The pope’s visit to Mozambique will shine the spotlight on peace, climate change, and perhaps even the country’s debt restructuring process. But the debate is likely to almost ignore the Islamist insurgency in the gas-rich north where various new trends can be spotted in the militant’s tactics and security forces’ counterinsurgency strategy, including the arrival of privately contracted attack helicopters that may further strain relations with foreign donors.
Over the past two years, there has been a dramatic escalation in violence across the Sahel, as both militancy-related violence and inter-communal ethnic conflicts have expanded and intensified. EXX Africa assesses the outlook for the current situation, and the likely implications on security for commercial operators in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
The Islamist insurgency in the Sahel has undergone a significant shift since 2016, with the past year recording the highest number of militancy-related violent incidents to date. Moreover, the intensification and expansion of regional militant activity has corresponded with an escalation of violent inter-communal ethnic conflicts, greatly complicating counter-insurgency efforts by both local and international security forces. EXX Africa has monitored such threat developments in a series of recent analysis briefings (See MALI: UNRELENTING SOUTHWARD EXPANSION OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY IN THE SAHEL).
Amidst the general intensification of violence across the region, the threat of terrorism and kidnapping posed to foreign nationals and international commercial interests in remote areas of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger has been elevated, with the mining sector in particular becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack.
Since 2016, the frequency, impact, and geographic spread of Islamist militancy-related violence in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso has increased dramatically. The formation of broad militant alliances, such as the Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) coalition, as well as the deepening of militant ties to organised crime networks, has facilitated a rapid expansion of the militant presence across the Sahel. As such, while Mali remains the focal point of the regional Islamist insurgency, militant groups are now also entrenched in the border areas between Mali, western Niger, and northern and eastern Burkina Faso, where they carry out frequent attacks on security forces and local communities.
Militant tactics have also adapted to regional counter-terrorism efforts, as the number and effectiveness of hit-and-run and roadside Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks has increased substantially in the past two years. In addition, militant groups have demonstrated a strong capability to carry out high-impact attacks in the region’s urban centres, despite the presence of multinational security forces. Since 2015, seven high-impact terrorist attacks have taken place in the capital cities of Mali and Burkina Faso.
Alongside this militant expansion, inter-communal ethnic tensions in the region have also spiked. Faced with a lack of reach into peripheral areas and an inability to push out insurgents, regional states chose to allow the formation of communal militias, such as the Dan Na Ambassagou organisation in Mali, which was established in 2016. In the past year, spurred on by regional militant groups, inter-communal tensions over land-rights and access to resources have erupted into large-scale violence, much of it perpetrated by these same militias. In the most significant incident to date, on 23 March 2019, at least 153 people were killed and 73 wounded in a massacre targeting the Fulani ethnic group in a village in central Mali. As a result, inter-communal violence in the region now accounts for more casualties than militant attacks (See MALI: FRUSTRATION MOUNTS AS SECURITY CRISIS SPINS OUT OF CONTROL).
Faltering counter-insurgency efforts
International and regional efforts to address the insurgency have thus far been unsuccessful in limiting the scale of the violence. While both the UN Multinational Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the French counter-terrorism mission, Operation Barkhane, remain ongoing, both are too limited in size and resources to cover the entirety of the affected region effectively.
As such, the primary responsibility for counter-terrorism operations in the region falls on national security forces, the majority of which are overstretched, under-trained, and ill equipped. In Mali, the security forces are completely reliant on external support from Barkhane and MINUSMA, and most units cannot operate independently. In Burkina Faso, the security apparatus, including the Special Forces and the intelligence services, was largely dismantled with the departure of former president Blaise Compaoré after a popular uprising in 2014. The G5 Sahel Joint Force, a regional counter-terrorism partnership between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad, has yet to become fully operational despite extensive international support, and remains hamstrung by a lack of training and equipment.
Impact on commercial operations
The vast majority of militancy-related attacks in the Sahel have either targeted local and international security forces or pastoral villages. Nonetheless, regional Islamist militant groups have both declared and repeatedly demonstrated their intent to target international commercial interests.
In May 2018, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a statement explicitly threatening to conduct attacks on Western companies, particularly French entities, which operate in the area “from Mauritania to Libya”. This declaration did not signal a new threat, but rather highlighted an increasing effort by regional militant groups to connect foreign commercial operations to the Western military presence across the region.
In regional capitals, commercial activity has not been substantially disrupted by the militant threat. High-impact terrorist attacks have typically focused on areas popular with Western expatriates, such as hotels, beach resorts, and restaurants, as well as sites specifically connected to France. Commercial offices of Western companies have been unaffected, as militants continue to focus on those targets that offer the greatest opportunity to cause high numbers of casualties.
However, commercial operators in more remote areas face more significant challenges. Given the relative isolation of mineral deposits across the region and the limited security presence in these areas, the mining sector in particular has become increasingly vulnerable to direct attacks. Since September 2017, there have been at least nine recorded attacks on mining operations across the Sahel which have resulted in death, injury, or the destruction of property.
This vulnerability has been further underlined by the kidnappings of at least five foreign nationals employed in the mining sector during the same period. Most recently, on 14 January 2019, a Canadian national was kidnapped from a mining exploration site in northern Burkina Faso, near the country’s borders with Mali and Niger. Two days later, the victim’s body was found bearing multiple gunshot wounds.
