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Renewed Conflict in Libya

May 21st, 2014 No comments
Fighters outside the Ras Lanuf oil refinery on March 7, 2011. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Fighters outside the Ras Lanuf oil refinery on March 7, 2011. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- With Khalifa Haftar suddenly very relevant again after his initially notable reappearance in Libya in March 2011,  Libya’s littoral is once against thrust into turmoil in both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. Haftar is leading a fight against Ansar al-Sharia and Derna-based salafis in the east and has forces loyal to him attack the General National Congress complex in the west. Whether he can indeed overthrow the enfeebled elected government in Tripoli remains to be seen but thus far his efforts appear to be destabilizing what is already a highly fissiparous state structure with its revolving door of prime ministers. For Haftar’s staunchly anti-Ikhwan stance, the BBC is even referring to him in a loose analogy as “Libya’s Sisi” I profiled Haftar in 2011 which was picked up by Reuters at the time.

This week I am quoted by McClatchy D.C. in an article on Haftar’s newly relevant role in the Libya militia polity as well as Yahoo! Noticias España. My work was also obliquely referenced on the Middle East Institute Editor’s blog last week.

NATO helping to tip over a tin pot dictatorship during Operation Unified Protector and its U.S. precursor Operation Odyssey Dawn was one thing, but state building in Libya in that aftermath of all that is quite another. Simply put, it has not happened in any meaningful way.

From the Tuareg-cum-salafi revolt in northern Mali that began only months after Libya-based Tuareg fighters exited their evaporating sanctuary and returned home via Niger to the Toubou clashes in the Fezzan in the spring of 2012, the ripple effects of the downfall of North Africa’s most caricatured dictator have been felt across the region ever since.

Perhaps Haftar sees himself as a future Libyan military strongman in the fashion of an Egyptian-style military leader. As an old school CIA asset with Nasserist origins, it remains unclear whether he can oust those administering nascent post-Qaddafi state with whom he violently disagrees or defeat the salafi-jihadi militias flying the black flags in troubled Cyrenaica.

It should be remembered that Haftar was gone from Libya for decades before returning there when opportunity struck in 2011. What he does have doing for him is access to heavy weapons–including aircraft–to smite his opponents coupled with the element of surprise.

Not everyone was thrilled by the downfall of Qaddafi. On May 28, 2012, I noticed this poster in the rear windscreen of a taxi for 2011 demonstration there in support of the late Libya leader. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Not everyone was thrilled by the downfall of Qaddafi. On May 28, 2012, I noticed this poster in the rear windscreen of a taxi for 2011 demonstration in Bamako, Mali in support of the late Libya leader. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Africa, Libya, Mali Tags: ,

Niger, Mali, and the Confluence of Salafisms in North and West Africa

July 9th, 2013 No comments
The Nigerién mission to the UN on East 50th Street in Manhattan.

The Nigérien mission to the UN on East 50th Street in Manhattan. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

New York- With the immediacy of the tactical success of the French military campaign in northern Mali beginning in mid-January combined with the aggressive Nigerian offensive in that country’s northeastern Borno State that began in mid-May, the Republic of Niger is wedged between two presently expanding salafi-jihadi conflicts. Niger with its vast uranium reserves, chronic food insecurity and immense poverty has emerged as the newest locale to suffer salafi martyrdom operations a.k.k.a. suicide bombings. I published a report in late June for Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst looking at the extension of kinetic militancy into Niger. While Niger is accustomed-like its neighbor Mali-to intermittent Tuareg rebellions and a minor degree of homegrown Islamism while having had several high profile kidnapping incidents in the last several years, neither Niamey or Bamako was adequately prepared for the ramping up of ideologically-driven insurgencies as compared to the veteran (in relative terms) security apparatuses helmed in Algiers and Abuja.

Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 10.24.02 AMWhile most of the conflict in Mali in 2012 consisted of a series of rebel advances and government retreats followed by a drawn out stalemate period, it seemed certain that once some form of military intervention was inevitably launched, the jihadis would surely begin a more asymmetric campaign that would feature suicide bombings and fidayeen-style raids on the forces of state actors be they indigenous, regional, or Western.

Less than a month after Operation Serval began, Mali experienced its first suicide bombing in Gao Region when on February 8 militants attacked a Malian Army checkpoint on the Gao-Bourem road. The attack was immediately claimed by MUJAO’s spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui. As if the first explosive message was insufficient, it was immediately followed up by a second attack on the same checkpoint the following day.

