Refugees at sea: Surviving one of the deadliest routes to Europe

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U.S. strikes in Somalia kill 150 Shabab fighters

The New York Times reports: The fighters had just completed “training for a large-scale attack” against American and African Union forces, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Pentagon officials would not say how they knew that the Shabab fighters killed on Saturday were training for an attack on United States and African Union forces, but the militant group is believed to be under heavy American surveillance.

The Shabab fighters were standing in formation at a facility the Pentagon called Camp Raso, 120 miles north of Mogadishu, when the American warplanes struck on Saturday, officials said, acting on information gleaned from intelligence sources in the area and from American spy planes. One intelligence agency assessed that the toll might have been higher had the strike happened earlier in the ceremony. Apparently, some fighters were filtering away from the event when the bombing began.

The strike was another escalation in what has become the latest battleground in the Obama administration’s war against terror: Africa. The United States and its allies are focused on combating the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and American officials estimate that with an influx of men from Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya have swelled to as many as 6,500 fighters, allowing the group to capture a 150-mile stretch of coastline over the past year.

The arrival of the Islamic State in Libya has sparked fears that the group’s reach could spread to other North African countries, and the United States is increasingly trying to prevent that. American forces are now helping to combat Al Qaeda in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad; and the Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, in what has become a multifront war against militant Islam in Africa. [Continue reading…]

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The world’s most cutting-edge renewable tech is powering rural Africa

Quartz reports: Distributed power — where electricity is generated locally, instead of delivered via complex grid infrastructure — makes lots of sense for Africa. About 600 million Africans don’t have electricity. But sunlight is a widely available resource across most of the continent, making distributed solar power one of the more sensible options for electrification.

Plenty of companies see the potential. This has made parts of Africa a testing ground for cutting-edge solar power. Some countries are developing a whole new type of infrastructure not seen elsewhere in the world: mobile-phone-led, flexible, and controlled by the user rather than big utilities and government.

“We are now seeing the first innovation where the leading technologies are actually being deployed in Africa, not being deployed in the mainstream West,” said Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies. Azuri is based in Cambridge, UK, and installs rent-to-buy solar systems for homes in Tanzania and several other sub-Saharan states. Power from the panels are paid for by mobile phone or scratchcard. The payments also serve as installments towards owning the system outright. After about 18 months the homeowner has typically paid off the cost of the panels, or can buy them for a very small sum (say, $5). [Continue reading…]

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Why Burkina Faso is a choice target as al-Qaeda bids to reclaim stolen thunder

By Berny Sèbe, University of Birmingham

The latest terror attack in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, on Friday 15 January, announced the bloody entry of an al-Qaeda franchise into a country that had so far been spared the traumas of radical Islamism.

At first glance, this looks like the spillover from a wider conflict with militant Islamists across North and West Africa – but the attacks have as much to do with Burkina Faso itself as with global jihadist movements and their goals.

Nestled just underneath Mali and Niger in West Africa, Burkina Faso is still in the midst of a democratic transition which began in 2014 with the ousting of its president of 27 years, Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré was a towering regional figure: having orchestrated the assassination of his predecessor Thomas Sankara in 1987, he changed course and made his country a staunch ally of the West.

As abductions by militant groups in the region steadily mounted from the early 2000s onwards, he became a go-to negotiator whenever Western powers tried to free hostages held in the Sahara. Ouagadougou became a natural base for negotiations and regional dealmaking, whilst at the same time remaining a crucial logistical base for the French army.

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Burkina Faso attack demonstrates al Qaeda revival in Africa

CNN reports: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, often seen as a fractured and undisciplined group, apparently has carried out its second major terror attack in two months — claiming more than 20 lives in the assault on a luxury hotel and two other targets in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

The gun attack on the Splendid Hotel bears many similarities to that on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, on November 20 in which 22 people were killed.

Both targets were popular with Westerners and international (especially U.N). officials; they were “soft,” rather than military installations or police stations. The attackers (two in Bamako, possibly four in Ouagadougou) were armed with automatic weapons, their aim to kill and then take as many hostages as possible.

And both operations apparently were carried out by an AQIM group called Al Mourabitoun.

The group’s statement after the latest attack claimed the Splendid Hotel was “frequented by staff of the nations of global disbelief;” the attack was “to punish the cross-worshippers for their crimes against our people in Central Africa, Mali, and other lands of the Muslims.” [Continue reading…]

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Mokhtar Belmokhtar, ‘The Uncatchable’ desert jihadist

AFP reports: Wily one-eyed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whose jihadists have claimed the attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso, shot to global notoriety with a spectacular assault on an Algerian gas field in 2013, but had long been known as “The Uncatchable”.

