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By David A. Merkel

Washington/London - The leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), including Russia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus, are scheduled to meet in Moscow on Monday (16 May).

This organisation — Russia's version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) — has some similar characteristics to the Warsaw Pact, which was established on 14 May 1955 in Warsaw, Poland.

Unlike most defensive alliances, the Warsaw Pact never deployed troops abroad, but only to its own member-states.

In 1956, troops were sent to suppress anti-communist protests in Hungary, where approximately 3,000 people died.

In 1968, 124,000 troops were sent to Czechoslovakia to crush the 'Prague Spring'. Imre Nagy and Alexander Dubcek both responded to the call from their population for greater freedom. Moscow responded by violently suppressing the people and resulted in Nagy's hanging and Dubcek's prompt replacement.

In the CSTO's 30 years of existence, the one and only time it sent troops was to Kazakhstan in January.

The organisation ignored pleas by Armenia's prime minister Nikola Pashinyan in its 2020 war with Azerbaijan and the Kyrgyz Republic's request, in 2010, the refusal of which prompted Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko to say that "further activities of the CSTO (are) unpromising, as the organisation does not respond to a 'coup d'etat' in one of its member-states."


Family squabble


The CSTO already has some family troubles. The leaders of the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan are meeting — while having ongoing hostilities along the border in the Pamir mountains.

Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was the enabler of Putin's shadow over Kazakhstan.

Unlike in Budapest and Prague, where Russian troops arrived uninvited and replaced the leadership, Tokayev, earlier this year, invited CSTO troops to quell protests speaking out against corruption and an increase in the price of liquified petroleum gas.

On 7 January, Tokayev publicly announced a "shoot-to-kill without warning" order, leading to the deaths of at least 232 citizens.

Rather than standing with the Kazakh people and their desire for meaningful change, Tokayev played the role of former Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushev and Leonid Brezhnev, suggesting Moscow has a larger role in determining Kazakhstan's future than do its citizens.

Now, on the 67th anniversary of the founding of the Warsaw Pact and the 30th anniversary of the founding of the CSTO, the latter is convening in Moscow to give cover that Russia is not alone in its war against Ukraine.

This is important for a population that is now starting to feel the effects of unprecedented sanctions.

Those with VPNs and who are able to get international press recognise that Russia is becoming a pariah on the world stage. A demonstration that Russia is not alone is vital for Putin to ask more of the oligarchs and Russia's population in the days ahead.

In response to questions concerning the upcoming CSTO summit, Kremlin press secretary Dmitriy Peskov confirmed that the ongoing "special operation" in Ukraine will be discussed.


Collective response?


As Nato has Article 5 guarantees, stating that an attack on one member is an attack on all, the CSTO has similar Article 4 guarantees, which state that: "In the event of an act of aggression against any of the participating states, all other participating states will provide him with the necessary assistance, including military."

With the Ukrainian military gaining confidence and strength, if there is a counter-offensive in the Donbas or Crimea, will it be seen as Moscow-interpreted Nagorno-Karabakh outside of the internationally recognised territory of Armenia and beyond CSTO guarantees, or will Moscow argue that it is an attack on Russian territory and call on the members of the CSTO to join its fight against Kyiv?

A staged provocation or a possible incursion into Belarus by Ukrainian forces could similarly trigger a collective response.

Aside from troops or military equipment, Putin could call on CSTO member-states for other assistance.

Moscow has long used energy as a weapon to exert its influence and bully its neighbours. Europe's recognition of the leverage Moscow enjoys and the accompanying financial contributions to Moscow's war effort is placing greater restrictions on the importation of hydrocarbons from Moscow.

Already, Putin has responded by shutting off gas to Bulgaria and Poland.

Should Article 4 be implemented, Moscow may call on Kazakhstan to cease delivery of its oil shipped via Russia through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC). Because this oil goes to market via the Russian port of Novorossiysk, Moscow already enjoys the power to close the tap when it chooses to, as demonstrated in April.

On 1 July 1991, the Warsaw Pact dissolved when Moscow could no longer compel membership, as the countries saw the Pact serving only Moscow's interests rather than their security.

Will CSTO member-states be drawn in to Putin's war of aggression, or will they stand up to Moscow for the interests of their citizens and see the CSTO meet the same fate as the Warsaw Pact?


Author


David A. Merkel is an associate fellow for geoeconomics and strategy with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He served as deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs at the US Department of State, and at the National Security Council as director for South and Central Asia.


Disclaimer


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver or CEMAS.


AB/ANA/16 May 2022 — - -

 

 

The Week, London 19 May 2022

LONDON - Turkey has objected to plans to fast-track Finland and Sweden’s applications to join Nato, demanding the two countries renounce their support for Kurdish “terrorist” organisations before joining the military alliance.

After some “hesitation” among the military alliance “about the seriousness of Turkey’s objections”, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has “doubled down on his threat to veto” the Nordic nations’ applications if his demands are not met, The Guardian said.

The Turkish strongman leader has also warned “there is no point in either country sending delegations to Ankara to persuade him” to back down, the paper added. This prompted his allies to accuse him of “using blackmail” to force the alliance to accept his terms.

 

Terrorist sympathisers?


On Wednesday Finland and Sweden formally handed their applications for membership of the Western military alliance to Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. This was followed by a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Nato’s governing political body.

But Turkey’s “reservations” during that gathering meant the alliance was unable to “reach the unanimity required to immediately move ahead with a formal start to the accession process”, Politico reported.

Turkey, which joined Nato during the alliance’s second expansion in 1952, opposes Finland and Sweden’s membership because of its long-standing allegation that Helsinki and Stockholm back “terrorist organisations” in Iraq and Syria.

This refers to the countries’ support for two Kurdish militias in the Middle East: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Defence Units (YPG).

The YPG “spearheaded the campaign against Isis in Syria”, the Financial Times (FT) said, receiving “weapons and training from the US-led anti-Isis coalition”, which was “supported by Sweden”.

The group, however, has close ties with the PKK, which has “waged a bloody armed struggle against the Turkish state since the 1980s” and has been “recognised as a terrorist organisation by Sweden as well as the EU and the US”.

Western backing for “groups that are affiliated” with the PKK has “long been a source of anger in Turkey”, the FT added, “both among officials and the public”.


Brothers without arms


Ankara insists that any new candidates for Nato membership “recognise its concerns about Kurdish militias” both “inside Turkey and across its borders in Syria and Iraq”, Bloomberg reported.

Erdoğan is demanding that both “publicly denounce not only the PKK, but also its affiliates before being allowed to join the bloc”.

Three officials told Bloomberg that “designating the PKK as a terrorist organization” is unlikely to be enough to stem Erdoğan’s objections, suggesting “the Nordic applicants must do more to clamp down on PKK sympathisers it says are active in their countries”.

Foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has also “slammed” Finland and Sweden over their refusal to “extradite suspects wanted in Turkey despite Ankara’s requests”, Al Jazeera reported.

These individuals stand “accused of having links to the PKK or to the Gulen movement”, which was blamed for a 2016 coup attempt.

President Erdoğan has also demanded that both Finland and Sweden “lift their ban on arms exports”, a measure “imposed in October 2019 after the Turkish incursion in northern Syria”, The Guardian said.

While “Turkey’s arms trade with the two countries is negligible and it’s not seeking any major defense purchases with them”, the three officials told Bloomberg that “Ankara won’t accept expanding a military alliance to countries that are blocking weapons deals”.

Çavuşoğlu made this objection public on Monday, saying the arms restrictions go “against the spirit” of an alliance founded on a principle of mutual defence.


Roadblock


Few doubt that “Erdoğan’s intervention could tangle Nato up in knots for months”, The Guardian said, meaning it is now “the task of alliance diplomats” to establish his “seriousness and the price that would have to be paid to make him back down”.

Anything less could provoke “a full-blown Nato crisis”, the paper added, leaving other member states “frustrated with Erdoğan’s brinkmanship”.

Internal “diplomatic deadlocks” over the alliance’s expansion have happened before, Al Jazeera reported, most recently when Greece delayed Macedonia’s application “in protest over the country’s name, which the Greeks said was an attempt to steal Greek heritage”.

But Turkey has “historically been in favour of the expansion of Nato”, the broadcaster added, leading experts to suggest that a compromise is possible.

“Turkey might not exactly get what it wants, but its allies will likely offer something that will satisfy it,” said Mensur Akgün, professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kultur University. Ankara will negotiate “in line with its national interests.

“At the end of the day, historically Turkey has never undermined a Nato consensus and will still try not to do it,” he added. “However, it will not be unconditional.”

 

 

 

By Kornely Kakachia and Bidzina Lebanidze, The Euobseprver, 18 May 2022

Tbilisi/Jena - Russia's invasion of Ukraine has revived discussions about EU enlargement as Brussels considers whether the Associated Trio countries (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) should be granted candidacy status.

While there are arguments on both sides, we believe that the EU will only benefit from starting the accession process with the associated countries: it will anchor them in the EU's geopolitical orbit, contribute to peace and stability in the region, and strengthen the EU's ownership of domestic reform process in its Eastern neighbourhood.

The accession process is open-ended and does not guarantee EU membership if Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine fail to meet expectations.

Therefore, the European Union has nothing to lose and everything to gain by granting Trio countries candidacy status.


Peace and geopolitics


Many political elites in EU countries have long treated the enlargement policy as a technocratic process, but this is incorrect. In reality, it has been one of the EU's most effective geopolitical instruments.

The European perspective has fuelled reforms, strengthened human rights movements, and motivated governments to implement costly changes in the name of becoming part of the European community.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the exacerbation of the EU-Russia rivalry further strengthens the geopolitical significance of the enlargement process. Granting EU candidacy status to the Associated Trio states will give them a new strategic objective to follow and firmly anchor their ties with Brussels.

It will also enable the EU to secure its place in the strategically important Black Sea region, which connects Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

This will be an important EU geopolitical victory over Russia's aggressive and destabilising regional policy — won without firing a shot. In addition, the enlargement policy can also be an effective instrument to finally stabilise and bring peace to the EU's volatile neighbourhood regions.

This would be in line with the EU's ultimate goal in the 'New Eastern European' region to establish a ring of stable, prosperous, and peaceful states. The only alternative would be to continue to turn a blind eye to developments in the region, resulting in more and more negative spill-over effects for the EU.


No guarantees


Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, as well as Moldova and Ukraine, does not guarantee EU membership.

The accession process will probably be very lengthy, and it is important that the EU does not compromise on the Copenhagen criteria and applies stringent democratic demands and the Acquis Communautaire to the Trio states.

Doing so can empower the pro-reform actors and neutralise the objections of the veto players in the trio states, who are known for their vested interests and reform-averse mindset. No other positive or negative reinforcement can have a similar effect.

Only the incentive of EU membership and accession-bound stringent conditionality can stabilise the chaotic democratic drive in the Trio states and turn them into well-governed and resilient states that can to contribute to EU's security, prosperity, and development.


Provisional alternatives


Alternative approaches to cooperation or new visions focusing on deepening sectoral integration in various policy areas cannot replace the importance of EU membership.

This will only weaken the Union and strengthen the political legitimacy of the EU's systemic rivals such as Russia and China. However, they can act as provisional steps as the Trio states work to meet membership criteria.

For instance, granting some form of labour mobility to the Trio countries can act a strong incentive and further bind these states to the EU. It is important however that these provisional mechanisms or visions, such as Macron's new idea of "political European community," in words of the French president, "[do] not necessarily prejudge any future membership of the EU, just as it would not be closed to those which have left the latter."

The sceptic voices in the EU who are against granting the Trio states candidacy status rightly claim that the political elites of the Associated Trio countries, and particularly Georgia, partially failed to deliver democracy and good governance reforms.

Nevertheless, Georgia does have the potential to improve itself via active participation of civil society if given a clear roadmap of reforms and the assurance that it is welcome in the EU.

Saying no, on the other hand, would result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It will legitimise the euro-sceptic discourse in Georgia, strengthen the pull of Russia, silence pro-reform actors, and give the government a free hand to undermine democratic structures in the country. This will also make three decades of hard work, effort, and investment by the EU in Georgia null and void.


Authors


Kornely Kakachia is director of the Georgian Institute of Politics and professor of political science at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University.

Bidzina Lebanidze is a senior analyst at the Georgian Institute of Politics and a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Jena.


Disclaimer


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver or CEMAS.

 

 

 

BRUSSELS - Finland and Sweden are on the brink of joining Nato in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland's parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to apply for membership to the military alliance.

Of the 200 lawmakers, 188 voted in favour and eight against the application, speaker Matti Vanhanen said.

Sweden will formally apply for Nato membership in the next few days, prime minister Magdalena Andersson confirmed on Monday.

The two countries are set to end policies of military non-alignment that had defined their defence strategies since the start of the Cold War.

The UK has welcomed the decision by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance after signing mutual security declarations with both countries last week.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said: “The UK strongly supports applications for Nato membership from Finland and Sweden.

“They should be integrated into the alliance as soon as possible; their accession will strengthen the collective security of Europe.”

On Monday, president Vladimir Putin said Russia had no issue with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of military infrastructure on their territory would demand a reaction from Moscow.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov later added both countries joining Nato would probably make "not much difference" as they had long participated in the alliance's military drills.

Turkey surprised its Nato allies last week by saying it would not view Finland and Sweden's applications positively, mainly citing their history of hosting members of groups Ankara deems terrorists.

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said the counties' delegations should not bother coming to Ankara to convince it to approve their bid.

But Finland's president has said they should be able to reach an agreement with Turkey over its objections.

If Sweden and Finland’s applications are accepted, they would join 30 countries already in the alliance.


What is NATO?


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a political and military alliance of 30 countries.

Nato was set up in 1949 to protect members against the Soviet Union, with 12 nations initially signing up to the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington DC.

These countries were the US, Canada, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.

The collective defence clause of Nato's founding treaty – Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – is a provision that means an attack against one member is considered an attack against all of them.

This is a fundamental part of Nato and why it says it is a defensive alliance.

Nato says military operations are carried out under Article 5 or a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.


Which countries are in Nato, and what date did they join


1949: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK, the US.

1952: Greece, Turkey

1955: Germany

1982: Spain

1999: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland

2004: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia

2009: Albania, Croatia

2017: Montenegro

2020: North Macedonia

 

 

 

Mediterranean

International Crisis Group, 09 May 2022

Aleppo was devastated by bombing and shelling during the Syrian war. It remains unsafe, with residents subject to shakedowns by the regime’s security forces and various militias. Damascus and its outside backers should curb this predation as a crucial first step toward the city’s recovery.

 

 

What’s new? Almost six years after retaking Aleppo, the Assad regime is again largely in control, but the city is a shadow of its former self. Many neighbourhoods remain in ruins from Syrian army shelling and Russian bombing. Militias roam the streets and an informal economy thrives, but there is little else.

Why does it matter? Aleppo was Syria’s largest city before 2011 and the hub of production, trade and services in the north. Its revival is key to the area’s long-term prosperity and stability. If a city of this importance cannot be rehabilitated, the future of other war-ravaged towns is bleaker yet.

What should be done? Damascus, plus Russia and Iran, could aid Aleppo residents and its formerly vibrant entrepreneurial class by reining in militias, restraining security agencies and regime cronies, and ending the persecution of people accused of opposition links. Large-scale reconstruction is off the table, but small internationally funded “recovery” projects can ease hardship.


Executive Summary


Aleppo offers a glimpse of the grim realities of post-war Syria. It was the country's largest city and its economic engine before the Syrian army and Russian air force bombed entire neighbourhoods into rubble, displacing most of the residents. Many people have yet to return and businesses to recover, as government-linked militias stake out turf, looting homes, demanding bribes and engaging in other forms of predation on those who have remained.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies are doing little to get the city back on its feet. Business leaders resent the arbitrary rule of state security agencies and the regime cronies in their shadow; many are leaving as an unhealthy economic climate perdures. Although they have shown little appetite for doing so thus far, Russia and Iran have an interest in using their influence to stop unruly militias from extorting residents and stealing property. Those steps would help revive the city.

Fighting came to Aleppo in mid-2012, spreading from the surrounding countryside and splitting the city into zones of regime and rebel control. Rebel-held areas were primarily informal settlements populated by labourers hailing from the hinterlands, while regime-held Aleppo, including primarily the city centre and its western flank, consisted of more affluent neighbourhoods. While the latter part of the city suffered damage, and the quality of public services and access to basic goods declined, an indiscriminate bombing campaign by the regime and its Russian ally destroyed and depopulated entire swathes of the former.

With Russian airpower and Iranian technical advice and ground support, the regime drove rebels out of Aleppo in late 2016 and fully retook the city. Yet the rebels’ defeat has not meant a return to stability, let alone prosperity, for Aleppo’s inhabitants. Large areas of the city remain in ruins and there is no evidence of a coordinated state vision or effort to rebuild them beyond estimating the number of destroyed buildings.

The security situation remains shaky. Regime forces have primary but not exclusive control of the city, as militias, though nominally aligned with the regime, engage in sporadic clashes with soldiers and one another and harass residents. Rebels are ousted, no foreign player has an interest in renewed intervention to challenge the regime and the population is too exhausted and impoverished by years of war, and too preoccupied with meeting basic needs, to stage another uprising.

