Category Archives: Africa

Chief v Chief: Nigeria and Yemen



Two of red24’s chief analysts, Andre Colling (AC) and Ryan Cummings (RC), go head-to-head in a Q&A covering Yemen’s increasingly likely slide towards failed state status and Boko Haram in Nigeria, respectively. The questions form part of a basic ‘key assumptions check’ and are typically used in the industry as a starting point when reassessing a security environment or the operational capability of an armed group. The answers also provide some insight into the respective security environments of each state.

Nigeria – The Boko Haram threat


(AC) Ryan, Boko Haram is a prominent, well-funded and well-supported Islamist militant group, based in Nigeria. Why do you argue that it does not have an international focus and that its activity is only (and will only be) Nigeria-focused over the medium-term?

(RC) There is mounting evidence to suggest that Boko Haram has extended its operational footprint outside of Nigeria and may have infiltrated neighbouring countries, such as Niger and Cameroon. Nonetheless, both the sect’s rhetoric and operations suggest that Boko Haram remains a Nigeria-focused, grassroots organisation. In this regard, Boko Haram’s alleged expansion into neighbouring countries is congruent with the group’s domestic agenda, as this expansion has provided the sect with an operational environment in which it can train, recruit and even launch cross-border attacks into Nigerian territory. The status quo will likely endure until such time that the respective governments of Niger and Cameroon adopt a more hardline stance against Boko Haram interests, both within and outside of their respective borders.

(AC) What is the current level of regional security coordination between Nigeria and neighbouring countries?

(RC) To date, the level of security co-operation between Nigeria and its immediate neighbours has been limited to intelligence sharing and joint border patrols. However, these initiatives have been compromised by logistical problems, including staff shortages and poor communication networks. Nevertheless, there are increasing calls by Western governments for more robust regional co-operation, particularly the execution of joint military operations. I believe it will only be a question of time before such initiatives are undertaken.

(AC) What incentives, if any, are there for resource-poor states bordering Nigeria to co-operate against militants?

(RC) The longer the Boko Haram insurgency continues, the higher the risk that the sect could become entrenched within neighbouring countries and possibly export its insurgent operations to these territories. Moreover, an often overlooked aspect of the Boko Haram insurgency is the regional humanitarian crisis it is causing. Since early 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that at least 470,000 people have been displaced by Boko Haram attacks and reciprocal military offensives in north eastern Nigeria. An estimated 60,000 of the aforementioned number have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, placing a significant burden on areas already experiencing food and resource scarcities. Co-operation against militants among Nigeria’s neighbouring states could help prevent these effects.

(AC) What is the long-term outlook for Nigeria? Can the government end the insurgency?

(RC) I believe that the Nigerian government can end the Boko Haram insurgency, provided that it is willing to change its current counterinsurgency strategy. To date, Nigeria has relied on a military solution to the insurgency, which is problematic, given that the Nigerian armed forces are lacking the requisite resources, training and manpower for such a strategy. In this regard, the country will likely require external assistance, both in the form of training and funding, in order to ensure that the military has the knowledge, numbers and equipment for the execution of successful counterinsurgency operations.

However, most critically will be Nigeria’s willingness to address the structural socio-economic problems that are fuelling the insurgency. By addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment and corruption, which are considered systemic in the country’s north, the government could drain Boko Haram’s grassroots support, upon which the longevity of the sect’s insurgency is dependent. In short, the government needs to make a better offer to the people than any offer from Boko Haram. Until the sect is forced into a position in which negotiation, and not violence, is the primary means of addressing its grievances, Boko Haram will continue to persist with the deadly efficacy it has demonstrated to date.

Yemen – The potential failed state


(RC) Andre, you argue that Yemen is on a path towards failed state status. Is this assessment valid, given the success of the recent National Dialogue Conference?

(AC) I think so. The National Dialogue achieved some limited success, but as recent conflict in the north, persistent tribal violence in the east and Islamist extremist agitation in the south east demonstrate, it has not achieved immediate results. In addition to these challenges, oil income has diminished and the economy is heaving under enormous pressure and reliance on foreign aid. The government is essentially in a state of flux and prone to further instability.

(RC) You touch on the issue of the presence of non-state armed groups that operate within the country. In this regard, who are the major groups?

(AC) There are a number of groups. The Shiite Houthis in the north, AQAP in the east, Harak militants in the south and, of course, the various tribal groupings, most of which are well armed. There are also numerous political parties which have an armed support base, including al-Islah, arguably the strongest opposition group in the country.

