Vote-counting in Mali is currently underway just one day after a presidential election run-off took place, which is expected to provide a fresh start to the troubled West African state. The election, the first to occur since 2007, is seen as crucial in order to unlock more than US $4 billion in aid.
On Sunday, people throughout Mali made their way through heavy rain in order to vote in the presidential run-off that is aimed at restoring democracy and stability after more than a year of turmoil. An electorate of seven million had the choice between former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who won 40% during the first round of voting, and ex-finance minister Soumaila Cisse, who won nearly 20% of the vote. Mali’s 21,000 polling stations opened at 08:00 GMT and closed at 18:00 GMT.
Louis Michel, the head of the European Union’s election observation mission, has indicated that there was “absolutely nothing doubtful or suspicious to report” and that voting had taken place “in good conditions, in a serene, quiet atmosphere,” adding that “whoever is elected will be elected with democratic legitimacy. That is my belief.”
The interim government has until this Friday to make the results of the run-off public, however some observers expect that an announcement may be made sooner. Early signs have indicated that Mr. Keita will likely win the elections. The country of more than 14 million remains the continent’s third-largest gold producer however its US $10.6 billion economy contracted by 1.2 percent last year as widespread poverty contributed to the unrest in the northern regions of the country last year.
Meanwhile in Somalia, reports have emerged that al-Shabaab militants have stolen £480,000 (US $750,00) worth of British government-funded humanitarian materials in supplies. The supplies were in warehouses and were captured during a raid by al-Shabaab militants in 2011 and 2012, however no information on what particular supplies were stolen has been released. The theft, which was revealed in the fine print of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) annual accounts, is likely to fuel concerns pertaining to how Britain is spending its foreign aid at a time when the country is experiencing budget cuts at home.
The accounts describe the “theft between November 2011 and February 2012, by al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, of DFID funded humanitarian materials and supplies from the offices and warehouses of partner or organizations, to which DFID had provided funding to deliver projects and programmes.” The accounts further note that “the DFID’s partners had no prior warning of the confiscations being carried out and therefore had no time to prevent the loss by relocating goods.” The loss, which comes out of more than £80 million of aid that was allocated to Somalia in 2012 – 2013, appears in this year’s accounts because the investigation was only completed in the past twelve months.
In response to the reports, Gerald Howarth, a lawmaker in Prime MInister David Cameroon’s Conservative party, has stated that the theft raised concerns about how this money was being spent, indicating that “there is a huge public concern at the relentless increase in overseas aid. Incidents like this, where British taxpayers‘ money is diverted into people fighting agains us, re not acceptable.”
A spokesman for the DFID has stated that there are always risks with working in unstable countries such as Somalia, but that it was doing everything it could to stop such thefts from occurring. A statement released by the DFID indicated that the company “works in some of the most dangerous places in the world, including Somalia, because tackling the root causes of poverty and instability there ensures a safer world and a safer UK.” The statement further added that “working in conflict-affected and fragile states carries inherent risk. DFID does all it can to mitigate against this but, on occasion, losses will occur.”
Two Spanish aid workers, who were kidnapped in Kenya nearly two years ago and held in neighbouring Somalia, have been freed according to their employer.
In a statement that was released by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the organization confirmed that the two women are both “safe and healthy and keen to join their loved ones as soon as possible….Once again, MSF strongly condemns this attack on humanitarian workers who were in Dadaab offering life saving medical assistance to thousands of refugees.” MSF indicated that it would give any further details before a press conference which has been scheduled in Madrid on Friday.
Montserrat Serra (40) and Blanca Thiebaut (30) were kidnapped on 13 October 2011 by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle inside the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Their Kenyan driver was shot and wounded. At the time of the kidnapping, Kenyan police had stated that they had been seized by members of Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group, however no group has actually claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Just days later, Kenya deployed its troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to fight al-Shabaab militants.
Dadaab, said to be the world’s largest refugee camp, houses some 500,000 people who have fled years of conflict and drought across the border in Somalia. MSF, which at the time of the kidnapping had 49 foreign and 343 local staff in Dadaab, has since reduced its activity there to a minimum. Both women were working as logisticians for MSF in Dadaab. Ms. Serra, a qualified teacher from Girona, Spain, had been working in Kenya for two months before she was kidnapped. She had previously worked on aid projects in Latin America and Yemen. Ms. Thiebaut, from Madrid, had recently completed a degree at the London School of Economics and is an agricultural engineer by training.