Moreover, most of the city’s inhabitants who were displaced to opposition-held areas or abroad have been unable to return, mainly because they fear either conscription or reprisal for their suspected involvement in the revolt.

Economically and socially, Aleppo is nothing like it was before the war. Regime-allied militias backed by Iran and Russia operate openly in neighbourhoods throughout the city, looting properties and shaking down residents at will. They and the security forces also levy heavy taxes on the city’s major economic activities: trade in products flowing in from the outside and lucrative generator monopolies to supplement meagre state electricity provision.

These conditions make Aleppo's industrialists, many of whom moved their operations to neighbouring countries in the war’s early years, loath to risk reinvesting in their native city. Many of the skilled workers they formerly employed have also left and the constant threat of conscription facing all young males makes the supply of labour insecure. This situation renders the chances of even a partial return to the city’s pre-war economic vibrancy slim.

The Syrian regime lacks a comprehensive plan, much less the capacity, for rebuilding the city, and nothing suggests that international assistance is forthcoming. Neither of the regime’s backers, Russia and Iran, has expressed an intent to spend large sums on reconstruction. Western actors remain committed to a national political transition, believing that without it major investment will only reinforce the regime’s repressive rule and thereby aggravate the conflict. Some Gulf Arab states, notably the United Arab Emirates, have signalled that they may be prepared to support reconstruction, perhaps hoping to pull Syria out of Iran’s orbit and roll back the Turkish encroachment in the north, but they worry about running afoul of U.S. secondary sanctions on dealings with the regime. International organisations have expanded their humanitarian work but struggle to navigate a maze of often incoherent donor limitations on their mandate. They also face scepticism among beneficiaries who often doubt their bona fides, precisely because the regime has assented to their presence.

There is no early prospect of Aleppo – or any other Syrian city heavily damaged in the war – returning to its pre-2011 levels of prosperity or human well-being. Indeed, the experience of this city and other parts of Syria suggest that, rather than restrain militias and security services that exploit average citizens and businesses, the regime has moved to strengthen these elements in order to control society through a mosaic of fiefdoms. At the core of this form of rule is a shift from purely arbitrary predation on local populations during wartime to post-war plunder that sometimes comes with the trappings of legal procedure but is still unaccountable and stands in the way of even a modest recovery.

The city could nonetheless be made more hospitable for its entrepreneurial classes and more liveable for its residents. While large-scale reconstruction aid is out of the question, small internationally funded projects – reviving bakeries, for example, or restoring health facilities and sanitation systems – could help ease suffering, though offering no hope in themselves of bringing about structural change.

A far more consequential step would be for the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to curb the predation of militias and security agencies, as well as regime cronies acting in the slipstream of, or in collusion with, the men with guns. Damascus has previously taken such action with smugglers and its own security agencies when they overstepped their bounds, while Russia and Iran could rein in militias and security agencies under their sway. At present, without complete control of Syria’s borders or territory, the regime lacks key aspects of statehood, meaning that Russia and Iran must periodically prop it up. Helping curb the chaos in Aleppo could relieve this headache for Moscow and Tehran in at least one important locale. Damascus and its foreign allies may be unable to stop the predation entirely, but if they can reduce its severity, they would help the city take a crucial first step toward recovery.

Aleppo/Beirut/Brussels, 9 May 2022

To download the full report, visit: https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/syria/234-syria-ruling-over-aleppos-ruins

 

 

 

By Qassam Muaddi, The New Arab, 12 May 2022

JENIN, WEST BANK - Eyewitnesses said the killing happened at a site where there were no clashes happening, and that Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleagues were clearly identifiable as journalists.

Palestinian-American journalist and Aljazeera reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh, was given an official funeral at the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in Ramallah on Thursday.

At the funeral, which was attended by thousands of Palestinians, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said that the PA will not accept a joint investigation into Abu Akleh's death, reaffirming Palestine's demand for an international, independent investigation.

Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp.

Shortly after her death was confirmed at the Ibn Sina hospital in Jenin city, Palestinians in Jenin organised a popular funeral, with Jenin's gunmen carrying her body through the streets of the city, accompanied by hundreds of Jenin residents who chanted slogans and raised the Palestinian flag.

Shireen Abu Akleh's body then was received at a secondary funeral procession, which was accompanied by the Palestinian security forces' guard of honour at the Nablus University Hospital. Later in the afternoon, the body was greeted by a crowd of Palestinians in front of Aljazeera's offices in Ramallah, who launched a spontaneous march.

In his first reaction to the news, Israeli prime minister Neftali Bennett said that "it appears likely that armed Palestinians - who were indiscriminately firing at the time - were responsible." Bennett also said that Israel had offered to take part in a joint Palestinian-Israeli investigation into Abu Akleh's death.

However, several eyewitness accounts of the incident reject Israel's account of how Abu Akleh was killed.

Atta Abu Rmeileh, local secretary of Fatah in Jenin refugee camp, told The New Arab that "the Israeli army entered the western part of the camp shortly after dawn and headed to one of the houses and surrounded it, apparently coming to arrest somebody."

"The surrounded house is located deep in the refugee camp, where Israeli forces clashed with gunmen," he said. "However, Shireen and journalist crews were in a totally different location, at least 300 meters away, separated by a densely-built area, with no line of view at all between the two places."

"Shireen was in an open spot at the edge of the refugee camp, clearly identifiable from a distance, with Israeli soldiers located some 100 meters closer to the interior of the camp," he noted.

"When Shireen and other journalists walked towards the soldiers, they opened fire at everything that moved in the area, even medic teams, probably to clear the place, and that's when Shireen Abu Akleh and Ali Samoudi were shot," he added.

Ali Samoudi, Aljazeera's team producer, was wounded by a live bullet in his left shoulder. He spoke to Aljazeera from the hospital where he was recovering on Wednesday, stating that "we, journalists, had made ourselves visible to Israeli forces, as we always do, to avoid putting our lives in danger, because getting footage is not more important than our lives."

"We just can't go into an area where there are armed clashes, so we checked the location we were going to cover from and made sure there were no clashes or gunmen," Samoudi detailed. "We stood in front of Israeli soldiers for more than five minutes, and then began to advance towards them slowly for about twenty meters, at which point they [the Israeli forces] fired a first shot, then a second that hit me, and the third hit Shireen."

"There were absolutely no clashes and no Palestinian gunmen where the killing happened," Saleem Awad, a resident of Jenin and another eyewitness, told The New Arab.

"I accompanied the journalist crews from the main street at the edge of the refugee camp towards the side street where they chose to cover the events," he said. "Behind us was the main street, an open area with nowhere to hide, and cars passing as normal, while in front of us was the side-street that approached the inside of the camp, and at the end of it were Israeli military vehicles and the houses of the camp."

"Journalists were all wearing blue vests marked 'PRESS' and helmets, and Sireen decided to walk towards the Israeli soldiers to be as visible as possible to them. I remained with others behind, on the main street, when the shooting began, and no one was able to enter the street anymore, because they would be completely uncovered to shots coming from the Israeli soldiers side," Awahe detailed.

"One young man made a long turn around the corner and climbed down from a wall into the side-street and dragged Shireen out with the other journalist who was with her," Awad added.

The journalist who was with Abu Akleh when she was shot is Shatha Hanayshah, a young Palestinian journalist based in Jenin.

"Journalists walked up the main street, where life was going on naturally, with no shooting or clashes going on, and headed to the side-street at the end of which were the Israeli military vehicles. One young man even old us that he had just been there and that it was safe," Hanayshah said to The New Arab.

"When we walked towards the direction where the Israeli forces were, shooting began, and one colleague shouted that they were shooting at us and jumped over a wall at the side of the street out of the way of fire, but the wall was too high for me and was impossible for the rest of us to go back out without being exposed to fire," she noted.

"The last words of Shireen were, 'Ali is wounded', referring to Ali Samoudi, and then she fell to the ground right beside me, while I took cover behind a tree," said Hanaysheh. "I didn't know if Shireen was alive or dead, and every time I tried to reach my hand out to her the shooting continued."

"Shireen was lying with her face down, and all I could notice was her blood stretching out beside her head," she added.

On Thursday, Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq published the findings of its initial field-investigation to the events in Jenin on Wednesday morning.

"The journalists walked down the Jenin- Burqin street heading west towards a byroad where the IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] were deployed, and were soon directly facing the IOF vehicles, without any barriers obstructing the vision of the IOF situated to their south," the report read.

"The journalists stopped for a while to allow the IOF to identify them with their clearly marking "PRESS' vests, and slowly approached the IOF from the north. This is when the journalists were fired at from the south, where the IOF were situated," it continued.

On Wednesday, the UN condemned the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, saying that the international organization was "appalled at the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh", calling for "an independent, transparent investigation into her killing."

"Impunity must end," the statement from the UN added.

Meanwhile, the US state department's spokesperson also condemned the killing of Abu Akleh, stating, "Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere."

The European Union's spokesperson equally condemned Abu Akleh's killing, declaring, "The European Union stands in solidarity with journalists and will continue to support their fundamental work, in particular, while covering conflicts."

Abu Akleh’s killing was also condemned by Reporters without Borders (RSF), whose Secretary General Christophe Deloire said, "RSF is not satisfied with Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid's proposal of a joint investigation into this journalist's death. An independent international investigation must be launched as soon as possible."

Shireen Abu Akleh's body was transferred on Thursday to her home town of Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, where she received a last crowded funeral. She is expected to receive the last rites on Friday at the Melkite Catholic church in Jerusalem's old city, before her burial.

 

 

CAIRO - The war in Ukraine has dealt a fresh hammer blow to Syria’s ability to feed itself just as the country struggles to deal with levels of hunger that are up by half since 2019, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today on the eve of the annual donor pledging conference held in Brussels.

With years of conflict, a severe economic downturn, and food prices rising relentlessly since 2020, the Ukraine crisis is exacerbating what was already an alarming food security scenario in Syria. In March, food prices increased by 24 percent in just one month, following an 800 percent increase in the last two years. This has brought food prices to their highest level since 2013.

“Saying that the situation in Syria is alarming is a huge understatement. The heart-breaking reality for millions of Syrian families is that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “The international community must recognize that not taking action now will inevitably lead to a catastrophic future for Syrians. They deserve our immediate and unconditional support.”

Some 12 million people in Syria - more than half the population – currently face acute food insecurity. That is 51% more than in 2019 and an additional 1.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger. With basic meals becoming a luxury for millions, nutrition is becoming a serious issue.

Data from 2021 shows that one in eight children in Syria suffers from stunting while pregnant and nursing mothers show record levels of acute wasting. Both facts point to devastating health consequences for future generations.

Plagued by continual crises for over a decade, Syrian families have exhausted their ability to cope. As last resort measures, people are turning to extreme measures, such as child labour, early and forced marriages, and the removal of children from school.

Meanwhile, WFP’s resources are under more pressure than ever, and funding is not keeping pace with the staggering needs of people across the country. Over time, WFP has been forced to progressively reduce the size of the monthly food ration across the country. A 13-percent ration cut is looming this month in Northwest Syria, where people will start receiving food that translates into 1,177 kilocalories, just over half of the recommended daily intake.

WFP is 27 percent funded until October, with a shortfall of US$ 595 million. Additional funding is urgently needed to continue to assist millions of people across the country. Without new funding, WFP could be forced to undertake additional drastic cuts in the coming months.

“In a year of unprecedented needs, the compounding effect of the war in Ukraine requires our donors to step in and help us avoid reducing rations or the cutting the number of people we assist,” emphasised Beasley.

Support from donors has allowed WFP to help millions of vulnerable Syrians obtain food when they have needed it most. Each month WFP distributes lifesaving food to 5.6 million people; injects around US$3 million into local economy through cash-based transfers (CBT); provides fortified date bars, fresh meals and/or food vouchers to schoolchildren; and provides nutritional support to women who have recently given birth or will do soon.

“If I knew my life would end up like this, I wouldn’t have had my children; I would have saved them all this suffering,” said one mother in the western Syrian city of Hama.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

By Dialo Diop & Roshan Dadoo, African Arguments, April 27, 2022


The Africa Union must recognise that the accreditation of an apartheid regime is incompatible with its values.

 

For at least the next year, Israel will continue to have observer status at the Africa Union (AU). This startling fact contradicts the values enshrined in the continental body’s Constitutive Act, which stands against apartheid and colonialism, and is in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Israel’s acceptance into the AU also defies the vehement wishes of a significant number of member-states, including South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Namibia, Botswana and Tunisia. Other African nations have stated their opposition to Israel’s accreditation both verbally and in writing.

The opposition to Israel having any status in the AU is linked to its treatment of Palestine. In 2021, Israel’s largest human rights group, B’Tselem, declared that Tel Aviv’s violent and supremacist policies towards Palestinians amounted to apartheid. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have since reached the same conclusion. South African anti-apartheid veterans like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kgalema Mothlanthe, Ronnie Kasrils and Winnie Mandela recognised this fact decades ago, while South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council declared it in 2009.

In fact, almost 50 years ago, the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), noted the similarities between the Israeli and apartheid South African regimes. At a meeting of OAU heads of state in Uganda in 1975, the organisation declared: “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin, forming a whole and having the same racist structure and being organically linked in their policy aimed at repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being”.

Last February, the AU condemned Israel for “its relentless pursuit of colonisation and annexation measures and [continuing] to act in bad faith and in total contradiction of ending the occupation.”


How and why then was Israel accorded observer status?


The AU divided


In July 2021, the AU Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, made the unilateral decision to grant Israel observer status. Tel Aviv had been lobbying for this for 20 years.

The response was quick and direct. Many African countries denounced the decision. Activists from political, religious, and civil society across Africa, under the banner of the Pan-African Palestine Solidarity (PAPSN), began campaigning against Israel’s presence at the AU. Our message is simple: As a modern-day apartheid state and colonial power, Israel offends the AU’s ethos and cannot play any role in the organisation until it dismantles apartheid and ends its colonialism and occupation of Palestine.

This dispute came to a head at the AU summit this February. At a closed meeting of heads of states, participants discussed the matter. They agreed that Mahamat’s decision would be suspended and that a new committee would deliberate on whether Israel should be accredited. This committee would include three countries that opposed Israel’s accreditation – Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa – and three that supported it – Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. It would be chaired by the new AU chair, Senegal’s President Macky Sall.

This compromise was a principled and sensible decision reached through the AU’s preferred method of decision-making: consensus. It also helped avoid a split in the AU.

Yet, within hours, as a result of lobbying by Israel and its African supporters, several AU members insisted that the matter be reopened. After the new debate, President Sall declared that the new committee would consult member states and build consensus on the matter before a final decision, but he also reversed the earlier agreement to suspend Israel’s accreditation while the matter was pending. This means that pending the deliberations of the committee, Israel will maintain its AU observer status.


Principled opposition


The position of the African countries that oppose Israel’s accreditation is clear, but why have so many chosen to embrace the apartheid state?

 

One answer is that Israel has been increasingly muscular in its diplomatic offensive and offers of technological and agricultural support, particularly in West Africa and East Africa. Another answer lies in the fact that, in the last decade, Israeli military exports to the continent have increased by 306%. In recent years, several authoritarian regimes in Africa have also used Israeli spyware against their own citizens and even other African heads of state.

This highlights another worrying aspect of an AU embrace of Israel. Its acceptance does not only contradict the body’s principles, but also points to the growing reach of authoritarianism, surveillance, and oppression on the continent. The growing influence of the Israeli regime in several African states is a threat to those countries’ peace and democracy.

The seven heads of state on the new committee have the opportunity to uphold the values and principles of the AU as enshrined in the Constitutive Act and the African Charter, and that has long guided the Union on the issue of Israeli occupation and is critical of Zionism – the foundational ideology of Israel. They can, and must, oppose settler colonialism and apartheid, and support the liberation of the Palestinian people.

 

 

 

 

North Africa

MENAS Associates, London, 17 May, 2022

Fierce fighting erupted in Tripoli before dawn on 17 May when Fathi Bashagha — unilaterally appointed by the eastern Libya dominated House of Representatives as head of the self-styled Government of National Salvation (GNS) — tried to enter the capital and replace the incumbent Government of National Unity (GNU). He had expected to be supported by some of the powerful western Libyan militias which, until now, have been supporting the GNU’s Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah. The majority, however, did not switch sides and, within a few hours, Bashagha was forced to retreat from the capital.

One of the most important reasons is that many do not trust Bashagha despite him having much more revolutionary credibility than the controversial businessman Dbeibah whose family profited during the Qadhafi regime. When Bashagha, who like Dbeibah also comes from Misrata, was the powerful interior minister in the former Government of National Accord (GNA) he had tried to bring the powerful Tripoli militias to heel by disbanding some and integrating the others into a unified army.

More importantly, after the 24 December 2021 election was cancelled and the GNU refused to leave office, Bashagha entered an odd alliance of convenience with not only the powerful House speaker, Aguila Saleh, but also eastern Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The latter’s self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) had laid siege to Tripoli in 2019-2020 with the support of thousands of Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group mercenaries.

The brutal and economically hugely damaging siege was only defeated when Turkey intervened to provide military training and equipment, including very effective drones, to the GNU’s military forces. The latter were largely composed of the same rag-bag confederation of poorly trained but now battle-hardened western militias who overthrew Qadhafi in the 2011 revolution. The majority of the militias, and many people in western Libya, now view Bashagha as a proxy for Haftar. Having defeated him militarily they are unwilling to allow Haftar him to become the power behind the throne with Bashagha acting as his frontman.