(RC) Are any of these groups interconnected and, if so, how do these relationships influence the power dynamic within the country?

(AC) Many, if not most, of these groups share certain ‘commonalities’. For example, there is evidence to suggest that some tribesmen are working with AQAP (in kidnapping operations) and that AQAP members have inter-married with tribes’ people, in order to cement alliances and secure operational ‘space’. Some political parties and tribal groupings are also loosely allied. Al-Islah has a close connection to the al-Ahmer tribe, which is in turn the dominant force in the Hashid Tribal federation. The Hashid comprises a number of smaller tribal groupings who are loyal to opponents of al-Islah and al-Ahmer, such as the Houthis. The government also runs a patronage system through its Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which allegedly pays off certain tribal figures in return for their allegiance or neutrality. The security forces are also split in many areas along tribal lines, while many politicians have split allegiances. Typically, one is loyal to one’s family, tribe, religious order, party and, usually lastly, the state. So in summary, these groups are connected through a complicated mix where alliances are frequently forged or broken in response to political and security developments.

(RC) Are there any discernible shifts in the current alliances which could worsen or improve Yemen’s political and security outlook within the short- to medium-term?

(AC) Discerning shifts in alliances remains a difficult undertaking. While small shifts are frequently occurring in response to security and political developments, major alliance shifts occur less frequently. The last major upheaval occurred in 2011, when elements within the army withdrew support from then-president, Ali Saleh. However, even this split was accepted as a likely outcome, given the entrenched differences that already existed within the ‘unified military command’ and political hierarchy. Similarly, any major political development over the near-term will act to further destabilise and polarise Yemen. Such triggers could include a high-profile political assassination that undermines the recent political gains, or a major advance or capture of territory by one of the major non-state armed groups.

Follow Ryan @Pol_Sec_Analyst and Andre @AndreColling

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Boko Haram: A domestic or regional threat?


There are concerns that the Boko Haram, which has generally been regarded as a domestic terrorist group, is on the verge of adopting a transnational agenda. In doing so, Boko Haram would pose a significant threat in an African region already afflicted by a myriad of challenges; these include political instability, ethnic conflicts and Islamist extremism.

For the full free analysis, click here

Analysis by Ryan Cummings, follow him @Pol_Sec_Analyst

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Could CAR become the next Somalia?


Jihadist intervention in the CAR crisis: Could it happen?

In September 2013, French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, warned that ensuing lawlessness within the Central African Republic (CAR) could see the country become the next Somalia; i.e. a failed state, which could serve as a safe haven for both regional and transnational terrorist groups. Less than two months later, Fabius’ concerns were reiterated by Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, Edmund Mulet, who claimed that al-Qaeda-aligned militants were on the verge of exploiting growing instability within the CAR to their advantage. However, in contrast to Fabius, Mulet likened the prevailing situation within the CAR to that of northern Mali, where a power vacuum resulting from a military coup had seen the region fall under the control of Islamist extremists. Initially dismissed as mere rhetoric aimed at generating greater international attention to the CAR crisis, Fabius and Mulet’s claims recently gained credence following a statement released by Nigerian-based Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram. In a video message posted online on 14 February, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, purportedly threatened to avenge what he coined the massacre of Muslim communities in the CAR by Christian militias collectively known as anti-balaka.

Although somewhat unexpected, Boko Haram’s threat to enter the CAR conflict is not all that surprising. Since Seleka rebels toppled the government of Francois Bozize in March 2013, the CAR has experienced widespread and sustained outbreaks of ethno-religious violence, which has seemingly pitted the country’s Muslim and Christian populace against each other. The CAR’s minority Islamic population has been particularly hard hit by the violence, with human rights advocacy group, Amnesty International, recently asserting that the ethnic cleansing of Muslims were occurring within the country. Conforming to the Salafi jihadism interpretation of Islam, extremist groups such as Boko Haram would likely consider it their religious duty to avenge the persecution of Muslims by members of another religion. Such reasoning was perhaps best exemplified during the Bosnian civil war where hundreds of foreign Muslim jihadists fought alongside their Bosniak counterparts against a predominantly orthodox Christian Serbian army. Within the African context, coordinated jihadist intervention was also recently witnessed in northern Mali where various Islamist militant groups, including Boko Haram, allegedly engaged in joint combat operations against Malian, Chadian and French forces. Although the avenging of Muslim persecution was not central to this co-operation, the Malian conflict nevertheless underlined that regional Islamist extremist groups possessed both the intent and operational capacity to coordinate combat operations on foreign soil.