Frequency and impact of attacks to continue
The current trajectory of the militant threat is likely to be sustained in the coming year. The intensification of inter-communal ethnic conflicts has greatly complicated efforts by regional and international authorities to conduct counterinsurgency operations and has led to a diversion of resources intended to deal with militancy. Moreover, while the development of local security forces has been prioritised, international efforts to do so continue to bear mixed results, and progress has been slow and uneven.
The longevity of the international commitment to this effort also remains uncertain, as internal debates in Washington over the past year have left significant questions over the future of US support for security capacity building in the region. As such, in the coming year it is unlikely that the G5 Sahel Joint Force or national security forces will reach a point where they can reverse the current situation.
Increasing regional expenditures on security also threatens to undermine government capabilities to address the social and governance-related issues that have contributed to the spread of militancy in the region. Militant groups in the Sahel have developed a keen awareness of where local dynamics and gaps in security and governance can be exploited to their advantage and have repeatedly done so through providing limited services and security to marginalised communities. With the ongoing escalation in inter-communal violence and resultant population displacement, the trend of militant expansion to new areas of operation is therefore likely to continue.
Greater responsibility on businesses for security
The continued deterioration of the region-wide security situation will present a growing number of challenges to foreign commercial operators in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. While commercial mining operations in south-western Mali have been largely sheltered from the insurgency up until this point, a significant number of mines in Burkina Faso and Niger are situated in vulnerable areas and have become increasingly exposed to militancy, as well as opportunistic violence by criminal armed groups.
Beyond the threat posed to mining facilities themselves, overland travel by commercial operators in remote areas is also likely to become increasingly difficult. In addition to the threat of kidnapping, the employment of indiscriminate roadside IEDs and mines has been reported in close proximity to commercial sites. For instance, on 14 August 2018 five people were killed when a police convoy came under heavy fire after striking a mine upon returning from the Boungou mining complex in eastern Burkina Faso.
Both local and international security forces are likely to remain overstretched in the foreseeable future and will therefore be largely limited to adopting a reactive posture to the militant threat to commercial sites. For instance, in response to the 3 October 2018 militant attack on the Inata gold mine in northern Burkina Faso, French armed forces from Barkhane intervened by deploying air assets to track down the perpetrators. While such responses may provide a limited deterrent, regional militant groups have proven extremely adaptable and are likely to quickly development counter-tactics to evade detection following attacks.
As such, in Burkina Faso, the government has stated that security measures at mines must be improved and has proposed the building of barracks and deployment of military personnel to commercial sites. However, it is unclear when these measures will be implemented, and to what extent they will be effective in countering the threat. Militant groups across the region have demonstrated their willingness and capability to target well-manned and equipped military and police outposts, often for the purpose of acquiring vehicles, weapons and ammunition. In order to continue operating effectively, commercial entities in the region will have to take much greater responsibility for their own security and adapt to the changing situation.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: MALI, NIGER, BURKINA-FASO
According to the latest findings from the Aid Worker Security Database, 2018 was the second-worst year on record for humanitarian workers deployed to conflict zones across the world. We explore the trends in this regard and threats to such personnel in the three riskiest locations in Africa: South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The government is gearing up for the next election cycle, thus seeking new revenues from the mining sector and accelerating negotiations with foreign investors in the natural gas sector. Despite a record of human rights abuses, repression of political freedoms, and mounting evidence of manipulation of economic statistics, many foreign companies will remain interested in participating in Tanzania’s state-led development drive that includes large industrial and infrastructure projects.
EXX Africa explores Russia’s growing influence in Africa. We look at the drivers of this foreign policy shift, the locations of interest, and the implications for traditional players across the continent.
At the end of this year, in October 2019, Russia will host its very first Russia-Africa Summit, which will bring together more than 50 African leaders in Sochi. While Russian influence across the continent is nothing new, as the former Soviet Union enjoyed extensive support among many African nations throughout the Cold War, there has been a notable shift in its focus over the past half-decade. We explore the nature of this shift and the strategic objectives behind Russia’s engagements with select countries. We further look at how Russia fares against other global powers in this latest ‘scramble’.
Russian influence across the continent is not unprecedented. From 1960 until the end of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union supported liberation movements in Algeria, Angola, the DRC, Ethiopia, Guinea, Morocco and South Africa, among others. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, these relations faded. Indeed, throughout the next decade, Africa experienced a so-called ‘third wave of democratisation’ during which Vladimir Putin showed limited interest in Africa.
This outlook changed significantly after 2014. With the Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, relations with the West reached its lowest point since the Cold War. The US and EU responded to Russian expansionist policies in Eastern Europe by implementing sanctions against the regime, while both sides of the dispute engaged in a military build-up.
In response to actions from the West, Russia amended its foreign policy to establish strategic ties outside of the West and to insulate its economy against ongoing sanctions. As a part of this, Russia established new economic and security ties with South Asia, the Middle East, South America and indeed, Africa.