Then on February 10,MUJAO  jihadis launched a rather reckless raid on Gao’s centre ville. Despite MUJAO’s aggressive asymmetry, most of its operations resulted in tactical failures in terms of what were presumably hoped for mass casualty events. The strategy-at least in terms of branded messaging-was, however, somewhat successful. The two nodes of salafi-jihadism in North and West Africa i.e. Algeria to the north and northern Nigeria to the south, were being bridged with the gradual expansion of militancy in the broader Sahel region.

The Sahel has traditionally served as a natural geographic and cultural buffer zone which is being eroded by rapid advances in mobile technology and social media which have the means to both disseminate radical thought among susceptible populations that are woefully underserved  by feeble central governments as well as connect militant groups with traditionally localized or divergent agendas to one another.  For several years analysts have speculated whether there were or could be links to AQIM in Algeria-Mali and Boko Haram in Nigeria.Even the head of AFRICOM stated: “linkages between AQIM and Boko Haram are probably the most worrisome.”

These claims were oft criticized by what were believed to be the very different aims of AQIM and Boko Haram. AQIM which is firmly rooted in the GIA and GSPC of Algeria’s 1990s civil war was an Algerian movement (albeit a quite fissiparous one indicated by the GIA-GSPC split) seeking mostly to create an Islamic state within Algeria’s borders-although undoubtedly some of these salafis were adherents of a borderless ummah ideology. But when the GSPC renamed itself AQIM in 2007, in the form of AQIM as a matter of strategic survival it broadened both its operational geography–which the GSPC had already begun in its final phase–in places like Mali and Niger while making inroads amongst those populations who harbored their own long-held grievances against their respective central governing institutions.

Meanwhile in the Hausa-dominated states of northern Nigeria, Boko Haram–Ahl al-Sunna li al-Da`wa wa al-Jihad for those in the know–maintained as its primary goal the formal introduction of sharia law throughout Nigeria. But when Ansar Eddine, AQIM, and MUJAO gained power in northern Mali in 2012, locals who had fled Gao described to TWD the presence of Hausa speaking, Anglophone militants operating alongside MUJAO in Gao ville and its immediate environs. For Boko Haram to be present in Gao it would likely have had to pass through southwestern Niger, skirting around its capital Niamey. But several Malian intellectuals who spoke candidly with TWD in 2012 stated that they firmly believed Boko Haram already had a presence in southern Niger including with Niamey itself and therefore the movement of Nigerian militants into Mali was not as improbable as some Westerners might assume just by looking from afar at perceived vast distances on a flat map.

As nation-states occupying transition zones connecting the dry Sahara to the more verdant sub-Sahara, Mali and now Niger have manifested clearly as conduits between these what are often thought of as disparate  regions of Africa. When movements like AQIM, MUJAO and Boko Haram graft themselves onto deeply held provincial tribulations beyond their traditional realms, the threat to the respective wobbly regimes squeezed in the middle is heightened more so.  Thus we may see suicide bombing spread even farther to poorly protected targets in N’djamena and Nouakchott, perhaps even Dakar. None of these movements appears to pose a specific threat to the West itself–at least for the time being–but they threaten Western interests and allies which may pull Paris and Washington in only deeper into a widening crisis.

Though the jihadis were forcefully ejected from Mali’s northern and central cities mostly by French air strikes followed by ground columns and Abuja is touting that it has reached a truce of sorts with Boko Haram, the troubles for Niger and Mali, and possibly Mauritania, Chad and other regional states may be far from over.

The Nigérien tricolor wilts in a New York Heat wave. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

With all the grim talk of relgio-political or inter-communal violence and such mentioned above, I thought it would be good to balance out this post with something a bit more relaxed. I attended a fantastic concert on June 21 where Bombino, a mezmerizing Tuareg guitarist from Niger’s uranium rich, politically troubled Agadez Region. Bombino sings in Tamasheq, the language of the Sahara-Sahel area’s indigenous Tuareg people who refer to themselves as the Kel Tamasheq.

I have no clue if there was any intention of this by the concert’s organizers but it was great to hear Saharan Tuareg rock in the same venue as the venerated Amadou and Mariam who sing in Bambara, the predominant language of southern Mali and in the areas surrounding its capital Bamako, but it seemed symbolically poignant if it the result was unintentional. One of the more simplistic perceptions of Mali’s internal war-which has since affected Niger as the salafi-jihadi militants sought safe ground from French air strikes-is that it had an implied north-south dynamic in which impoverished or resentful northern ethno-linguistic groups felt underserved by and underrepresented amongst the southern-dominated political circles in Bamako. Some of the same can be said for Niger where northerners feel Niamey is a far off kleptocracy that undermines their own economic and political interests.

