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Note: This update is a summary of various news articles from open sources relating to African countries threatened by political instability or civil unrest, impending humanitarian crisis, emerging security threats and terrorist activities, energy security activities and economic and/or security cooperation efforts. Please click on the links below to access the complete article from the internet. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries given below highlight only the portion of each article that is relevant and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Please note that the update includes articles, which use the British English spelling. Articles are taken from diverse regional, American and European media sources, reflecting a range of political views/biases, and are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. Opinions expressed in the articles/commentaries do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP Staff.
NORTH AFRICA, SAHARA/SAHEL REGION
Tuareg Rebellion Poses Security Risk for Fragile Sahel Region
Tuareg rebels in northern Mali are closer than ever to the autonomy they have sought since the 1960s. The international community has watched with distress as Tuareg rebels, and a splinter group of Islamist extremists, have seized control of northern Mali following a chaotic military coup in the capital, Bamako, on 22 March. Rebels now control a trio of key northern outposts, Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, that have eluded them for decades. A separatist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA, claims the vast triangle of desert as its homeland, Azawad. MNLA political spokesman Moussa ag Assarid said the group now controls the territory it wants. All that remains, he said, is to secure the border with Mali. He says they plan to create a secular, democratic state that will regroup all the ethnic groups in northern Mali, not just the Tuaregs. He said northern Mali is a different world from the south. He said they have tried to make do for the past 50 years but they have never truly been Malians. He said independence is now all they will consider. (…) The MNLA is the latest incarnation of a rebellion that has raged on and off in Mali since independence, or even before that if you count Tuareg resistance to French colonial rule. This is the fourth major armed rebellion since 1963. The Tuareg have their own language and a distinct matriarchal culture. It is the men who must cover their heads and faces with turbans that are said to ward off evil spirits and block out the harsh desert sun and wind. (…) Another unique element of this rebellion is the involvement of a small but visible extremist group, Ansar Dine, that wants shariah, or Islamic law, applied in northern Mali. The group, whose name means “Defenders of the Faith,” broke off from the MNLA in March. (…) Residents of towns seized in March say they saw rebels raising MNLA flags, as well as other fighters yelling “Allah akbar.” News agencies report also seeing the Ansar Dine’s black banner flying over Timbuktu. Ansar Dine is said to have ties to al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. (…) MNLA separatists are trying to shake off associations to Islamic extremism. The MNLA maintains that it is in a state of coexistence, and not cooperation, with Ansar Dine. Experts say the two groups could come to blows once their perhaps uneasy alliance is no longer convenient. The power struggle would further destabilize northern Mali, where 200,000 civilians have already fled fighting, many to neighboring countries. The Tuareg have run caravan trade routes through the Sahara for centuries. However, analysts say the only goods moving along those routes now are drugs, guns and even people. The vast swathe of desert is nearly impossible to police. It has become home to drug traffickers ferrying Latin American cocaine to Europe and al-Qaida linked terrorists. Analysts speculate that Tuareg tribes are not directly involved in these activities but are perhaps taxing and facilitating traffic moving through the desert. MNLA spokesman Assarid said the MNLA plans to rid its territory of AQIM and traffickers. He said the Malian government has tried to damage the Tuareg’s reputation by connecting them with these criminal elements. He said it was the government who gave these elements free rein, pointing to a rumored non-aggression pact between the government and AQIM. … (VOA News)
Algeria’s Islamists brace for May polling
Algeria is deploying 60,000 security troops across the restive country amid campaigning for May parliamentary elections in which Islamists are running for the first time in two decades. The North African country’s deeply entrenched military-backed regime fears that Islamists, emboldened by an Islamist resurgence in the pro-democracy uprisings that has gripped the region since January 2011, will score heavily to challenge its power. But, as the Financial Times observes, “In the year of the Arab Spring, social unrest, political revolution and civil war have swept across one country after another in North Africa and the Middle East. But the ancien regime in Algeria remains defiantly in place.” There was rioting and protests early in 2011 in the immediate eruption of the pro-democracy movement in Tunisia. But the regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a veteran of the 1954-62 war of independence against French colonialism, lifted a 19-year state of emergency and doled out hefty financial packages to pacify a disgruntled populace. (UPI)
