Despite agreeing to a one-year political transition, with presidential elections to be held in November 2015, Burkina Faso’s interim leader has dismissed the African Union’s (AU) imposition of a two-week deadline to hand power to civilians.
Following crisis talks on Wednesday, Burkina Faso’s army, politicians and society leaders agreed to a one-year political transition, with presidential elections to be held in November 2015. While the talks, which were mediated by three West African presidents and also attended by religious and tribal chiefs, failed to name a leader that will head the transitional government, a statement released late Wednesday indicated that all parties had agreed that an “eminent civilian personality” should take the job. Burkina Faso’s interim leader however announced late Thursday that he was not concerned by the AU’s two-week deadline, stating, “we are not afraid of sanctions, we care much more about stability.”
The talks on Wednesday had initially started off rocky, with opposition leaders storming out in protest over the possible involvement of loyalists of former president Blaise Compaore in any provisional government. The opposition’s main leader Zephirin Diabre had also objected to a proposal by the three West African leaders that each group submit three candidates for a transitional government. While security guards intervened, in a bid to prevent the talks from ending in violence, both the opposition and civil society representatives were later persuaded to return to negotiations with all sides, including the current interim leader Lt Col Isaac Zida, welcoming the final agreement. Speaking shortly after the meeting, Lt Col Zida disclosed that the talks “…went very well,” adding that he hoped the teams would be able to “find a solution in order to achieve a civilian transition.”
Despite the meeting ending without a decision on who might be the transitional leader, Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama indicated that he expected a transitional government to be installed in Burkina Faso in a matter of days. President Mahama and his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan and Senegal’s President Macky Sall, who the West African regional body ECOWAS has appointed to lead mediation efforts, travelled to Ouagadougou early Wednesday to mediate the talks and to press for a swift handover of power back to civilians.
There has been mounting international pressure on Lt Col Zida and the military to return the country to civilian rule, with the AU threatening sanctions and Canada earlier this week withdrawing much-needed aid. Despite announcing Tuesday that he would restore civilian rule with two weeks, late Thursday, Lt Col Zida disclosed that he was not concerned by the AU’s deadline, stating “we have waited on the African Union in moments when it should have shown its fraternity and its friendship but instead was not there.” A failure to meet the AU’s deadline could have significant consequences for the West African country and may result in further protests. The AU’s sanctions could include suspension of Burkina Faso’s AU membership and travel ban on military officials. The AU’s Peace and Security Council is expected to meet later this month in order to discuss the crisis.
Just one day after a car bombing targeted a popular café in central Mogadishu another bomb tore through a senior policeman’s car on Monday, wounding at least two.
According to police major Ahmed Kassim, Monday’s attack occurred after a bomb was planted in the car of the police chief of the city’s Blacksea area, located near the busy Bakara market, with the car exploding “…as two mechanics started the engines…” to test it. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which wounded the two mechanics that were working on the car. The attack however is the third to occur in the capital city in the past twenty-four hours.
On Sunday, at least thirteen people were killed and eight others injured after a car bomb exploded outside a popular café in the capital city. According to a senior police official, the incident occurred near the Aroma café, located on Maka Al Mukaram road, with the bomb believed to have been detonated by remote control. Most of those killed in the attack were sitting outside the café. Somali government soldiers were deployed to the area shortly after the incident.
Just hours after the bombing at the café, suspected Islamist militants launched five shells at an area where the president was due to speak. The attack occurred in the Huriwa district, where President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was due to attend celebrations marking the anniversary of Somali receiving its flag. Officials have not reported any casualties in that incident, and the President was able to attend the celebrations once security forces cleared the area.
While no group has claimed responsibility for these attacks, al-Shabaab is likely behind them, as the militant group has vowed to avenge the death of its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in September in a US airstrike. The militant group has launched a string of bomb and gun attacks in Mogadishu, and in other city centres across the country, keeping up with its promise to step up action after African Union (AIMSOM) and Somali troops pushed them out of their remaining coastal stronghold a week ago. The loss of Barawe port on 5 October also means that al-Shabaab has lost a key economic source.
While the loss of Barawe coupled with US military air strikes that killed its leader last month, have dealt a severe blow to the militant group, which has been seeking to topple the internationally-backed government and to drive out African Union peacekeepers, it remains too soon to declare a victory over the group, which is skilled at guerrilla warfare.