Bombino

Amadou and Mariam

The African Union at 50

May 27th, 2013 No comments
An African Union billboard outside the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia featuring the four main languages of the international body- Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

An African Union billboard outside the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia featuring the four primary languages of the international body- Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- While it’s memorial day here in the United States, this past Saturday it was the 50th anniversary of the African Union [formerly the Organization of African Unity until 2001]. I visited the AU/OAU’s original headquarters in 2011in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after the hectic melée’s of Egypt, Libya and Bahrain when I needed a bit of a break.Upon reading of the AU’s 50th anniversary festivities, I thought a short photo essay was in order.

I initially ventured to the AU’s grounds from my hotel on Churchill Road to try and gather information on the possible creation of Jubaland astatelet  in southwestern Somalia as well as the doings of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Dolo Odo refugee camp on the Somali border. But I quickly discovered that a Chinese government construction outfit was building a gleeming new AU conference hall and tower on the adjoining lot which captured my attention.

An Ogadeni woman exits the Chinese government's construction of the new African Union complex on April 13, 2011. Just after I took this photo the Chinese man in the pink shirt ordered an Ethiopian security guard at the site to wrest my camera from me because he deemed it forbidden to take photos of the Chinese foremen and engineers. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

An Ogadeni woman exits the Chinese government’s construction of the new African Union complex on April 13, 2011. Just after I took this photo the Chinese man in the pink shirt ordered an Ethiopian security guard at the site to wrest my camera from me because he deemed it forbidden to take photos of the Chinese foremen and engineers. Fortunately for myself, the burly security man had no clue how to erase the flash card on my Olympus DSLR ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

As the China State COnstruction Engineering Corporation builds the new African Union conference center, goat herders push their flocks past. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

As the China State COnstruction Engineering Corporation builds the new African Union conference center, goat herders push their flocks past. Despite the vast poverty surrounding the Chinese project, Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated: “China, its amazing reemergence and its commitments for a win-win partnership with Africa is one of the reasons for the beginning of the African renaissance.” ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Despite being adjacent to war ravaged Somalia, the then coming partition of north and south SUdan, and and hermetic Eritrea, the AU's Situation Room was a dim office of tranquility in the comparative safety of the Ethiopian capital. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Despite being adjacent to war ravaged Somalia, the then coming partition of north and south SUdan, and and hermetic Eritrea-not to mention the rest of the conflicts spread across the continent, the AU’s Situation Room was a dim office of tranquility in the comparative safety of the Ethiopian capital. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

In the courtyard of the original AU headquarters before the Chinese project was completed in 2012. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

In the courtyard of the original AU headquarters before the Chinese project was completed in 2012 stands a monument for the 25th anniversary of the OAU as it was then called in 1988. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

A poster promoting the AU's peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan. ©2011 Derek Henry Flod

A poster promoting the AU’s peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan. ©2011 Derek Henry Flod

As the AU's new tower took shape over Addis Ababa's low rise skyline dotted with corrugated aluminum shacks coated in red dust. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

As the AU’s new tower took shape over Addis Ababa’s low rise skyline dotted with corrugated aluminum shacks coated in red dust, the contrast between Chinese influence and African ground realities never seemed more stark. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

 

Unending Troubles in the Sahel-Sahara

May 23rd, 2013 No comments
Children who fled the town of Gossi, Mali haul well drinking water back to their parents' tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Sévaré on June 4, 2012. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Children who fled the town of Gossi, Mali haul well drinking water back to their parents’ tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Sévaré on June 4, 2012. The elder men didn’t want me intrusively photographing in or around their tents and asked to me to keep a good distance while shooting a handful of photographs. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have an article out today on the French-led external military intervention in central and northern Mali which began in mid-January. I woke up this morning excited to have a new piece out only to see that there had been a double suicide bombing in neighboring Niger. MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui claims to have carried out simultaneous attacks in the distant towns of Arlit and Agadez.

UPDATE-Today Mokhtar Belmokhtar  released a statement that the attack was a joint operation by MUJAO and his Signatories in Blood katiba (unit) “in the name of [the late] Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid.” He then said that his salafi-jihadis had decided upon a “military withdrawal” in response to the French intervention.

