Unfortunately little has changed in Mali as we reach the 5th
year anniversary of the Toureg revolt in the north of the country,
leading to a subsequent take-over by Islamic rebels, which in
turn led to the counter attack and occupation by France in 2012,
before handing control over to the UN mission which is still
The IED attacks against the UN mission, and attacks against
the Mali army as reported in the last newsletter not only are
continuing, but are more frequent: there are also ongoing intercommunal
and inter-rebel group conflicts. The Mali government has little
authority in the north, and development has continued to stagnate.
The conflict has even extended to the west near the border with
Mauritania with a significant attack in August on a military
base outside the normal conflict area, and another on Timbuctoo
in October, and another near Gossi. Then In November, Ansar
Dine, an Islamic rebel group raided a prison in Banamba, near
Bamako, and freed 21 prisoners, some of whom were presumably
Ansar Dine members. Other attacks have taken place in the north
with monotonous regularity with more frequent attacks outside
the normal conflict areas.
In the capital Bamako there have been unrests with reported
street protests, and at one point the government instituted
social media controls. In Kidal there was a peace march in August:
but the conflict continued in the north regardless.
A new rebel group has reportedly emerged associated allied with
the ‘Islamic State’ movement in addition to the
existing groups of Ansar Dine, and AQIM/MUJAO. The new group
is led by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi (possibly indicating his
origin) and this group is called ISIS. Its base is not clear,
and could either be in Burkina or Mali
Realistically, under the current circumstances of continued
unrest the current UN mission is unlikely to be able to be withdrawn
from the north for many years. Relief web reports that despite
some returnees, there are still some 60,000 Mali refugees in
Niger and 41,000 in Mauritania, and 32000 in Burkina. It also
reports that refugee deaths are rising after a drop in 2015.
Captain Amadou Sanogo, the leader of the Putsch which took over
the country in 2012 is to go on trial in Bamako at the end of
November. In the ICC at The Hague, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, was
sentenced to 9 years for his role in the destruction of the
mausoleums and libraries in Timbuctoo.
For the first time in many years a western hostage was taken
in Niger. An American NGO worker, Jeffery Woodke, reportedly
popular with the local people, was kidnapped in October in the
Niger town of Abalak and taken towards Mali, despite having
No proof of life has yet been delivered but a claim by AQIM/MUJAO
of responsibility has been reported. Interestingly another NGO
group with a large escort was nearby in Niger at that time but
left shortly thereafter by air.
On November 25th the 5th anniversary of the abduction of the
South African Stephen Malcolm McGowan and the Swede Johan Gustafsson
passed. But there is some news. The group ‘Gift of the
Givers’ reported that they had been in negotiations for
these hostages for over a year, and the AQIM branch had demanded
5m$ for each hostage, but their governments had, not unsurprisingly,
declined. However, there was apparently some progress. These
two hostages are reportedly still being held in Mali.
There is no news about Beatrice Stockly since a proof of life
video was issued in June; and also no news about the Burkina
Faso hostage, Kenneth Elliot. But some hostages taken in Libya
during the period were quickly released.
Meanwhile, at the end of November, the French yet again announced
that they had killed Moktar Bel Mokhtar of AQIM/MUJAO in southern
Libya. I have lost count of the number of times his death has
been announced. There was also a report at the same time that
one of his wives had been arrested near Tripoli.
Despite the hostage taking, Niger by comparison to Mali, is
still a haven of stability. There are still no reports of any
significant rebel actions within Niger but a new rebel group
announced itself, namely the Movement for Justice and rehabilitation
of the Niger (MJRN), headed up by one Adam Tcheke Koudigan.
Koudigan, an inhabitant of the Termit region near Bilma which
is populated by Toubou, is presented as the successor of Barka
Wardougou, another rebel Toubou leader who in the 1990s led
the rebel movement FARS. The conventional opinion is that this
group is not a serious threat.
But Niger is still suffering from regular incursions by Boko
Harem from Nigeria. Despite the military successes in Nigeria
and Tchad the group still manages to launch occasional raids
into Niger mostly in the south east of the country. In one incident
in October the government claimed it had inflicted some 100
casualties on the movement during an attack.