The Africa pivot
According to leaked documents obtained by the Dossier Centre, a London-based investigative unit, Russia’s pivot towards the continent typically involves a deal in which it offers some level of political or security support to African leaders in return for various concessions, such as in mining, oil and gas, arms or infrastructure contracts. Through these deals, Russia also establishes close personal ties with various heads of state and upcoming leaders, ensuring longevity to its plan.
The man reportedly driving this shift to Africa is known as Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman and close ally of Putin who is believed to be a funder of Wagner Group: a private military contractor with a presence in Africa. According to the leaked documents, Prigozhin has identified various countries with which Russia is seeking to bolster relations through political and economic ties, police training, media and humanitarian projects, and “rivalry with France”. Each country is ranked out of five in terms of priority with five being the highest level, and one the lowest.
The following countries are identified as part of this shift, according to the leaked documents:
― Rank five: Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and Madagascar
― Rank four: Libya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa
― Rank three: South Sudan
― Rank two: the DRC, Chad and Zambia
― Countries cited where Russia “plans to work”: Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Mali
― Countries cited “where cooperation is possible”: Ethiopia
― Countries cited as “traditionally supportive”: Egypt
We explore the nature of these relations and the impact on Western interests in some of these countries of interest.
Central African Republic – Rank Five
Russian influence in the CAR – a former French colony – failed to garner much attention until July 2018 when it was reported that three Russian journalists had been killed around 180km from the capital, Bangui, while on an assignment focused on investigating the activities of Wagner Group in the country. By the end of the year, Russia’s involvement had made its way into a UN Experts Report.
In the midst of a protracted armed conflict that had been ongoing since 2013, it emerged that President Faustin-Archange Touadéra sought out Russian assistance on the side-lines of a UN General Assembly meeting in 2017 to help bring about peace and get armed groups around the negotiating table. Russia responded by providing the national army with training and equipment and provided the president with security advice and personal protection.
To date, this has included: the free delivery of thousands of smalls arms to equip local law enforcement and two local battalions totalling 1,300 men; the deployment of Valery Zakharov (a former member of Russian intelligence services) as the top security advisor to Touadéra; the deployment of over 170 servicemen to train local security services; the deployment of an additional 30 servicemen to join the local UN peacekeeping mission; and plans to open a local office in the country.
Rich in natural resources – such as gold, diamonds and uranium – Russia is suspected to be shoring up support with Touadéra to secure these contracts. Indeed, reports have emerged of the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries guarding valuable gold and diamond mining operations in the country. This includes the large Ndassima gold mine that is alleged to have been taken over by Russian interests funnelled through a locally registered company known as Lobaye Invest. Ndassima was previously owned by a Canadian company before falling into the hands of Seleka rebels.
In addition to winning contracts in the extractives sector, the leaked documents further reveal that Russia plans to “replace national assembly representatives and [the] foreign minister who are orientated towards France” and “own [a] radio station and two print publications”. These objectives were partially achieved with the establishment of a new government this year and the opening of Radio Lengo Songo, which is funded by Lobaye Invest and the Russian embassy, last year.
France’s response to Russian meddling in its former colony has been vociferous. Following the free delivery of arms to the CAR the French Defence Minister noted, “I am not sure that this presence and the actions deployed by Moscow… help to stabilize the country”. In November 2018, in a show of force, France announced that it would be delivering its own arms to the CAR as well as aid to the value of USD 27.4 million.
South Africa – Rank Four
Ranked as a level four, recent Russian interests in South Africa have revolved around entering into political consultations with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party ahead of the May 2019 general elections, monitoring of public-political social processes, and creating a new media – according to the leaked documents. This plan was formed as part of Putin’s strategy to support incumbents in office and to work against “pro-Western” parties and movements.
Just prior to the elections in May, in which doubt began to emerge as to whether the ANC would garner above 50 percent of the vote, a local investigation by the Daily Maverick revealed that these plans were underway. It emerged that entities linked to Prigozhin had devised to “create a disinformation campaign that favoured the ANC and put out a propaganda action against the opposition DA [Democratic Alliance] and EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters].” As a part of this strategy, Russia reportedly deployed a small team of political analysts to South Africa to work within a research outfit that would influence public rhetoric, degenerate and disseminate video content, coordinate with a “loyal pool of journalists” and produce “pro-ANC videos”.
While subsequent reports revealed that the initiative was not very effective and that there was no disinformation campaign, the attempt nevertheless points to the intent my Russia to meddle in African politics to ensure a favourable outcome.
Moreover, the investigation by the Daily Maverick further pointed to various business interests in South Africa that Russia planned to pursue under the leadership of Prigozhin. These include the supply of ammunitions and short-barrelled weapons to a South African company, the acquisition of stakes in a local industrial packaging company and various infrastructure projects, particularly in Johannesburg.
Beyond South Africa, the report revealed interests in Zimbabwe (a rank four country), particularly under the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Here, Russia is looking to secure access to gold mining, tantalite, copper and chromium deposits – it is already developing one of the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metals – and the establishment of a military industrial complex.
South Sudan – Rank Three
Russia’s relationship with South Sudan cannot be explored without acknowledging the close ties it enjoys with its neighbour, Sudan (a rank five country). Putin had long enjoyed a close relationship with former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir who reportedly even offered Russia a naval base at the Red Sea in return for support for his government, particularly in light of mounting protests. While Al Bashir was eventually removed in 2019, Putin still enjoys relations with the transitional military council in power and will likely play an active role in the 2020 elections.
