On Tuesday, officials in France vowed to continue their mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the death of two elite soldiers, which have highlighted the risks of a mission that aims to disarm rogue rebels who have plunged the country into chaos. The death of the two French soldiers came hours before French President Francois Hollande visited the country.
First French Losses
Antoine Le Quinio, 22, and Nicolas Vokaer, 23, both members of the 8th Parachute regiment that is based in Castres, south western France, died overnight Monday after being caught up in a fierce fire fight during a night patrol in the capital city of Bangui, where sectarian clashes last week killed hundreds. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed the first French losses, stating that they would have no impact on the tactics or the size of the 1,600-strong force that Paris has deployed in its former colony. Claude Bartolone, speaker of France’s National Assembly, told reporters that the soldiers “were injured and very quickly taken to the surgical unit, but unfortunately they could not be saved.”
The French troops, along with African peacekeepers, had launched an operation on Monday to forcibly disarm militiamen who claim to be part of a new national army. After last week’s clashes, in which the Red Cross has indicated that 394 people were killed in three days of fighting, tensions throughout the country remain high, with fear of continued violence. While the French army has indicated that it had restored some stability in the capital by Monday night, low-level violence continued on Tuesday.
Following a request from France, the United States announced on Monday that it would help fly African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops into the CAR. According to a spokesman for US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, US forces have been ordered “to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic.” US President Barack Obama has also called for calm and has asked the CAR’s transitional government to arrest those who are committing crimes.
Meanwhile President Francois Hollande arrived in Bangui on Tuesday after attending a memorial service for South African former president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Upon his arrival, the French leader paid tribute to his country’s two fallen soldiers. During the short visit, the French President is expected to meet with Michel Djotodia, the country’s interim president.
Francois Hollande has defended France’s military intervention in the CAR, stating that it was necessary to avoid a bloodbath. Speaking in Bangui, the French leader stated, “it was time to act. In Bangui itself, nearly 400 people were killed. There was no time to procrastinate.”
France’s envoy to the United Nations announced on Tuesday that his country wants elections in the CAR to be held “as quickly as possible,” preferably by late 2014. Speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters that “in light of political tensions on the ground, it would be preferable to have elections as quickly as possible, that is to say in the second half of 2014,” adding that “if the elections could take place in the second half of 2014, in the fall of 2014, that could be positive.” Currently, the CAR has a deadline to hold legislative and president
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.
Nearly one year into its mandate, the internationally-backed government in Somalia continues to struggle as it’s first anniversary in power approaches. Al-Qaeda-inspired fighters, breakaway regions, coupled with rival clans and an ongoing climate of insecurity are the continuing threats that are jeopardizing the current government’s initiatives of concluding decades of anarchy. Although the current government was the first to attain global recognition since the collapse of the hardline regime in 1991, and has since seen billions in foreign aid being poured into the country, officials within the country have struggled to maintain security. Somalia has taken steps forward, particularly in the coastal capital city of Mogadishu, which is now busy with laborers rebuilding after al-Shabaab fighters fled their city two years ago. However the situation throughout the rest of the country continues to remain bleak. Outside the city, the weak central government continues to maintain minimal influence as much of the country is fractured into autonomous regions, including the self-declared northern Somaliland. Earlier this month, the northeast region of Puntland cut ties with the central government while in the far south, self-declared leaders in the Jubbaland region continue to defy Mogadishu’s authorities. In turn, multiple armies are fighting for control of southern Somalia, including rival warlords, Islamist extremists and a national army that is backed by the 17,700-strong African Union (AU) force. Al-Shabaab too remain powerful, despite losing a string of key towns and leaders, the terrorist group continues to carry out attacks. A suicide attack on a UN compound in June of this year demonstrated al-Shabaab’s ability to strike at the heart of the capital’s most secure areas. Last month, a report released by the UN Monitoring Group estimated that al-Shabaab still have some 5,000 militants within its group and that they remain the “principal threat to peace and security in Somalia.” Aid workers are struggling to contain a dangerous outbreak of polio, with the UN warning that while more than one hundred cases have been recorded, there are “probably thousands more with the virus.” Compounding the problem is an almost impossible environment for aid workers. In a major blow this month, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an aid agency used to working in the world’s most dangerous places, pulled out of Somalia after two decades of providing aid in the country. The agency cited that it could no longer put up with a “barrage of attacks,” including kidnappings, threats, lootings and murder. Over a million Somalis are refugees in surrounding nations and another million are displaced inside the country, often in terrible conditions, with the UN warning of “pervasive” sexual violence.