The abduction of the Spaniards followed the kidnapping of a French woman and a British woman from the Kenyan coast near the Somali border. Briton Judith Tebbut, in her late fifties, was seized from a remote Kenyan resort on 11 September 2011, by armed men who killed her husband David. She was released in March 2012 after being held for more than six months. A ransom was reportedly paid by her son. Marie Dedieu, 66 and partially paralyzed, was seized from her beachfront home in the Lamu archipelago on 1 October 2011. She was reported dead later that month, with French officials stating that the death was probably due to her having been deprived of essential medication by her kidnappers. On 25 October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council were seized by armed men in Galkayo in north-central Somalia. They were freed during a raid that was launched by US Commandos in January 2012. Meanwhile in January of this year, al-Shabaab fighters killed a French hostage, an intelligence agent known under the pseudonym Denis Allex who was held since 2009, during a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A colleague of Mr. Allex, who was kidnapped at the same time, managed to escape in August 2009. A Briton and Kenyan, who were employed by an Indian subcontractor of a UN agency and who were kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, are feared dead. While an American national kidnapped in January 2012 is still being held.
Meanwhile thirty-nine seamen of various nationalities from the Naham 3, a fishing vessel that was captured in March 2012, along with crew members from two other boats, are still being held in Somalia. The fate of a further fifteen crew members, whose vessel, the MV Albedo, sunk early last week, remains unknown.
A car has exploded inside the main market in Somalia’s capital city after a hand grenade was thrown into a vehicle which was carrying four police officials. At least one person has been killed in the attack, proving that despite recent infighting inside al-Shabaab, including the recent killing of top leaders, the extremist group is far from defeated and continues to be a severe threat to security within Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia. The attack comes just one day after Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s plane caught on fire, forcing the president to route back to Mogadishu.
According to police officials, the four-wheel drive vehicle caught fire after a homemade bomb was detonated at about 10:30 local time (07:30 GMT) in the capital’s main market. Sources on the ground have indicated that officers from a nearby police station rushed to the scene, shooting in the air in order to disperse the crowd. A police source in Mogadishu has confirmed that four of the police officers inside the vehicle were wounded. The market was partially closed for several hours while an investigation into the attacks is currently underway.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab has indicated that the militant group’s fighters had set off an improvised explosive device which targeted security officials in Mogadishu’s Bakara market. The militant group has claimed to have killed three officials and wounded three others.
Business has been booming in Bakara market over the last two years. Although insecurity remains to be an issue throughout the capital city there have not been many recent attacks in Bakara market. The attack was carried out on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is one of the busiest shopping days. The Somali Federal Government has also warned the public that Islamist militants may increase their activity over the following month. In previous years, the month of Ramadan, which is expected to start this week, has witnessed a surge in al-Shabaab attacks as gunmen have been urged to carry out attacks by their extremist preachers. In a bid to topple the internationally-backed Somali government, al-Shabaab militants have launched a string of attacks, including a daylight attack last month on a fortified United Nations compound.
Meanwhile a plane carrying the Somali president was forced to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu after one of its engines reportedly caught fire. A spokesman for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed confirmed the incident, stating that it was not immediately clear why the engine had stopped working. According to local reports, the President was not injured however fire fighters quickly arrived at the scene in order to put out the flames. The President was flying to the South Sudan capital of Juba when his flight was forced to turn round.
News of the incident was first reported on a Twitter feed that is run by al-Shabaab, however the report did not indicated that the militant group had attacked the plane.
An apparently accidental publication of a diplomatic letter has exposed a rift between the Somali Federal Government and Kenyan troops. The letter accuses the Kenyan army of causing recent faction fighting, which has left at least sixty-five dead in the southern port city of Kismayo. Kenyan troops are in Somalia as part of the African Union (AU) force who is currently battling Islamist militants in support of the United Nations-backed government. Kenyan authorities have yet to comment on the letter.