South Sudan is crucial to Sudan, and therefore Russia. While Sudan lost 75 percent of its proven oil reserves after South Sudan gained independence in 2011, it nevertheless retains the infrastructure required to bring South Sudan’s oil to market and, as such, continued flow between the two states is necessary. As South Sudan has looked to open up its hydrocarbons sector to potential investors in light of its peace deal in 2018, Russia has emerged as a top contender.
In late 2018, a delegation from South Sudan along with officials from the government-owned Nile Petroleum Company travelled to Russia to a sign an MoU with a Russian oil company, Zarubezhneft, to explore some of its blocks open for licensing. The officials also signed two other MoUs with Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft and energy company, Rosneft, to develop a geological map of the country’s minerals. In addition to these oil exploration deals, Russia is also reportedly working to establish a refinery for South Sudanese oil back in Sudan.
Furthermore, it is alleged that as Russia’s commercial relationship with South Sudan continues to expand, Russia may soon shift to promoting its military interests in the country. In this scenario, much like in the CAR, its security forces are expected to be deployed to guard Russian interests – such as oil blocks – and train local forces.
Democratic Republic of Congo – Rank Two
Russia has recently hedged its bets by backing newly-elected President Félix Tshisekedi following the controversial general elections that took place at the end of 2018. While many Western countries – including France and Belgium – supported opposition concerns that Tshisekedi had struck a deal with former President Joseph Kabila ahead of the vote, Russia not only sided with the new president but – along with China and South Africa – also blocked the UN from taking any meaningful action regarding the vote.
This action is unsurprising given that Russia had engaged in discussions with Kabila and his supporters about reviving a 1999 agreement on military cooperation in 2018, and had reportedly cultivated a relationship with Tshisekedi ahead of the vote. Rich in natural resources, Russia is likely looking to gain access to new concessions whilst promoting an anti-Western ideology in the country – a stance previously undertaken by Kabila and likely to be pursued under Tshisekedi.
While Russian engagement with Africa has certainly grown, with trade and investment climbing by 185 percent between 2005 and 2015, it lags behind the initiatives of other major powers, such the US, the EU, and China. Each one of these countries has established economic and military ties across the continent and has their own programmes in this regard.
While US investment in Africa has barely risen since 2010, in June 2019, it launched a new Prosper Africa policy to reverse this trend and, indeed, counter both Chinese and Russian influence across the continent. The US also has a vast military presence in Africa, which includes 34 sites with high concentrations in the north, west and the Horn of Africa.
The EU and Africa also have extensive ties. Economically, 41 African states have signed Economic Partnership Agreements with the bloc and there is even talk of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement. Military, France has a large presence across the continent, particularly in the Sahel and the Maghreb. As part of Operation Barkhane alone, France has deployed over 3,000 personnel to the region in its largest overseas operation.
Lastly, China remains the top contender (economically speaking) with it being the continent’s leading trading partner. The total volume of two-way trade between China in Africa currently exceeds USD 200 billion while investment from China to Africa doubled between 2010 and 2016. As a show of further commitment to the continent, in September 2018, President Xi Jinping pledged an additional USD 60 billion in broad and diverse financing. Its key focus in this regard has been its Belt and Road Initiative.
In comparison to these other actors, Russian influence in Africa appears relatively weak and poses a limited threat to more established players. However, instead of competing head to head in terms of military or economic might, Russia is likely playing a more subtle game in which it establishes itself in less popular destinations, sows seeds of discontent with the West, helps up prop up long-term leaders and secures access to natural resources.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: SOUTH-AFRICA, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, SOUTH-SUDAN, SUDAN, MADAGASCAR, CHAD, ZAMBIA, GUINEA, UGANDA, EQUATORIAL-GUINEA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, ETHIOPIA, EGYPT, MALI, LIBYA, ZIMBABWE
Ongoing security, political, and humanitarian challenges in the Great Lakes have prompted a series of meetings among regional heads over the past few months with the most recent being a summit between Angola, the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda in July. We examine the issues that likely prompted this recent gathering and the wider impact they are having on the region.
On 12 July 2019, the heads of state of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda attended a one-day Quadripartite Summit in Luanda. The purpose of this meeting was to address “security along the borders between the three countries [DRC, Rwanda and Uganda] and relations between Rwanda and Uganda,” according to Angolan President João Lourenço. Following a closed-door session that lasted roughly three hours, a joint communiqué was released that indicated the four presidents would “prioritise the resolution of any dispute between their respective countries by peaceful means,” and that Angola and the DRC had been mandated to help solve the Kampala-Kigali impasse. Little further information has since been provided.
The meeting itself was nevertheless significant, as it comes at a time when the Great Lakes is facing major security, political, and humanitarian challenges. We explore the main concerns that could have prompted this summit and their impact on businesses and civilians in the region, with a specific focus on border closures.