 

 

By Akram Belkaid, OrientXXI, 19 May 2022


Faced with the war in Ukraine, the Maghreb countries have no intention of siding with one or the other of the warring parties. This choice of neutrality can be explained by many geopolitical factors but also by Russia’s military clout and increasing economic influence in the region.
In this article we shall examine the Algerian and Moroccan positions; in a future article, we shall analyse Tunisia’s position and the state of public opinion in that part of the world.

Avoid at all costs giving the impression of taking sides while making sure not to alienate either of the protagonists; such is the principle adopted by the three countries of central Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia), from the very start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. This tenuous strategy was confirmed on 2 March when the UN General assembly adopted a resolution demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces and the “immediate” cessation of the use of force on Ukrainian soil.

The Maghrebi vote on this non-binding text came as a surprise to observers. Algeria, traditional ally of the former USSR and a major purchaser of Russian weaponry was among the 35 States to abstain, but not among the four which, in addition to Russia, voted against the resolution: North Korea, Belorussia, Eritrea and Syria. Morocco, though a faithful partner of the European Union (EU) and the United States, simply avoided taking part in the vote. As for Tunisia, it forsook its usual diplomatic caution and joined with the 140 nations that voted in favour of the text. A few days later, on 24 March, the same pattern was repeated with the resolution presented by Kiev on the “humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine”: Algeria abstained, Morocco was absent and Tunisia voted in its favour.


Pragmatic neutrality


Each of these positions has an explanation and enables us to understand the reactions of the participants in the conflict, direct and indirect (Russia, Ukraine, European Union and the United States). And, above the pressures they have brought to bear on the Maghrebi authorities. In the case of Algeria, its diplomats’ first argument was that they have no wish to take a stand in a conflict which does not concern their country. But they soon came up with a very conventional rhetoric about “their commitment for peace and the search for a negotiated solution.” Actually, Algeria sees itself as a leader of the Arab contact group, composed of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Sudan, plus the general secretary of the Arab League. At the beginning of April, a delegation led by Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtame Lamamra, met in Moscow with the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, and in Warsaw with Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba. The result of these talks was encouragement for “direct negotiations” between the two belligerents.

When questioned, a high-ranking Algerian diplomat referred to the concept of “pragmatic neutrality” A pragmatism which considers an important reality: his country’s extensive military cooperation with Russia. Between 2017 and 2021, 81% of the purchases of weapons and defence material for Algeria’s armed forced were supplied by Moscow. Enough to modernise the country’s equipment and enable Algeria to have a range of intervention covering all North Africa, the Sahel and part of Southern Europe. At the same time, Kiev is not one of Algeria’s significant trade partners even if since 2019 the Office algérien interprofessionnel des céréales (OAIC) has been considering importing Ukrainian wheat to be less dependent on France. For a country where defence expenditures constitute 7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), a quarrel with Moscow is inconceivable without jeopardising the country’s defence capacities. A prospect which the regime refuses even to contemplate when the tensions with Morocco are at their highest since 2020.

Yet at the same time, Algiers’s realism forces it to treat its Western partners with kid gloves. France, Italy and Spain are among its principal gas customers and suppliers of its capital goods. Whence Algeria’s abstention at the UN rather than an outright pro-Russian vote such as was cast by Syria or Eritrea. In an international context marked by the multiplication of Western sanctions against Moscow, the Algerian authorities have repeatedly stressed the fact that their country is “a dependable supplier of gas for the European market”. Implying that Sonatrach, the State-owned gas and petroleum company, is prepared to make up for any interruption in the delivery of Russian hydrocarbons to Western Europe. On 11 April, Algiers and Rome signed a contract for the delivery of an additional nine billion cubic metres of gas.

This role of loyal and responsible provider of energy has made it possible for Algeria to make up for its refusal to bow down to the urgent appeals from Western powers which would like to see it break with the Russians. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (30 March), Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi (11 April) and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (13 April) took turns travelling to Algiers. While they failed to obtain any major change in the Algerian position, they were reassured concerning gas supplies for Europe.


Worries in the Kremlin


However, it is hard to satisfy one side without antagonising the other. On 8 April at the UN, anticipating the Kremlin’s annoyance, Algiers had already abandoned its abstentionist position by voting against a General Assembly resolution excluding Russia from the Human Rights Council. “In spite of the cruelty shown by certain images of Ukrainian cities which must be condemned in the strongest terms possible, and the resultant presumption of extremely serious crimes, it is imperative to allow the competent UN mechanisms to investigate the facts on the ground neutrally and impartially in order to do justice to all the victims” was the declaration made at the time by Nadir Larbaui, Algerian ambassador to the United Nations. On 18 April, the official Algerian Press Agency (APS) reported that Presidents Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Vladimir Putin had had a phone conversation – at the latter’s initiative – which enabled them, among other things, to “express their mutual satisfaction with the progress achieved with their bilateral cooperation in every area.” It has proven impossible to learn more, yet there is no doubt but what the repeated Algerian expressions of goodwill vis-à-vis the European Union had begun to worry the Kremlin, whence that phone call from its touchy tenant.

And it followed logically enough that Sergei Lavrov should also travel to Algiers on 10 May to sign “a new document serving as a basis for bilateral relations between Russia and Algeria” and replacing de facto “the declaration of strategic cooperation” adopted in 2001. There is no doubt about it: Moscow, which pays tribute in passing to Algeria’s “wise and objective position regarding developments in Ukraine” has decided not to relinquish the Algerian territory to its adversaries. President Tebboune has in fact been officially invited to Moscow by his Russian counterpart. This being the case, two questions come to mind: in the event this war should be a lasting affair, will Algeria be capable of durably replacing Russian gas? And if so, how long will the Kremlin tolerate this activity?


The stakes in Western Sahara


If Algeria must reassure its Russian partner, Morocco feels obliged to do the same vis-à-vis the Western powers which did not appreciate Rabat’s empty chair policy in the two UN General Assembly votes. While that strategy was viewed as a laughing matter for many Moroccan net surfers – “Every time there is a vote, our ambassador is stuck in the lift or the loo” – one of them posted on 8 April after Russia was suspended from the Human Rights Commission – , but it also forced Rabat to speak out, but without really giving any explanation. On 2 March, the date of the first resolution, a joint press release from the Foreign Ministry and the community of Moroccans abroad, stated that this failure to vote should not be interpreted in any way. The kingdom “recalled its firm commitment to the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty and national unity of all the member states of the UN” and its diplomats stressed the fact that their country’s decision was that of a “sovereign nation” and that it would “contribute financially to the humanitarian efforts” of the UN. In the wake of these declarations, several officials put forward the notion of “positive neutrality” taking account first and foremost of Morocco’s strategic interests.


Western criticisms


These are what prevents Rabat from alienating Russia, for at least two reasons. The first involves the issue of Western Sahara. It is essential for the Kingdom to keep on good terms with Russia to prevent its throwing all its weight behind the Algerian position. True enough, Sergei Lavrov has repeated often enough that his country opposes “any unilateral decision concerning the conflict between the Polisario Front and Morocco” and that Russia has no intention of falling into line with the United States which, under Donald Trump, recognised the Sahara’s “Moroccan character”. But what Moroccan diplomacy does not want is that Russia should firmly support the Algerian initiative aimed at reviving the UN process for settling that dispute with a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi peoples or a Moscow veto against the proposal that Morocco hopes to see one day adopted by the UN, definitively enshrining its control over the Western Sahara (autonomy but under Moroccan sovereignty). In other words, the idea is to avoid driving the Russians into Algerian (and Polisarian) arms.

 

 

 

By Shadi Hamid and Sharan Grewal, Brookings, May 12, 2022


Editor's Note:

President Kais Saied's ongoing consolidation of power threatens to end Tunisian democracy, Shadi Hamid and Sharan Grewal write. They argue the U.S. and International Monetary Fund should withhold much-needed loans until Saied agrees to political steps to restore democracy in Tunisia. This article originally appeared in The Washington Post.

 

Nine long months have passed since the start of the slow-motion coup in Tunisia, a country that, until recently, offered
one of the best hopes for democratization in the Middle East. After shuttering the parliament with tanks in July, President Kais Saied has suspended the constitution and dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council. In perhaps the most disturbing move yet, Saied has also now
seized control of the independent electoral commission, allowing him to consolidate his rule. How long can a slow-motion power grab persist before it is plainly irreversible?

The world is watching developments in Ukraine with horror, as it should. U.S. President Joe Biden has framed the struggle with Russia as an ideological struggle, as a “battle between democracy and autocracy.” Lately, the Middle East has been an almost entirely neglected front in that struggle. Yet the current crisis in Tunisia offers an opportunity to send a powerful signal in defense of democratic values.

Until now, U.S. officials have been reluctant to put much pressure on Saied. They perceived his July putsch as broadly popular. Many Tunisians were fed up with infighting political parties and a parliament that couldn’t seem to get anything done in the face of a crumbling economy. Saied, a constitutional law professor, pledged to bypass political elites and (somehow) deliver results directly to the people. He alone could fix it.

But he hasn’t. If there were ever a time to rethink and reassess, it would be now — before Saied succeeds in consolidating power and ending Tunisian democracy entirely. As we have seen elsewhere in the Middle East, including most tragically with Egypt’s 2013 coup, once a new regime entrenches itself, the international community’s options and room to maneuver narrow drastically.

The United States has spent too much time hoping that private entreaties for Saied to do the right thing might be persuasive. But urging autocrats to do the right thing for their countries — or for democracy — is nearly always guaranteed to fail. Saied, like other autocrats, does not believe in representative democracy, claiming in 2019 that it “has gone bankrupt and its era is over.” Dialogue and persuasion were never going to be enough to change his mind.

Belatedly, the Biden administration is slowly realizing that rhetorical pressure without any teeth is not working. In late March, the State Department proposed to slash both military and economic assistance to Tunisia roughly in half. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also
made clear that the aid would not be restored unless Saied pursues a “transparent, inclusive — to include political parties, labor, and civil society — reform process.”

This is a good start but still limited. A partial suspension of aid dilutes the United States’ leverage by splitting the middle — alienating Saied without fundamentally changing his calculus. Instead, the United States should make clear that if Saied refuses to reverse course, a full suspension will be the result.

Leveraging U.S. aid alone, however, is unlikely to be enough. The United States — in coordination with European partners — must consider something it has rarely done. One might call this the “maximalist” option.

Over the past year, Saied has been negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a multi-billion-dollar bailout that would save Tunisia from a looming default. Such a loan would likely require Tunisia to first develop “a plan for reforms to tackle subsidies, the high public sector wage bill and loss-making state companies,” Reuters reported. The time has come to supplement (if not replace) these conditions with explicitly political ones: that Saied initiate a national dialogue with all major political parties, find consensus on a road map back to democracy, and implement that road map.

To be sure, this is not how the IMF usually operates. Its Articles of Agreement do not specify political conditions; autocrats and democrats alike are eligible for support. However, the United States and European countries, as the IMF’s largest shareholders, can use their voting rights to compel fund officials to push pause on talks.

This might be the best — and last — chance at pressuring Saied to change course. With the economy in free fall, Tunisia needs its Western partners more than ever. As a former senior Tunisian official recently told us, “Saied cannot live without the IMF.” The IMF loan is important to Tunisia not only as a stopgap to fund the state budget, but also as a signal to improve its credit to obtain other loans. (Tunisia was recently downgraded to “CCC,” its lowest-ever credit rating.)

Of course, using U.S. leverage in this way is as risky as it is bold. But, as we have seen over the past year, not using U.S. leverage is also risky. In fact, it risks condemning Tunisians to a full return to the old days of dictatorship. If Americans believe democracy is good, then they should believe that it is good for Tunisians, too. Otherwise Biden’s commendable rhetoric will remain just that — an ideal that we speak about but ignore even in the very cases where it matters most.

 

 

 

 

 

Moroccan prison program aims to de-radicalize IS veterans

By TARIK EL BARAKAH, Published by Associated Press, 01 May 2022

SALE, Morocco — As a combatant for the Islamic State group who left his native Morocco to join what he felt was a holy fight in Syria, Mohsin says he saw all the horrors of war. “A terrifying experience,” he says.

Now a prisoner, the 38-year-old claims he is no longer the fanatic he was then, enraged with a murderous hatred for non-Muslims. Captured in Turkey and extradited to Morocco, he is serving a 10-year prison term on terrorism charges.

Now the former fighter has graduated with 14 other prisoners convicted of terror offenses from a Morocco de-radicalization program that might make them more eligible for an early release.

The Associated Press and other media were invited to observe their graduation ceremony Thursday in a prison in Sale near the Moroccan capital, Rabat, and to interview some prisoners under monitored and controlled conditions. Prison administration officials picked out three men they said were willing to be interviewed. Officials stipulated that the inmates shouldn’t be identified by their full names and that their faces mustn’t be shown, citing privacy reasons.

But prison officials didn’t listen to the interviews or intervene to shut down media lines of questioning or inmates’ answers.

The 15 inmates in crisp shirts and trousers stood solemnly for Morocco’s national anthem and were handed certificates. Prison officials said the de-radicalization program consisted of three months of classes in prison on religion, law and economics, and that inmates also received training on how to start a business. These most recent graduates were the ninth batch since the program started in 2017.

Moulay Idriss Agoulmam, the director of social-cultural action and prisoner reintegration at Morocco’s prison administration, said the program is entirely voluntary and works with inmates “to change their behaviour and improve their life path.”

“It enables prisoners to form an awareness of the gravity of their mistakes,” he said.

Graduating from the program doesn’t make inmates automatically eligible for early release, but does increase their chances of getting a royal pardon or a reduced sentence. That’s been the case for just over half of the program’s 222 graduates so far, the prison administration says. Since 2019, the training has also been offered to women convicted under Morocco’s Anti-Terrorism Act. Ten women have graduated so far — all of them since released, including eight with pardons.

Called “Moussalaha,” meaning “reconciliation” in Arabic, the program is offered to prisoners who have demonstrated a readiness to disavow extremism.

Mohsin said he left to fight in Syria in 2012. A school dropout as a teen, he said he “was virtually illiterate and couldn’t discern good from bad.” He said he was radicalized by people who showed him extremist videos “about the divine obligation to battle those who don’t follow Islamic principles and to murder non-Muslims.”

In Syria, “I saw massacres, rapes, and thefts,” he said. “I concluded after a time that the fight being conducted in the name of Islam had nothing to do with our religion.”

He escaped to Turkey in 2018 and was detained for a year there before being extradited to Morocco.

He says he has now disavowed extremism.

“That period of my life has passed,” he said.

Numerous Moroccans have traveled to Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to join extremist groups. Morocco has also experienced multiple attacks itself. Five suicide attacks in Casablanca in 2003 killed 33 people. In 2011, an explosion destroyed a cafe in Marrakech, killing 17 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Al Mustapaha Razrazi, a clinical psychologist and member of the program’s scientific committee, said among 156 people who have been released after attending the courses, just one has been caught committing a crime again.

That person was convicted of a non-terrorism-related offense, he said.

 

 

 

 

Research Papers & Reports

PARIS - This new report released by the OECD Centre for Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainability, and Equal Opportunity provides a high-level assessment of OECD countries’ performance across the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda.

Using currently available data, the report evaluates the distance that OECD countries need to travel to meet SDG targets, identifies long-term trends and considers how these may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has an unprecedented ambition, but also confronts countries with an enormous challenge given the complex and integrated nature of the Agenda with its 17 Goals, underpinned by 169 Targets.

To assist national governments with their implementation, the OECD has developed a unique methodology allowing comparison of progress across SDG goals and targets, and also over time. Based on the Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and leveraging UN and OECD data, this report provides a high-level assessment of OECD Member countries’ performance across the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda.

The report evaluates the distance that OECD countries need to travel to meet SDG targets for which data is currently available, but it goes one step further and deepens the analysis by identifying long-term trends, considering also how these trends may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By providing a high-level overview of countries’ strengths and weaknesses in performance across the SDGs, it aims to support Member countries in navigating the SDGs and in setting their own priorities for action within the broad 2030 Agenda.

To Download the full report, visit: https://www.oecd.org/wise/the-short-and-winding-road-to-2030-af4b630d-en.htm?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Discover%20the%20report&utm_campaign=CFE%20News%2011%20May%202022&utm_term=cfe

 

 

 

STOCKHOLM - SIPRI has released a new report that examines the impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had on peacekeeping operations.

This SIPRI report looks at the direct operational impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had on multilateral peace operations and what these have meant for mandate implementation. The report also surveys the strategic and long-term impacts of the pandemic and how these may affect demand for peace operations. It closes by drawing up recommendations for the future. The report finds that peace operations have largely succeeded in maintaining the achievements they had already made and have prevented regression, but little progress has been made. The direct operational impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on mandate implementation were largely mission and time specific, and differed per mandate task. Although, strategically the Covid-19 pandemic may not have significantly changed the short-term global conflict map, its long-term negative impacts may increase the demand for peace operations.


About the author


Dr Jaïr van der Lijn (Netherlands) is a Senior Researcher and Director of the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme.

To download the report, visit: https://www.sipri.org/publications/2022/other-publications/impact-covid-19-pandemic-multilateral-peace-operations

 

 

The latest figures put pollution on par with smoking in terms of global deaths. In comparison, COVID-19 killed about 6.7 million people globally since the pandemic began.

