Friday, 20 February 2015

A spreading crisis

The crisis that has Libya at its centre has been brewing since oppositionists – backed by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation airpower – overthrew Moammar el Gadaffi’s regime in 2011. Despite hopes for a transition to a stable and prosperous democracy underwritten by Africa’s biggest oil reserves, Libya has become an object lesson in the unintended consequences of armed intervention.

The crisis zone now stretches from the south – Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – to Egypt, which this week publicly launched an air war on the Islamist militants fighting for control of Tripolitania (western Libya). To the north, the zone stretches to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to which thousands of refugees are fleeing, desperate to escape Libya’s inferno. The confrontation between Libya’s secularists and its Islamists has morphed into a regional war: this week Egypt called for a United Nations-backed force to fight Libya’s Islamists. Qatar and Sudan still back the Islamists.

Most scandalous, however, since the horrific deaths and drownings could be avoided, is European Union policy towards the desperate migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. It seems some EU officials regard the casualty rates as a useful deterrent. For a while, Italy beefed up its coastguard and saved shipwrecked refugees but the EU cut funds for the programme. Now Italy’s offer to send 5,000 troops to an international force in Libya shows fresh thinking. Just how that force might work is another matter. The UN is making only halting progress in brokering negotiations between the two sides.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Tackling Boko Haram

The scowl on the face of Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Aminu Bashir Wali spoke volumes as he emerged from a meeting at the Sheraton hotel on 29 January. Earlier that day, Nigeria had suffered the indignity of its internal security failings being scrutinised by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council at the AU summit.

Two weeks earlier, Ghana’s President John Mahama had suggested that the AU consider backing a multilateral force in West Africa to tackle the Islamist insurgents of Boko Haram. Based in north-east Nigeria, Boko Haram  was fanning out and slaughtering civilians in neighbouring states. But, if the AU were to set up a multilateral force to help Nigeria fight Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan’s detractors would inevitably compare it with the AU force helping Somalia fight Al Shabaab. So Nigeria’s diplomats at the AU, including Wali, fought to scupper the proposed force.

That will now be just a Lake Chad Basin security initiative between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. However, Chad’s military successes against Boko Haram this week have raised fresh doubts about Nigeria’s political will to tackle the militia. Some 2,500 Chadian troops crossed into Nigeria and ejected Boko Haram  fighters from Gambaru near the Cameroon border. So far, General Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan’s main opponent in this month’s election, has resisted publicly reminiscing. Thirty years ago, he was military head of state, having seized power after a weak civilian government had failed to back its military in border skirmishes – with the Chadian army.