The latest attacks to target Mogadishu also come as United Nations investigators warn in new report that Somalia’s new government remains corrupt and that al-Shabaab militants are as deadly as ever.
The new 482-page report, put forth by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, disclosed, “underlying corruption as a system of governance has not yet fundamentally changed and, in some cases, arguably has worsened.” UN experts have indicated that financially, they have “consistently found patterns of misappropriation with diversion rates of between 70 and 80 percent,” adding “the indications are that diverted funds are used for partisan agendas that constitute threats to peace and security.” According to the report, a third of revenues from the capital’s busy seaport, which is a key source of income that totals millions of dollars for the internationally funded government, cannot be accounted for.
While the UN Security Council in 2013 allowed for a partial lifting of an arms embargo on Somalia, the new report discloses, “some of the weapons and ammunition have been diverted to arms markets in Mogadishu.” According to UN experts, weapons initially sent to the national army to defend the country’s internationally backed government, have instead been seen on open sale in at least one market where al-Shabaab militants are known to have purchased arms. This is particularly worrisome as al-Shabaab has begun to shift its tactics as the militant group faces sustained military assaults by the AU force and repeated air strikes, such as those that killed its chief last month.
The report warns that in the long term, air and drone strikes will achieve minimal damage to the militant group, noting, “strategic airstrikes have in general resulted in short terms gains but significantly failed to diminish al-Shabaab’s operation capacity…there is no current evidence that they have the potential to ‘degrade and destroy’ al-Shabaab.” This was particularly evidenced over this past weekend, as despite being pushed out of a key stronghold earlier this month, al-Shabaab militants were able to stage three attacks in the capital city, demonstrating that the militant group remains active in key areas across the country. Furthermore, while the loss of the port town of Barawe, including the loss of funding through the multi-million dollar trade of charcoal, will likely have some financial impact on the militant group, the trade continues unabated and militants will continue to profit as they continue to control production sites and truck checkpoints. According to UN experts, al-Shabaab have also increased their use of bombs, including the “noticeable” introduction of magnetic vehicle bombs, a tactic that was previously commonly used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The use of such car bombs in Somalia likely represents “…a transfer of battlefield knowledge to Somalia.”
Outside of Somalia, the militant group continues to pose a regional threat, as the military operations in southern and central Somalia have effectively forced al-Shabaab fighters to “become more operationally audacious by placing greater emphasis on exporting its violence beyond the borders of Somalia” and across the Horn of Africa.
On Monday, Somali military commanders celebrated the capture of the last major port city held by al-Shabaab insurgents as security forces secured control of the town for the first time in over two decades.
On Sunday, local officials reported that Somali government troops, backed by African Union (AU) forces, had captured one of al-Shabaab’s remaining strategic strongholds in Somalia. Sources reported that the key port town of Barawe, located 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Mogadishu, was now under the control of the Somali army and AU forces. The operation was launched Friday, with residents reporting that many of the al-Qaeda-linked militants had begun to withdraw from the key port town before troops began to arrive.
Speaking to hundreds of residents on Monday, Somali military commander Abdirisak Khalif Elmi confirmed that “al-Shabaab are no longer in Barawe,” and called on citizens to support the government. Tanks and armoured vehicles were seen patrolling the town Monday, as government forces continued operations to secure the port city. While some troops conducted house-to-house searches for weapons, the majority of soldiers were setting up bases just outside the town. Residents reported Monday that the port city was quiet, with no fighting. A statement released by the AU’s AMISOM force, which includes 22,000 soldiers from six nations, indicated that Barawe fell without “much resistance from the terrorist group.”
According to AU officials, the port town, which had been under the control of al-Shabaab for the past six years, was being used by the militant group as a base to launch attacks in the central and southern regions of Somalia, specifically the capital city. The port city was also a major source of revenue for the militant group. According to UN estimates, al-Shabaab exported charcoal through Barawe to Gulf countries, earning at least US $25 million a year from the trade, which was then used to fund their operations. It is seen as a major blow to the insurgents and comes just one month after the death of their leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a US air and drone strike. In the wake of their leader’s death, al-Shabaab vowed to avenge their leader’s death and to continue their fight to topple the country’s internationally backed government. On Saturday, al-Shabaab commander Mohamed Abu Abdallah reiterated that the militia would continue to stage attacks.