An estimated 9 million people die from pollution of all types each year, according to a study of global mortality and pollution levels published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

A spike in toxic lead poisoning and worsening air pollution countered the modest progress made in tackling pollution elsewhere. This has kept global deaths from environmental contamination at 9 million per year since 2015, according to scientists analyzing 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, which is an ongoing study by the University of Washington that assesses overall pollution exposure.

Pollution is an "existential threat to human health and planetary health, and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies," the study found, adding that its impact on global health remains "much greater than that of war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol".

"We're sitting in the stew pot and slowly burning," said Richard Fuller, a study co-author and head of Pure Earth, a global nonprofit. But unlike climate change, malaria or HIV, "we haven't given (environmental pollution) much focus."

The latest figures put pollution on par with smoking in terms of global deaths. In comparison, COVID-19 has killed over 6 million people globally since the pandemic began.

 

Deaths from traditional pollutants decline

 

The new analysis delves deeper into the causes of pollution, separating traditional contaminants like indoor smoke or sewage, from modern pollutants, which include industrial air pollution and toxic chemicals.

While deaths from traditional pollutants are declining globally, they remain an issue in Africa. Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger were the three countries found to have the most pollution-related deaths, mostly attributed to tainted water, soil and noxious indoor air.

Moves to cut indoor air pollution and improve sanitation have helped bring deaths down by two-thirds in Ethiopia and Nigeria between 2000 and 2019.

India’s shift away from wood-burning stoves to gas stove connections has also improved mortality rates.


Modern pollutants on the rise


The study found out that deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants like heavy metals, agrochemicals and fossil fuel emissions, were "just skyrocketing" and had spiked 66% since 2000. The trend was especially alarming in developing countries.

While outdoor air pollution was down in some major capital cities, including Bangkok, China and Mexico City, smaller cities saw pollution levels climbing.

Modern types of pollution fell in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia between 2000 and 2019. The authors of the study could not explain Ethiopia’s numbers and added that it may be a reporting issue.


The latest figures put pollution on par with smoking in terms of global deaths. In comparison, COVID-19 killed about 6.7 million people globally since the pandemic began.

 

Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries across the world

 

An estimated 9 million people die from pollution of all types each year, according to a study of global mortality and pollution levels published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

A spike in toxic lead poisoning and worsening air pollution countered the modest progress made in tackling pollution elsewhere. This has kept global deaths from environmental contamination at 9 million per year since 2015, according to scientists analyzing 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, which is an ongoing study by the University of Washington that assesses overall pollution exposure.

Pollution is an "existential threat to human health and planetary health, and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies," the study found, adding that its impact on global health remains "much greater than that of war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol".

"We're sitting in the stew pot and slowly burning," said Richard Fuller, a study co-author and head of Pure Earth, a global nonprofit. But unlike climate change, malaria or HIV, "we haven't given (environmental pollution) much focus."
Watch video 08:17


How ships secretly dump oil at sea


The latest figures put pollution on par with smoking in terms of global deaths. In comparison, COVID-19 has killed over 6 million people globally since the pandemic began.


Deaths from traditional pollutants decline


The new analysis delves deeper into the causes of pollution, separating traditional contaminants like indoor smoke or sewage, from modern pollutants, which include industrial air pollution and toxic chemicals.

While deaths from traditional pollutants are declining globally, they remain an issue in Africa. Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger were the three countries found to have the most pollution-related deaths, mostly attributed to tainted water, soil and noxious indoor air.

Moves to cut indoor air pollution and improve sanitation have helped bring deaths down by two-thirds in Ethiopia and Nigeria between 2000 and 2019.

India’s shift away from wood-burning stoves to gas stove connections has also improved mortality rates.

The study found out that deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants like heavy metals, agrochemicals and fossil fuel emissions, were "just skyrocketing" and had spiked 66% since 2000. The trend was especially alarming in developing countries.

While outdoor air pollution was down in some major capital cities, including Bangkok, China and Mexico City, smaller cities saw pollution levels climbing.

Modern types of pollution fell in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia between 2000 and 2019. The authors of the study could not explain Ethiopia’s numbers and added that it may be a reporting issue.

The study authors put forth eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, stressing the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government regulation of industry and cars.

"We absolutely know how to solve each one of those problems," Fuller said. "What's missing is political will."

 

 

NEW YORK - The global economy is expected to grow by only 3.1 per cent this year, down from the 4.0 per cent projected in January, largely derailed by the war in Ukraine, according to the UN’s latest World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report, launched on Wednesday.

The mid-year forecast reveals how the conflict has upended the fragile economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking a humanitarian crisis in Europe, surging food and commodity prices, and exacerbating inflationary pressures.

Global inflation is also set to reach 6.7 per cent this year, or twice the average of 2.9 per cent during the period from 2010 to 2020, with sharp rises in food and energy prices.


Quick action crucial: Guterres


“The war in Ukraine – in all its dimensions -- is setting in motion a crisis that is also devastating global energy markets, disrupting financial systems and exacerbating extreme vulnerabilities for the developing world,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“We need quick and decisive action to ensure a steady flow of food and energy in open markets, by lifting export restrictions, allocating surpluses and reserves to those who need them, and addressing food price increases to calm market volatility,” he added.

The downgrade in growth prospects includes the world’s largest economies – the United States, China, and the European Union – as well as the majority of other developed and developing economies.

Higher energy and food prices are particularly affecting developing economies that import commodities, and the outlook is compounded by worsening food insecurity, especially in Africa.


Energy shock in Europe


The WESP report, published by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), examines how the spillover effects of the war in Ukraine are impacting different regions.

Russia’s invasion began on 24 February, and in addition to the tragic loss of life and the unfolding humanitarian crisis - with more than six million refugees alone - it has also exacted heavy tolls on the economies of both countries.

Neighbouring economies in Central Asia and Europe, including the European Union (EU), are also affected.

The rise in energy prices has dealt a shock to the EU, which imported nearly 57.5 per cent of its total energy consumption in 2020. Economic growth is forecasted to grow by only 2.7 per cent, instead of the 3.9 per cent projected in January.

Nearly a quarter of Europe’s energy consumption in 2020 came from oil and natural gas imported from Russia, and a sudden halt in flows is likely to lead to increased energy prices and inflationary pressures.

EU member states from Eastern Europe and the Baltic region are severely impacted as they are already experiencing inflation rates well above the EU average, the report said.


Inflation woes


In the world’s developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), high inflation is reducing the real income of households.

This is especially the case in developing countries, where poverty is more prevalent and wage growth remains constrained, while fiscal support to lessen the impact of higher oil and food prices is limited.

Rising food and energy costs are also having knock-on effects on the rest of the economy which is presenting a challenge to inclusive post-pandemic recovery as low-income households are disproportionately affected.

Additionally, “monetary tightening” by the Federal Reserve in the United States, the country’s central banking authority, is also set to raise borrowing costs and worsen financing gaps in developing nations, including the world’s LDCs.

“The developing countries will need to brace for the impact of the aggressive monetary tightening by the Fed and put in place appropriate macroprudential measures to stem sudden outflows and stimulate productive investments,” said Hamid Rashid, DESA’s Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch, and the lead author of the report.


Climate actions challenged


The war is also unfolding at a time when global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are at a record high, and rising energy prices will also impact global efforts to address climate change. As countries are looking to expand energy supplies amid high oil and gas prices, the report predicts that fossil fuel production is likely to increase in the short term.

Meanwhile, high prices of nickel and other metals may adversely affect the production of electric vehicles, while rising food prices may limit the use of biofuels.

“However, countries can also address their energy and food security concerns – brought to the fore due to the crisis – by accelerating the adoption of renewables and increasing efficiencies, thus strengthening the fight against climate change,” said Shantanu Mukherjee, DESA’s Director of Economic Policy and Analysis

 

 

 

Africa

By Enrica Picco, International Crisis Group, 10 May 2022


Disbanded in 2013, today the Central African army is present throughout the country. But structural problems could weaken it once again. To avoid a downward spiral, Bangui and its international partners should apply the principles laid out in the 2017 National Defence Plan.

 

Nine years after a coup that plunged the country into chaos and led to the Central African Armed Forces’ (FACA, or Forces armées centrafricaines) dissolution, the military has re-established a presence in every major urban centre of the Central African Republic. The benefits of this redeployment could however be compromised by the army’s opaque recruitment procedures, multiple chains of command, lack of training and poor budget management.

The country is at a turning point in its stabilisation process after the electoral crisis of December 2020. If these issues are not addressed quickly, they could undermine soldiers’ loyalty to the state and push them to rise up or join a new rebellion. To avoid such scenarios, the Central African government, with the support of its international partners, including Russia, should ensure that its armed forces are representative of the population and financially sustainable as it responds to new security challenges.


A History of Failed Reforms


Ethnic polarisation in the rank and file and nepotism on the part of heads of state in Bangui have long hindered the creation of an army capable of securing the country. Successive governments have nonetheless undertaken numerous reforms since the mutinies of the 1990s. President Ange-Félix Patassé (1993-2003) downsized the number of FACA troops from 4,000 to 3,000 and reduced to 40 per cent the proportion of Yakoma among them – the latter being the ethnic group of his predecessor, André Kolingba (1986-1993).

Under President François Bozizé (2003-2013), troop numbers rose to 7,000, with Gbaya soldiers (Bozizé’s community of origin and a third of the population) predominating. In March 2013, the Séléka, a Muslim-majority rebel coalition from the north east, seized power, plunging the country into its worst security crisis in recent history. The FACA disbanded and many soldiers joined the predominantly Christian anti-balaka self-defence militias. At the same time, the UN placed the Central African Republic under embargo, preventing the supply, sale or transfer of arms and military equipment to the country.

In 2017, after a turbulent transition and a return to constitutional order, the Central African Republic adopted a National Defence Plan with the support of MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country. The FACA were to be restructured into a garrison army and soldiers assigned to permanent bases with their families. The Plan also involved increasing troop numbers to 9,800, in line with the strategic priorities of defending the country’s territorial integrity and protecting the population. New recruitment processes were to include background checks (“vetting”, in UN jargon) and a training program supported by the European Union Training Mission (EUTM).

In 2018, after the Central African government submitted a request for an exception to the embargo, the UN Sanctions Committee authorised not only the delivery of armaments from Moscow, but also the deployment of Russian instructors to train FACA troops and accompany them in the hinterland. Despite an easing of the arms embargo and gradual redeployments in several towns, however, the army’s presence in the hinterland remained weak until 2020.

The situation changed dramatically in December 2020, when the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) threatened to seize the capital, Bangui. A new rebel movement comprising both ex-Séléka and anti-balaka elements and led by François Bozizé, the CPC saw the presidential and legislative elections in progress at the time as illegitimate. The FACA, along with Russian and Rwandan allied forces sent at President Faustin Archange Touadéra’s request, then launched a counteroffensive.

Between January and March 2021, their military operations significantly reduced armed groups’ control over the hinterland. Some defeated rebel fighters chose exile in Chad, alongside Bozizé, or in neighbouring Sudan. Others turned to banditry. While the counteroffensive helped rapidly redeploy troops to the country’s main urban centres, it did so at a high price in human lives, and Central African authorities have yet to take appropriate measures to sanction those responsible for major human rights violations. These operations also led the government away from the National Defence Plan’s initial objectives. 


Parallel Recruitment and Accelerated Training


Five years after the launch of the National Defence Plan, the army seems once again to be falling into politicisation. The number of new troops has greatly surpassed the Plan’s projected increase and background checks of new recruits are no longer taking place. In 2020, the UN Panel of Experts reported several hundred soldiers from the Mbaka-Mandja ethnic group, President Touadéra’s own community, were irregularly integrated into the Presidential Guard.

This parallel recruitment process has since become the norm. Between October and December 2021, approximately 3,500 new troops joined the FACA’s ranks, without going through the legal recruitment procedure. In March 2022, the government again announced the recruitment of 1,311 additional soldiers outside the regular process. Meanwhile, around 130 soldiers of Gbaya origin, including eight senior officers, were discharged from the army in 2021 without clear justification.

 The FACA’s size and composition are not precisely known. Nonetheless, international and independent national sources estimate that the army numbers between 14,000 and 15,000 troops, who are divided into fourteen territorial infantry battalions, instead of the nine outlined in the National Defence Plan. Precise figures concerning the representation of women and different ethnic groups within the FACA are not available.

In addition, according to several sources, each battalion is part of a different chain of command, answering either to the general army staff, the defence ministry or even the presidency. A case in point is the Special Republican Protection Group, a personal protection service for the head of state, not provided for in the Plan but established as a constituent part of the army by a March 2022 decree.

The government explains these recruitments as a necessary response to the December 2020 rebellion, which it claims forced it to expand the FACA. While this explanation is certainly plausible, the expansion’s execution raises several questions about adequate ethnic and gender representation within the armed forces. Opaque procedures could compromise some minority groups’ inclusion and the population’s trust in the army. In November 2021, the defence ministry authorised the integration into the army of 80 youths from Birao, in the country’s north east.

Only twenty of them appeared on the national lists and had passed the screening and verification process aimed at eliminating candidates suspected of having committed crimes. In addition, Crisis Group has gathered testimonies that describe an irregular recruitment network in the capital: in order to improve their social position, some young people are seemingly ready to pay officers between 50,000 and 100,000 CFA francs (€77 - €154) to get onto recruitment lists.

 More concerning still, some new recruits are not subjected to any form of vetting. In several cases, according to sources close to armed groups interviewed by Crisis Group, former rebels who join the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration program created by the February 2019 peace agreement and facilitated by MINUSCA are integrated directly into the FACA. This phenomenon is most evident in the centre of the country, where divisions within one of the main rebel groups, the Union of Patriots for Change, led to the defection of around 400 combatants. The latter were trained on the spot and swapped uniforms to join the army.

The quality of training offered to new recruits is also a source of concern. According to information obtained by Crisis Group, recruits receive between three and five weeks of military training from Russian forces at Camp Kasaï in Bangui or in Bouar, in the north west. Training was at first entrusted to the EUTM and included six months of military exercises, as well as courses on respecting human rights and international humanitarian law. But the European Union suspended this mission in December 2021 following interference by the Russian private security Wagner group in the FACA command. The training provided by Russian instructors since 2018 initially lasted three months but was reduced in 2021 to a few weeks to speed up deployments.


Worrying Consequences on the Ground


This lack of military preparation affects troops’ performance on the battlefield when facing armed groups. The Central African government has never released official figures concerning fallen soldiers, but the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project estimates than at least 90 FACA soldiers lost their lives in the course of 47 attacks carried out between December 2020 and April 2022.

Meanwhile, according to testimonies gathered by Crisis Group, the number of bodies brought back to the capital and uncertainty about the fate of personnel deployed in the hinterland worry FACA soldiers’ families in Bangui. The same questions arise when it comes to desertion, as several sources report that many soldiers have abandoned their posts in the hinterland to avoid fighting the rebels.

The unchecked increase in FACA personnel also makes it difficult to track arms and ammunition. As few storage sites are available, weapons are often left with off-duty soldiers. The lack of tracking has two important consequences. First, it means that soldiers keep their lethal equipment after their tours of duty and return home with their weapons, both in the capital and in towns and villages in the hinterland.

Secondly, it prevents the military from keeping count of the ammunition used in authorised operations and, therefore, from ensuring that lethal weapons are not used against civilians. This situation is aggravated by the absence in rural areas of senior officers charged with verifying procedural compliance and initiating disciplinary sanctions as appropriate. In reality, most senior officers never leave Bangui or, at best, the prefectures’ capitals.


A Lack of Financial Resources


The Central African state does not have the financial resources necessary to maintain its current personnel. The 2022 Finance Law cut the defence budget by 21 per cent, for a total of just over 24 billion CFA francs (€37 million). Moreover, these figures do not faithfully reflect the state’s actual expenditure. For instance, the official budget does not indicate how the state remunerates Wagner’s Russian mercenaries deployed in the country.

This lack of funding for defence is visible on two levels. First, the government can no longer allocate deployment bonuses to encourage new recruits to stay in the hinterland. In addition, soldiers deployed in the provinces whose salary is transferred to a bank account in the capital officially receive a cash bonus of around 45,000 CFA francs (€49) per month, to cover on-the-ground expenses.

In practice, however, officers often retain a portion of these bonuses before they reach the lower-ranking recipients. To make up for this shortage of funds, soldiers prey on the local population. The army’s rackets – illegal taxation at city gates, extortion and robberies – have rapidly replaced those of armed groups in state-controlled areas.

Furthermore, the lack of resources has led to the militarisation of the country’s capital. Due to salary payment problems, many FACA members choose to stay in Bangui, with one third reportedly residing in the capital. Some provide close protection to prominent figures, who contribute to their salary. The militarisation of the capital generates significant risks in a country where tensions are mounting around President Touadéra’s succession, especially within the ruling party, and certain actors could easily mobilise poorly paid and disgruntled personnel.

At the same time, since mid-2021, the FACA have frequently recruited local militias, mostly former anti-balaka fighters, whom they pay to help track and attack rebels hiding in the bush. This system generates an additional financial burden, while resources are already lacking for soldiers in the regular army. Nicknamed the “Black Russians”, these militiamen recently demonstrated in Bambari, in the country’s centre, to demand payment of their fees. In addition, they are held responsible for several massacres of civilians, especially among the Fulani in the country’s centre and east.