The proliferation of armed groups in the DRC
One of the key areas of discussion focused around armed non-state actors. Just a few weeks prior to the summit, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi hosted two important gatherings aimed at addressing this issue. In Kinshasa in May, Lourenço, Tshisekedi, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame held their first-ever tripartite meeting to discuss security in the region with a particular aim of uprooting non-state armed groups in the DRC, under their so-called ‘Congo-Angola-Rwanda’ axis. Thereafter, in June, Tshisekedi hosted a meeting of the Chiefs of the Intelligence and Security Services from the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania to develop an understanding of the security situation in eastern DRC and to agree on actions to neutralise these groups.
Violence and the proliferation of armed groups in eastern DRC is a major concern for all regional players. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 140-armed groups were active in Congo’s North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, which border Rwanda and Uganda, last year. Assailants – including security forces – reportedly killed more than 883 civilians, abducted nearly 1,400 others and displaced tens of thousands in the region over this period. Such violence has also had an enormous ripple effect across the border as well: Rwanda and Uganda are estimated to have hosted 75,740 and 312,691 refugees and asylum seekers respectively from the DRC over the course of 2018.
The ADF and P5 militant groups
The local militant groups known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Platform Five (P5) would have been key talking points at the Quadripartite Summit (See DRC/UGANDA: ISLAMIST INSURGENCY POSES A GROWING RISK OF COMMERCIAL DISRUPTION).
The ADF, established over 20 years ago as a merger of Ugandan rebel groups, is believed to have carried out close to 100 attacks around Beni in 2018 in which over 200 people were killed, earning it the title of the deadliest armed group in the DRC. Moreover, the ADF reportedly relies on a sophisticated recruiting network that sources fighters from Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and even South Africa and further managed to establish tentative links with Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East in 2019. In response to a wave of attacks in the DRC by the ADF last year, Uganda announced the deployment of approximately 4,000 troops along its border to prevent infiltration. Both the DRC and Uganda have also previously both decried the links between ADF and IS and have attempted to shore up US counterterrorism support in the fight against the group (See DRC: REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE FOR AN ISLAMIC STATE CALIPHATE PROVINCE IN THE CONGO).
The P5 rebel group would have been another hotly contested topic at the summit. The P5 is a coalition of Rwandan opposition political organizations including the Amahoro People’s Congress (AMAHORO-PC), the Forces démocratiques unifées-Inkingi (FDUINKINGI), the People’s Defence Pact-Imzani (PDP-IMANZI), the Social Party-Imberakuri (PSIMBERAKURI) and the Rwanda National Congress (RNC).
In December 2018, a UN Group of Experts Report found that the military wing of a coalition of Rwandan opposition groups, known as the P5, had amassed 400 recruits under the leadership of former Ugandan senior officer and Rwandan Army Chief of Staff, General Kayumba Nyamwasa – currently exiled to South Africa. In 2011, Nyamwasa, a former head of the Rwandan military, was sentenced in absentia to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of multiple charges including terrorism, genocidal denial and crimes against humanity.
The stated aim of the P5 is to “liberate Rwanda” and Nyamwasa is staunchly anti-Kagame. Moreover, reports have indicated that the P5 receives support (weapons, ammunition, food, medicine, boots and uniforms) from Burundi and Uganda. In response to these developments, as well as the continued threat posed by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) that is also operational in eastern DRC, Rwanda has reportedly deployed its own Special Forces to South Kivu. In doing so, it allegedly supports local Mai-Mai militia as well as an anti-Burundian rebel group, known as the Red Tabara, in incursions against the P5. Such inter-state meddling on all sides widens the potential for conflict not just in the DRC but the Great Lakes region as a whole.
Rwanda and Uganda stalemate
Another major discussion point at the Quadripartite Summit would have been the ongoing stalemate between Rwanda and Uganda, which is linked to instability in eastern DRC. Formerly close allies, tensions between Kagame and Museveni have escalated once again over the past six months. The aforementioned UN Group of Experts Report in which it was revealed that regional actors – notably Burundi and Rwanda – were propping up the P5 helped trigger this stalemate.
Following the release of the report, Rwanda decided to unilaterally close its Gatuna Border Post with Uganda in February 2019, accusing Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of harbouring fighters associated with the P5 and of detaining and torturing its citizens. Uganda has repeatedly denied the claims but it, in turn, alleges that Rwanda has deployed spies to the country to undermine Museveni’s government. Rwanda has also responded by issuing a travel advisory warning its citizens not to travel to Uganda where it claims that 900 Rwandans have been deported without consular support or due process and that 106 individuals remain in detention. Just prior to the latest summit the border was re-opened in June; however, it was shut again after 12 days and remained closed at the time of writing.
In response to the ongoing dispute, three civil society groups on behalf of communities along the border filed a complaint with the East African Court of Justice demanding repatriations from Uganda and Rwanda for their losses on 21 June. The lawsuit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction against both governments to keep them from closing the border and preventing the free movement of people and trade. The Ugandan government has not responded to the lawsuit but has advised locals to find alternative routes. However, as recently noted by the Minister of Trade and Industry, while routes via the DRC were previously proposed, “now there is the challenge of Ebola”.