Screen shot 2013-05-23 at 1.20.45 PMThe attack on Nigerien troops and the French uranium mining consortium AREVA does not come remotely as a surprise for several reasons. As I noted in a post on this blog last spring, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou was coming out as particularly vocal among regional heads of state in West Africa–obviously concerned that the instability in northern Mali would likely affect a vulnerable Niger that has already been saddled with its own internal challenges for many years.

Like Mali, Niger has faced its own bouts of Tuareg rebellion-most recently with le Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice-MNJ led by former Qaddafi ally Aghaly ag Alambo. Ag Alambo was arrested in Niamey in March 2012 over a June 2011 Libyan arms explosives episode he was accused of being involved in as Qaddaffi’s regime crumbled in Tripoli and war materiel began flowing in much larger quantities throughout the wider Sahara.

Though certain conspiratorial-minded critics have speculated that France’s intervention in Mali was motivated by crass economic interests in that country (often with scant data on the true value of untapped resources in Mali’s north), in terms of French industry at home, Niger is far more important.

China likely has a larger economic stake in Mali than does France if not in aid than purely large scale in infrastructure projects.Beijing may even put PLA boots on the ground in the name of UN peacekeeping as it presently  has in Sudan’s Darfur region.

France does have genuine interest in Niger’s uranium resources and which local communities of Tuareg, Toubou, Arabs and Fulani feel they should be genuinely benefitting from economically. There is deep resentment among Niger’s ethnic minorities in the country’s north over economic grievances and environmental degradation  related to French doings in their bomeland as well as a startling lack of development in the Agadez Region and its Arlit Department.

And like Mali, Niger has been suffering from a persistent food crisis in recent years but to a much more severe degree than Mali to the west whose whole “Azawad” region has been deemed a humanitarian emergency by a host of NGOs. Not to mention that Nigerien citizens crossed the border into Mali to take part in MUJAO’s foothold in Gao Region. One of the lower tier MUJAO commanders in Gao Ville was reportedly a Nigerien national.

Secondly there were the reported developments of the U.S. setting up a drone facility in Niger that was very much welcome by Issoufou and word that French Special Forces were coming into their spartan former colony to protect the uranium extraction operations that would both make poorly defended targets while stoking jihadi ire. The Arlit AREVA mine is estimated to provide 40% of metropolitan France’s nuclear energy which is 80% of the power consumed in France.

On top of all that Nigerien troops are stationed in Mali as part of the AFISMA intervention force in towns like Ansongo and Menaka. Then there is the fact that French and Chadian troops have pushed the jihadis out of their camps in Kidal Region in the Ametetai and Terz valleys and in the overall Adrar des Ifoghas area (although the Elysée does not want independent observers up there on the ground apparently-and hasn’t allowed an journalist embeds with non-French passport holders as far as I know). So the surviving men of MUJAO and AQIM who were not killed in French airs strikes will have to have gone somewhere, non?

Lastly on this though, AQIM has breached the Nigerien capital of Niamey in the past with a bold kidnapping of two Frenchmen in January 2011 which ended with the hostages being killed rather than ransomed. In the wake of a disastrous rescue attempt by French Special Forces, it seemed as if the kind of trouble we see in that country on this day was well on the horizon.

French troops may have merely been the catalyst for such salafi-jihadi expansion rather than the sole driver of today’s tragedy that killed 26.

A Sotrama (shared minibus) makes its way toward Mopti in central Mali. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A ubiquitous Sotrama (shared minibus) makes its way toward Mopti in central Mali after Mali’s north had been captured by Tuareg separatists and Salafi Islamist fighters. The Mopti area was at the time the front line of government controlled Mali. Civilians were allowed to travel back and forth between the massive partition but as a journalist I could go no further north at the time. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Guinea to Gambia the Hard Way

Guest blogger: Jason Florio

Follow Jason on Twitter at @floriophotoNYC

See Jason’s online portfolio here

New York- I’ve known photographer Jason Florio for nearly a dozen years now. Our paths have had this dramatic before-and-after symmetry. Jason shot in northern Afghanistan just before 9/11, I just after. He shot in Baghdad just before it fell, I, again, just after. Jason was in Lebanon not long before the most recent Israeli invasion, me during it in summer 2006. Jason traversed Libya when Qadaffi’s rule was unwavering, I as it was falling to pieces.

Below is an except from Jason and his wife Helen’s most recent adventure along the River Gambia beginning in Afrique l’Ouest (Francophone West Africa) and ending in the Anglophone sliver that is Gambia where Jason has been traveling for many years now. Enjoy!