Finally, FACA personnel deployed in the hinterland are facing deteriorating relations with the “Russian bilateral forces”, as the Central African authorities refer to them. This terminology fuels confusion over the actual number of Wagner mercenaries among these forces. These Russian troops have replaced MINUSCA and now provide support for the Central African army across most of the country. As for Rwandan forces, they remain stationed far from combat zones.

Since their deployment in December 2020 to support the army’s counteroffensive, Russian forces have de facto assumed command of the FACA on the battlefield. Several observers described to Crisis Group the troops’ growing discontent with how Wagner mercenaries humiliate and physically abuse Central African officers and soldiers.

Some officers were recalled to Bangui following disputes with Russian paramilitaries. In addition, to limit cases of sexual and gender-based violence, most female FACA members were ordered to return to the capital at the end of 2021. Without a firm response from Central African chiefs of staff, growing concern among officers could cause soldiers to rise up or join the rebels, as they have in the past.


Respecting the Commitments of the National Defence Plan


This worrying trend in the army’s reconstruction poses risks that the advantages of the FACA’s redeployment do not balance out. On one hand, opaque recruitment procedures and the absence of background checks are weakening the military’s composition and blocking the formation of a military ethic respectful of human rights. On the other, multiple chains of command, a lack of adequate military training, a shortage of financial resources and growing dissatisfaction could compromise the loyalty of officers and troops. The Central African Republic is still highly unstable and these elements could inflame an already tense security environment.

To reduce these risks, President Touadéra and the Central African government should take urgent steps to carry out the security forces’ restructuring, and possible expansion, according exclusively to the principles established in the National Defence Plan and within the state’s available financial resources. Such initiatives could allow Central African authorities to normalise their relationship with MINUSCA’s new leadership after two years of high tensions with the UN and encourage Western partners to resume their recently suspended defence assistance programs.

The first step in this process will be to submit the FACA’s recently integrated personnel to the recruitment and background-check processes that existed before the December 2020 election crisis, even if it means discharging certain soldiers from the army. Crucially, training provided by Russian instructors must also remain within the strict framework authorised by the UN Sanctions Committee in 2018. This training for new recruits must integrate the fundamental principles of civilian protection, which the National Defence Plan highlights as a “priority”.

At the same time, the state leadership could adopt certain measures to prevent the army from disintegrating once again. First, setting up a defence council, with the technical support of partners like the EUTM, could put a stop to bilateral negotiations and rival chains of command within the defence forces by allowing for collective decision-making on the most important issues relating to the army’s future and the country’s stability.

Secondly, frequent visits to troops on the ground by army staff and other senior officers based in the capital would help ensure proper tracking of arms and ammunition and prevent discontent with Russian forces from fermenting in the ranks.

For their part, the Central African government’s partners, notably MINUSCA, should rapidly launch a community violence reduction program, with the aim of disbanding militias recruited in the hinterland and stemming the tide of communal tensions. These programs have often proven effective in injecting money into the local economy and, at least temporarily, stabilising areas that experienced clashes.

 

 

 

 

Mens Associates, London, 16 May, 2022

Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) closed the sale of its nomination forms on 13 May and is currently screening the 28 presidential candidates who submitted their forms before the deadline. There are likely to be some defections before the APC’s presidential primaries on 1 June by those who now believe that they have little or no chance of being selected for the party’s ticket.

The Senate president Ahmad Lawan (b.1959) is one of those who submitted the forms on time. Despite his late entry into the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari, he has emerged as one of the frontrunners as the APC seeks ways to respond to the possibility of facing a northern candidate representing the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Lawan’s chances of winning the APC ticket have improved following the failure of a plan to draft Nigeria’s 2010-2015 president Goodluck Jonathan into the presidential election race. Yobe State’s Governor Mai Mala Buni — who until recently was the APC’s caretaker chairman, and who hatched the plan to draft Jonathan — appears to have been behind the move to bring Lawan into the race after the previous plan failed.

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele, did not submit the completed APC forms and will therefore not be screened. This is despite receiving a last-minute legal injunction preventing the CBN’s board from stopping him from competing. President Buhari’s instruction for all political appointees who have declared their intention to run in 2023 to resign on or before 16 May appears to have deterred Emefiele from proceeding with his plans. Nonetheless, he is likely to be fired anyway because he has demonstrated his political partisanship as an APC member.

Meanwhile, completed nomination forms were submitted on behalf of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) president, Akinwumi Adesina, who has not yet categorically stated whether or not he will run. His aides have avoided answering such questions which has given the impression that he is hesitant to rule himself out of the race even though he has not committed to running.

An increasing number of cabinet members — including Minister of Labour and productivity Chris Ngige, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami — have abandoned their political ambitions after Buhari instructed all candidates to resign their portfolios by 16 May. Ngige had purchased the presidential nomination forms, while Malami had obtained the ones for the Kebbi State gubernatorial election. The fear of losing their powerful jobs appears to have compelled them to reconsider their quest. However a number of cabinet colleagues, including Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, have resigned so that they can run for one of the posts in next year’s general election.

There is a growing likelihood that neither the APC or the main Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will win the 2023 national elections on the first ballot and that regional parties will subsequently emerge. The APC’s overwhelming dominance is likely to dwindle; the PDP is likely to remain in its South-South strongholds; while the smaller parties will be strong in specific states and the National Assembly.

Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s Chief of Staff announced his defection to the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) on 14 May. He is the state’s latest high-profile defector to the NNPP which gained popularity after its 1999-2003 and 2011-2015 governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, defected from the PDP. The NNPP recently welcomed Abdulmumin Jibrin — Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s campaign director general in the North — who defected from the APC to the NNPP despite pleas from Tinubu not to do so.

Fourteen PDP members in Kano State’s House of Assembly have subsequently defected to the NNPP which has transformed into the major opposition in Kano which, after Lagos, has the second largest number of voters and but boasts the highest turnout. Because of Kwankwaso’s popularity in many parts of the North, the party could become the party of choice for potential defectors from both the APC and the PDP which makes the NNPP a force to be reckoned with in 2023. The NNPP now also has a good chance of winning Kano State in next year’s gubernatorial election thanks to Kwankwaso’s support — because the APC appears increasingly divided in the state — and may also become a strong contender in other northern states.


The emerging shape of country’s new politics is:


- the likelihood of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) winning more states in the Southeast after both the APC and the PDP fail to field an Igbo candidate;

- the NNPP winning Kano and some states in the core North; and

- the Social Democratic Party (SDP) possibly winning some states in the Southwest after the defection of some APC bigwigs if Lawan is selected as the party’s candidate.

Meanwhile, the brutal killing of a Christian girl by fellow students after she was accused of blasphemy has sparked ethnic tensions across the country. After the suspects were arrested by Sokoto State police there were protests which forced its governor to impose a 24-hour curfew. Nigeria’s former vice president Abubakar Atiku — who is currently the PDP frontrunner to was forced to delete a tweet condemning the incident after Muslims threatened not to vote for him. This comes as the National Security Advisor, Babagana Monguno, has warned that some politicians are stoking the febrile political environment.
​​​

 

 

 

MAPUTO - Health authorities in Mozambique declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus on Wednesday after confirming that a child in the country’s north-eastern Tete province, had contracted the disease.

This marks the second imported case of wild poliovirus in southern Africa this year, following an outbreak in Malawi in mid-February, said the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, in press release.

The lone case so far, is the country’s first since 1992. The infected child began experiencing onset of paralysis in late March. Genomic sequencing analysis indicates that the newly confirmed case is linked to a strain that had been circulating in Pakistan in 2019, similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year, WHO noted.

Polio is transmitted mainly via contaminated water and food, or through contact form an infected person. The virus can cause paralysis, which is sometimes fatal.


‘Polio free’?


The case in Mozambique and the earlier one in Malawi do not affect Africa’s wild poliovirus-free certification, because the virus strain is not indigenous, WHO stressed.

Africa was declared free of indigenous wild polio in August 2020 after eliminating all forms of wild polio from the region.

“The detection of another case of wild polio virus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising, given the recent outbreak in Malawi. However, it shows how dangerous this virus is and how quickly it can spread,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa.


UN support


“We are supporting southern African governments to step up the polio fight including carrying out large-scale, effective vaccination campaigns to halt the virus and protect children from its damaging impact.”

An investigation is underway in Mozambique to determine the extent of the risk posed by the new wild poliovirus case and the targeted responses needed. Preliminary analysis of samples collected from three contacts of the newly-detected case, were all negative for wild poliovirus type 1, said WHO.

Mozambique recently carried out two mass vaccination campaigns – in response to the Malawi outbreak – in which 4.2 million children were vaccinated against the disease.

Efforts are currently underway to help strengthen disease surveillance in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. All those countries will continue with mass vaccinations, with plans to reach 23 million children aged five, and below, with the polio vaccine in the weeks ahead, WHO assured.


Virus pockets


Wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Polio is highly infectious, and largely affects children younger than five years. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunization.

Children across the world remain at risk of wild polio type 1 as long as the virus is not eradicated in the final remaining areas where it still circulates.

 

 

 

By Philip Kleinfeld and Mamadou Tapily, The New Humanitarian, 04 May 2022


Editor’s note: As Sahelian governments struggle to contain the spread of al-Qaeda and jihadist groups linked to so-called Islamic State, some local communities have taken a radical step: talking to the militants themselves. Based on months of reporting in Burkina Faso and Mali, this is the third in a series of stories examining those efforts.


SÉVARÉ, Mali


Aly Ongoiba* keeps meticulous notes on the conflict that consumed his commune – a maze of clay buildings and artfully thatched granaries spread across the top of a sandstone escarpment that cuts through central Mali.

During the peak of the violence, the mayor said dozens of villages in the commune were attacked by jihadist militants. Hundreds of lives were lost and tens of thousands of cattle were stolen before Ongoiba finally stopped counting.

Then came peace – or something of the sort.

Fed up with the violence, Ongoiba asked local leaders to open talks with militants linked to al-Qaeda. A deal was then struck that saw the commune agree to stop resisting the jihadists and follow a strict version of sharia law, according to individuals present at the dialogue.

Some residents objected to the harsh sharia conditions, but security gains soon convinced many of the deal’s benefits. “Until today, there has been no attack,” Ongoiba told The New Humanitarian. “Nowhere in the world do wars end without negotiation.”

Military operations have long been the strategy of choice for international and regional powers fighting jihadist groups in Mali and the wider Sahel region. Rural self-defence militias have mushroomed too, as residents seek to defend themselves against the militants.

But as the decade-long insurgency spreads and humanitarian needs soar, some communities that initially resisted the jihadists’ presence are trying a different approach: dialogue.

Since 2020, dozens of verbal accords between jihadists and communities have been struck in central Mali – the country's epicentre of violence and displacement in recent years. Ceasefires between militants and opposing militias have been brokered too.

The ability of these talks to help mitigate violence is explored in depth in the following briefing. Observations are based on interviews with 34 local leaders, aid workers, and public officials involved in talks or with close knowledge of them.

Community leaders don’t sugarcoat the accords. They see them as “survival pacts”, necessary because the state is absent and the army is weak. None want to follow oppressive rules, and most worry they will be called jihadists for making agreements.

Yet the leaders say the pacts have saved lives, that enforcement of sharia is often lax, and that jihadists are also making compromises as they seek to avoid community conflicts and focus on their real enemy: the state.

Though limited in scale, the talks carry weight beyond central Mali. They offer insight into how some jihadists approach conflict resolution. And they show a local appetite (though not uniform) for dialogue that may support the case for national negotiations with militants.

The idea for such discussions seem radical, yet many political and religious figures in Mali have expressed support for it, as have militant leaders from the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) – an al-Qaeda subsidiary and one of the main jihadist groupings in the Sahel.

A key obstacle to talks had been the War on Terror rhetoric of France, which spearheaded foreign military efforts in Mali since 2013. But the former colonial power is now leaving after relations soured with the ruling junta – and much of the general public.

“The best thing is for the government to stop fighting and start a dialogue,” said a community leader involved in mediation efforts in central Mali. “Officials should involve religious leaders, and of course include us.”

Part one of this story looks at how pacts are negotiated; part two examines how the deals are enforced by jihadists; part three analyses the risks facing community leaders involved in talks; and part four asks whether those leaders support a national dialogue.


Part 1: Hard bargaining – ‘We said we have marabouts more literate than you’


Quick read: Community leaders are on the backfoot during negotiations but that doesn’t mean they have no agency. Some have extracted significant concessions from jihadists, whose willingness to compromise bodes well for any national talks.


Discussions between communities and jihadists aren’t new. They had already been happening quite frequently in northern and central areas of Mali where militants are in firm control. Compromise is often necessary as fighters seek to enforce their ideology without alienating civilians.

However, what is notable is that the recent talks are occurring in some of the more volatile central districts, where jihadists have less of a support base and where they met fierce resistance as they spread from the desert north from 2015 onwards.

Self-defence militias sprung up here among various communities, including the traditionally agricultural Dogon and Bambara groups. These militias then committed atrocities against marginalised Fulani herders who dominate the jihadists’ ranks.

Mass killings and insecurity displaced tens of thousands of people and led to widespread hunger. A UN peacekeeping operation struggled to protect civilians, while military operations and occasional French airstrikes often made matters worse.

The failing led to different types of accords being struck. In some central regions, religious leaders have mediated ceasefires between militias and militants with Bamako’s blessing. But these agreements (outside the scope of this report) often break down.

In other areas, initiatives have come directly from community leaders, who often pay out of their pockets for meetings and risk being seen as jihadist sympathisers for wanting to engage with the insurgents, who are from a JNIM-affiliated group called Katiba Macina.

Rules stipulated by jihadists during these talks – which mostly occur without state approval – are usually the same, said Amadou Guindo, a Dogon village chief and farmer who has organised dozens of discussions in and around the turbulent Koro district.

Guindo said jihadists in Koro tell communities to lay down their weapons; to stop providing the military with information on the militants’ whereabouts; and to offer forgiveness for any violence they have suffered.

Compliance with the jihadists’ interpretation of sharia is also demanded as fighters have used the talks to consolidate power. Dress codes were set, alcohol consumption was banned, while other cultural customs were also proscribed.

Guindo, who lost family members during the conflict and saw his livelihood stripped away, said people had no choice but to accept. “We are doing it for our survival,” he said. “We can’t [fight] them, so we accept their torture to save our lives.”

Still, Guindo and several other community leaders said the talks are not entirely one-sided. As well as obtaining guarantees that they can farm and travel freely, some leaders extracted significant concessions during and after dialogues.

A teacher from Mondoro district in the central Douentza region said residents successfully pushed back at a late 2020 meeting with jihadists when they requested permission to preach in their communities and preside over legal and social disputes.

“We said, ‘we have highly literate marabouts who are already preaching every Friday’,” recalled the teacher who was present at the meeting. “We said, ‘[they] know the Koran better than you’.”

A community adviser from a different part of Douentza told The New Humanitarian that during a recent round of negotiations he had convinced a group of jihadists to stop attending markets carrying arms – a request raised in other dialogues too.

The adviser said jihadists also permitted the community to keep hold of their weapons – so long as they are stored away – and agreed to move their base further into the bush so that future firefights with the army didn’t spill into town.

“When they have confrontations with the army, they run into villages,” the adviser explained. “[With this agreement], we are protected from stray bullets, and from the army coming to us.”

A Malian aid worker, who regularly consults communities involved in talks, told The New Humanitarian that the reason jihadists are willing to negotiate is because they realise that conflicts with communities have little strategic benefit.

“A jihadist leader explained to us that attacking a village of 1,000 to 2,000 people means losing a lot ammunition,” said the aid worker, who is employed by an international NGO and asked not to be named for security reasons. “Attacking army positions gives them money and cars.”

Guindo said jihadists didn’t compromise much at first but eased up in future talks as trust developed. They pledged to stop damaging telecommunication towers during one recent meeting, he said, and to stop laying mines close to villages in another.

An accommodation on schooling was also discussed on one occasion, Guindo added. The jihadists said public schools could be reopened so long as French and Arabic were both taught and space for a madrassa was found.

Aid workers and analysts said the compromises shows that jihadists – though often framed as religious zealots and little else – do have a pragmatic streak. That’s also demonstrated in humanitarian access negotiations militants often hold with international NGOs.

Still, the agreements being struck are brittle. They usually skirt over the root causes of conflict – from state abuse to governance shortfalls – and are contingent on the daily conduct of local communities, jihadists, and unpredictable militias.

“It is very fragile,” said Ongoiba, the local mayor. “The problems could start again.”


Part 2: Enforcing the accords – ‘Women rush to get coverings, youth rush to switch off radios’


Quick read: Enforcement of sharia seems to vary after agreements are struck. Some communities said they have been left alone by jihadists, while others claimed corporal punishment has been used against women.


An ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam is already being implemented in the parts of central Mali where jihadist rule is entrenched. But Guindo said jihadists have shown laxity towards his Koro commune since an agreement was struck.

Though loud drumming and shooting firearms into the air during funeral and wedding ceremonies were ostensibly banned, Guindo said jihadists accept them so long as they are informed in advance and don’t equate the noise with enemy activity.

