West Africa

Sahel insurgency reaches Ivory Coast borderlands

In another sign of the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel reaching West Africa's littoral states, the armed forces of Ivory Coast announced on May 24 the completion of a joint operation with the military of neighboring inland Burkina Faso, to clear out a Qaedist camp that had been established on the border between the two countries. Some 1,000 Ivorian soldiers took part in the operation, in which eight militants were reported killed and 38 others detained—24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast. More are thought to have escaped on motorbikes through the bush of Comoé  National Park, which lies along the northern border of Ivory Coast. The militants are said to be followers of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's West African franchise. Automatic weapons, motorbikes and other equipment was seized in the raid outside Alidougou, a border town in southern Burkina Faso.

Growing police-state measures in face of COVID-19

As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Particularly naming the popular organization Kadamay as planning protests, Duterte said April 1: "Remember, you leftists: You are not the government. Do not go around causing trouble and riots because I will order you detained until this COVID [outbreak ends]. I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military...that if there is trouble... shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I'll send you to the grave." (Rappler)

France prepares more troops for Sahel

At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations Jan. 13, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region's growing militarization. Sahel analysts also questioned the lack of engagement with non-military solutions and the political conflicts underlying the violence. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel.

Gambia: protesters demand president step down

Thousands of Gambians took to the streets Dec. 16 in the capital Banjul, demanding that President Adama Barrow honor the agreement he signed with the opposition to step down after three years in office. Barrow, a relative unknown at the time, defeated long-ruling Yahya Jammeh in elections in the small West African state in 2016. He promised to rule for three years before stepping down, but he has since said he will govern until 2021, serving a full presidential term.  The protests were organized by the movement "Operation Three Years Jotna," which means "three years enough" in a mix of English and the Wolof language. It was founded this year by Musa Kaira, a Gambian businessman living in the United States.

Guinea: deadly repression amid fear of power-grab

A new Amnesty International report warns of rising political violence in Guinea amid growing public concern that President Alpha Condé will amend the constitution to run for a third term. Nine protestors were killed last month alone, and scores arrested, including leaders of pro-democracy movements, Amnesty charges in the Nov. 13 report. "This is an affront to human rights and a brutal attempt by the Guinean authorities to silence dissent," said Marie-Evelyne Petrus Barry, Amnesty's West and Central Africa director. At least 60 members of the pro-democracy group National Front for the Defense of the Constitution have been arrested since early October, and a court sentenced five of the group's leaders to up to one year in prison for calling the peaceful protest. Dozens of those who participated were also sentenced to a year in prison for attending an "illegal assembly."

Violence sweeps Mali-Burkina Faso borderlands

At least 38 people were killed and many more wounded in attacks on two ethnic Dogon villages in the Mopti region of central Mali on June 17—seemingly the latest in escalating reprisals pitting the Dogon and Fulani peoples against each other. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Mali has this year seen a spate of inter-ethnic violence between the Dogon and Fulani communities. The attacks targeted the villages of Gangafani and Yoro near the border with Burkina Faso. (Defense Post) The following day, presumed jihadist fighters killed 17 civilians in a night-time raid on a village in the north of Burkina Faso. Authorities say a "massive" military operation is underway to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack on the village of Belehede. Although there was again no claim of responsibility, both the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara are active in the area. (AFP)

Burkina Faso faces 'unprecedented' crisis

Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.

ICC acquits ex-leader of Ivory Coast and henchman

Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court on Jan. 15 acquitted former Côte d'Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, his former youth minister. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were accused of four counts of crimes against humanity related to violence following a disputed 2010 election that left 3,000 dead and 500,000 displaced. Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 in a presidential palace bunker by UN and French-backed forces supporting his rival, Alassane Ouattara. He was the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. The Chamber ordered both accused to be immediately released. A prosecution request to extend Gbagbo's custody pending appeal was rejected. "The acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé will be seen as a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d'Ivoire," said Amnesty International in a statement. (BBC News, ReutersAmnesty International, ICC press release)

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