Washington has offered a $5 million (4.7 million euros) bounty for the 43-year-old, born and bred in the Algerian desert, and of all the jihadist leaders in the Sahel region straddling the southern Sahara, it is Belmokhtar who is most wanted.

He was behind the 2013 attack on the In Amenas natural gas complex in the remote south of his homeland, in which 39 hostages and 29 Islamists were killed.

And his Al-Murabitoun group, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, also claimed responsibility for the jihadist siege at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako that left 20 dead in November, including 14 foreigners. [Continue reading…]

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Jihadists deepen collaboration in North Africa

The New York Times reports: A group of light armored vehicles skated over the moonscape of the Sahara, part of one of the largest detachments the French military has deployed here since colonial times. Its mission is growing ever more urgent: to cut smuggling routes used by jihadists who have turned this inhospitable terrain into a sprawling security challenge for African and international forces alike.

Many of the extremist groups are affiliates of Al Qaeda, which has had roots in North Africa since the 1990s. With the recent introduction of Islamic State franchises, the jihadist push has been marked by increasing, sometimes heated, competition.

But, analysts and military officials say, there is also deepening collaboration among groups using modern communications and a sophisticated system of roving trainers to share military tactics, media strategies and ways of transferring money.

Their threat has grown as Libya — with its ungoverned spaces, oil, ports, and proximity to Europe and the Middle East — becomes a budding hub of operations for both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to reach deeper into Africa.

And as Africa’s jihadists come under the wing of distant and more powerful patrons, officials fear that they are extending their reach and stitching together their ambitions, turning once-local actors into pan-national threats. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS owns headlines, but Nigeria’s Boko Haram kills more than ever

NBC News reports: One terror group killed nearly 11,000 people in 2015 — and it wasn’t ISIS.

While the Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq dominated the headlines in 2015, Boko Haram was killing more people than ever — potentially eclipsing the tally of its partner in terror.

Nigeria’s new government pledged to oust Boko Haram and has boasted of successfully retaking territory from the extremists, but experts warn this might merely have forced the group to change tactics and possibly prompted a higher civilian casualty toll. [Continue reading…]

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Muslims protect Christians during ambush

BBC News reports: A group of Kenyan Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Islamist gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, according to eyewitnesses.

They told the militants “to kill them together or leave them alone”, a local governor told Kenyan media.

At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border.
The Somali based al-Shabab group is the main suspect for the attack. [Continue reading…]

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The global surge in terrorism

The Atlantic reports: The grisly attacks in France and Lebanon last week have fixed attention on the violence perpetrated by ISIS. But a study published this week indicates that the world’s deadliest terrorist organization actually operates thousands of miles south of Paris and Beirut, in Nigeria.

The 2015 Global Terrorism Index, published by the Institute for Economics & Peace, found that Boko Haram, the Nigerian jihadist group, was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, compared with 6,073 at the hands of ISIS. Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 as an Islamist movement against Western education and morphed into an armed insurgency in 2009, has rapidly expanded its scope and ambitions over the past two years, achieving international notoriety in the spring of 2014 by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. Much like ISIS, the organization controls territory in Nigeria (although it has lost some of it over the past year) and has declared a caliphate in that territory. The group is also international; although based in northeastern Nigeria, it has launched attacks in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the latest incident, Boko Haram is the suspected author of an attack in the Nigerian city of Yola that has left more than 30 people dead. [Continue reading…]

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The African lion: What faster decline of apex predator means for ecosystems

By Matt Hayward, Bangor University

There is nothing as awe-inspiring as watching the brutal power of a lion capturing its prey. At close range, their throaty roars thump through your body, raising a cold sweat triggered by the fear of what these animals are capable of doing now, and what they once did to our ancestors. They are the most majestic animals left on our planet, and yet we are currently faced with the very real possibility that they will be functionally extinct within our lifetime.

In fact, lion populations throughout much of Africa are heading towards extinction more rapidly than previously thought, according to new research by Oxford biologist Hans Bauer and colleagues, published in PNAS. The team looked at 47 sites with credible and repeated lion surveys since 1990, and found they were declining everywhere in Africa aside from four countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

West and Central African lion populations have a 67% chance of halving in size in just two decades, and East African populations a 37% chance. Almost all large lion populations that once exceeded 500 individuals outside of southern Africa are declining. These declines in Africa’s apex predator occur at the same time that the continent’s mega-herbivores are also plummeting.