The jihadists’ lenience means some non-Koranic schools have opened in Guindo’s commune even without a madrassa being set up. Still, it can be hard to find teachers willing to work, because they fear the jihadists might turn up, the farmer said.

Ongoiba, who is from a district next to Guindo’s, said people are “living as they want” in his commune too. However, they have had to accept the presence of jihadists, who cross their area in order to stage attacks on other villages that haven’t struck accords.

Ongoiba narrated a story in which around 100 jihadists on motorbikes turned up in late 2020 at a village in Koro shortly after an agreement was made. They arrived as a Christian wedding was underway.

Attendees expected the worst, but when the jihadists said they just wanted water, local faith in the pact was cemented, said Ongoiba, whose knowledge of the incident was second hand. “People got full trust that their word was true,” he added.

The community adviser from Douentza said strict rules are rarely enforced in his village – where daily affairs are still run by traditional leaders – but they must be followed when travelling around other parts of the commune where jihadists might be patrolling.

The Douentza adviser said his community was already religiously conservative, and that new codes – including restrictions on spendthrift wedding parties – were even welcomed. “People agreed with the rules on weddings, because it was economical,” said the adviser.

The situation in other areas is different, however. The teacher from Mondoro said residents of one village that joined the accord were temporarily placed under a siege by jihadists earlier this year for not respecting certain behavioural codes.

Women who were pounding millets on the outskirts of town without wearing veils were whipped by the jihadists, the teacher said. Internal NGO security reports seen by The New Humanitarian confirmed this incident.

A similar account was shared by a deputy village chief from Koro’s Dinangourou commune. Since striking a pact, “the jihadists regularly came to our village to check people,” the deputy said. “Women rush to get coverings, youth rush to switch off radios.”

An adviser to a village leader in the district of Bankass, which is also next to Koro, said he had not heard of corporal punishment being used in local villages with accords in place, but that people were changing certain behaviours to avoid possible punishment.

“Since the accords, the jihadists have been regulating social affairs like adultery, stealing, and [not paying back] loans,” said the adviser. “People avoid having these problems so they aren’t punished by the jihadists.”

The Dinangorou deputy chief said enforcement of the agreements varies because some jihadist field commanders are stricter than others, even if they are all thought to be part of the same Katiba Macina group.

Guindo said the proximity of villages to jihadist bases also explains the discrepancy. His village is close to a big town where the army is present, whereas the other Koro village is in an isolated area where it is easier for militants to impose themselves.

Strategic thinking may also be guiding the jihadists, Guindo added. “They don’t impose their principles because they want to be on good terms with us,” he said. “Somebody thinking about tomorrow will be softer in order to survive longer.”

Research shows such calculations are normal for Sahelian jihadists. While religiously motivated, they are also political actors who must think carefully about building local support. Brute force is rarely a winning strategy.


Part 3: The risky business of mediation – ‘The army started acting as if we were with the jihadists’


Quick read: Community leaders involved in accords face threats from anti-jihadist militias and are viewed suspiciously by the Malian army. Proper support from the government would help legitimise their work and reduce the risks.


While some anti-jihadist militias have signed fragile pacts with the militants, many see negotiations as a form of submission and a threat to the power they wield over communities.

Dan Na Ambassagou (DNA), a militia that mostly recruits from within the Dogon community, has detained Dogon leaders for engaging in talks with militants in its stronghold in Bandiagara district.

Guindo said a leader of a local mediation association was shot (though it is unclear who by), while another had their business disrupted by DNA fighters who “considered him an ally of the jihadists”. He now sells old car parts in a town hundreds of miles away.

Ongoiba, who is also Dogon, said his life was threatened on social media by militiamen, forcing him to leave his commune in Bandiagara. He said the personal cost was worth it though, given the benefits of the accord to his community.

“Being far from my home doesn’t make me happy,” said the local leader, who is well known throughout Bandiagara. “But I am ready to sacrifice everything for my community.”

Local leaders aren’t only afraid of the militias. The deputy village chief from Dinangourou said soldiers stationed in his area have treated residents with suspicion since they made an accord.

“We are trapped between the army and the jihadists,” the deputy said. “The army started acting as if we were with the jihadists, while we are afraid of the jihadists for the way they enforce rules.”

The deputy and other local leaders formed an association and registered it with authorities in Koro in an attempt to formalise their efforts. They also sought mission orders from government officials before launching subsequent talks.

Yet occasional government approval doesn’t come with any material support, which community leaders said they sorely need. Top of their lists: training in conflict resolution, and much-needed funds for arranging dialogues.

However, providing such things does not appear to be a priority for the junta, which seized power in August 2020. For now, it is sticking with a military-first approach, alongside its new security partner: the Russian mercenary Wagner Group. Operations by the two forces have led to a string of recent atrocities against civilians.

Even when authorities green-light talks, anxiety lingers for mediators. Late last year, for example, the adviser from Bankass was given the go-ahead to speak with jihadists about ending a months-long siege they were imposing on a village in a different district.

The adviser brought together the two parties but was afraid to translate from Fulfulde, the Fulani language used by the jihadists, to Bambara, the language spoken by the village. He worried that if a video of the meeting spread, he would be mistaken for a militant.

The Bankass adviser, who is a shepherd in his daily life, also told villagers attending the meeting not to speak publicly about the terms of the accord – that women should cover themselves and households pay annual zakat or alms to the militants.

“I had an [official] mandate. So, if [media] articles came out about the agreement, it would have seemed that the government was organising sharia for its own population,” the shepherd said.

He added that the government should give more public recognition to mediators, something that is now happening in neighbouring Burkina Faso where similar dialogue processes are occurring.

“We travel around the country trying to bring people together,” said the Bankass adviser. “Even to give us an official card or paper so we are not distrusted at army checkpoints [would help].”


Part 4: A national dialogue – ‘Killing is not the only solution’


Quick read: Community leaders said the government should leverage their contacts and knowledge if it pursues talks. But some worry a national dialogue would give too much power to the jihadists and said the army should keep on fighting.


Moving from community dialogues to national talks wouldn’t be straightforward. The local pacts tend to weaken state authority, while the government would hope to strengthen itself through any national settlement.

It is unclear who would lead national negotiations, which militant groups would participate, and what concessions either side would be willing to make. Even pro-dialogue commentators feel talks would be more likely to fail than succeed.

Still, settlements with jihadists have been reached in neighbouring countries, while surveys conducted in Mali suggest a considerable chunk of the population would support a government initiative.

Efforts have been made in the past. In 2017, religious leaders were tasked by a former prime minister with establishing contact with individuals close to jihadist groups. But that mission did not have the support of the then-president and was brought to a close.

Community leaders who spoke to The New Humanitarian had differing views on the desirability of national talks, with much hinging on their experience of the local negotiations.

A religious leader involved in mediation work in Dinangourou said a national dialogue would be positive, but that military efforts were still necessary to degrade the militants and increase the government’s bargaining power.

A youth leader, who had negotiated with jihadists in Bandiagara district, opposed government talks altogether. He argued that the militants would accept nothing less than the submission of the state, which has a secular constitution.

The leader said that during talks last year his Dogon village had agreed to obey the jihadists’ rules and relinquish ties with militias. A few months later, however, the militants then demanded residents join their ranks. When the community refused, they were expelled en masse.

“If dialogue was a solution, then we would have succeeded,” the youth leader told The New Humanitarian from a displacement camp near Bandiagara town. “We accepted all their conditions. We gave them money, and our crops. But it never solved anything.”

Still, other community leaders thought a national dialogue was the right course of action. And many said the government would have a head start thanks to the contacts and knowledge that they have developed through the local dialogues.

Bringing together local mediators and pooling their ideas would be a good place to start, said the community adviser from Bankass. “If I had to give guidance to the government, it would be that dialogue is better than fighting,” he said.

If asked for advice, the deputy village chief from Dinangourou said he would explain that jihadist foot soldiers often don’t know why they are fighting and could therefore be convinced to drop their weapons.

“Sometimes, you need to help the jihadists understand why what they are doing is not good,” said the community leader. “The best lesson is that killing is not the only solution.”


*All sources in this story are anonymous for security reasons. Pseudonyms are used where interviewees are quoted multiple times. Village and commune names and certain other details are obscured to protect identities.


Illustrations by Dramane Diarra, a Malian artist based in Bamako. The top drawing portrays a dialogue between jihadists and community leaders. The second depicts a typical village in Bandiagara region. The third shows jihadists besieging a village – a common strategy they use against resistant populations. The fourth sketches a patrol by a self-defence militia.

 

 

 

 

Francais

Par Enrica Picco, International Crisis Group, 10 Mai 2022


Dissoute en 2013, l’armée centrafricaine est aujourd’hui présente dans tout le pays. Des problèmes structurels risquent cependant de la fragiliser à nouveau. Pour éviter les dérives, Bangui et ses partenaires internationaux devraient appliquer les principes du Plan National de Défense de 2017.

 

 

Neuf ans après leur dissolution à la suite d’un coup d’État qui a plongé le pays dans le chaos, les Forces armées centrafricaines (FACA) ont regagné une présence dans toutes les villes principales de la Centrafrique. Pourtant, les bénéfices de ce redéploiement risquent d’être compromis par l’opacité des recrutements, la multiplicité des lignes hiérarchiques, le manque de formation et la mauvaise gestion des budgets au sein de l’armée centrafricaine.

Le pays se trouve aujourd’hui à un tournant décisif pour sa stabilisation suite à la crise électorale de décembre 2020. Si ces problèmes ne trouvent pas de réponse rapide, ils pourraient compromettre la loyauté des soldats envers l’État et les amener à se soulever ou à rejoindre une nouvelle rébellion. Pour éviter cela, le gouvernement centrafricain, avec l’appui de ses partenaires internationaux, y compris russes, devrait faire en sorte que sa réponse aux nouveaux défis sécuritaires repose sur une armée représentative de ses populations et financièrement viable.


Une histoire de réformes manquées


L’ethnicisation des effectifs et le népotisme des chefs d’État à Bangui ont longtemps entravé la création d’une armée capable de sécuriser le pays. Les gouvernements successifs ont toutefois entrepris de nombreux projets de réforme depuis les mutineries des années 1990. Le président Ange-Félix Patassé (1993-2003) avait fait passer le nombre de FACA de 4 000 à 3 000 et réduit à 40 pour cent la présence dans leurs rangs des Yakoma, le groupe ethnique de son prédécesseur André Kolingba (1986-1993). Sous le président François Bozizé (2003-2013), les effectifs étaient montés à 7 000 et les soldats Gbaya (communauté d’origine de Bozizé, qui représente un tiers de la population) étaient dominants.

En mars 2013, la prise de pouvoir de la Séléka, une coalition rebelle du nord-est à majorité musulmane, a plongé le pays dans la plus grave crise sécuritaire de son histoire récente. Les FACA se sont dissoutes et de nombreux soldats ont rejoint les milices d’autodéfense anti-balaka, majoritairement chrétiennes. En même temps, les Nations unies ont mis la Centrafrique sous embargo, empêchant la fourniture, la vente ou le transfert d’armements et d’équipement militaire au pays.

En 2017, après une transition turbulente et le retour à l’ordre constitutionnel, la Centrafrique a adopté un Plan National de Défense (PND) avec le soutien de la MINUSCA, la mission onusienne de maintien de la paix dans le pays. Les FACA devaient être restructurées en armée de garnison et les soldats assignés à des bases permanentes avec leurs familles. Le plan prévoyait aussi une augmentation des effectifs à 9 800 éléments, afin d’atteindre les priorités stratégiques de défense de l’intégrité du territoire national et de protection de la population. Les nouveaux recrutements devaient être accompagnés d’un processus de vérification des antécédents (vetting, dans le jargon onusien) et d’un programme de formation soutenu par la mission de formation de l’Union européenne (EUTM).

En 2018, à la suite d’une demande d’exception à l’embargo soumise par le gouvernement centrafricain, le Comité de sanctions de l’ONU a autorisé non seulement la livraison d’armements en provenance de Moscou, mais également le déploiement d’instructeurs russes pour former les FACA et les accompagner dans l’arrière-pays. La présence des FACA dans l’arrière-pays est toutefois restée fragile jusqu’en 2020, malgré un allègement de l’embargo sur les armes et des redéploiements progressifs dans plusieurs villes.

La situation a radicalement changé en décembre 2020, quand la Coalition des patriotes pour le changement (CPC) a menacé de prendre la capitale Bangui. Nouveau mouvement rebelle dirigé par François Bozizé et constitué à la fois d’ex-Séléka et d’anti-balaka, la CPC jugeait illégitimes les élections présidentielles et législatives en cours à l’époque. Les FACA, ainsi que des forces alliées russes et rwandaises envoyées à la demande du président Faustin Archange Touadéra, ont alors lancé une contre-offensive.

Entre janvier et mars 2021, leurs opérations militaires ont réduit considérablement le contrôle des groupes armés sur l’arrière-pays. Certains combattants rebelles ont alors choisi l’exil au Tchad, où se trouve Bozizé, ou au Soudan voisins. D’autres se sont reconvertis dans le grand banditisme. Si ces opérations ont permis de redéployer rapidement l’armée dans les principaux centres urbains du pays, elles ont eu un prix élevé en vies humaines, sans que les autorités centrafricaines ne prennent de mesures adéquates pour sanctionner les responsables de violations graves des droits humains. Ces opérations ont aussi conduit le gouvernement à s’éloigner des objectifs initiaux du PND.

 
Recrutements parallèles et formations accélérées


Cinq années après le lancement du PND, les anciennes tendances de politisation de l’armée semblent aujourd’hui réapparaitre. En effet, l’effectif prévu par le PND est largement dépassé et le processus de vérification des antécédents des nouvelles recrues n’est plus mis en œuvre. En 2020, le Groupe des experts des Nations unies documentait l’intégration irrégulière à la Garde présidentielle de plusieurs centaines d’éléments issues de l’ethnie Mbaka-Mandja, la communauté du président Touadéra. Ce mécanisme de recrutement parallèle est depuis devenu la norme.

Entre octobre et décembre 2021, environ 3 500 nouveaux éléments ont rejoint les rangs des FACA sans intégrer le processus légal de recrutement. En mars 2022, le gouvernement a encore annoncé le recrutement de 1 311 soldats supplémentaires en dehors du processus régulier. Environ 130 soldats d’origine Gbaya, dont huit officiers supérieurs, ont quant à eux été radiés de l’armée en 2021 sans raisons claires.

L’effectif et la composition des FACA n’est pas précisément connu. Des sources nationales indépendantes et internationales estiment cependant qu’elles comptent entre 14 000 et 15 000 éléments répartis en quatorze bataillons d’infanterie territoriale, au lieu des neuf prévus dans le PND. Les chiffres précis concernant la représentation exacte des femmes et des différents groupes ethniques au sein des FACA ne sont pas accessibles.

En outre, selon plusieurs sources, chaque bataillon répondrait à une ligne hiérarchique différente, remontant à l’état-major des armées, au ministère de la Défense ou encore à la présidence. C’est notamment le cas du Regroupement spécial de la protection républicaine, un service de protection personnelle du chef de l’État non prévu dans le PND mais établi comme partie intégrante de l’armée par un décret de mars 2022.

Le gouvernement présente ces recrutements comme une réponse nécessaire à la rébellion de décembre 2020, qui lui aurait imposé d’augmenter l’effectif des FACA. Si le changement de contexte sécuritaire peut certes justifier cette augmentation, la manière dont elle a été effectuée soulève plusieurs questions au regard de la représentation des groupes ethniques et selon le genre au sein des forces armées. L’opacité des procédures pourrait compromettre l’inclusion de certains groupes minoritaires et la confiance de la population envers l’armée. En novembre 2021, le ministère de la Défense a autorisé l’incorporation dans l’armée de 80 jeunes en provenance de Birao, dans le nord-est du pays.

Seuls vingt d’entre eux provenaient des listes nationales et avaient réussi le processus de sélection et de vérification visant à éliminer les candidats suspectés d’avoir commis des crimes. En outre, Crisis Group a recueilli des témoignages qui décrivent un réseau de recrutement irrégulier dans la capitale : afin d’améliorer leur statut social, certains jeunes seraient prêts à payer entre 50 000 et 100 000 francs CFA (entre 77 et 154 euros) à des officiers pour être sur les listes de recrutement.

Plus préoccupant encore, certaines nouvelles recrues ne sont soumises à aucun vetting. Dans plusieurs cas, selon des sources proches des groupes armés interrogées par Crisis Group, les anciens rebelles qui adhèrent au programme de Démobilisation, Désarmement et Réintégration issu de l’accord de paix de février 2019 et facilité par la MINUSCA sont intégrés directement dans les FACA. Ce phénomène est particulièrement évident dans le centre du pays, où les divisions au sein d’un des principaux groupes rebelles, l’Union des patriotes pour le changement, ont amené à la défection d’environ 400 combattants. Ceux-ci ont été formés sur place et ont changé d’uniforme pour intégrer l’armée.

La qualité de la formation des nouvelles recrues est également source d’inquiétude. Selon les informations obtenues par Crisis Group, les recrues reçoivent entre trois et cinq semaines de formation militaire assurée par les forces russes au Camp Kasaï à Bangui ou à Bouar, dans le nord-ouest. A l’origine, la formation avait été confiée à l’EUTM, qui prévoyait six mois d’entraînement et des cours sur le respect des droits humains et du droit international humanitaire.