Libya bans religious, tribal or ethnic parties
Libya, preparing for elections in June, has banned parties based on religion, tribe or ethnicity, the government said on 25 April, and a new Islamist party viewed as a leading contender signaled it would challenge the decision. National Transitional Council spokesman Mohammed al-Harizy said the council passed the law governing the formation of political parties on Tuesday evening. “Parties are not allowed to be based on religion or ethnicity or tribe,” he told Reuters. He did not make clear how this would affect a political party formed in March by Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. The new party was expected to make a strong showing in the election, the first since last year’s overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed popular uprising. The head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Development Party said the NTC needed to make it clearer what it meant by banning religious parties. He said this would cause controversy in conservative Libya, whose population of six million is made up almost entirely of Sunni Muslims. “This kind of clause is only useful in countries where there exists many religions, not in Libya where most people are religious Muslims,” Sawan told Reuters. “This law needs to be reviewed by the NTC and if it’s not changed, we would have to protest it.” Libya’s NTC has already indicated that the country will be run in accordance with sharia, though the exact place of Islamic law in the legal system will be settled only once a new constitution is written after elections. Political analysts have said the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to emerge as Libya’s most organized political force and an influential player in the oil-exporting state where Islamists, like all dissidents, were harshly suppressed during the 42 years of Qaddafi’s dictatorial rule. (Reuters)
West African leaders blast juntas in Guinea-Bissau, Mali
West African leaders on 26 April urged the military in Guinea-Bissau and Mali to cease interfering in civilian affairs at the start of a special summit to discuss coups carried out in both countries. In Guinea-Bissau “we can no longer tolerate this usurpation of power by the junta” which took control on April 12, said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) who chaired the gathering of some 10 leaders. The junta “must withdraw”, allowing for a “quick” transition back to civilian rule, he added. Mali, for its part, is now “in a period of transition” after the military agreed to hand back power to an interim government, but there too “civilian authority must be strengthened and made paramount,” Ouattara added. In the face of international pressure, the Mali junta agreed on April 6 to an ECOWAS-mediated deal to return the country to civilian rule. But ECOWAS commission chairman Desire Kadre Ouedraogo warned Thursday that, despite the deal, “the junta still retains autocratic leanings”. Political parties in Mali have accused soldiers of refusing to return to barracks or submit to constitutional authority despite the formation of a new civilian government which includes officers associated with the coup. The 15-member ECOWAS has said it is considering deploying troops to both countries. Ouattara said the summit would look at ways to open “humanitarian corridors” into northern Mali where Tuareg rebels and Islamist extremists took advantage of the coup in Bamako to seize control, cutting off outside aid to local populations. In Guinea-Bissau soldiers who took control on 12 April ahead of run-off presidential elections have sought to strike a deal with opposition parties for a two-year transition period that would exclude the former ruling party and its allies. Talks earlier this week between the junta and an ECOWAS delegation failed to make any progress. (AFP)
Crisis Converge on Burkina Faso
So far, more than 20,000 refugees have fled Mali into Burkina Faso, and some observers say Mali’s crisis is further destabilizing its neighbor. With considerable political, social and economic problems of its own, the added stress on Burkina Faso could disturb an uneasy peace in the country. Burkina Faso’s border with Mali stretches from the Tuareg rebel-controlled deserts of the north to the populated south, now governed by a military junta that seized power in late March. According to the Red Cross, most Malian refugees find themselves in northern Burkina Faso after fleeing the well-armed and advancing Tuareg rebels. But government spokesman Alain Traoré says Burkina Faso is experiencing fallout all along the border with its northwestern neighbor. Traoré says that when the conflict zone that was in the north moved toward the capital for other reasons, the impact is the same and they are very worried. The influx of refugees will likely place further strains on one of the world’s poorest economies, but the political situation in Burkina Faso is just as tenuous and could worsen as a result of regional instability. (VOA News)