In other areas of Niger, an attack on a military base at Banibangou
near the Mali frontier in November killed five Niger soldiers:
another 22 were killed in October in an attack on a refugee
camp near Tahoua. It is presumed that both these attacks both
originated from Mali.
In October, the prison at Koutoukal which holds several important
captured jihadist leaders, was also attacked but the attack
was pushed back by security forces. The prison is located
only about fifty kilometres from the capital Niamey. This attack
was prior to the similar attack on a prison in Mali.
In August there were rains in Niger which caused flooding and
killed at least 50 people and made some 100,000 homeless. These
rains even reached Agades. Rift valley fever was reported in
November causing some 2 deaths. And in an ‘intertribal’
conflict near Tahoua, it was reported that some 18 people were
killed and 50 wounded in a bizarre incident between agriculturalists
In Niamey in August the Grand Marche was closed and demolished
by the government. It was allowed to reopen two days later.
In September seven supports of the en-prisoned former leader
Hama Amadou were released.
On the anti-terrorism front, the US announced that it was to
construct a drone base in Agades at a cost of 50M$. Given that
the annual income per head is about 500$ (figures vary) this
is an amazing sum. The French are reported to be doing the same
at Dirkou (but why? they have base at Madama) and even the Germans
are planning to set up a support facility at Niamey.
Refugees passing through Niger to Libya
In November the Economist magazine published an article about
the migrant flow from Africa and the Middle East, including
a small section on the migrant/refugee traffic flow through
Interestingly the main points in this section almost exactly
followed the short summary I provided in the last newsletter.
(Perhaps the Economist editor reads the 153 newsletter?). It
also referenced a recent book: ‘Migrant-Refugee-Smuggler-Saviour’
by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano: this book includes a chapter
on Niger and the migrant and drug trade through Agades, and
describes it in detail.
This book contains much useful information, but I am sure that
the desert professionals of our club will not agree with some
of the statements made about desert travel in Niger.
The book claims that the town of Agades is now quite prosperous
as a result of this desert trade: more so than when it handled
tourists. This is in line with some other reports and specifically
with the article in Newsletter NL-145 written by Henrietta Butler
(pp.7-11.) Agades (and Niamey) have seen periods of prosperity
before: will this outlast the migrant ‘trade’? This
trade surely cannot continue indefinitely.
The book does however point out that until the migrants cross
into Libya many of migrant’s travels within Niger are
in fact quite legal due to the high percentage of such migrants
coming from Niger itself and surrounding country nationals,
who have a visa free travel regime within Niger.
Henrietta also points out that ‘point-voyages’ have
resumed flights: Paris-Agades But after the abduction of Jeffery
Woodke, it will be interesting to see how it prospers.
Tchad has had yet another quiet period, compared to Mali.
There are no significant reports of rebel activity in any of
the north, south, or eastern zones. But in the west operations
against Boko Harem continued, and recently with more success.
In November they claimed to have received no less than 1000
deserters, after smaller military successes in October.
Notwithstanding these successes, raids by Boko Harem from Nigeria
still occasionally occurred during the period, but were significantly
reduced in scale, and there have been no reported suicide attacks
in the capital N’Djamena.
There has been one reported IED attack: but this could have
been by drug smugglers. The Tchad army continues to be active
in the north Lake Tchad area and reportedly occasionally participates
in operations in Niger.
The Tchad President, Idriss Deby was sworn in again for a fifth
mandate in August, despite protests and strikes in the capital
and elsewhere, which took place despite a government ban. These
strikes and demonstrations continued sporadically throughout
the period. Amnesty has taken up the issue of some soldiers
arrested by the government during the elections.
In the east of Tchad, an Australian company, Iron Ridge Resources
Limited, started work on some gold mining prospects, based on
several permits issued by the Tchad government.
In the far north of Tchad, near the Tibesti Mountains, no major
incidents were reported during this period. Interestingly, Deby
made a visit to Germany during this period where the Tchad frontier
with Libya was discussed, and later received a visit in Niamey
from Khalifa Haftar, one of the leaders in Libya.
Relief web reports some 384,000 refugees and 109,000 locally
displaced persons still in Tchad. The reduction due to the military
successes against Boko Harem are not known.
The oil industry in Tchad continues to be its main source of
revenue: but as in many other African states the revenues are
significantly reduced due to low price of oil world-wide.
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