinging to power’ should not be rewarded. What is the point of an election if a losing incumbent president only needs to be as stubborn as possible to be allowed to continue to rule? It is possible that the ‘national unity government’ option was the correct solution in Kenya in 2007, but Côte d’Ivoire is not Kenya and the Kenyan solution should not in any case be seen as the leading principle for how such situations should be solved on the African continent. In that regard, it is gratifying that both the ECOWAS and the AU so far has been quite firm in their support for Ouattara. This stand should be encouraged and supported by all parties in the international community more broadly that want a more democratic African continent. However, it is also obvious that Gbagbo’s strategy is to wait for splits among African countries. He already seems to have some tactical support from Angola, not only in diplomatic terms, but also resource-wise. The South African support for the ECOWAS/AU line is reluctant, and even if Ghana has stated that it will stand by any sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, it has also made it clear that it will not contribute to any ECOWAS-led military intervention against Gbagbo. It is therefore of primary importance that the international community at large gives its unconditional support to the hard line against the Gbagbo regime that Nigeria and its president Goodluck Jonathan has taken. In this regard, important donor countries and foreign investors should make it clear that any attempt to break the international line against Gbagbo will have consequences for the country that undertake such actions. So far, the international community has not communicated this clearly enough to African countries such as Angola, Ghana and South Africa and they should do so.

It should also be noted that the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire also shows that the conduct of multi-party elections is not a prerequisite for peace and reconciliation. Elections alone do not create anything but winners and losers, and in a polarised society such as Côte d’Ivoire elections may be as equally conflict-enhancing as conflict-reducing. This is not an argument against democratic elections per se, but elections in a place such as Côte d’Ivoire should only be one of several measures adopted to ensure peace and reconciliation. Well in advance of such elections, substantial investments must be made to ensure civil society organisations that can reach across well entrenched political cleavages. Investments must be made in the institutionalisation of the political rules of engagement so that they or those that lose forthcoming election knows that such a loss will not dramatically alter their basic political and economic rights. In addition, the international community must have a backup plan when things go wrong. Unfortunately none of this seems to have been the case in Côte d’Ivoire. This is not only embarrassing, but tragic. Events as they unfold on the ground are no surprise. Rather, it was a high probability that exactly what we now see would happen if Gbagbo should lose and Ouattara win and the international community should have been aware of this.

It is therefore important both for the people of Côte d’Ivoire and the African continent that confrontation with the kind of destructive political forces that Gbagbo represents continues, insisting that the actual winner of the election also is allowed to assume power. If we let Gbagbo succeed, we will most likely see this kind of stubborn clinging to power in a number of other places on the continent in the near future, as there are a series of crucial elections forthcoming in Africa this year as well as in 2012.

This is the blog of the MICROCON research programme, featuring the reflections and opinions of MICROCON’s 60-strong team of researchers. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MICROCON as a whole.