Nigeria’s Niger Delta has some of the world’s richest oil reserves and largest petroleum exportation terminals. Oil has generated spectacular wealth for some, but has also drastically impoverished people of the region who live and work in one of the most polluted places on the planet.
Young men in particular find themselves in an untenable position of economic exclusion and persistent militant violence, conditions that feed a cycle of poverty and violence.
Modesta Tochi Alozie, as part of her research at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute, explored this relationship and how it directly impacts the lives of young men. Broadly speaking, Nigerian men are expected to obtain a steady paying job, marry, and provide for the household. However, more than half of all Nigerians aged fifteen to thirty-five are unemployed, and for those living in the Niger Delta, the paradox of being poor in a region that produces the majority of Nigeria’s wealth helps to sustain a resentment that has developed into a full-on insurgency.
Starting in 2003, militias began attacking oil pipelines and kidnapping employees for ransom, sometimes even launching assaults against Nigerian military forces protecting drill sites. A Post-Amnesty Program launched in 2009 provided monthly payments of US$400 in exchange for disarmament, which helped to reduce the violence somewhat, but also incentivized more young Nigerian men to become militants and entrenched the power of militia leaders.
The prospects for those who avoid the violent route remain rather dim. Some relocate to cities in search of a better life, and others become activists campaigning for tighter regulation, for companies to be held to account for livelihoods lost due to oil spills, and for restoration of polluted land. This environmental injustice is rarely addressed by Nigeria, the United Nations, or oil industry watchdogs.
In the wake of former prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly’s death, Côte d’Ivoire’s ruling RHDP alliance must now find a replacement candidate for the October presidential election. The decision is made more pressing by the candidacy of former president Henri Konan Bédié.
The announcement in March that President Alassane Ouattara would not seek re-election was followed by the nomination of Coulibaly as the RHDP candidate, which helped to calm tensions in the country. The opposition had been heavily critical of Ouattara possibly running for a third term, even though he was technically allowed to do so following the ratification of major constitutional amendments in 2016. Now that Ouattara’s potential successor has died, members of his original party, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), have been urging him to run.
Two Potential Candidates
Should Ouattara keep to his previous commitment not to run for president again, two people in the RHDP alliance stand out as potential candidates.
The first is Hamed Bakayoko, the minister of defense, who is popular among the Ivorian youth for his friendship with celebrities, like the late DJ Arafat, and who enjoys the support of First Lady Dominique Ouattara. While Coulibaly was on medical leave in Paris for two months, Bakayoko stood in as acting prime minister, and his performance in the position boosted his support within the RHDP.
Another potential candidate is Patrick Achi, the secretary-general of the RHDP and a close ally of Ouattara. Achi served as minister of the interior from 2000 to 2017 under both former president Laurent Gbagbo and Ouattara. More importantly, he was a former high-ranking member of the PDCI, the party of Henri Konan Bédié. Achi has maintained good relations with his former party, and previously served as mediator between Ivorian political figures and movements. Good mediation skills would be invaluable for a future head of state to have, especially since Ouattara’s initial ascension to power came at the cost of a debilitating civil war.
Since protests began in Cameroon against the marginalization of the minority Anglophone community—about 20 percent of the population—in the Northwest and Southwest regions in 2016, several armed separatist groups have emerged.
The first bloodshed occurred when at least six people were killed in December 2016 in Bamenda during anti-government protests, but the conflict has its origins in the colonial period when the United Kingdom ruled part of the modern state of Cameroon from the end of World War I until 1960. Upon independence, the now English-speaking British Mandate Territory of Southern Cameroons was integrated into the broader Republic of Cameroon.
It is unclear exactly how many armed separatist groups operate in the two Anglophone regions, but in a May 2019 report the International Crisis Group put the figure at seven main rebel militias with an official name, a known leader, and at least 200 members. Between them, they had an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 fighters. Besides these seven militias, the Crisis Group had identified another twenty smaller armed groups.
Their common goal is the creation of a new country called Ambazonia. The name is derived from Ambas Bay, a geographical feature that early Portuguese explorers named after the local people in the fifteenth century, and which some consider as the boundary between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon.