“The River Gambia is one of Africa’s last major free-flowing rivers, starting as a mere trickle from under a rock in the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea. It meanders through the gold-rich land of south east Senegal, and through the length of The Republic of The Gambia (the country is named after the river) and enters the Atlantic Ocean having coursed it’s way for over 1100km(approx. 685 miles)  and broadened to 14km wide. Plans are afoot to build a hydroelectric dam on the river on the Senegal-Guinea border.

The dam would bring much needed power to a dark region, but would displace ancient villages, change the natural flow of the river, drastically effect the fragile eco system. The reduced flow would create greater salinity in the river further upstream, severely impacting the lives of villagers whose very survival is based on crop irrigation by the river. Documentary photographer Jason Florio, and his wife, writer/producer Helen Jones-Florio, accompanied by two Gambian fishermen followed the river for two months by canoe and motorcycle from source-to-sea.

Traveling in-part in the footsteps of 19th century explorers to the region including Mungo Park and Gaspard Mollien, their aim was to create a modern day account of the people and communities along the length of the river, before the dam stops its natural course forever.”

Fula tribesmen with swimming horses Jan 5th 2012 - 7.54am  - We spent a peaceful night at Karantaba village with the spirit of Mungo Park sharing the warmth and companionship of our fire. Scottish explorer, Park had based at Karantaba in 1795 and 1805, before setting off on two journeys to find the Niger River and ultimately where it met the Atlantic Ocean. Park found the river on his first journey, but died on the second after being ambushed by locals while on the river. In the morning I saw a small ‘barra’ (ferry) being oared across the river and next to it were two horses swimming. I ran to the edge of the water just as they were emerging and made the photograph. The horses belonged to two Fula tribesmen who were heading to a local market to sell their harvest of ground-nuts. The horses being used to pull their ‘‘seretto’  or horse-cart.

Fula tribesmen with swimming horses
Jan 5th 2012 – 7.54am – We spent a peaceful night at Karantaba village with the spirit of Mungo Park sharing the warmth and companionship of our fire. Scottish explorer, Park had based at Karantaba in 1795 and 1805, before setting off on two journeys to find the Niger River and ultimately where it met the Atlantic Ocean. Park found the river on his first journey, but died on the second after being ambushed by locals while on the river.
In the morning I saw a small ‘barra’ (ferry) being oared across the river and next to it were two horses swimming. I ran to the edge of the water just as they were emerging and made the photograph. The horses belonged to two Fula tribesmen who were heading to a local market to sell their harvest of ground-nuts. The horses being used to pull their ‘‘seretto’ or horse-cart. ©2013 Jason Florio

Hawa the rice cutter Jan 11th – 5.23pm- We moored for the night at Ka’ur village on The River Gambia. After making camp we walked towards the village to buy food. On the way we saw a group of ladies who were busy cutting rice and stacking it for drying. They insisted I came into the muddy field and help them harvest, before I could make any photographs. Once I was deemed a temporary part of their team I was allowed to take photographs of them. Hawa was the group leader and just before I was about to continue on to the village, she turned towards me with her head laden with rice, and her knife between her teeth. I made two frames before she turned again and to finish her work. She told me they cut the rice for a lady who owns the field, and are paid 30 Dalasi per day – about 80 US cents.

Hawa the rice cutter
Jan 11th – 5.23pm- We moored for the night at Ka’ur village on The River Gambia. After making camp we walked towards the village to buy food. On the way we saw a group of ladies who were busy cutting rice and stacking it for drying. They insisted I came into the muddy field and help them harvest, before I could make any photographs. Once I was deemed a temporary part of their team I was allowed to take photographs of them. Hawa was the group leader and just before I was about to continue on to the village, she turned towards me with her head laden with rice, and her knife between her teeth. I made two frames before she turned again and to finish her work. She told me they cut the rice for a lady who owns the field, and are-paid 30 Dalasi per day – about 80 US cents. ©2013 Jason Florio

A watchman relaxes on a floating jetty near the samll Gambian village of Bonto. Bonto became infamous in 2009 when a two tonne cocaine stash, with a street value of $1bn, was discovered in a riverside warehouse a few hundred meters from the jetty. The street value of the haul far exceeded Gambia's $782 million annual GDP in 2009.

