The United States has deployed 80 troops to Chad to assist in efforts to find the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls, who are believed to have been absconded across the border. "The force, made up largely of Air Force personnel, will conduct surveillance flights and operate drone aircraft but will not participate in ground searches," the Washington Post informs us. While the deployment was announced by President Obama in a "War Powers Notification" letter sent to House and Senate leadership, the troops are actually there to maintain the drones—not to actually tramp through the forests in search for the missing girls. The drones are ostensibly unarmed and only for surveillance purposes. (Mashable, May 21)
The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) announced Feb. 11 that they have abducted a team of Red Cross workers in Mali who had been reported missing days earlier—the latest in a wave of new attacks by the jihadist militia. (Al Jazeera, Feb. 11) MUJAO was also blamed for a Feb. 7 attack that left least 30 Tuaregs dead at Tamkoutat, 80 kilometers north of the desert city of Gao. A young girl and a woman were among those killed in the road ambush. Initial reports had attributed the killings to a cycle of reprisals in ethnic violence between the Peul (Fulani) and Tuareg in the area. Authorities later said the attackers were actually MUJAO militants. (Reuters, Feb. 9; AFP, Feb. 7)
The local Islamic police, or Hisbah, in Nigeria's Bauchi state (see map) are carrying out a hunt for members of a putative "homosexual organization," whose formation was reported in a local newspaper last year. The article in Hausa Leadership daily included a list of names, and the state's Sharia Commission ordered they be arrested. If apprehended they could face death by stoning. One man convicted by the Bauchi sharia court last month was publicly lashed 20 times, the death sentence waived because the defendant showed "great remorse." On Jan. 30, an angry mob gathered outside the sharia court in Anguwan Jaki, Bauchi, and attempted to lynch seven suspected gays who were on trial there. Protesters hurled rocks at the court, breaking a window and injuring one, demanding that the defendants be stoned to death. Security forces fired tear gas canisters and several gunshots into the air to disperse the mob. Also last month, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, criminalizing gay marriage and gay organizations on a national level. (BBC News, Feb. 6; Vanguard, Lagos, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica; AP, Jan. 16; AP, Jan. 13)
Uganda's parliament on Jan. 15 retroactively approved military intervention in neighboring South Sudan—after President Yoweri Museveni reversed his initial denials and admitted Ugandan troops are fighting there. His administration spun it in terms of humanitarian intervention, with Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga telling parliament: "That a genocide was looming in South Sudan was a reality." (Zee News) But some say the intervention could only deepen the crisis, and undermine Uganda's supposed role as a moderator in the still-fruitless peace talks being brokered in Ethiopia by regional bloc IGAD. Aly Verjee, a senior researcher for the Rift Valley Institute, told IRIN: "If Uganda deploys more offensive forces to South Sudan, there is the risk the conflict escalates and the neutrality of IGAD's mediation is undermined. A split in the views of IGAD member states will not help the peace process."
Almost 20,000 people of Chadian origin have fled violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in recent weeks, and many more are expected to join the exodus, which is straining humanitarian capacity in Chad, a country many of those fleeing have never lived in. "Those of us who were born here are Central Africans, but we are treated like foreigners. We have never seen Chad but have to go there for our own protection," said Awa Rabilou, one of thousands of people camped for the last two weeks outside the Chadian embassy in Bangui, waiting for a place on a truck headed for Chad. "Our houses were burnt. We left with only the clothes we were wearing. They even threw grenades at us. It was people who joined the anti-balaka who did this. If we stay in our neighborhood, they will kill us," added Rabilou.
At least 30 people were killed by gunmen said to be Hausa-Fulani herdsmen in a raid on Shonong village, in Bachit district of Nigeria's Plateau state Jan. 7. (See map.) Over 40 homes were reportedly burned by the attackers, and livestock stolen. Thousands have been killed in a spiral of violence in Plateau state in recent years, rooted in land disputes between semi-nomadic Muslim Fulani herdsmen and mainly Christian Berom farmers. Plateau lies in a belt of savanna where Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north meets the Christian-majority south. (BBC News, Leadership, Abuja, via AllAfrica, Jan. 7)
The authorities in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, have set up tighter border controls in the Far North region to guard against infiltration by jihadist Boko Haram fighters from neighboring Nigeria as civilians flee insurgent attacks and a Nigerian military offensive, seeking safety across the border in Cameroon. A rapid response military unit has also been deployed and beefed up in the northern regions and some tourist hotels now have armed guards. "We have revised our security strategy. We have registered all expatriates and established police posts in areas where they work. There are security control posts along the border to reduce illegal entry," said Bob-Iga Emmanuel, the head of police division at the governor's office in the Far North region.
France is escalating its military mission in the Central African Republic, airlifting troops and equipment to the capital Bangui ahead of an anticipated UN-backed intervention. With some 400 French troops stationed in Bangui presently, at least another 1,000 are on their way, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Paris, echoing the findings of rights groups, says the country has descended into chaos since the Seleka rebel coalition, many of its fighters apparently from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ousted president François Bozize in March 24. (France24, Nov. 29) With the French announcement, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for the UN Security Council to "authorize a robust peacekeeping force" for the CAR. "If the Security Council does not act now to stem the horrific cycle of violence in the Central African Republic, that failure will hang heavily on the international community for years to come," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general. (AI, Dec. 12)