With both motivations and statements of intent for Islamist extremist involvement within the CAR made explicit, what is the actual threat of such a development occurring? Any such undertaking will be subject to significant logistical challenges. In terms of its geographical location, the CAR is far less accessible to Islamist militants than Mali. In terms of the latter, Islamist militants had near-unrestricted access to the region from their operational strongholds in neighbouring Algeria and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Niger and Mauritania. Moreover, long-established and clandestine smuggling routes located across much of Mali’s desert north also provided militants with a constant supply of arms and other resources. As mentioned, access routes for both supplies and personnel deployment is not as readily available for Islamist extremist groups seeking to infiltrate the CAR. There have been claims that Sudan’s Darfur region, which shares a common border with the CAR’s northern Vakanga province, could be used as a platform for Islamist extremist groups to deploy both personnel and arms into the country. However, such assertions have largely been based on spurious claims of an existing jihadist presence within Darfur, in addition to simplifying the motivations of Sudanese militias involved in the Darfur conflict. Another suggestion is that Nigerian Islamist militants, such as Boko Haram and its alleged offshoot, Ansaru, could infiltrate the CAR from neighbouring Cameroon. Although there is significant evidence to suggest that the aforementioned groups possess an operational presence within Cameroon, their operations to date have been limited to areas along the Nigerian border, specifically within the country’s Far-North province. These areas are located several hundred kilometers away from the Cameroon-CAR border, which itself has been fortified by the Cameroonian military amid an influx of CAR refugee populations.

Apart from logistical problems, jihadist infiltration within the CAR will also likely be subject to several operational challenges. The majority of Islamist militant groups operating within Africa have done so within the semi-arid Sahel and Maghreb regions of the continent. Their familiarity with often harsh and inhospitable desert conditions have given them the edge over regional and/or international forces tasked with uprooting them from such areas. However, the desert plains of North and West Africa differ considerably to the jungle and savannah which comprise much of the CAR. Islamist militants’ unfamiliarity with such conditions may not only see them lose an important tactical advantage but could place them firmly on the back foot against local militias accustomed to such environments. Further to this, an Islamist infiltration within the CAR will occur in the absence of any significant on-the-ground support. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the majority of the CAR’s Muslim population has fled to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Those left behind have found refuge in ad hoc refugee camps dotted across the country. As such, local intelligence networks, upon which militant groups rely on, would be minimal to non-existent within the CAR. Although the possibility exists that Seleka rebels could assist jihadist fighters in their operations, such co-operation is by no means guaranteed. It is true that Seleka is mainly comprised of Muslim fighters, primarily emanating from Chad and Sudan; however, the group was never motivated or united by religion. Instead, the majority of rebel combatants coalesced under the motley Seleka rebel coalition due to individual motivations, which ranged from grievances against the Bozize regime to the mere economic reward of pillaging civilian populations. With the majority of such motivations already fulfilled, there is little evidence to suggest that Seleka’s assistance to jihadists groups is assured or even likely.

At first glance, the CAR appears to have all the conditions desirable for Islamist infiltration. The collapse of security and governance structures in the vast and sparsely populated country could serve as the ideal environment for Islamist extremists to hide or even establish an operational presence. In addition, jihadist groups would likely consider it their religious duty to avenge the hundreds of CAR Muslims killed by their Christian counterparts. However, on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that sustaining any armed campaign within the CAR will be subject to significant, if not insurmountable, challenges. Nonetheless, threats issued by Islamist groups such as Boko Haram should not be dismissed. Instead, they should serve to exemplify just how far the CAR conflict has spiraled out of control and how urgent the need is to find a lasting solution to the crisis. With international and regional troops already struggling to contain disorganised bands of machete-wielding militias, the risk of highly-trained and conflict-hardened terrorist groups gaining a foothold in CAR is one that simply cannot be taken.

Article by Ryan Cummings, follow him @Pol_Sec_Analyst

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DRC: Katanga Province – A crisis in the shadows


Insurrection and political instability have long been features of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s southern Katanga province. The region was established as a breakaway state from the former Belgium colony in 1960 and, since its reintroduction into modern-day DRC in 1977, has witnessed recurring separatist movements. However, it is the apparent staying power of rebel group Bakata Katanga, which is of growing concern in the short-to-medium term security outlook for the province. To date, rebel activity within Katanga has resulted in the internal displacement of approximately 400,000 people, creating an ensuing humanitarian crisis which could potentially spiral out of control.