The militias don’t collaborate and, in some cases, they have fought against each other, but their hit-and-run tactics are similar. Many of them seem to be armed only with basic one-shot hunting rifles, although some modern assault rifles have been obtained during fighting against government forces or by other illicit means. Under a 2016 law, illegal possession of a firearm is punishable by a fine and between five and ten days in jail. The government estimates there are about 30,000 firearms in circulation in Cameroon. Other improvised weapons include traps and what media reports sometimes refer to as cutlasses but are actually machetes.
New Africa Daily has culled information from open sources to develop this primer on rebel militias in Cameroon.
Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF)
This group, led by Benedict Kuah, is by far the best known and likely the largest of the militant groups fighting for independence. Its clear and observable ties to diaspora groups also mean it is likely the best funded. It wa founded as the armed wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC), whose leader, Dr. Cho Ayaba, is based in Norway.
Ayaba says the ADF’s fighters number about 1,500 who are spread among twenty camps. In 2018, French journalist Emmanuel Freudenthal spent a week embedded with some of the ADF militants, the first journalist to do so. He could not confirm Ayaba’s claim, as he saw only about 100 fighters during this time though he did not visit every camp the group claims to operate.
According to the monitoring group Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), the ADF significantly expanded its reach in the Northwest and Southwest regions in 2018. The ADF apparently launched operations in Manyu, Southwest, and in Mezam, Northwest, in 2017 before shifting its focus to six other administrative divisions.
Southern Cameroons Defense Forces (also known as SOCADEF)
Along with the ADF, SOCADEF is one of the more active militant groups. It is headed by Ebenezer Akwanga, who, like Ayaba of the ADF, is a former student trade unionist. According to Agence France-Presse, Akwanga and Ayaba were students in the 1990s at the University of Buea in the Southwest Region, and they challenged the moderate strand of separatism at the time, taking their slogan about “the force of argument” and reversing it to “the argument of force.”
In January 2019, a commander of SOCADEF’s ground forces in Matoh, Southwest, “General” Andrew Ngoe, was killed during a raid by Cameroonian soldiers. It remains to be seen if the strike will be crippling for the group or if it will be able to revive its fortunes.
Southern Cameroons Restoration Forces
This rebel militia, which is also known as the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (similar to SOCADEF’S name), is mainly active in the Boyo administrative division in the Northwest Region. Led by Nso Foncha Nkem, the group had an estimated 100 fighters in 2019. In January 2020, the group was involved in clashes with the ADF, which led to the abduction of some forty ADF fighters, six of whom were later murdered.
The Red Dragons, a group based predominantly in Lebialem in the Southwest Region, is led by “Field Marshal” Lekeaka Oliver. Oliver started his career in the Cameroonian Army but, after witnessing massacres perpetrated by his colleagues, he defected and joined the separatists. As a former soldier, Oliver is a priority target of the Cameroonian government. Yet, thus far his group has taken advantage of the rugged terrain and dense forest of the region to build a series of camps where the group also manufactures improvised weapons. The group, which had an estimated 200 fighters in May 2019 and has proven effective in clashes with the government -- perhaps because Oliver understands his opponents’ tactics.
The Red Dragons is also adept atuse of social media to advance their cause, often posting videos on YouTube. The group pays allegiance to the Southern Cameroons Liberation Council, one of the splinter groups of a group known as Interim Government of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia (IG).
Tigers of Ambazonia
This militia is mainly based in the Manyu administrative division in the Southwest Region. Along with other rebel groups, it is reported to have started operations in the fall of 2017 with just ten to thirty fighters. In September 2018, the Tigers’ leader, Nchia Martin Achuo, claimed the group had some 2,000 fighters. He confirmed to Reuters that members of the Tigers had attacked a prison in the town of Wum and freed about 106 “innocent people." The Tigers reportedly collaborate with other militias, notably the ADF and SOCADEF.
This militia, which has an estimated thirty members, tends to cooperate with larger groups such as the ADF. The group has claimed responsibility for burning down government buildings. In May 2018, Vipers were blamed for setting fire to an examination center in Bamenda and some police stations in the area.
First Peace Talks
Attacks by these militias have led to the death of more than 3,000 civilians and the displacement of an estimated 730,000 people.
