France in Africa
A French airstrike killed 19 civilians attending a wedding celebration in a remote central Malian village, according to an investigation by the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA. The report based its findings on hundreds of interviews, satellite images, and evidence gathered from a trip to Bounti, the village hit by the Jan. 3 strike. The French defense ministry rejected the report, maintaining the casualties were Islamist militants. French troops were hailed as heroes by many Malians when they drove out militant groups from major towns in the country's desert north in 2013. But criticism has grown as a more than 5,000-strong regional counter-insurgency force—called Operation Barkhane—has failed to prevent the militants from regrouping and expanding across West Africa's Sahel. Despite some recent battlefield gains, the operation is drawing increasing comparisons to the US war in Afghanistan.
A week after the US State Department added the Islamist insurgents in northern Mozambique to its list of "foreign terrorist organizations," the Pentagon is now preparing to send a team of military advisors into the conflict zone. The US Embassy in Maputo announced March 15 that the two-month Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program will see US Special Forces troops instructing Mozambican marines. This follows an announcement weeks ealier by Portugal, the former colonial power in Mozambique, that it is dispatching an elite military unit to help fight the insurgents, known locally as the Shabaab. Lisbon is also petitioning the European Union to send an international military mission to the region to back up the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (FADM).
More than 260 organizations issued an open letter to banks and financial institutions involved in the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which would carry oil from fields in western Uganda to a port on the northern coast of Tanzania. The human rights and environmental organizations say the line's construction poses "unacceptable" risks to communities in the immediate 1,445-kilometer (898-mile) path of the project and beyond. They are calling on banks not to fund the $3.5 billion project, and asking government leaders to shift funding away from infrastructure for fossil fuels to renewable energy.
UN investigators into political violence in Mali reported to the Security Council that they found evidence that government forces have committed "war crimes," while jihadists and other armed groups perpetrated "crimes against humanity." The allegations are made in a 338-page report compiled by the International Commission of Inquiry, a three-member panel examining events in Mali over the six years after it spiralled into conflict in 2012. The Commission was created in January 2018 as part of the Agreement for Peace & Reconciliation between rebels and the government, which was signed in 2015 after years of fighting. The report, which has not yet been made public, recommends establishing a special court to try accused perpetrators. (France24, Dec. 23)
The Russian government has for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland on the north coast of the Horn of Africa. Moscow's UN ambassador Vassiliy Nebenzia last week issued a statement urging both sides to find a compromise solution. "We are concerned about the breakdown...of talks between delegations of Somalia and the self-proclaimed Somaliland. We urge both sides to consider a compromise way of resolving the differences," Nebenzia said. "It is important to resume talks between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland."
French and Russian military networks are backing rival forces to influence upcoming elections in Central African Republic according to a new report by The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. France used to call the shots in CAR, its former colony, but President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has allied himself to Russia and availed himself of the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organization linked to Vladimir Putin. The Sentry claims France now supports a rebel coalition that opposes Touadéra—who is standing for a second term in December—though the French foreign ministry denies the accusation. All of this spells bad news for ordinary Central Africans, who have suffered under rebel groups for years. More than one in four are currently internally displaced or living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Mauritius on Aug. 29 over the government's handling of a recent shipwreck that spilled 1,000 tons of oil into the seas around the island nation. In what appears to be the latest toll in the incident, dolphins and whales have beached close to where the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio freighter ran aground and broke up. Thirty-nine of the mammals have beached in the week leading up to Aug. 28. Social media is awash with photos of the stranded animals, including mothers and calves. At a press conference Sudheer Maudhoo, the Mauritian minister of fisheries and marine resources, called the beachings a "sad coincidence." Though a link between the deaths and oil contamination has yet to be established, disaffection has swelled in the aftermath of the spill. Protesters in the streets of the capital, Port Louis, wielded an inflatable dolphin with "INACTION" written on it.
Jihadist militants continue to wage a low-level insurgency in Mali, targetting government troops and their French allies. Last week, the Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on French forces in northern Mali. The assault with two explosive-laden vehicles on a base in the Gossi area of Timbuktu region left one French soldier dead. (LWJ, July 30) But internecine fighting between jihadist factions has also started to take an increasing toll. Since an apparent truce broke down in February, there have been repeated clashes between JNIM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the self-declared Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS, or EIGS by its French rendering). The ISGS has also engaged another Qaeda-aligned faction active along the border with Burkina Faso, the Macina Liberation Front.