I would like to present some good news
Unfortunately this is not possible. The north of the country
is effectively still in state of war with almost regular incidents
or conflicts between the various government and rebel forces
about once every two weeks.
These incidents are of varied types. These include inter rebel
group conflicts, attacks on the Mali army, and attacks on the
UN forces, which include some French forces still on site some
five years after they drove the Islamic rebels groups out of
part of the north. Some are by local secular groups, others
are backed by Islamic rebel groups. Needless to say this has
restricted economic development in the north of the country
and thus providing more cause for future revolts.
Previously these incidents had been constrained mainly to the
area north of Timbuctoo. But increasingly incidents are now
occurring in middle Mali as the region of conflict and instability
In January there was the most violent and deadly attack in Mali
for many years when an attack by Islamic groups on a compound
in Gao, caused some 77 or more casualties at a French/UN base.
This level of casualties has not been seen since the early French
intervention. AQIM claimed in a statement that the group’s
‘Murabitoun’ battalion, executed the attack. Their
claim said that this was the work of a suicide bomber, identified
as Abdul Hadi al Fulani.
In March after some years of low level dispute between the various
Islamic rebel groups in the region, in mid period an agreement
between them was announced. Under this agreement Ag-Ghali's
Ansar Dine, the Massina Brigades, AQIM's al-Mourabitoun and
an offshoot of al Qaeda's north African wing, announced on March
2 that they had joined to form a new group called ‘Nusrat
al-Islam wal Muslimeen’.
One of these was the group responsible for the Gao attack, ‘Al
Murabitoun’, headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar whose death
in an aerial attack in Libya during the period has yet to be
confirmed. It should be noted that his death has been announced
several times in the past, only for it to be proved incorrect.
In addition there was a fresh outburst of western hostage taking
in Mali. This is covered in the section on hostages below.
As a consequence of the continued unrest, many of the refugees
who fled the conflict several years ago have not returned to
Mali as hoped, and indeed there are new refugees leaving the
country. The figures show 32,000 in Burkina Faso, 60,000 in
Niger and 48,000 in Mauritania. Fresh statistics on internally
displaced people were not available for this report.
Curiously, in late December, there was a dispute between the
Mali government and the French when the latter attempted to
return by air a number of Malian citizens without proper documentation
from Paris, and their entry was refused at Bamako by Mali. (Given
the amount of the annual subsidies to Mali from France this
was an odd response.)
There was a related incident at the Mali embassy in Paris, which
was occupied by local Malians over some form of documentation
delays. The press reports give varying reasons for this odd
As usual, Niger is much quieter than
Mali. It has no indigenous rebel groups active, but there are
‘states of emergency’ on both the frontier areas
near to Mali, and down by lake Tchad: the latter as a result
of Boko Harem, who are still attacking occasionally into Niger
despite their military setbacks in Nigeria.
In this area in the south east a drought is also causing a lack
of students at schools as their families move in search of better
conditions. The state of emergency in this area is also reported
to be hindering trade.
Economically Niger’s long term prospects are reduced due
to the continued drop in the price of Uranium. It dropped to
only 18$ in this period, from a peak of $60 in 2012. At one
time, many years ago, it was well over 100$.
But in a curious announcement Niger announced that it planned
to provide its future electricity needs by nuclear power. This,
in a country with one of the lowest GNPs per head in the world,
Even more remarkable was the announced prospect of selling gasoline
from the Niger refinery in the south east of the country to
Nigeria (a major oil exporter!) who are having logistics difficulties
transporting it up to the far north of their country, just south
Politically, in the capital Niamey there are still occasional
protests against the government. Some supporters of Hama Amadou,
(an opposition candidate in the last election) imprisoned around
the last election have been released but Hama Amadou himself,
is still in jail in Filingué on charges relating to child
No new western hostages were taken in Niger. The first tourist
flight to Agades in about five years proved not to be such a
success due to restrictions on travel outside of the city. The
American Drone base is reported to be well established. There
was an accident (not conflict related) which led to the death
of one American soldier in Niger.