Ebola likely featured as an additional talking point at the summit in Luanda. The outbreak, first confirmed in the DRC in August 2018, has claimed around 1,604 lives and is centred on the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which border Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan. Outside of the DRC, around two dozen ‘active cases’ have been caught at border points since the outbreak began and there were three fatal cases reported in Uganda in June. Rumours of a recent case in Rwanda have been denied (See DRC: RESHUFFLING THE POLITICAL CARDS).
The local situation escalated on 14 July, when the first confirmed case was reported in Goma – a major urban centre through which tens of thousands of people travel daily. In response to the geographic spread of the disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the epidemic a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The WHO noted the declaration was in recognition of “possible increased national and regional risks and the need for intensified and coordinated action to manage them”. The WHO concluded that national and regional risk levels remain “high”.
Efforts to address the outbreak, however, have been hampered by what aid officials describe as a “perfect storm” of regional insecurity in eastern DRC. Not only do local armed groups pose a challenge to aid workers in all affected areas – prompting medical teams to travel with armed escorts and reinforce clinics with sandbags – but widespread false narratives have even prompted locals to attack centres as well. In June, for example, a driver working with the Ebola response team in Beni was left in a critical condition after angry crowds hurled rocks at him and set his vehicle on fire.
The issues that likely prompted the summit – and the gatherings just prior – together pose an unprecedented challenge to both regional governments and, indeed, civilians and businesses in the Great Lakes. While there is a high risk of injury and death to all entities in eastern DRC as a result of armed rebel groups, we explore the far-reaching and even deadly impact of border closures as a result of these issues. We explored similar issues in our Threats To African Borders analysis series (See THREATS TO BORDERS: AFRICAN MILITANCY AND TERRORISM).
The ongoing stalemate between Ugandan and Rwanda has already significantly-impacted the economies in both countries. Uganda’s Ministry of Trade and Industry recently noted that its exports to Rwanda decreased from about USD 660 million prior to the closure to around USD 203 million in June. Rwanda, in turn, has reported a loss of USD 104 million over the same period. Notably, the main route for Rwandan exports – along with goods from eastern DRC and Burundi – is through Uganda towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Our recent special report on supply chain risks in Africa mentions further commercial implications (See SPECIAL FEATURE: SUPPLY CHAIN RISK IN AFRICA).
The border closure has also severely impacted the movement of people. Indicative of this, several Ugandan schools reported a drastic decrease in its student numbers at the start of the second term, as Rwandan learners were prevented from crossing the border. Similarly, an estimated 30,000 Ugandans work and study in Rwanda. Locals have further been caught in the crosshairs. In May, Rwandan soldiers crossed the border and shot dead an alleged Rwandan clothes trader and a Ugandan civilian who tried to intervene on his behalf. This was the second such incident since February in which locals have been killed for crossing the border, highlighting the vulnerability of the situation.
At the time of writing, the borders into eastern DRC remained open and businesses were operational despite severe security and health threats. In response to the geographic spread of Ebola, the African Union Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recently appealed to the international community and member states in Africa not to impose restrictions on travel to anyone going in or out of the DRC, claiming this would hamper their efforts to administer aid. While free movement still stands, Rwanda has nevertheless warned its citizens not to travel to any areas affected by the outbreak across the border, including Goma. Should the outbreak continue to escalate or expand in reach, some restrictions on movement in and out of the east is expected.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, ANGOLA, UGANDA, RWANDA
The security and sovereignty of Africa’s borders are coming under growing threat from intra-regional militant groups that occupy vast swathes of territory across the Maghreb, Sahel, and West African regions, as well as in the Horn and Great Lakes Region. EXX Africa’s third instalment of its Threats to Borders analysis series explores militants as a threat actor across the continent.
While East African states face major security challenges from several civil wars, sporadic political upheavals, and the persistent threat of violent extremism, regional states remain prime destinations for tourism and business travel. We assess the risk posed by criminal activity to foreign nationals visiting and living in the region’s urban centres and tourism destinations.
EXX Africa continues its three-part series on threats to African borders. In its second instalment, our analysis assesses the nature of transnational criminal organisations across the continent and how these render African borders increasingly vulnerable. This report zooms in on the trafficking of drugs, weapons, people, ivory, and motor vehicles across the Sahel and the Horn, as well increasing instances of financial crime in southern Africa and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Over the past year, the rapid encroachment of Sahel-based Islamist militant groups on the borders of West African coastal states has prompted widespread concern that previously unaffected locales are now under threat. Based on the geographic dispersal of regional militant actors and their current capabilities and intent, EXX Africa assesses the possible scenarios and likely locations for a terrorist attack in these coastal hubs.
Since 2015, a rapid expansion of Islamist militant activity in West Africa and the Sahel has corresponded with an unprecedented level of violence across the region. In particular, high-impact terrorist attacks in major urban centres in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire have become more frequent, pointing to both an increased capability and reach on the part of regional militant organisations. As the violence encroaches on the borders of West African coastal states, concerns abound that the terrorist threat may spill-over into these previously unaffected locales.
The Primary Threat Actors
Who they are and where they operate
With the exception of Nigeria, no militant groups have demonstrated a significant operational presence in West African coastal states. However, since 2015, the number and geographic distribution of Islamist militant groups operating in West Africa and the Sahel region have increased at a rapid pace, extending the risk to these regions.