The letter, which is titled as “Extremely Urgent – Kismayo conflict,” is from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fawzia Yusuf Adam. He is also the deputy prime minister to the African Union. The letter accuses Kenyan troops, who are part of the AU’s peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, of not being neutral peacekeepers and that instead, they are attempting to create a buffer state, known as Jubbaland, within Somalia, which will be run by local politicians that they can control. It further indicates that the Kenyan Defence Force (KDF), which is backed by one Somalia faction against others, arrested a senior Somali government army officer and used heavy weapons in civilian areas. According to the letter, the “incompetence” of the Kenyan commander of AMISOM in southern Somalia is said to have caused an outbreak of recent fighting in the southern port city of Kismayo which has led to a “preliminary” count of 65 dead and 155 injured. According to on-the-ground reports in Mogadishu, the letter appears to have been emailed to journalists accidentally after someone had mistakenly included the Prime Minister’s “press contacts” into the email recipients’ list.
The letter calls for the “immediate deployment” of a multinational African peacekeeping force to take over control in southern Somalia in a bid to calm the situation, which threatens to destabilize a region of the country which continues to be threatened by al-Shabaab militants. Although the Kenyan AMISOM contingent was recently reinforced by several hundred troops from Sierra Leone, Sierra Leoneans are “embedded” inside the Kenyan units. As such, the KDF continues to be the dominating force in this region of Somalia, which has been classified by AMISOM as “Sector 2.” While the letter highlights the need for a multinational deployment in the region, it does not go as far as to say that Kenyan troops should be replaced. Instead, it pointedly states that new “political officers” should be appointed for the area “whose nationalities will be different from the AMISOM contingent in Sector 2.”
Although Kenyan authorities have not yet officially responded or made any comments pertaining to the newly released diplomatic letter, the Kenyan army has previously insisted that it was neutral in its dealing with Somalia and that it was only attempting to bring peace to its neighbor. However this is not the first time that the Kenyan troops have been accused of backing a militia force, which opposed the central Somali government in Mogadishu. Over the past several weeks, authorities in Somalia have accused Kenyan troops of supporting militia soldiers “in violation of their mandate,” as well as attacking civilians and arresting a top government army commander. These accusations culminated in the Somali government demanding several days ago that Kenyan troops stationed in Kismayo be replaced. With the accidental release of this confidential diplomatic letter, it appears that this time the Somali government’s accusation may confirm suspicions in the region that while Kenya’s troops are a part of AMISOM, they may also have their own agenda – to create a buffer zone to prevent further cross-border attacks which have plagued the border region ever since Kenya deployed its troops in Somalia in 2011. Kenyan forces seized Kismayo, which is located 480 km (300 miles) south of Mogadishu, from al-Shabaab in October 2012. Currently, there are several self-declared presidents of Jubbaland and the central government in Mogadishu does not recognize neither one of them. Although Somali and AU forces have driven al-Shabaab militants out of a number of major cities, its fighters still control the smaller towns and rural areas located in central and southern Somalia, where they have been able to launch attacks within government-controlled territory.
Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was removed from power by military forces loyal to Captain Amadou Sanogoon on the night of 10 December 2012, a short time before he was due to leave for a scheduled trip to France.
He has since appeared on State television and resigned his position.
With western diplomatic missions all warning against unnecessary travel to Mali, those companies with fixed interests in the country need to take measured precautions if they have not done so already. This is especially an issue for organisations with any interest in the so-called Azawad region – that portion of the country which is under insurgent control. Preparations should include the following:
- Thinning out non-essential staff and dependents
- Restricting expat and local national internal travel
- Seeking advice from the security forces
- Ensuring journey management systems are in place and work
- Reviewing crisis management contingencies and carrying out exercises of these plans
- Registration of expatriates with relevant diplomatic missions and seeking advice on what support will be forthcoming (if any) if conditions deteriorate
- Liaison with insurers to know any exclusions or limits to existing cover
While the situation in Bamako plays out in relation to central government control, the most extreme risks will continue to be in the Azawad region east of Mopti. There is expected to be military clashes there between the various insurgent groupings against the ECOWAS-bolstered Mali army force in line with the UN Security Council authorization to use force. Despite the obvious threats in the Azawad, organisations in Mali should be braced for nuisance attacks and isolated terrorist attacks in the capital of Bamako. When al-Shabaab was weakened in Somalia, these types of attacks were experienced in Uganda and Kenya. Although the two conflicts are not connected, it is logical to predict that similar tactics may evolve and be witnessed in Mali and inside contributing nations. This threat was recently evidenced by the kidnapping of a French citizen in Diema, in the west of the country.