Bloody attacks, seizing towns, declaring caliphates, kidnapping children and women, bombing churches and mosques, abuses against civilians, assassinating politicians and leaders are just some of the problems Nigeria is facing. War against terror in estimated 173 million population state is far from finished.
The security situation is worsening in the North from the Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram group is in Nigeria active for many years now, and based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimation responsible for 20.000 people killed so far, and recording to Human Rights Watch only this year at least 1.000 civilians. The number of internal displaced persons (IDPs) is also increasing. As of February 2015 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that 1.235,300 people were forced to flee their homes.
The Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) with newly task to fight the branch of Al Qaida was established in 1998 for maintenance of security in the border area and was expanded to counterterrorism operations. Military tasks are protecting civilians from further attacks, stopping abductions and rescuing those held captive. African Union, which recently gave MJTF a green light, asked the United Nations Security Council on January 29 to adopt the resolution authorizing the military operations, achieving coordination, conducting border patrols, finding abducted persons, stopping the flow of arms, reintegrating insurgents into society and bring those responsible for crimes to justice. Human Rights Watch suggests that situation in northeastern Nigeria can be resolved with the help of newly elected government, which needs to provide medical treatment, counselling and the ability to educate former captives. Boko Haram insurgency is also spilling across Nigeria’s border into Cameroon, Chad and Niger which together with Nigeria and Benin are part of MJTS. In a way MJTS is only regional attempt to contain the threat. Nigeria is reluctant for regional intervention on its territory, so neighboring countries within MNJTF framework will work on securing the borders and preventing Boko Haram insurgency from further spilling, while Nigeria itself will be military and otherwise active on its national territory. Regional force will be responsible for 10 to 15% of the entire area where Boko Haram operates, so Nigeria will need to do most of the job. The reasons can also be seen in history of border disputes with the neighbors and traditional status of Nigeria as an important regional actor in securing peace and stability in West Africa.
Doomsday predictions based on previous elections for the aftermath of presidential elections in April luckily did not happen. In pre-election period based on Fund for Peace reporting saw 264 instances of insecurity and 2.215 fatalities. By comparison of pre-election period in 2011 the numbers of fatalities have in this year increased dramatically and immediate post-election violence in 2011 resulted in an additional 800 people killed. Results of presidential elections were peaceful accepted mainly because Goodluck Jonathan concede defeat and congratulated Muhammadu Buhari on his win. Africa’s biggest oil producer did not face a fresh wave of violence, even though for the first time in history an opposition candidate won elections. On 11th April country voted again, this time in gubernatorial elections. State governors are one of the most important politicians, since they are managing big budgets, have influence over federal appointments and the choice of who runs for president. Political system in Nigeria is also confronted with high corruption level. From 175 countries measured by Transparency International Nigeria was ranked 136, from which we can see that corruption is widespread.
The country faces divisions along ethnic and religious lines, communal violence and impunity for crimes by Nigerian security forces. The latest is the most worrying since the army in the country had an important role in Nigeria’s turbulent history. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect, Human Rights Agenda Network and other international and national organizations have reported on abuses in Nigerian army. Nigerian security forces have in response to Boko Haram attacks used excessive force. A lot of people were detained in inhumane conditions. Physical abuse, burned civilian homes, violations of human right and humanitarian law, no credible investigations of past crimes, no accountability for crimes, executions, arbitrarily arresting, beating on people, stealing money while searching homes, torture and detainment in inhuman conditions are just some mentions problems that need to be addressed that Nigerian population won’t be forever caught between the army and Islamic violence.
Inter-communal violence, political unrest, and corruption demonstrate that Boko Haram attacks are not the only issue facing the country. A lot of inter-communal unrest has been seen through the years. The causes were, among others, also ethnic or religious identity and resulted in a great number of IDPs, deaths and violence. In Africa’s largest economy, people in the north of the country are predominantly Muslim religion and Christian in the south. 10% of the population following indigenous sects and close to 350 ethnic groups speak 250 languages. Another problem beside diversity in religion and ethnicity facing Nigeria is poverty. According to UN statistics about 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and survive on less than a dollar a day. The division along economic lines is seen, since poverty is more widespread in the north and less in the south and in the Niger delta. The divisions and inequalities, corruption, vulnerable people, the state’s inability to protect, with battles against insurgent groups have contributed to the current security crisis in the country. Potential problems can be seen in the country’s economy and its reliance on oil. 70% of the country’s government revenues are derived from the oil and gas business. That makes the country vulnerable in a case of oil price drops.
The crisis in Nigeria has rapidly become a complex global, regional and national issue. A lot of concerns and actions have come through different international actors and organizations about the situation in the country. On international level International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted Boko Haram and reason to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed. The Court is still in its preliminary stages but has gained the cooperation of Nigerian government. Furthermore, what is also important is that the Court also announced thatany crimes committed by Nigerian army will fall under its derestriction. United Nations (UN) have also condemned the violence seen in Nigeria. The UN and Security Council have expressed deep concerns of Boko Haram activities that jeopardize regional and national peace and security.