Niger continues to have many refugees on its territory: 60,000
from Mali and some 50,000 (fresh statistics not available) from
the Lake Tchad region.
The migrant traffic through Agades to Libya was reported to
have dropped significantly in recent months leading to a reversal
of the activity in the town reported in the last newsletter.
This was claimed to be due to a successful EU policy on migration
and military activity by the Niger government.
Other sources dispute this reduction and claim that the figures
are suspect and point out that the migrants may well have simply
avoided Agades, and used other routes (but which?). Recent migration
statistics were not available for this report.
Tchad had another quiet period. There
was yet another government reshuffle, and the parliamentary
elections were postponed by the president, leaving the current
deputies in place, apparently partly for economic reasons.
The Tchad economy is clearly suffering from the long term drop
in the price of oil and the cost of maintaining its military.
This has led to a reduction in civil servants salaries and also
in student grants.
There have been occasional strikes in the capital N’Djamena
throughout the period complaining about the economic situation
and the government actions.
Up in the far north, to the north of the Tibesti Mountains,
a new rebel Toubou group has emerged: ‘FACT’.
Nominally based in Libya it claims a base in Tchad itself. This
group’s activities were partly the cause of an announced
closure of the frontier with Libya by the Tchad government.
Interestingly Khalifa Haftar a military leader in Libya, met
with the Tchad president Deby mid period shortly before a claimed
air attack on this group within Libya, and a claim that they
were allied with ISIS: both claims disputed by the rebel group.
Later in the period the northern frontiers was partially re-opened
after a closure in the last period, but the only assigned crossing
point was Wour on the west of the Tibesti Mountains and not
in the north near Bardaia and Aouzou, where the rebel group
is active, and the same location at which the transmission of
drugs and weapons into and out of Libya was reported be widespread.
There has been another gold find in Tchad. This time in the
Batha region south east of the capital. There is no news about
any new activity in the gold mines in the north of the Tibesti
Mountains, (nor for that matter about the gold fields in Niger).
The south of the country, near the Central African Republic,
has seen several small incidents from an overspill of the conflict
in that country. There have also been occasional Boko Harem
raids into Tchad from a reduced but undefeated Boko Harem near
A French hostage was also taken in Tchad. The first such kidnapping
in Tchad for many years, it took place in eastern Tchad near
the Sudan border. This may have been a commercially motivated
kidnaping (See Hostage section below)
The French military base in Tchad is still active and France
has announced the opening soon of a new base in Niger. The American
joint military exercises, ‘Flintlock 2017’ took
place as planned in March and was kicked off in Tchad and incorporates
participation by many states, Including Niger and Mali.
The refugee situation in Tchad is still bad with at last 75,000
Refugees in the south, 300,000 in the east, and 100,000 refugees
and IDPs near Lake Tchad as a result of the Boko Haram attacks.
Statistics from the north are not available.
Interestingly some local gas/petrol stations in Tchad are reported
to be selling fuel smuggled in from Cameroun rather than the
product from the local refinery at Djarmaya, and the Tchad government
is trying to shut these stations down and force them to sell
Very little positive news.
There is no news on Stephen McGowan from South Africa and Johan
Gustafson from Sweden both taken in Timbuctoo in 2011 who now
have been held for over five years and are believed to be held
in Northern Mali.
Similarly there is no news on the American Jeffery Woodke taken
in the last period from central Niger apart from an odd report
linking his capture to a conflict between two drug smugglers.
There is also no news on the Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly
taken a second time as a hostage last year in Mali. Nor of Ken
Elliott taken in Burkina Faso, also last year.
There were three new western hostages: a French woman kidnapped
in Gao Sophie Pétronin, a nun kidnapped in central Mali
(Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez), and a Frenchman whose
name was not released in time for this report, taken in eastern
Tchad and reported to be now held in the Sudan.
This last kidnapping had clear commercial motives as the Frenchman
was reported to be carrying a significant payroll for the workers
of a mining company.
Have you yourself
travelled in North West Africa? Then you should be interested
in joining us. Join. See Newsletter
for details of our all colour Newsletter issued three times
a year to members. We have been going since 1978.