La mission a cependant été suspendue par l’Union européenne en décembre 2021 à cause des interférences du groupe de sécurité privé russe Wagner dans le commandement des FACA. Les formations prodiguées par les instructeurs russes depuis 2018 s’étendaient initialement sur une période de trois mois, mais elles ont été réduites en 2021 à quelques semaines pour accélérer les déploiements.


Conséquences inquiétantes sur le terrain


Ce manque de préparation militaire se reflète sur le champ de bataille face aux groupes armés. Bien que le gouvernement centrafricain n’ait jamais communiqué de chiffres officiels concernant les militaires tués sur le terrain, l’Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project estime qu’au moins 90 FACA ont perdu la vie au cours de 47 attaques menées entre décembre 2020 et avril 2022. Dans le même temps, le nombre des corps ramenés dans la capitale et les incertitudes sur le sort des soldats déployés dans l’arrière-pays inquiètent les familles des FACA à Bangui, selon les témoignages récoltés par Crisis Group.

Les mêmes questions se posent en relation aux désertions. Plusieurs sources confirment en effet que de nombreux soldats ont abandonné leurs postes en province pour ne pas devoir affronter les rebelles.

L’augmentation incontrôlée des effectifs des FACA pose aussi des problèmes de suivi des armes et munitions. Les armes sont souvent laissées aux soldats qui ne sont pas en service à cause de l’insuffisance de sites de stockage. Cette absence de suivi a deux conséquences importantes. D’une part, les militaires gardent leur équipement létal après la fin de la période de travail et rentrent chez eux avec leurs armes, autant dans la capitale que dans les villes et bourgs de l’arrière-pays. De l’autre, il devient difficile de savoir combien de munitions ont été employées dans des opérations militaires autorisées et, par conséquent, de s’assurer qu’elles ne sont pas utilisées contre des civils.

Cette situation est aggravée par l’absence d’officiers supérieurs dans les zones rurales, qui ont pour responsabilité de vérifier le bon respect des procédures et d’initier des sanctions disciplinaires le cas échéant. En effet, la majorité des hauts gradés ne quitte pas Bangui ou, dans le meilleur des cas, les capitales préfectorales.


Manque de ressources financières


L’État centrafricain ne dispose pas des ressources financières nécessaires pour maintenir de tels effectifs. La Loi de Finances 2022 a en effet réduit de 21 pour cent le budget de la défense, pour un total d’un peu plus de 24 milliards de francs CFA (37 millions d’euros). De plus, ces chiffres ne reflètent pas clairement les dépenses réelles de l’État. Par exemple, le budget officiel n’indique pas comment l’État rétribue les paramilitaires russes du groupe Wagner déployés dans le pays.

Ce manque de moyens financiers attribués à la défense est visible à deux niveaux. Premièrement, le gouvernement ne peut plus allouer de primes de déploiement pour encourager les nouvelles recrues à rester dans l’arrière-pays. En outre, les soldats déployés en province dont le salaire est bancarisé dans la capitale perçoivent officiellement une prime d’environ 45 000 francs CFA (49 euros) par mois, en espèces, qui doit les aider à régler leurs dépenses sur le terrain. En pratique, cependant, des officiers captent souvent une partie de ces primes avant qu’elles n’arrivent à leurs destinataires de grade inférieur. Pour compenser ce manque de moyens, les soldats se servent sur la population locale. Taxation illégale aux barrières d’entrée et sortie des villes, rackets et braquages orchestrés par l’armée ont ainsi rapidement remplacé ceux des groupes armés dans les zones contrôlées par l’État.

Ensuite, le manque de ressources entraîne une militarisation de la capitale du pays. En raison des problèmes de paiement des salaires, de nombreux membres des FACA choisissent en effet de rester à Bangui. Un tiers des FACA résiderait ainsi dans la capitale, certains d’entre eux s’étant reconvertis dans la protection rapprochée de personnalités institutionnelles qui contribuent à leur salaire. Cette militarisation de la capitale génère des risques importants dans un pays où les tensions autour de la succession du président Touadéra montent, surtout au sein du parti au pouvoir, et certains acteurs pourraient facilement mobiliser des effectifs mal payés et mécontents.

En parallèle, depuis le second semestre 2021, les FACA recrutent fréquemment des milices locales, pour la plupart des anciens membres de groupes anti-balaka, pour les aider, contre rémunération, à pister et attaquer les éléments rebelles cachés en brousse. Ce système engendre un poids financier supplémentaire, alors que les ressources sont déjà insuffisantes pour les soldats de l’armée régulière. Ces miliciens, surnommés les « Russes noirs », ont récemment manifesté à Bambari, dans le centre du pays, pour réclamer le paiement de leurs émoluments. En sus, ces milices sont à l’origine de plusieurs massacres de civils, spécialement parmi les communautés peul dans le centre et l’est du pays.

Pour finir, les FACA déployées dans l’arrière-pays font face à une détérioration de leurs relations avec les « forces bilatérales russes », comme les appellent les autorités centrafricaines. Une telle qualification alimente la confusion sur le nombre réel de paramilitaires du groupe Wagner parmi ces troupes, qui ont remplacé la MINUSCA et soutiennent l’armée centrafricaine dans la majorité du pays. Les forces rwandaises restent quant à elles concentrées loin des zones de combat.

Déployées en décembre 2020 pour accompagner la contre-offensive de l’armée face à la rébellion, les forces russes ont de facto assumé le commandement des FACA sur le champ de bataille. Plusieurs observateurs ont décrit à Crisis Group le mécontentement croissant au sein de l’armée nationale face aux pratiques humiliantes et aux agressions physiques graves commises par les mercenaires de Wagner sur les gradés et soldats centrafricains. Certains officiers ont été rappelés à Bangui suite à des désaccords avec des paramilitaires russes.

En outre, pour limiter les cas de violence sexuelle et basée sur le genre, la plupart des femmes membres des FACA ont reçu l’ordre de rentrer dans la capitale fin 2021. En l’absence d’une réponse ferme de l’état-major, les inquiétudes croissantes parmi les officiers pourraient amener les soldats à se soulever ou à se joindre à la rébellion comme par le passé.


Respecter les engagements du Plan National de Défense


Cette dérive dans la reconstruction de l’armée présente des risques qui sont loin d’être compensés par les bénéfices issus du redéploiement des FACA. Alors que l’opacité des recrutements et l’absence de vérification des antécédents fragilisent la composition du corps sécuritaire et la construction d’une éthique militaire respectueuse des droits humains, la multiplication des chaines de commandement, le manque de formation militaire adéquate, la pénurie de ressources financières et le mécontentement croissant pourraient compromettre la loyauté des officiers subalternes et des troupes. Dans une République centrafricaine encore fortement instable, ces éléments pourraient enflammer un contexte sécuritaire déjà tendu.

Pour éviter ce risque, le président Touadéra et le gouvernement centrafricain devraient prendre des mesures urgentes pour garantir que la restructuration, et l’éventuelle expansion, des forces de sécurité se fasse exclusivement selon les principes établis dans le Plan National de Défense et corresponde aux disponibilités financières réelles de l’État. Ces initiatives pourraient permettre aux autorités centrafricaines de normaliser leur relation avec le nouveau leadership de la MINUSCA après deux ans de fortes tensions, et d'encourager les partenaires occidentaux à reprendre leurs programmes d’aide à la défense récemment suspendus.

Ces mesures impliquent, en premier lieu, que les effectifs récemment intégrés dans les FACA soient soumis au processus de recrutement et de vérification des antécédents qui existait avant la crise électorale de décembre 2020, quitte à radier certains soldats de l’armée le cas échéant. Il est aussi primordial que la formation impartie par les instructeurs russes reste dans le cadre strict de l’autorisation que leur a donnée le Comité de sanctions des Nations unies en 2018. Ces formations prodiguées aux nouvelles recrues doivent intégrer les principes fondamentaux de protection des civils que le PND considère comme « prioritaires ».

En parallèle, l’adoption de certaines mesures au sommet de l’État pourrait prévenir un nouveau morcellement de l’armée. D’une part, la création d’un Conseil de Défense, avec l’appui technique de partenaires comme l’EUTM, pourrait prévenir les négociations bilatérales et les lignes de commandement rivales au sein des forces de défense, en permettant que les décisions plus importantes pour le futur de l’armée et la stabilité du pays soient prises collectivement. De l’autre, des visites fréquentes de l’état-major des armées et d’autres officiers supérieurs basés dans la capitale aux troupes sur le terrain contribueraient à assurer un suivi adéquat des armes et munitions et à prévenir la montée du mécontentement envers les forces russes.

Pour leur part, les partenaires du gouvernement centrafricain, notamment la MINUSCA, devraient mettre en place au plus vite un programme de réduction des violences communautaires pour dissoudre les milices recrutées dans l’arrière-pays et éviter la montée des tensions intercommunautaires. Ces programmes se sont souvent avérés efficaces pour injecter de l’argent dans l’économie locale et stabiliser au moins momentanément des zones qui avaient été le théâtre d’affrontements violents.

 

 

 

 

 

Qui sont les harkis ?

Par Élisa Aumoitte, OrientXXI, 25 avril 2022

Le 23 février 2022, la France a promulgué une loi portant reconnaissance de la nation envers les harkis et réparation des préjudices qu’ils ont subis « du fait de l’indignité de leurs conditions d’accueil » en France, à la suite des accords d’Evian du 19 mars 1962.

Alors que l’Algérie célèbre cette année le soixantième anniversaire de son indépendance, l’histoire de ces supplétifs demeure un des principaux enjeux de mémoire collective liés à la guerre d’indépendance algérienne.
De l’administration à l’armée

Le terme « harki » est dérivé du mot arabe harka signifiant « mouvement ». Il est employé pour décrire l’ensemble des supplétifs d’origine nord-africaine qui se sont engagés aux côtés de l’armée française au cours de la guerre (1954-1962). Les raisons et les modalités d’engagement des harkis sont diverses et ne témoignent pas d’un soutien absolu à l’idée d’une Algérie française.

Principalement recrutés dans des zones rurales, la majeure partie d’entre eux est dans un premier temps employée au sein d’administrations civiles ou de groupes de police locale. Au fil de la guerre, dans les zones où les combats s’intensifient, l’État français accélère le recrutement de militaires au sein de groupes mobiles locaux, appelés harka, en s’appuyant en premier lieu sur les oppositions claniques et familiales. À partir de 1958, le nombre de harkis intégrés dans l’armée française augmente, pour atteindre près de 60 000 hommes à la fin de l’année 1960, même si leur dénombrement exact est complexe, car la plupart sont engagés sans contrat. Dans ce contexte de guerre, la précarité et la possibilité d’être payé et nourri au sein de l’armée est un facteur explicatif majeur de ce recrutement massif.


Au lendemain de l’indépendance


Dès 1961, l’État français peine à trouver une solution pour ces supplétifs, dont l’engagement décroit au fur et à mesure que la perspective d’indépendance de l’Algérie se dessine. À la fin de la guerre, il leur est théoriquement proposé de choisir entre trois options : s’engager dans l’armée régulière, être licenciés avec prime, ou bien signer un contrat de six mois avec l’armée. En réalité, ces trois possibilités sont rarement rapportées dans les témoignages d’anciens harkis. Après les accords d’Evian, le 19 mars 1962, la France refuse d’organiser un rapatriement massif des harkis, même s’ils sont de citoyenneté française, Paris voyant plutôt dans cette perspective un mouvement de migration massif.

Du côté algérien, au lendemain de l’indépendance, les harkis, accusés d’avoir participé aux crimes de l’armée française, subissent de violentes représailles, et plusieurs milliers de supplétifs sont massacrés par le Front de libération nationale (FLN). Face à ces actes, nombreux sont ceux qui fuient clandestinement avec leur famille vers la France, qui finit par consentir à rapatrier environ 40 000 harkis et leurs familles entre 1962 et 1963. Mais la plupart continuent à vivre en Algérie, bien que le mot « harki » soit devenu synonyme de traître dans le pays.


Les enjeux de mémoire


Les conditions d’accueil des harkis après leur rapatriement ont témoigné du manque de considération de la France vis-à-vis de ceux qui avaient combattu dans ses rangs. Parqués dans des camps, notamment dans le sud de la France, une grande majorité n’y reste que temporairement avant d’être orientée vers les mines, la sidérurgie, les industries du nord de la France ou encore vers des hameaux de forestage, spécifiquement construits pour les anciens harkis. Certains camps, comme ceux du Larzac (Aveyron) ou de Bourg-Lastic (Puy-de-Dôme) ferment dès l’hiver 1962. Mais dans d’autres, notamment à Bas et à Saint-Maurice-l’Ardoise (Gard), des familles restent enfermées jusqu’en 1975. Les conditions de vie dans les camps sont difficiles, du fait de la précarité des installations et d’un manque d’accès aux services publics, notamment au soin et à l’éducation.

La volonté de réparation concernant l’indignité de leurs conditions d’accueil par l’État français en février 2022 témoigne de la lenteur de la reconnaissance des traumatismes subis par les harkis en Algérie comme en France. Cette place qui ne leur fut pas accordée ni dans le territoire ni par la suite dans l’histoire, est un des enjeux mémoriels de reconnaissance de la responsabilité de la France dans les violences de la colonisation et de la décolonisation de l’Algérie. Le sort des harkis comme celui des pieds-noirs représente également un enjeu électoral qu’on ne manque pas de réactiver à chaque échéance, surtout à droite, pour récupérer les voix de cette partie de la population.

 

 

Israel-Palestine: L’embarras du «camp de la paix» sur l’apartheid israélien

Par Grégory Mauzé, OrientXXI, 25 avril 2022

Alors que, à quelques jours de la fin du ramadan, la situation reste tendue à Jérusalem autour de l’esplanade des mosquées, la qualification d’apartheid pour désigner le régime d’oppression des Palestiniens fait désormais l’objet d’un consensus croissant au sein des organisations de défense des droits humains dans le monde. Mais une partie des pacifistes israéliens opposés à la colonisation demeure rétive à l’usage de ce terme.


« Nous avons de nombreux problèmes à résoudre. Mais entre “un pays à problèmes”, et définir Israël comme un État d’apartheid, il y a un grand écart ». Cette réaction au rapport publié le 1er février 2022 par Amnesty International qui accuse à son tour Israël de pratiquer l’apartheid ne provient pas du chef de la diplomatie israélienne Yaïr Lapid, mais de Issawi Frej, ministre arabe de la coopération régionale appartenant au Meretz (gauche sioniste). Il estime en outre qu’une telle allégation est incohérente avec sa propre présence au gouvernement.

Ce positionnement d’un membre de l’aile gauche de la coalition actuellement au pouvoir la plus sensible, en principe, au sort des Palestiniens ne saurait s’expliquer par la seule solidarité gouvernementale. Il est révélateur de la forte aversion que suscite le cadre analytique de l’apartheid pour décrire la réalité israélo-palestinienne au sein de que l’on nomme couramment le « camp de la paix » israélien. Si plusieurs personnalités et organisations ont apporté leur soutien à Amnesty, d’autres réactions ont mis en évidence l’ampleur du fossé qui sépare une frange « progressiste » du consensus qui se dessine de façon croissante chez les défenseurs des droits humains au sujet de l’apartheid israélien.


Des doutes grandissants à gauche


Au sein de la société civile, la réaction plus significative est sans doute celle de Molly Malekar, la directrice de l’antenne israélienne d’Amnesty International, qui s’est désolidarisée du rapport trois semaines après sa publication. « Un coup de poing dans le ventre, a-t-elle commenté, qui ne ferait pas avancer les choses et pourrait même les aggraver ». Ilan Rozenkier, le président de la branche française de l’organisation anti-occupation La Paix maintenant, s’est quant à lui fendu d’un éditorial au vitriol contre « une charge outrancière » basée selon lui sur un argumentaire biaisé et injuste. Contactée, la maison-mère basée à Tel-Aviv précise ne pas être liée à cette prise de position, mais se refuse à tout autre commentaire sur un sujet manifestement polémique.

Ce malaise a de quoi interpeller, car la permanence de l’occupation et la dérive ethnocratique des années Nétanyahou ont en effet vu fleurir les accusations d’apartheid hors des rangs antisionistes auxquels elles étaient jusque-là limitées. Le vote de la loi sur l’État-nation du peuple juif de 2018, puis le projet d’annexion d’une partie de la Cisjordanie dans la foulée de la publication du « plan de paix » de Donald Trump y ont grandement contribué. « Jusqu’il y a un an, il n’y avait pas de discussion sur l’application de la catégorie d’apartheid à Israël. Aujourd’hui, bien que cette dernière soit encore largement rejetée, la discussion est partout », note Eitan Bronstein de l’ONG israélienne De-Colonizer. Un débat intitulé « de l’occupation à l’apartheid » avait même été organisé dans l’enceinte de la Knesset en juillet 2021 par les élus Mossi Raz (sioniste de gauche) et Aida Touma-Sliman (communiste).