Following calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire, representatives of President Paul Biya’s government and nine separatist leaders—all currently in jail in the capital Yaoundé on terrorism charges—held talks on July 2. The nine separatists are members of the Interim Government of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia (IG), which claims to be the legitimate government, as dose Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC). Unfortunately, the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) at present has split from the IG and it is unclear if it is willing to hold talks with the government.
Hans Ngala is a freelance journalist who focuses on Christianity in Africa, politics, and health.
Mass demonstrations have persisted in Mali despite the threat of COVID-19. Many thousands of Malians have taken to the streets since June to protest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s handling of the jihadist insurgency, a declining economy, and government corruption. On July 10 and 11, these actions culminated in the death of up to eleven people as protesters blockaded roads, stormed the national assembly, and occupied the offices of the state broadcaster in Bamako, forcing it off the air.
President Keïta announced the dissolution of the constitutional court
In response to this latest escalation, President Keïta announced the dissolution of the country’s constitutional court, which had been the focus of public frustration after overturning several provisional results for parliamentary seats of the hotly contested elections held in April. In a televised address on Saturday, Keïta insisted on working with the political opposition to create a new constitutional court and implement some of the demands issued by the Mouvement du 5 Juin–Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques, a coalition of opposition political parties and civil society organizations headed by Imam Mahmoud Dicko.
Opposition leaders have reacted with suspicion at Keïta’s plea for collaboration, pointing to the arrest of several protest leaders by security forces on the same say. Even the Convergence pour le Développement du Mali (CODEM), a party that is ostensibly aligned with Keïta, issued a strongly worded condemnation of the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Boubou Cissé.
Former child soldiers who were embroiled in the Central African Republic’s civil war have now become frontline aid workers in the country’s fight against COVID-19. As part of UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) relief program, which began in 2015, the former soldiers are hired to provide safe drinking water by manually drilling wells and laying pipes. So far, they have installed wells for about 25,000 people, a critical service, especially during the pandemic.
The program offers a path to rehabilitation
Years of civil war devastated the Central African Republic’s already fragile healthcare system and left about half of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. For the child soldiers, the WASH program offers a path to rehabilitation; it has given them the opportunity to learn valuable skills and to earn a living. It helps to minimize the chances of them relapsing into fighting by joining one of about a dozen armed groups operating in the country.
It also encourages communities to accept these former child soldiers back into their communities. Rejection is another motivating factor for recidivism, even though the country’s militias agreed in 2015 to free all child soldiers and end child recruitment.
The anti-corruption division of the public prosecutor’s office in West Nouakchott says about US$1 million was embezzled from the Central Bank of Mauritania. The police arrested five suspects after the bank filed a complaint against the treasurer in charge of foreign exchange operation and others on July 3. The authorities have not revealed any more information about the suspects or their investigation.
“The credibility of our monetary system is at risk”
Boydiel Ould Houmeid—former vice-president of the National Assembly, a former presidential candidate, and leader of the opposition party El Wiam—described the revelation as a “scandal” that will negatively impact Mauritania’s reputation and its monetary relations with other countries. Houmeid also demanded the creation of a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, warning that “the credibility of our monetary system is at risk.”
Houmeid’s El Wiam party was heavily involved in mass protests in 2011 against former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, so he may also be using this scandal to push for greater legislative oversight of the Mauritanian executive.
Amadou Gon Coulibaly, prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, July 8, in Abidjan, six days after returning to the country following a two-month stay in France. He was taken to hospital after he started to feel ill during a cabinet meeting. He had been battling chronic heart problems for years and had had a heart transplant in 2012, and after his latest check-up in Paris he underwent a procedure to have a stent inserted in a blocked coronary artery.
Coulibaly was a close political ally of incumbent president Alassane Ouattara for thirty years. Before he was appointed prime minister in 2017, he served as secretary-general of the presidency under Ouattara from 2011 to 2017, and before that as agriculture minister from 2002 to 2010.
Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the presidency, issued a statement of condolences on behalf of President Alassane Ouattara, saying, “Côte d’Ivoire is in mourning… I salute my young brother, my son, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been my closest ally for thirty years.”
Former president Henri Konan Bédié issued his own statement on behalf of himself and his party, the PDCI-RDA, saying, “His unexpected death today deeply saddens us. A great servant of the state, he remains an example of loyalty and fidelity with respect to his political convictions.”