The secessionist threat: Assessing Bakata Katanga

Bakata Katanga advocates for the establishment of an autonomous Katanga state. At the core of the group’s rebellion is their assertion of unequal wealth distribution from the province’s highly profitable mineral exports. Despite the surrender of some 300 members of the group in Lubumbashi in March 2013, the separatist movement has maintained a significant operational capacity in the province. In recent months, remnants of Bakata Katanga have significantly increased their activity within the group’s primary area of operation between the Mitwaba, Manono and Pweto territories. Yet, in the absence of consolidated leadership, the group’s modus operandi remains focused on pillaging local villages and the targeting of artisanal mine locations. These attacks prove more convenient and conducive to their current operations, given the group’s highly mobile nature and absent political mouthpiece.

However, given the province’s economic importance and that the distribution of remunerations from the mining industry remains a key grievance for the group, the growing secessionist threat has raised concerns within the commercial mining sector. While Bakata Katanga has not demonstrated the desire, or the operational capacity, to target commercial mining facilities in the region, growing political divisions within the province may serve to foster the group’s activities. Although not assessed to possess the necessary capabilities to infiltrate mining compounds, the group has the potential to disrupt export operations along transit routes, should the overall security environment in Katanga deteriorate.

Political tensions: A contributing factor

Despite President Joseph Kabila’s personal ties to Katanga, his political support in the province is waning. With impending elections in 2016 and a historically engrained secessionist sentiment within the province, political dealings in Katanga will be paramount to the security environment in the country. At the forefront is the planned decentralisation of power, largely facilitated by the proposed division of Katanga into four separate provinces. While dividing the province will facilitate local government on a practical level, such ‘governance by substitution’ relies heavily on local leaders’ commitment to the central authority. However, the Kabila administration’s capacity to extend beyond Kinshasa, located some 1,500km away, is already questioned. With internal weaknesses, including limited resources and corruption, maintaining the required ties is likely to become increasingly difficult.

In addition, the move to sub-divide Katanga has the potential to cement already present rifts between the resource-rich south and poorer northern areas. With Bakata Katanga already receiving much of its support from the northern territories, such developments may facilitate the capacity for the group to consolidate itself as a goal-orientated organisation through political backing.

Future outlook

It is already evident that both the Kabila administration and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) have recognised their negligence of Katanga. On 24 January, MONUSCO released a statement confirming its concern over the impending crisis in the province. Both the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and MONUSCO’s integration brigade are likely to emphasize Katanga on their strategic agendas. However, with conflict still ongoing in North Kivu and sporadic hostilities reported in Orientale province, FARDC and MONUSCO are becoming increasingly strained. In Katanga province, it may indeed be a case of too little too late. The foundations for sustained insecurity in the province have been laid, and with the Kabila administration and counterparts in Katanga becoming increasingly restless ahead of the elections, Katanga province remains delicately placed on a knife’s edge.

Article by Gabrielle Reid – Follow her @Reid_on_Africa

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What does the number 12,399 mean for South Africa’s 2014 Election?

South Africa’s protest culture in numbers

Service-delivery protest


Crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in September 2013 showed that between April 2012 and March 2013, police responded to 12,399 incidents of public unrest. ‘Public unrest’ in these instances was described as, but not limited to, marches, demonstrations and rallies not sanctioned by police or municipal authorities. Of the 12,399 incidents recorded, 10,517 were regarded as ‘peaceful’, meaning that 1,882 of the recorded incidents were defined as violent ‘public-order policing incidents’; in 2009, statistics put that figure at 1,014. This represents an increase of 85% when comparing 2008/2009’s figures to those of 2012/2013. When divided by all 365 days of the calendar year, this means that police responded to 5 reports of violent public unrest and disturbances to public order every single day in South Africa. Although the number of reported incidents of this nature has grown in the face of widening inequality, persistently high unemployment figures, tensions between workers and employers, and lackluster economic growth (all factors that should worry any government as valid threats to long-term public order and crime levels), it is the phenomenon of ‘service delivery protests’ that has caught the attention of all sectors of society in the country.