« Historiquement, ce que l’on nomme le camp de la paix pense qu’Israël est une démocratie exemplaire, corrompue par l’excroissance que constitue l’occupation, laquelle doit donc être traitée séparément », analyse Michel Warschawski, figure de l’antisionisme et cofondateur du Centre d’information alternative de Jérusalem. Dans cette perspective, les discriminations subies par les citoyens palestiniens d’Israël ne divergeraient pas fondamentalement de celles auxquelles sont confrontées les minorités ethniques dans les pays occidentaux. Ainsi, la colonisation, l’occupation et l’annexion sont-elles, au mieux, perçues comme la cause du système d’apartheid, quand elles en sont en réalité le symptôme.

Accuser Israël de pratiquer intégralement l’apartheid contribuerait dès lors à « effacer la Ligne verte » qui sépare son territoire de celui qu’il occupe, et « conforterait les défenseurs inconditionnels de la droite et de l’extrême droite » contre les partisans d’une solution à deux États. Une critique osée, quand on sait qu’une large majorité du personnel politique israélien considère que les colonies font définitivement partie du territoire national 1, mais révélatrice d’un certain déni selon le directeur de B’Tselem, Hagai El-Had. « La réalité ici, du Jourdain à la Méditerranée, est celle d’un État binational unique basé sur la domination raciale d’un groupe — les Juifs — au détriment de l’autre moitié de la population — les Palestiniens », explique-t-il.

Reconnaître que les politiques foncières, d’allocation des ressources ou démographiques 2 en Israël répondent à la même logique de suprématie raciale à l’œuvre en territoire occupé remettrait par conséquent en cause le récit sioniste auquel le camp de la paix historique reste attaché. Cela forcerait à un travail d’introspection collectif qui dépasserait la seule question de la lutte contre l’occupation, mais poserait celle de la colonisation, de la dépossession et de l’évincement des Palestiniens du territoire devenu Israël. « Comme l’ensemble de la société, une part du public progressiste israélien n’est pas prête à faire la véritable révolution qu’ont dû faire les Afrikaners pour se débarrasser des structures de l’apartheid », ajoute Michel Warschawski.


Débat sémantique et problématique politique


Sans rejeter le terme apartheid à proprement parler (du moins pour ce qui concerne les territoires occupés), certains l’estiment peu opérant politiquement. C’est le point de vue défendu par Standing Together, qui promeut un partenariat judéo-arabe en Israël. « La tentation d’aller vers un vocabulaire plus radical est bien compréhensible vu la dégradation du rapport de force. Encore faut-il que ce soit utile, nous explique son fondateur et directeur national Alon-Lee Green. Notre objectif est de construire une masse critique susceptible d’apporter l’égalité partout et la fin de l’occupation. Dans ces conditions, comment un terme aussi connoté négativement peut-il aider à forger des luttes communes sur base des intérêts des deux groupes, au-delà des cercles traditionnels de solidarité avec la Palestine qui, aussi utiles soient-ils, ne seront jamais majoritaires ? »

Ces propos font écho à ceux de la directrice d’Amnesty Israël, qui reprochait au rapport de l’organisation faîtière de négliger un contexte local marqué par l’affrontement entre les « forces humanistes et nationalistes ». Ils évoquent également certaines justifications avancées par Mansour Abbas, artisan du soutien inédit de Ra’am, son parti islamiste, à l’actuel gouvernement israélien, pour appuyer son refus d’utiliser le terme, à savoir sa volonté de privilégier « ce qui est utile » plutôt que des débats sémantiques.

Pour B’Tselem, l’argument ne convainc guère. « La tentation d’utiliser des termes doux, censés être plus digestes pour le public, existe depuis des décennies… Avec quel succès ? interroge Hagai El-Had. La lutte pour la justice et l’égalité ne peut pas être fondée sur le mensonge selon lequel Israël est « juif et démocratique » — le terme généralement utilisé pour essayer de définir l’État pour les publics progressistes ». Du reste, prétexter des considérations tactiques pour ne pas recourir à la qualification d’apartheid pose la question des rapports asymétriques entre dominants et dominés. « L’argument sur le caractère stratégique de l’usage du cadre de l’apartheid a longtemps été discuté par les Palestiniens qui travaillent dans des groupes de plaidoyer en Palestine historique, note Rania Muhareb, doctorante au Centre irlandais des droits humains. Depuis des années, les Palestiniens ont été forcés pour des raisons prétendument pragmatiques d’utiliser des cadres fragmentés qui ne reflétaient pas notre expérience collective sur le terrain dans les réunions de plaidoyer avec les diplomates, donateurs, et à l’ONU. C’est problématique, car c’est une façon de limiter ce que les Palestiniens peuvent dire ».


Un seul collectif des deux côtés de la Ligne verte


S’il est difficile d’évaluer concrètement l’importance que revêt cette analyse pour « la rue » palestinienne, elle ne semble pas concerner uniquement sa seule intelligentsia militante. Selon un sondage conduit par B’Tselem en avril 2021, 41 % des citoyens palestiniens d’Israël estimaient la notion pertinente pour qualifier la situation israélo-palestinienne, contre 14 % d’un avis opposé 3. Les soulèvements d’avril-mai 2021 ont montré que le lien entre l’oppression vécue en Israël et dans le territoire occupé depuis 1967 restait prégnant. Il est également significatif que l’un des trois membres d’origine palestinienne du personnel d’Amnesty Israël se soit dissocié des critiques de sa directrice, saluant le fait que le rapport considère les Palestiniens des deux côtés de la Ligne verte comme « un seul collectif ».

Si peu de Palestiniens misent sur un changement des mentalités en Israël, les états d’âme du « camp de la paix » constituent un point d’appui pour la propagande israélienne afin de balayer des analyses juridiques étayées. Par ailleurs, des organisations palestiniennes actives en Israël pourraient se sentir contraintes dans leur usage du concept, qu’elles ont pourtant été les premières à théoriser. Adalah, une association de défense de la minorité palestinienne en Israël, est restée plus prudente que le mouvement de solidarité avec les Palestiniens à l’étranger, notamment à l’occasion de la sortie du rapport d’Amnesty. Comme La Paix maintenant, l’ONG décline nos demandes de clarification, précisant « ne pas souhaiter faire de commentaire sur cette question pour le moment ».


Remontées jusqu’aux Nations unies


Ces atermoiements pourraient se répercuter sur la scène diplomatique internationale. Le 27 mai 2021, le Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU a en effet institué une commission d’enquête permanente sur le traitement des Palestiniens par Israël, dont les premières conclusions sont attendues en juin. Celle-ci est, entre autres, chargée d’identifier « toutes les causes sous-jacentes des tensions récurrentes, de l’instabilité et de la prolongation des conflits ». Instrument juridique le plus puissant à la disposition du Conseil, elle est actuellement ouverte à toutes les contributions individuelles et d’organisations.

« Il importe à cette occasion que tous les Palestiniens, y compris ceux de 1948, fassent entendre sans aucune ambiguïté leur propre analyse de l’apartheid, mais aussi de la colonisation de peuplement sioniste comme les causes profondes de leur oppression, juge Rania Muhareb. Cela devrait mener la commission d’enquête à comprendre que le régime d’apartheid israélien n’a pas commencé avec l’occupation depuis 1967, mais avec la création d’Israël en 1948 ». Une reconnaissance sans doute insuffisante pour conduire les États à se plier à leur obligation de contribuer à mettre fin à ces pratiques comme le leur impose le droit international, mais qui les rapprocherait à tout le moins du bon diagnostic.


CEMAS does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of our board members.

 

 

 

Après Shekau : faire face aux jihadistes dans le nord-est du Nigéria

International Crisis Group, 29 March 2022


Une franchise de l’EI a renforcé sa présence dans certaines parties du nord-est du Nigéria. Pour l’endiguer, Abuja devrait faciliter la démobilisation des insurgés de la faction rivale, protéger les déplacés et collaborer avec les pays voisins pour priver les jihadistes de tout soutien matériel extérieur.

 

 

Que se passe-t-il ? Depuis mai 2021, l’Etat islamique en Afrique de l’Ouest (EIAO), la faction la plus puissante du mouvement jihadiste Boko Haram, a largement décimé la faction rivale dirigée par feu Abubakar Shekau, s’emparant de nouveaux territoires. Les autorités ont intensifié les opérations militaires et autres efforts de stabilisation contre l’EIAO.

Comment est-ce arrivé ? Le coup de force de l’EIAO intervient après des années de tensions au sein de Boko Haram, qui ont fini par diviser le mouvement. Le noyau de l’Etat islamique (EI) semble avoir intensifié son soutien aux commandants qui avaient quitté Shekau en 2016, les considérant comme des partenaires plus fiables pour combattre l’Etat nigérian.

En quoi est-ce significatif ? L’EIAO s’est renforcé depuis la mort de Shekau, malgré l’amélioration des capacités aériennes de l’armée nigériane, qui lui a permis de mieux protéger les villes de garnison. L’EIAO s’étend dans de nouvelles zones rurales du nord-est du Nigéria. La dispersion d’anciens combattants de Shekau pourrait aggraver l’insécurité ailleurs dans le nord du Nigéria.

Comment agir ? Les autorités devraient redoubler d’efforts pour démobiliser les combattants de Shekau. Elles devraient aider les civils à ne pas se réinstaller dans les zones contrôlées par l’EIAO, où risques sécuritaires et taxation jihadiste perdurent. Abuja et ses partenaires devraient renforcer leur effort de renseignement afin d’endiguer le soutien de l’EI à l’EIAO.
I. Synthèse

La franchise locale de l’Etat islamique (EI) consolide son emprise sur les zones rurales du centre et du sud de l’Etat de Borno, au Nigéria. L’Etat islamique en Afrique de l’Ouest (EIAO) a décimé la faction jihadiste rivale Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), dont le défunt chef, Abubakar Shekau, avait dirigé le mouvement jihadiste longtemps connu sous la désignation de Boko Haram. L’armée de l’air nigériane parvient en grande mesure à repousser les grosses attaques de l’EIAO contre les villes du nord-est du pays où sont basés les militaires. En conséquence, au nom de la « stabilisation », le gouvernement de l’Etat de Borno estime qu’il peut commencer à fermer les camps qui accueillent des centaines de milliers de personnes déplacées par le conflit. Les autorités devraient cependant éviter de pousser les civils à se réinstaller là où l’EIAO est actif. Elles devraient intensifier leurs efforts pour endiguer l’EIAO en gérant mieux les transfuges jihadistes et en cherchant à obtenir la reddition des éléments dispersés du JAS. Cela permettrait de réduire le risque d’un débordement du conflit que l’EIAO pourrait exploiter. Le Nigéria et ses voisins devraient également renforcer leur coopération en matière de renseignement, notamment pour juguler ce qui semble être un afflux de conseils et d’argent en provenance du noyau dur de l’EI.

L’EIAO monte progressivement en puissance. En mai 2021, les combattants de l’EIAO ont pris d’assaut la forêt de Sambisa et ont encerclé le chef du JAS, Shekau. Ce dernier s’est alors suicidé avec une ceinture d’explosifs. L’EI aurait autorisé l’opération. Cela a intensifié les tensions qui avaient déjà divisé le mouvement Boko Haram en deux factions principales, EIAO et JAS. Depuis la mort de Shekau, l’EIAO a absorbé dans ses rangs plusieurs groupes de combattants du JAS, mais elle se heurte toujours à la résistance d’autres unités pro-JAS, notamment le groupe Bakura basé dans les marais, les îles et les rives de la partie nord du lac Tchad. Parallèlement, de nombreux éléments du JAS ont choisi de se rendre aux autorités nigérianes plutôt que de se soumettre à l’EIAO, tandis que certains auraient fui vers d’autres régions du nord du Nigéria.

Avec un JAS qui semble résiduel, l’EIAO a encore étendu sa présence dans les zones rurales du Borno et a repris ses attaques contre l’armée nigériane, multipliant les petites opérations pour s’adapter à l’intensification des bombardements aériens. L’EIAO a revendiqué plus d’attaques en 2021 qu’en 2020, même si ces attaques ont fait moins de victimes.

 La consolidation de la présence de l’EIAO dans une partie des zones rurales du Borno au cours des dernières années représente une menace sérieuse pour la sécurité du nord du Nigéria et des régions voisines du Tchad, du Niger et du Cameroun. Alors même que l’EI avait initialement soutenu Shekau en tant que chef de Boko Haram en 2015, année où l’ensemble du mouvement s’est rebaptisé EIAO, l’EI s’est ensuite rangé derrière des responsables dissidents l’année suivante. Cette décision semble résulter de la crainte que le style de commandement erratique de Shekau et sa brutalité envers les civils n’affaiblissent et ne discréditent le mouvement. L’EI a fourni des formations, des conseils opérationnels et par moments de l’argent à sa franchise, l’EIAO. Abandonné par l’EI, Shekau est resté à la tête du reste du mouvement, revenu à son appellation antérieure, JAS. Il a cependant maintenu son allégeance à l’EI.

L’évolution des tactiques de l’EIAO semble lui avoir permis ces avancées récentes. L’EIAO a consolidé un semblant de gouvernance sur le territoire rural qu’il contrôle. Les civils peuvent se déplacer librement et l’EIAO les encourage à venir vivre et à commercer dans les zones sous son contrôle, afin de les taxer et de mobiliser ainsi des ressources. S’il n’est pas maîtrisé, l’EIAO continuera probablement à se renforcer et à chercher des occasions d’étendre encore davantage son influence. Même si l’armée nigériane a récemment renforcé sa capacité aérienne pour frapper les cibles de l’EIAO et qu’elle a amélioré la coordination entre les forces aériennes et terrestres, ses efforts militaires – et ceux de ses alliés régionaux – n’ont pas encore réussi à réduire la présence de l’EIAO dans les zones rurales.

Au-delà de l’engagement militaire, le Nigéria a exploré d’autres approches pour contenir la menace des insurgés. Il a mis en place et progressivement amélioré l’opération Safe Corridor, un programme utile qui vise à accueillir les transfuges jihadistes pour les réintégrer dans la société, malgré l’opposition de certains responsables politiques et de certaines communautés, qui considèrent que ce programme dépense des fonds publics au profit de jihadistes qui, selon eux, devraient plutôt être punis. Malgré ses lacunes, l’existence même de ce programme a beaucoup contribué à encourager les combattants du JAS à se rendre après la mort de Shekau. L’opération Safe Corridor n’a cependant pas la capacité d’accueillir les nouveaux transfuges, laissant aux autorités de l’Etat de Borno le soin de gérer plus de 30 000 personnes (dont environ 2 000 transfuges) qui ont fui les zones autrefois contrôlées par le JAS. En l’absence de ressources suffisantes pour réintégrer ces personnes, en particulier les éléments du JAS, le risque est que certains retournent au jihadisme ou se déplacent vers des zones de conflit ailleurs dans le nord du Nigéria.

 En parallèle, les autorités de l’Etat de Borno ont mobilisé les autorités fédérales et des bailleurs de fonds internationaux pour coopérer à une stratégie de « stabilisation » du Borno. Cette stratégie vise notamment à intervenir pour la fermeture des camps qui accueillent des centaines de milliers de personnes déplacées arrivées dans la région de Maiduguri après la grande offensive du JAS en 2013-2014. Le gouvernement de l’Etat de Borno souhaite que le plus grand nombre possible de personnes retournent à leur région d’origine. Même si la fermeture des camps de déplacés est adéquate dans certains cas, elle oblige souvent les déplacés à choisir entre s’installer dans des villes de garnison, où les prix des denrées alimentaires sont élevés et l’accès aux ressources agricoles limité, et retourner à des activités agricoles, de pêche ou d’élevage dans des zones rurales souvent sous contrôle de l’EIAO. Ce choix est particulièrement risqué, car les forces de sécurité peuvent considérer ceux qui font le choix d’accéder aux ressources agricoles comme des sympathisants de l’EIAO.

 A court terme, malgré leurs efforts renouvelés, les militaires nigérians ont peu de chances de vaincre l’EIAO ou de l’affaiblir suffisamment pour l’obliger à s’engager dans des négociations sérieuses – qu’il ne semble guère intéressé à entamer – sans un changement de circonstances. Les autorités devraient donc pour le moment s’efforcer d’endiguer l’EIAO. Les autorités fédérales, l’armée et le gouvernement de Borno devraient élaborer ensemble un processus cohérent pour accueillir et réintégrer les transfuges du JAS. Abuja devrait collaborer avec les gouvernements des Etats du Nigéria pour encourager les éléments dispersés du JAS à se rendre, plutôt que de les laisser générer de l’instabilité ailleurs, ouvrant ainsi à l’EIAO de nouvelles possibilités d’expansion. Les autorités locales et fédérales devraient appréhender avec discernement les politiques susceptibles de renvoyer les déplacés vers des enclaves situées dans les zones contrôlées par l’EIAO, et garder les camps de Maiduguri ouverts pour ceux qui souhaitent rester. Elles pourraient également aider les déplacés à s’installer plus durablement autour de Maiduguri, où ils bénéficieront d’une plus grande sécurité et de meilleures opportunités. Enfin, Abuja et ses alliés régionaux devraient renforcer leur coopération en matière de renseignement afin de réduire le soutien matériel apporté par l’EI à sa franchise nigériane.


Pour l’integralite du rapport, visiter: https://www.crisisgroup.org/fr/africa/west-africa/nigeria/b180-after-shekau-confronting-jihadists-nigerias-north-east

 

Dakar/Bruxelles, 29 Mars 2022

 

 

 

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