The primary hub of militant activity in the Sahel stretches from north-eastern Mali and western Niger, to south-eastern Burkina Faso, encompassing the border areas between the three states. Groups operating here include the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and an Islamist militant coalition, Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). JNIM includes several regional groups, including Ansar Dine, the Sahara-based branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al Mourabitoun (See MALI: UNRELENTING SOUTHWARD EXPANSION OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY IN THE SAHEL).
Despite numerous international counter-terrorism efforts, militants in the Sahel have intensified their activities over the past five years. The number of militancy-related violent incidents across the region reached a peak in 2018, when 465 incidents were recorded, compared to 90 in 2016. In addition, French and UN military operations in Mali have pushed many militants beyond their established areas of operation in the north-east of the country, into previously unaffected areas. For instance, 2018 saw a surge of militant attacks connected to both JNIM and ISGS in south-eastern Burkina Faso, in close proximity to the country’s borders with Ghana, Benin, and Togo (See BURKINA FASO: COUNTERING THE SPREAD OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY).
A second regional hub of militant activity is in north-eastern Nigeria, and the border areas between Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The primary groups operating in this region are Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). Boko Haram and ISWAP’s activities remain focused on north-eastern Nigeria and across its border, where they are conducting an insurgency against the Nigerian military. However, Boko Haram has previously threatened to enter into northern Benin through its porous north-eastern border with Nigeria although thus far there have been no incidents in Benin associated with the group (See SPECIAL REPORT: THE RETURN OF BOKO HARAM IN AND BEYOND NIGERIA?).
Militant groups operating in West Africa and the Sahel have varying degrees of capability. The majority of attacks orchestrated by these groups occur in outlying areas where they either conduct direct assaults on villages and pastoral camps during which they kill high numbers of civilians and loot as many goods as possible, or conduct raids or improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against army positions and patrols.
However, several groups have also demonstrated the capability to conduct complex coordinated assaults in regional urban hubs. For example, on 2 March 2018 JNIM conducted an attack in Ougoudougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, simultaneously targeting the Burkinabe national army headquarters, the French Embassy, and the French Institute, killing 30 people. Such attacks have included the use of suicide vests and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) (See BURKINA FASO: SIDELINED SECURITY SERVICES SEEK COLLABORATION WITH ARMED MILITANTS).
This increase in the geographic spread, as well as the volume and intensity of violence in the past two years, is in large part a product of greater cooperation and coordination between regional militant groups which has facilitated the formation of militant coalitions. In addition, the capability of militant groups to conduct operations across national borders has been bolstered through close connections to regional criminal activity, including the smuggling of arms and ammunition.
Attacks in West African urban centres remain driven in large part by resistance to foreign military intervention in Mali, especially ongoing French counter-terrorism operations. Islamist groups in the Sahel have also proclaimed their intent to carry out attacks on targets linked to those countries participating in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This includes most states in the West Africa and the Sahel region, as well as a high number of Western countries. Correspondingly, the vast majority of militant attacks across the region have targeted international and local forces engaged in peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations.
However, attacks in major urban centres have overwhelmingly targeted sites associated with the presence of high numbers of Western civilians, such as popular restaurants and hotels, as well as embassies. Areas where French nationals routinely congregate, including French government and military facilities, are especially likely to be targeted in such attacks. However, all Westerners are ostensibly under threat, as indicated by previous attacks on sites where large numbers of foreign nationals from a variety of Western states are present. While no attacks have yet taken place in West Africa against large malls or shopping complexes, these are also likely to constitute primary targets due to the typically high number of Western expats frequenting such locations.
Anatomy of a militant attack
Taking into account the historical modus operandi of militant groups in West Africa, as well as their current capabilities, the most likely form of attack in any of the large urban centres in West African coastal states is an assault by multiple gunmen on a prominent restaurant, hotel, foreign embassy, beach resort, or shopping complex.
Most previous attacks have involved groups of between two and ten attackers armed with assault rifles and wearing suicide vests. In some cases, assailants wore the official uniforms of state security forces, both delaying the reaction of victims in the target area, as well as complicating efforts by first responders to positively identify threats. As demonstrated in Burkina Faso in March 2018, such an attack may also consist of multiple groups of gunmen targeting disparate locations simultaneously.
In a number of major attacks in urban centres in Mali and Burkina Faso, militants have also employed IEDs/VBIEDs as precursors to an assault by multiple gunmen. In some instances, IEDs/VBIEDs employed against secondary targets have also been used to draw the attention of security forces and emergency services away from the primary site of an assault, increasing the overall lethality of an attack. However, with limited presence in the West African coastal states, militants are less likely to be able to manufacture or transport VBIEDs as easily as in the Sahel.