South Africa has a long history of civil disobedience and mass action mobilisation being used by its most disadvantaged citizens to bring attention to their plight or message. Nonetheless, the increase of such action and particularly the ever-increasing threat of such events turning deadly is surely a cause for concern. The independent trend monitoring group, Municipal IQ, released a report compiled using information obtained from official police records; these records show that there were 107 protests specifically categorised as motivated by service delivery grievances between the years of 2004 and 2008. However, between March 2009 and August 2013, there were 584 such protests recorded. This represents a more than 500% increase in these incidents between the two time periods. Furthermore, this sharp increase has also highlighted the SAPS’s seeming inability to manage outbreaks of physical violence and damage to property, as an ever-increasing number of citizens have been killed by direct or indirect police action during said protests. As political tensions increase ahead of scheduled general elections in the first half of 2014, so does a growing sense of dissatisfaction among sectors of the population most reliant on basic government services, such as the provision of electricity, water, housing, sanitation and other public infrastructure. In essence, this represents a growing tension between the people and their government, and local officials in particular, ahead of polls. This could impact on the security situation across parts of the country more heavily than any tensions between political parties and their supporters.


In recent weeks, the nature of police engagement with citizens in a number of service delivery protests has been characterised by a high number of injuries and deaths. Although urbanised areas of Gauteng province have been particularly affected by protest action, it should be noted that service delivery demonstrations can and have taken place in a large number of areas across the country both recently and in the past. After several continuous days of protest action between 12 January and 21 January 2014 four people were confirmed dead;  the protest involved residents of the outlying Mothotlung and Damonsville settlements, outside of the town of Brits in the North West province, blockading roads with stones and burning tyres. All four deaths were either a result of police firing rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse crowds, or police action in attempts to arrest protesters for public violence. The above-mentioned protests were motivated by a chronic lack of water supply in the suburbs, caused by failing or damaged infrastructure. In addition to these deaths, at least one other person was killed and 15 others arrested on 30 January at the Durban Deep informal settlement, west of Johannesburg, during a protest; two people were killed when residents of the Relela informal settlement in Tzaneen, Limpopo province, marched on 28 January to the local satellite police station to protest against high crime levels and police inefficiency in the area.  Including the above-mentioned deaths, it is estimated at least nine people have been killed during clashes with police at various demonstrations around the country. With service delivery protests and concomitant police action during these typically violent and chaotic protests becoming a daily phenomenon, precedence shows that this number is likely to increase in the coming months.


On 13 April, 2011 over 4,000 residents of the town of Ficksburg, in the Free State province, convened to hold a protest over a wide range of issues related to growing dissatisfaction with the provision of public services in the area. Tensions quickly reached boiling point; as police rushed to disperse crowds and arrest protesters they saw as instigators of violence, an unarmed protester named Andries Tatane was shot twice in the chest at close range as he resisted arrest when faced by several police officers. His death sparked outrage and questions over the SAPS’s Standing Order 262 from 2004 – which demands that police use minimum force, and prohibits the use of sharp ammunition for crowd management operations – having been violated numerous times during protests in recent years. The death of Tatane has been the catalyst for the questioning of police training and resultant behavior during service delivery protests which have the propensity to turn violent with very little or no notice. Unfortunately as the most recent incidents indicate, very few or inadequate measures have been taken to realistically affect changes in the methods which police choose to approach ‘public-order policing incidents’.


SA ballot-boxMillions of South African citizens are registered to vote in the country’s upcoming elections in 2014; millions of these individuals also live below the UN poverty index of $1.25 a day, many of whom also reside in the areas hardest hit by poor service delivery and the resultant protests. Not only is an escalation in political campaigning centred around these issues very likely, but an escalation in citizens’ robust disapproval where these services are lacking is also a given. Another factor is the growing hostility towards police action in response to protests; some demonstrations begin as service delivery orientated, and quickly turn into criticisms and anger at deaths caused by police action. Indeed, in a bid to prevent such incidents, police have become more likely to reduce the number of protests applied for in highly populated areas such as Cape Town and Johannesburg’s city centres in a bid to prevent the potential outbreak of violence. Unfortunately, this will not prove as effective in the lower-income areas surrounding these and other cities. In these areas, the vast majority of demonstrations focused solely on service delivery grievances and less on political party campaigning.

A solution to this issue is not simple nor can it be undertaken with significant success in the period remaining before elections. Either the delivery of public goods and services will have to improve rapidly in areas where it barely existed before, or police officers across South Africa’s most economically vulnerable areas will have to undergo intensive training to significantly review current methods of crowd control while at the same time policing those protests that are likely to occur in coming weeks. Essentially, this is what will characterise the 2014 general elections when they are remembered in the years following 2014.

Article by Ziyanda Stuurman, follower her @ZiyandaS_

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