Over the past several months, al-Shabaab has lost several key towns as Somali and AU forces launched a new offensive to force the militant group out of their remaining strongholds in the central and southern regions of the country. The group however continues to control large territory in rural areas, which will likely be the next focus of the offensive once the major towns in the region have been secured. Al-Shabaab is known to tactically withdraw from areas when faced with a large offensive, however some fighters usually remain to launch attacks at a later point. It is likely that some militants may have stayed back in Barawe in a bid to launch attacks in the port city.
In what appears to be a sign that the militant group has not been shaken by air strikes that killed its leader exactly a week ago, on Monday al-Shabaab militants carried out a suicide bombing that targeted African Union (AU) troops in Somalia.
According to local governor Abdukadir Mohamed Sidi, a car laden with explosives struck an AU convoy as it was travelling southwest of the capital city, Mogadishu. The attack took place on the road between Mogadishu and Afgoye town, which is located 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the capital. At least twelve civilians in a minibus were killed and twenty-seven others were wounded, including several AU soldiers. Last week, sources revealed that the AU force supported US Special Forces in the air strikes. The AU’s continued presence in Somalia, coupled with on-going military operations to push al-Shabaab out of remaining strongholds they control in southern Somalia, likely means that the militant group will target them in the coming weeks.
This is likely the second attack to take place since the militant group vowed to avenge the killing of its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane. On Monday, officials confirmed that mortar shells had struck a Mogadishu neighbourhood late Sunday. According to one police officer, the shells landed in residential areas in Hamarjajab neighbourhood. Five people were wounded in the attack. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack however officials have disclosed that al-Shabaab militants are likely behind it.
With a new successor named on Saturday, al-Shabaab appears to be working under a “business as usual,” policy – effectively demonstrating that airstrikes and the transition of a new leader will have little effect on its operations. On Saturday, al-Shabaab’s spokesman disclosed that the militant group had unanimously selected Ahmad Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, at a meeting in an undisclosed location in Somalia. Al-Shabaab also confirmed that it remains aligned with al-Qaeda and vowed to carry out attacks in the wake of Godane’s death.
On Friday, Somalia’s government disclosed that it has credible intelligence that al-Shabaab is planning attacks in retaliation for Godane’s death. Such attacks in the short-term will likely target government facilities, the international airport, as well as AU and Somali troops.
On Monday, a second round of peace talks between the Malian government and separatist militias will begin in Algiers. The talks are aimed at ending a conflict that has continued over this past year despite the country’s efforts to return to a democracy. The two groups signed an interim agreement in June last year, which effectively paved the way for nationwide elections, however since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected to power, negotiations have stalled and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants.
According to sources, the talks will be based on a “roadmap” that was agreed to by the different sides in July. The talks will be overseen by a “college of mediators,” which includes Algeria, the African Union (AU) and the 15-member regional bloc ECOWAS. A “college of facilitators” will be made up of delegates from France, Niger, Nigeria and the European Union. While former Prime Minister Modibo Keita, who is the president’s envoy at the talks, has disclosed “this time in Algiers, participants will get to the bottom of their problems and, it is to be hoped, come to an agreement,” Mali’s Prime Minister Moussa Mara has suggested that despite the government willing to make concessions, a “red line” has been set, noting that Mali’s territorial integrity and secular status will not be up for discussion. While there currently is no set deadline, negotiations between the Malian government and separatist militias are expected to last weeks with the claim for special legal status expected to be the main sticking point.
In the weeks prior to these talks, rival factions amongst the rebels, including members of the MNLA, HCUA, the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), the coalition of the People of Azawad, which is a sub-division of the MNLA, along with a vigilante movement in the region, met in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou, in order to sign a broad policy agreement that effectively ensures they will speak with one voice in Algiers. According to sources, the signatories of the document are requesting “special legal status” for their homeland in northern Mali, adding that they want official recognition of the “legitimacy of the struggle of Azawad/northern Mali for 50 years to enjoy a special status in line with the geographical, economic, social, cultural and security realities.” Although these armed groups once fought each other in northern Mali, it now appears that they are increasingly willing to unite together in order to achieve their goals and to negotiate with the Malian government.
In May of this year, clashes erupted between the Malian army and a coalition of rebels from the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), resulting in at least fifty soldiers being killed in the region of Kidal. Although a ceasefire, which was achieved by Mauritanian leader and AU chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has since been in place, the Malian government has expressed alarm over the “concentrations of armed groups” that are present in the desert region.