Côte d’Ivoire is set to hold a presidential election on October 31.
Ouattara had made it clear in the past that he would run for another term should Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo—president during the country’s civil war (2002–2011) and recently acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court—participate in the October election.
Following months of speculation and fears that Ouattara would seek a third term, he announced in March that he would not run. The governing Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) alliance then designated Coulibaly as its candidate. His death is likely to increase tensions in the country and set off a jockeying for the candidacy within the RHDP alliance.
Bédié, who is eighty-six years old, has stated his intention to run for president. So did former prime minister Guillaume Soro, but in April this year he was convicted in absentia on embezzlement charges and sentenced to twenty years in prison. His lawyers have claimed this was a ruse to prevent him from contesting the election.
Formal campaigning was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during an April 8 cabinet meeting held via video link President Ouattara hinted at a possible postponement of the election. Coulibaly’s death throws the political situation into more disarray.
In the Republic of the Congo, concerns persist over the health of Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former military chief and opposition politician who has been in prison since 2016, when he was arrested with others after refusing to accept the re-election of Denis Sassou Nguesso as president. In 2018, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison for undermining state security.
His health has suddenly deteriorated. He tested negative for COVID-19, and according to the latest press release he has acute malaria, aggravated by hypertension. Several NGOs and Congolese civil society organizations have called for Mokoko to be placed under house arrest so he could be treated by his family doctor. The authorities have not yet responded to these repeated calls, despite condemnation from other African heads of state and the United Nations.
A video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup
Prior to his imprisonment, Mokoko served as adviser for peace and security to President Denis Sassou Nguesso, before quitting his position in February 2016 to run against Nguesso in the March presidential election. A few days after Mokoko had announced his candidacy, a 2007 video resurfaced showing him purportedly discussing a coup to overthrow Nguesso with a French intelligence agent.
The polemic around Mokoko’s imprisonment reflect a broader discussion occurring across Africa as the continent grapples with the dangers involved in keeping prisoners behind bars, where cramped and often unsanitary conditions increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.
An adverse opinion in an audit report of the Namibian defense ministry has created a major political rift between the country’s auditor general, Junias Kandjeke, and defense minister Peter Hafeni Vilho. The latter accuses Kandjeke and other auditors of engaging in “daylight espionage” after demanding access to military bases to assess the fighting capability of certain military equipment.
He said publishing such information posed a threat to national security
Vilho made the serious allegation at last week’s gathering of the National Assembly, saying that publishing such information for anyone to see posed a threat to national security. He said of the US$34 million being probed, US$26.8 million worth of invoices had been made available to the auditors. To him, the adverse opinion implies the ministry had wasted millions and had refused to cooperate in the audit process.
In defense of his office, Kandjeke has denied any such allegations. He maintains the constitution gives him the authority to audit all state institutions.
His position is backed by Mike Kavekotora, the leader of the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) party, who refuted the accusations that the auditor general’s report violated national security or that espionage was involved. Kavekotora said the defense ministry was using these charges to conceal the misappropriation of state funds and maladministration.
Kavekotora ran in the 2019 presidential election and obtained 0.4 percent of the votes.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has initiated a program to convince highly educated expatriates to return and put their skills to use in service of the country. This charm offensive aimed at the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise as the country finds itself in a precarious economic situation.
The energy industry is the backbone of the Algerian economy. As a result of falling oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on petroleum and gas exports, the country’ foreign exchange reserves have plummeted to record lows. The president’s charm offensive toward the diaspora makes sense as an effort to bring in not only immediate financial gain but also knowledge and expertise.
To facilitate this program, Tebboune has been pushing hard for constitutional reform. Among several other changes, it would eliminate a provision that in order to hold public office or another high functionary position, a candidate must hold exclusive Algerian citizenship. Given that most Algerians living abroad have dual citizenship, this provision denies expatriates a chance of entering into civic life.
A Major Hurdle for the President’s Plan
The Hirak movement in Algeria poses a challenge to Tebboune’s diaspora outreach. The popular movement has been mobilizing Algerians against the regime since February 2019, holding peaceful mass protests across the country every Friday—save for a brief suspension due to COVID-19—to demand, among others, the dissolution of both chambers of parliament and a fundamentally new constitution.