Watchman on the Pier
A watchman relaxes on a floating jetty near the samll Gambian village of Bonto. Bonto became infamous in 2009 when a two tonne cocaine stash, with a street value of $1bn, was discovered in a riverside warehouse a few hundred meters from the jetty. The street value of the haul far exceeded Gambia’s $782 million annual GDP in 2009. ©2013 Jason Florio

For more images from the River Gambia Expedition, click here

Mali, North Korea and the Confluence of Histories

February 2nd, 2013 No comments
A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. This image to me epitomizes the concept of my article featured below. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I had a couple of long term projects published at the end of this past week. The first was an examination of the little known history conjoining Mali in West Africa with North Korea in Northeast Asia over at Asia Times Online. I discovered this newly built part of Bamako while riding around on my fixer’s motorcycle last year when we were trying to organize a semi-doomed trip toward the front line with MUAJO et co up in Mopti Region.

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.14.31 PMThis spot I found (linked, left) in the Malian capital is called Carré des Armées (Army Square) and it was built by a North Korean state enterprise (not as if Pyongyang encourages private enterprise). As I begun to play with the idea of doing a full length article on the topic, it dawned on me that Mali and North Korea had a shared history dating all the way back to Mali’s independence from France in 1960.

Not exactly a topic for broad mass consumption, I know, but for those who it may interest, I think it’s a fascinating topic. It also speaks to a lesser understood phenomena of how ties forged in the heat of the Cold War still can very much exist in a post-Cold War world.

The ties between North Korea and Mali certainly may have lessened over the decades and have changed in their orientation (started out as political and military in the 1960s, now more transparently financial-the same goes for Mali’s relationship with China). One of the key differences between the relationships between North Korea and China with an inherently unstable state like Mali is that seemingly no circumstances would or will derail ‘business as usual.’

Just for argument’s sake, I honestly think that if Ansar Eddine and its Salafi allies had somehow managed to capture Bamako and miraculously gain some kind of political legitimacy that over time Beijing and Pyongyang would still send delegations back to Mali to get their business interests on track. After all in 1960, the government of Modibo Keita was deemed a righteous, radical enough anti-imperialist government by Kim Il-sung and co to forge ties on the other side of the world. Maybe the anti-imperial tenets preached in the context of  Salafiyya-jihadiyya would be revolutionary enough for the Beijing’s politburo and the DPRK’s Workers’ Party of Korea to be able to keep infrastructure projects going uninterrupted. Who’s to say….

The second was a passion project nearly 14 years in the making about the history and symbology of all the war zone/quixotic regime currencies have managed to collect in my travels over the years featured in The Christian Science Monitor. It spans from an out-of-circulation Iranian rial I obtained in Tehran in 1999 to a Libyan 1 dinar note I saved from Benghazi in 2011.

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100 pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100-pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab (kneeling, far left) is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder (center) as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great (mounted). Damascus’s employing Philip the Arab is likely no accident. Unlike the Saddam-era old 25-dinar note in Iraq depicting the Battle of al-Qadissyah showing an ancient Arab (Iraqi) enmity toward Persia (Iran)–Hafez’s al-Assad’s mortal enemy in the inter-Ba’ath rivalry–Syria’s 100-pound bill emphasized Syria and Iran’s ancient, shared history…in which Roman Arabia (present day Syria) is the supplicant. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Not a project that even the most ambitious young turk with a fancy master’s degree fresh out of Georgetown or Columbia could have done. It’s a bit of a blood, sweat and tears project in that sense and I was thrilled to have it come to fruition. I’ve dealt with countless fast talking money changers, sky rocketing wartime inflation, crossed borders only opened when regimes were in the process of being toppled and made all sorts of other absurd, laborious entreaties to obtain this collection.

Many of these specimens were lost for years or so I thought, until I uncovered them last fall in a musty storage locker and began to examine them one by one. I then realized they merited an article treatment on their own.

Most of these notes (except the Qadaffi-era dinar which is still in circulation pending the release of new notes by Libya’s central bank) are long out of circulation. And more importantly, each banknote tells a story both in its iconography laden artistry and in the circumstances in which I obtained it. The 20th anniversary of the Shia Islamic revolution in Iran, the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and so forth.Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.18.11 PM                                                                                                                                                                       

TWD Mali Media Offensive

January 16th, 2013 No comments

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 3.44.55 PM

New York- In the wake of the French military intervention in Mali late last week, I felt like it was time for TWD to kick into high gear. On Monday, I appeared on BBC Arabic’s News Hour programme from the beeb’s Manhattan studio (which was actually the NYC AP bureau). The show was hosted by Lebanon’s lovely Fida Basil and featured Mohamed Larbi Zitout, a one time Algerian ambassador to Libya-turned outspoken Algerian dissident in exile in the UK and Akli Shaka, the Leeds-based spokesman for the Imohag (alt. Imuhagh–the endonym of the Tuareg people) and myself. I also did a piece for CNN.com (pictured above) synthesizing recent developments with my work on the ground there in 2012.