Preliminary Results from Malian Elections Announced while Togo’s Opposition Party Rejects Parliamentary Election ResultsJuly 31, 2013 in Africa, Mali, Togo
While official results from Sunday’s presidential elections in Mali are not expected to be announced until Friday, the country’s interim government has stated that initial results indicate that Mali’s ex-Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubakar Keita has a clear lead in the polls that are intended to restore democratic rule in Mali. Meanwhile in Togo’s opposition party has rejected the ruling party’s win in the recent Parliamentary vote.
With a third of the votes counted in Mali’s presidential elections, the country’s interim government has stated on Tuesday that former Prime Minister Keita is expected to win the elections, with former Finance Minister Soumalia Cisse expected to gain second place. Col Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, the Minister of Territorial Administration, stated to journalists in the capital city of Bamako that “there is one candidate, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who has a wide margin compared with other candidates…. If maintained, there will not be a need for a second round.” Mr. Cisse’s camp however has rejected the results, calling for an international commission to count the ballots that were case in Sunday’s poll. His spokesman, Amadou Koita, has called the announcement “scandalous” and has questioned why Col Coulibaly refused to provide figures to back up his statement. International observers have urged Malians to accept the outcome of the elections while Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who is the current head of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has expressed confidence that the Malian contenders will accept the voters‘ choice.
The announcement of a possible winner in Mali’s critical presidential elections comes just days after France hailed the elections as a success. The European Union also indicated on Monday that the elections had gone well and that they had been marked by enthusiasm amongst voters despite threats from Islamist terrorists that polling stations throughout the country would be attacked.
Sunday’s vote was the first election to be held since an uprising by Tuareg separatists sparked a military coup in March of last year, which toppled democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure and effectively plunged the country into a political crisis which opened the way for Islamist militants to occupy the vast northern desert regions for ten months before being ousted by a French-led military offensive that was launched in January of this year. The presidential elections are seen as critical in not only completing the transition towards a democracy but also in maintaining stability and security.
On Monday, Togo’s main opposition rejected the provisional electoral results which showed that the ruling party won two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, effectively allowing the current President’s family to maintain its decades-long grip on power. Although the full elections results of the country’s parliamentary elections were announced by the Electoral Commission on Sunday night, Togo’s main opposition coalition, Let’s Save Togo, had already alleged earlier in the day that irregularities had occurred during the elections. The following day, Agbeyome Kodjo, a key figure within the Let’s Save Togo party, called the vote and results a “sham,” stating that “its an electoral sham amid massive corruption and proven electoral fraud.” The West African nation’s constitutional court must now approve the results from Thursday’s elections before they can become final.
According to results that were released by the Electoral Commission on Sunday evening, President Faure Gnassingbe’s UNIR party won 62 of the 91 seats, giving the party a two-thirds majority in Parliament. If the results are approved by the constitutional court, the President’s party will effectively have control over an even greater percentage of seats than it currently holds. During the 2007 legislative elections, the UNIR party won 50 of 81 seats. The closest opposition party was Let’s Save Togo, which won 19 seats. During Thursday’s elections, the UNIR performed particularly well in the northern region of the country, which is its traditional stronghold. Meanwhile Let’s Save Togo is stronger in the south, winning seven of the ten seats in the capital city of Lome. The second-largest opposition group in the elections, the Rainbow coalition, obtained six seats in Parliament. In a statement that was released late on Monday, the party also rejected the results of the polls, alleging that “several serious anomalies and cases of massive fraud” were recorded during the elections.
Despite the opposition coalition stating that there were irregularities that occurred during the elections, observers from the African Union (AU) and West African bloc ECOWAS have stated that the elections were held in acceptable conditions. In turn, the United States Embassy in Togo congratulated the Electoral Commission on Monday on the peaceful outcome of the elections, urging all the political parties to “respect the wish of the Togolese people.” A statement released by the US Embassy stated that “we urge all the political parties to respect the wish of the Togolese people and resolve all differences in a peaceful manner, in conformity with the electoral law.” The Embassy also urged that the new national assembly undertake the strengthening of democracy and to work for a more prosperous future for the Togolese.
The long-delayed vote came after months of protests, with the opposition coalition seeking to bring about sweeping electoral reforms. Many of the protests were dispersed by security forces who fired tear gas into the crowds, while some thirty-five people, mostly opposition members, were detained in the run-up to the vote in connection with a number of suspicious fires that had occurred at two major markers. Thirteen opposition members have since been released, including five candidates who participated in Thursday’s polls. Over the coming days, as the results of the elections are either confirmed or denied by the constitutional court, it is highly likely that protests may break out if it is announced that the current President’s party has won a majority of the seats in Parliament.
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.