There are no easy answers for ending the crisis in Nigeria. Some things that need to change are Nigeria’s cooperation with even greater extend with regional actors and acceptances of assistance from its neighbors. Security must be established and insurgency from Boko Haram and other groups must be stopped. In the short term military conflicts must stop and negotiations with representatives of different militant groups must start. Different aspect of crisis must be addressed in order to protect the population. Furthermore, crimes and atrocities must be punished and answered regardless of the side that committed them. Beside successful prosecutions corruption must be reduced. There has been seen some improvements at the federal level with the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and with it impunity has begun to change. A lot still needs to be done at local government level, which has become the most corrupt in the federal system. The next thing is to improve use of oil revenues that will improve development indicators and last but not least a lot of political will and competent leaders.
Russia wants to bolster economic ties with Lesotho
In southern Russian city Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Lesego Makgothi, held wide-ranging diplomatic talks mid-February to understand deeply how to continue to build upon relations in numerous areas especially economic cooperation.
Makgothi, who has been Minister since 2017, made his first official trip to Moscow.
According to the official media release, Lavrov and Makgothi exchanged views on important global and regional issues, including Russia’s participation in international efforts to resolve conflicts and crises in Africa and some ways to ensure sustainable socioeconomic development of the continent.
They noted a desire to expand these relations in all areas, beginning with the political dialogue and then cooperation within international organizations, as well as in trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian areas.
During the discussion, both noted geological prospecting, mining and the energy industry as promising areas. The economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing and mining. Water and diamonds are its significant natural resources.
Both ministers also focused on cooperation in education exchanges. Russia has expanded the quota by five times for students from Lesotho. This will make it possible to meet the interests of Lesotho and to train specialists in healthcare, meteorology and mining starting next academic year, 2019/20.
There was also the possibility of sending law enforcement officers to study in advanced training courses at the educational institutions under the Russian Interior Ministry.
Lavrov informed that an inter-parliamentary Russian-African conference has been scheduled to take place later this year, and Russia would host a general meeting of the African Export-Import Bank’s shareholders.
Lavrov and Makgothi believed that this would make it possible to considerably raise the level of cooperation and to chart specific ways of further enriching Russia’s relations with Africa. He invited Makgothi to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for June.
In general, Lavrov and Makgothi advocated for greater cooperation between Russia and the African countries in all areas, primarily within the context of a proposal put forward by President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, at the BRICS summit in July 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Lesotho’s geographic location, the southernmost landlocked country in the world and is entirely surrounded by South Africa, makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa.
Relations between the two countries were established soon after Lesotho gained independence in 1966. Lesotho, with about 2.5 million population, is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan
A surge in sexual violence in South Sudan’s Unity state targeting victims as young as eight years old, has prompted a call from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, for urgent Government measures to protect victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.
Despite the signing of a peace deal between belligerents last September, UN investigators found that at least 175 women and girls have been raped or suffered other sexual and physical violence between September and December 2018.
The actual level of violence is likely to be considerably higher, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
“Obviously (it is) not the whole picture, but they found 175, women and girls who had been either raped, gang-raped or sexually assaulted or physically harmed in other ways,” he said. “And 49 of those girls who were raped, were children.”
Nonetheless, it warns that such incidents are “endemic” in northern Unity state, on the border with Sudan, creating a sense among communities that it is normal to be a victim of sexual violence.
Victim’s testimony recalls recurring attacks
Citing the testimony of one victim, Mr. Colville explained that many women are raped while fetching firewood, food or water – often more than once – as they lack any protection.
“She said, ‘If we go by the main road we are raped, if we go by the bush, we are raped. I was raped among others in the same area repeatedly on three separate occasions.”
The surge in conflict-related sexual violence is attributed to many factors including the breakdown in the rule of law, the destruction of livelihoods, forced displacement and food insecurity, after years of civil war.
Large numbers of armed young men, a ‘toxic mix’
But one of the main reasons is the large number of fighters in the area, who have yet to be reintegrated into the national army, according to the peace deal.
Most of the attacks are reported to have been carried out by youth militia groups and elements of the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, SPLA-IO (TD), as well as South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF).
In a few cases, attacks were perpetrated by members of the group affiliated with reinstated Vice President and peace deal participant, Riek Machar, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO (RM), the UN report says.
“Particularly in this area, there are essentially three main groups who…are involved in these rapes, including the National Government force,” said Mr. Colville. “And a lot of these young men who are heavily armed, are just waiting around…This is a very toxic mix, and there are also youth militia which some of these official groups ally with and you don’t know exactly who they are; they’ve been heavily involved as well.”