Top Ten West African Cities at Risk
|2||San Pedro||Cote d’Ivoire|
(1) Abidjan and (2) San Pedro (Côte d’Ivoire)
One previous terrorist attack has been recorded in Cote d’Ivoire: On 13 March 2016, three gunmen carried out an attack on a beach hotel in Grande-Bassam (30km east of Abidjan), killing 19 people (See AL-QAEDA ATTACKS COTE D’IVOIRE). AQIM and Al Mourabitoun jointly claimed responsibility for the attack. Côte d’Ivoire has since increased internal security measures in urban centres, including a greater police presence around vulnerable sites such as prominent hotels. Nonetheless, due to Côte d’Ivoire’s role as a close security partner of France and host to a French military base, militant groups retain a high intent to target the country. Indicative of this, on 8 November 2018, Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Ansar Dine, called for attacks against Côte d’Ivoire specifically. One month later, on 6 December 2018, security forces in Mali reportedly apprehended a militant cell which was planning to conduct an attack in Côte d’Ivoire, targeting New Year’s celebrations (See COTE D’IVOIRE: NEW YEAR’S EVE TERROR PLOT INDICATES RISING THREAT OF JIHADISM).
(3) Cotonou and (4) Porto Novo (Benin)
Benin shares over 2,000km with four countries, three of which (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria) host the above militant groups. In particular, reports of cross-border militant activity in southern Burkina Faso have increased over the past two years, with local residents in northern Benin alleging that Islamist fighters have visited their communities periodically. In early 2019, several incidents indicated a possible escalation of militant activity in the border region. Notably, in May 2019, two French tourists were kidnapped in the Pendjari National Park in northern Benin. While no group claimed responsibility, the victims were rescued days later in a French military operation in northern Burkina Faso, suggesting that militants were involved (See BENIN: POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AND ISLAMIST MILITANCY WILL NOT DERAIL ECONOMIC SUCCESS). In addition, there is some evidence that terrorist cells are present in Benin; in May 2018, 42 people were arrested during counter-terrorism operations. Militant intent to target the coastal country is likely to stem from Benin’s contribution to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso. Benin was also one of the countries specifically mentioned in Ag Ghali’s video last year.
(5) Lomé (Togo)
As with Benin, over the past year Togo has seen an increasing amount of militant activity on the country’s northern border with Burkina Faso. In April 2018, authorities reported that more than 20 militants had entered the country from Burkina Faso, bringing with them notable sums of cash. Thereafter, in response to the growing threat on their borders, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Ghana conducted a joint security operation in May 2018 in which over 200 people were arrested, many of which on terrorism charges. Additionally, in February 2019, five people, including a Spanish priest, were reportedly killed by Islamist militants during two separate attacks on the border between Togo and Burkina Faso. Togo is also a major contributor to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso, driving intent to target the country. The security response to the threat by the government has focused on increasing military operations in the porous border area, which is likely to have a limited impact on mitigating the risk of an attack in Lomé.
(6) Dakar and (7) St. Louis (Senegal)
Senegal remains one of the foremost contributors to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso, and as such constitutes a potential target for regional militant organisations. Senegal is also a military partner to France and hosts a French military presence at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar. Direct intent to target the state is also evident, as Senegal was one of the countries mentioned in Ag Ghali’s video last year. Militant cells have been previously dismantled in both St. Louis and Dakar, both of which host high numbers of Western expatriates. Most recently, in July 2018 a Senegalese court sentenced 14 people to prison on charges of belonging to AQIM and Boko Haram. However, since 2016 Senegal has significantly bolstered security measures in major urban centres, including the provision of additional protection for international airports, prominent hotels, and popular tourist sites. While these measures have not been applied consistently, it is likely that they will constrain the ability of militants to carry out attacks in either city (See TERROR THREAT IN DAKAR, SENEGAL).
(8) Accra and (9) Sekondi-Takoradi (Ghana)
As with Benin and Togo, Ghana’s northern border is under threat from militants operating in southern Burkina Faso. Over the past year, Ghanaian security forces have implemented measures to address possible threats, including joint border security operations with neighbouring countries and renewed counter-terrorism training for the Ghanaian police. However, in May 2018, 13 people were arrested in Ghana on terrorism charges, suggesting that militant networks are already operating within the country. Both Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi host a high number of Western tourists and residents, providing a range of target opportunities for militant groups. Intent to target Ghana derives primarily from the country’s ongoing contribution to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso. The country was also specifically named in Ag Ghali’s video last year (See GHANA: TERRORISM THREAT RESURFACES AS ISLAMIST MILITANCY GAINS A FOOTHOLD). The port of Tema has also faced numerous attack scares over the past year, although the viability of such reports has often been questionable and more likely derived from organised crime (See GHANA: SUSPECTED TERRORISM SCARE TO DRIVE DISRUPTION IN TEMA PORT AREA).
(10) Lagos (Nigeria)
While militant activity has focused on the north-east of the country, Boko Haram’s presence extends to Nigeria’s commercial capital. Since 2015, Nigerian security forces have reported multiple police raids targeting Boko Haram militants in the city. Most recently, in December 2018 a prominent Boko Haram leader reportedly responsible for planning several major bombings in the capital, Abuja, was arrested in Lagos. Nonetheless, only one militant attack has taken place in Lagos in the past five years, and it remains likely that Boko Haram will continue to focus the bulk of its efforts further inland and across the border into Niger and Chad. Attacks targeting Western foreign nationals are more likely to take place in Abuja, where multiple IED/VBIED attacks have taken place since 2011 (See NIGERIA: ISLAMIST MILITANTS PREPARE NEW OFFENSIVE TO CAPTURE TERRITORY IN NORTHEAST).
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