Mohamed Larbi Zitout. left, and Akli Shaka, right.

Mohamed Larbi Zitout. left, and Akli Shaka, right.

One of the topics I fielded during the segment was whether or not there would be a Salafi blowback on the French metropole or in amongst any of Mali’s neighbors where security is already inherently sketchy and AQIM essentially has freedom of movement across several over the borders. As I was answering an email to colleague this morning, I cited the GIA’s hijacking of an Air France flight 8969 heading from Algiers to Paris’s Orly airport on Christmas Eve 1994 and the Paris metro bombings in 1995 (as with all terrorist related events related to Algeria’s bloody civil conflict there of course is an alternate theory that the DRS-Algeria’s all-knowing intelligence service-was behind some or all of these events). Not suggesting the GIA in the 1990s is a precise direct analogy but the experience offers some insight. Monday I thought it all but assured that Mali-based Salafi-jihadis would strike in a neighboring state in the very least. Whether they have the capability to strike on French soil remains to be seen I suppose. Let’s hope that is not the case.

In the immediate aftermath of the largely successful raid on the jet at Marseille’s airport in which the four GIA operatives were killed by French commandos, four Catholic priests were murdered in in the immediate aftermath in retribution in Tizi-Ouzou east of Algiers in the Kabylie region which has remained a locus of conflict in some degree or another until the present.

The destination board at the Sévaré bus depot. Destinations to contested, ungoverned spaces. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The destination board at the somewhat forlorned Sévaré bus depot. The prices for these arduous rides are listed in BCEAO CFA francs. Destinations to contested, ungoverned spaces await weary travelers already having come all the way from Bamako in many cases. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

As soon as I hit send on said email, I then checked the news to see something that seemed like the logical next step: a massive raid was launched on a sprawling energy installation’s complex today in which an estimated 41 expatriate workers were taken hostage by men believed to be under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s (a.k.a. MBM, a.k.a. Belawar) AQIM faction “La katiba des Moulathamine” (or is it al-Mouwaqiin bi Dam-“Signatories in Blood battalion” a constituent of or breakaway from the “Masked Brigade”-it seems there is no agreement/too little information at the time of this writing) or AQIM itself depending on reports.

In what was likely a carefully planned assault, militants struck the Ain Amenas liquified natural gas field project being operated by BP, Norway’s Statoil, and Algeria’s state energy concern Sonatrach on Algeria’s eastern border with Libya due south of the triple border with Tunisia.Many believe that Belmokhtar was behind the audacious raid in Algeria’s Illizi Wilayat (province), bringing a flurry of attention to a character generally little known in Anglophone media circles.

There had been speculation last fall that Belmokhtar had been dismissed as commander of his men by AQIM’s overall Algeria-based emir, Abdekmalek Droukdel (a.k.a. Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud) which Droukdel reportedly later denied.

The biggest story suddenly surged from the war in Mali to one of the biggest terror attacks on Algerian soil in many years. Just like that, the news cycle had to catch up to speed on events to Mali’s north in the chaotic midst of learning about Mali itself. As with its captured diplomats in Gao, Algeria taking its characteristically hard line, claims it categorically will not negotiate-much less pay ransoms for-hostages, foreign or indigenous.

Walking along Sévaré blistering hot main drag in June. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Walking along Sévaré’s blistering hot main drag in June. As a desert-modified pick-up truck of Malian troops whizzed by, my cautious fixer urged me not to attempt to photograph them for our own good, much to my disappointment. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Just before the start of the Mali conflict in December 2011, I edited a report by Dario Cristiani entitled “Mixing Ideological and Pragmatic Jihad: A Fresh Look at Mokhtar Belmokhtar.” If you are following me on Twitter, you can DM for a PDF if interested.

UPDATE: In keeping with Algiers’s stated no-negotiations position (despite the fact the government said talks were attempted), Algerian forces launched what could be called a disastrous ‘rescue’ mission. Reports right now are conflicting about whether the operation is still ongoing or whether it has already concluded. Whatever has happened, it has likely been quit bloody.

Myself and

Myself and presenter Fida Basil. Uttering ‘Jamaat at-Tawhid w’al-Jihad fi Gharb Ifriqiyya’ is a hell of a lot more of a mouthful than MUJAO!