Rule of law ‘just not applied’
A key challenge is tackling the prevailing impunity throughout Unity state, which is linked to the volatility of the situation across the country, OHCHR maintains.
“There’s been very little accountability in South Sudan for what is chronic, endemic problem of sexual violence against women and girls,” Mr. Colville said. “Virtually complete impunity over the years, as a result, very little disincentive for these men not to do what they’re doing. The rule of law has just not been applied.”
Mobile courts provide glimmer of hope for victims
Among the practical measures taken to a bid to help vulnerable communities in Unity state, UNMISS has cleared roadsides to prevent attackers from hiding from potential victims.
A mobile court system is also operational in towns, including Bentiu, which has had “some success” in bringing perpetrators to trial, OHCHR’s Mr. Colville said, noting nonetheless that “this is just a drop in the ocean”.
“There are thousands and thousands of perpetrators, there are officers involved, there are commanders who’ve got command responsibility who instead of being investigated and brought to book…have been promoted, and are still in charge of groups operating in this area who are still raping women,” he concluded.
Italy making its way back to Africa
The countries of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia) have recently been the focus of attention of Italian diplomacy, with the need to find political partners in Africa to resolve the migrant crisis, the signing of a long-awaited peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018, China’s rapidly expanding influence in neighboring Djibouti amid the French and US military presence there making the region a strategically important hub.
Rome would like to see an end to Ethiopia’s “landlocked imprisonment” on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea and Djibouti, restore Italy’ presence in the region, based on its colonial past, and ensure Italian companies’ participation in the construction of a strategically important transport infrastructure in the region where they could be entrusted with looking at the possibility of building a railway connecting the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa with the Eritrean port of Massawa.
The share of Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans in the migration flows from Africa to the European Union via Chad, Sudan and Libya has been traditionally high. Italy, which currently ranks third after China and the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Africa, wants to help reduce migration by investing in the Horn of Africa countries’ economy and transport infrastructure to improve the economic situation in the region and bring locally produced goods to foreign markets.
With 90 percent of Ethiopian exports going to Djibouti, a country with a population not exceeding 900,000, this helps check the number of Ethiopians heading to the EU, since the country depends on Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia both in terms of infrastructure and also from the standpoint of ensuring political stability in these countries.
While still remaining a poor country, Ethiopia keeps growing fast economically, raking in an impressive yearly growth of 10.3 percent between 2007 and 2017, compared to the regional average of just 5.4 percent. According to experts at the Washington-based Center for Global Development, Ethiopia, with its fast-growing population and relatively cheap labor, will soon emerge as an “African China” in terms of production volumes.
Addis Ababa is also active diplomatically, promoting closer ties with Kenya and Sudan. Italy, for its part, is staking on Ethiopia as an economic and political springboard for expanding its foothold in the Horn of Africa and extrapolating this presence into the Arabian Peninsula via the Red Sea and towards the Indian Ocean.
It is apparently with this goal in mind that, while traditionally maintaining a partnership with Ethiopia and having access to the Indian Ocean, Rome seeks a more dynamic relationship also with Kenya. Italian donor NGOs are currently working in Kenya, and Italian exports to this East African country now exceed €182 million. According to Italy’s Foreign Development Assistance Program (la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo Esteri), Somalia enjoys a priority position here with €270 million worth of Italian grants expected to come in the next 20 years.
Chad and Niger, which border on Libya, are a logical continuation of the Sudan – Eritrea – Ethiopia – Djibouti – Somalia – Kenya geopolitical chain being built by Rome. This explains why Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Ndjamena and Niamey in January after stopovers in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Chad and Niger play a key role in balancing the international security system in the Sahel region, where Italian troops serve as part of a multinational force deployed there. Since the collapse of the Libyan state, Niger and Chad have been viewed by Rome as Europe’s southern border. Rome credits the 80 percent drop in migrant flows from these two countries to Libya to its cooperation with Chadian and Nigerian partners.
Meanwhile, the broad outlines of a rivalry between European powers, above all Italy and France, for control over strategically important African regions and their resources are already visible.
France fears that Italy’s diplomatic successes in Africa could eventually give Rome political and/or economic control over a vast region stretching from Algeria to Kenya, which in turn could politically separate French-speaking North Africa from Central Africa.
Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, which have been a traditional zone of French influence, have not been overlooked by Rome either with an Italian embassy expected to open in Burkina Faso shortly.
Rome’s expanding foothold in Kenya and Somalia is geographically taking it to Madagascar on the east coast of Africa, which is a place where France has its own interests too.
The present cool in Franco-Italian relations, stemming from the two countries’ conflicting views on the migrant problem and the ways to solve it, as well as the degree of political and legal sovereignty EU member states not sharing the views of Brussels, Paris and Berlin on matters pertaining to foreign and domestic economic policy, gives us a reason to expect the competition between Italy and France in Africa to heat up.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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