Before the current phase of the conflict kicked off, a photo from this blog was used in a report by the International Peace Institute in mid-December.

Before the current phase of the conflict kicked off, a photo from this blog was used in a report by the International Peace Institute, a UN-linked think-tank, in mid-December.

UPDATE: Friend and colleague, the Toronto-based analyst Andrew McGregor appeared on CBC News to talk about the history of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the impact of the Ain Amenas raid, its sophistication and beguiling logistical improbabilities. He also discussed the possible long term effects on Algeria’s energy industry, a key source of that country’s GDP. Click play below.

 

Mali in Chaos

October 25th, 2012 No comments

New York- Although interest in Mali has been partly piqued in the American polity from facile, puppet-like foreign policy comments by Mitt Romney in a recent debate with President Obama, for genuine students and scholars of foreign policy Mali has been of grave concern since late March with the fall of Gao if not mid-January when the MNLA launched an attack on Ménaka. For specialists in the Sahel region bridging north and west Africa, Mali has been of note since time immemorial. I’ve long had a general interest in Malian history and politics inasmuch as I devour everything I can on virtually all of the history and conflicts of present day ‘Afro-Euraisa.’

Boys in Bamako’s Badalabougou district playing football at dusk near the banks of the River Niger with the BCEAO tower looming off in the distance. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

After working in the Libyan war during 2011 in both its east and west theatres of conflict–Cyrenaica and Jebel Nafusa–I had planned to focus some of my efforts in 2012 on the Sahel. I had been contemplating working in Niger this year (before the Mali crisis began in earnest) in part because of hysterical front line Libyan rebels telling me they were fighting against Nigerien, Chadian and other sub-Saharan African ‘mercenaries’ who were allegedly being airlifted in by the Antonov into Sebha in the Libyan Sahara. (See the story of Qaddafi’s Nigerien Tuareg confidant here)

I’d been wanting to go to George W. Bush’s “Africa” i.e. Niger for quite some time to investigate the French-led uranium extraction industry in that country’s Aïr Massif in the sprawling northern Agadez Region and exploring the rebellious political dynamics of the adjacent Ténéré Desert and the Tuareg-dominated Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice (MNJ).

‘Africa is a continent.’ T-shirt detail, Le Grand Marché, Bamako. @2012 Derek Henry Flood

But Niger was not meant to be, at least in terms of my own 2012 reporting priorities, so off to Bamako I went. I realized after I had already gone to some trouble to acquire my Malian visa that the only viable way to visit the short-lived Azawad state would to have actually queued up for a Nigérien or Mauritanian visa instead to visit either rebel-controlled Timbuktu or Gao respectively.

Plan A of interviewing the MNLA or Ansar Eddine was a pipe dream. I would quickly come to learn to my Plan B of hoping to somehow embed with the Malian army would not be doable either (although the BBC with its clout and/or connections managed to do so months later). The door would be then shut in my face upon attempting Plan C which was to visit the no-man’s land between the last government-held area of Mopti Region yet before the rebel or militia held areas of Douentza. Sometimes life is about Plan D I suppose was the take away from all this–accomplish whatever I could in the face of all these obstacles.

Moonrise over a concrete block village mosque built with money from the United Arab Emirates in the Malian Sahel. These rectangular houses of worship built with Wahhabi money from the GCC states were often the only painted structures for miles around, standing out amidst the dull mud brick villages dotting the Malian bush. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Mali is now undoubtedly going to face some form of military intervention to counter the Salafi-jihadi groups occupying its three northern regions and parts of northeast Mopti region. France currently has six hostages being held there beyond its more obvious political and economic interests in Mali. Three additional Western hostages plus the fear of blowback on the European heartland means that the EU views further consolidation of radical Salafi power in northern Mali as a threat to the EU itself.

France knows all too well that nihilistic terror wars in North Africa can reverberate back to the metropole with deadly effect evidenced by the Christmas Eve 1994 hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 and the 1995 Paris Metro bombings carried out by al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha-better known by known by its Francophone name, the Groupe Islamique Armé or GIA. The GIA–a precursor to today’s AQIM in Mali–was one of the principal non-state belligerents fighting the Algerian government and security apparatus during the worst of the civil war years in the mid-1990s.

We still don’t have an accurate picture of precisely how this roughly proposed intervention will take place and likely won’t until something is already underway. Whatever the outcome, it will continue to have humanitarian repercussions across the entire region perhaps well beyond the massive refugee and IDP outflow we have already witnessed. It all remains to be seen at this point.

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