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The long march into Europe

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Migration is the topic of almost every conversation in the cafés of Baghdad and Damascus – in towns large and small across Syria and Iraq and beyond – along with the pros and cons of social aid given to migrants in different countries. The best routes are common knowledge, and information on new developments and up-to-date advice spreads quickly on social media, via Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook. These days all you need to reach Europe are a couple of thousand dollars and a smartphone. It’s a significant change from the late 1990s, when – in Iraq at least – UN sanctions combined with the conditions of Saddam’s dictatorship meant it was barely possible to get by, existence depending on government handouts and meagre state salaries. Few had the money to reach Europe. Tens of thousands left Iraq but most languished in dull Amman in Jordan. Most people I knew wanted to leave, and most failed – for lack of funds, will or simple luck.

I was one of those who failed. I had finished my degree in architecture and was desperate to continue my studies in Vienna or Beirut, or at least to get a half-decent job in Amman or Dubai. I was a military deserter, so I had no hope of obtaining a passport: my only way out of Iraq was by procuring fake documents or finding a smuggler. I tried for three years. I spent nearly $3000 – then a fortune – on fees to smugglers. I was lied to, betrayed, and conned out of money I had borrowed. For nine months I lived with my bags packed, ready to go, and every night I made a call to the smuggler, who kept lying and saying that the next day was the day. Eventually, I gave up and unpacked my bags and waited another five years.

For decades, the paths that led out of war, destruction and poverty into the safety of life in Europe was a closely guarded secret, the property of smugglers and mafias who controlled the routes and had a monopoly on the necessary knowledge. They conducted their illicit trade out of dingy cafés in the back streets of Aksaray in Istanbul and – for the lucky few who reached Greece – the district of Omonia in Athens, where those who had got that far were handed on from one network to another, to be lied to and manipulated again. After all, they had no choice but to hand over their cash in exchange for a promise and a hope.

This year everything changed. [Continue reading…]

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Libya: In militia-run camps, refugees are treated like animals

Watch “Libya’s Migrant Trade: Europe or Die (Full Length)” here.

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U.S. military opens a new front in the hunt for African warlord Joseph Kony

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Special Operations forces have opened a new front in their hunt for the African warlord Joseph Kony, moving closer to his suspected hideout in a lawless enclave straddling Sudan and South Sudan, according to military officials and others familiar with the operation.

As their mission stretches into a fifth year, however, U.S. troops have turned to some unsavory partners to help find Kony’s trail. Working from a new bush camp in the Central African Republic, U.S. forces have begun working closely with Islamist rebels — known as the Seleka — who toppled the central government two years ago and triggered a still-raging sectarian war.

The Pentagon has not previously disclosed its intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation with the Seleka. The arrangement has made some U.S. troops uncomfortable. [Continue reading…]

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Human migration will be a defining issue of this century. How best to cope?

Alexander Betts writes: Throughout the crisis, a debate has been on whether it is a “migrant” or a “refugee” crisis. It has been important for the public to understand that most people coming to Europe have been from refugee-producing countries and that “refugees” have a particular set of rights under international law. Furthermore, people have a right to seek asylum, and have their claims to refugee status adjudicated.

However, the stark dichotomy between “refugee” and “economic migrant” masks a growing trend: that many people coming fall between those two extremes.

The modern global refugee regime was established at a particular juncture of history, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and at the start of the cold war. The 1951 convention on the status of refugees defines a refugee as someone fleeing “persecution”, based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, or political opinion. The interpretation of that definition has adapted over time. But at its core was the idea of protecting people whose own governments were either out to get them or unable to prevent persecution by others. Today, the sources of cross-border displacement are increasingly complex, and many fit poorly with the 1951 convention.

Environmental change, food insecurity, and generalised violence, for example, represent emerging sources of human displacement. In strong states, the government can usually provide some kind of remedy or resolution to people affected by these types of crisis. However, much less so in fragile states. People who fall outside the internationally recognised definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations might be called “survival migrants”.

In the contemporary world, a significant proportion of the people we attempt to describe as economic migrants fall into this category.

Survival migration has been an emerging challenge. Nearly a decade ago, Zimbabwean asylum seekers fleeing Robert Mugabe’s regime made up the largest group of asylum seekers in the world. Most British people would probably assume that at the height of the crisis between 2003 and 2009 the majority would have been refugees. However, in South Africa, to where the overwhelming proportion fled, only about 10% were recognised as refugees and up to 300,000 people a year were deported back to Zimbabwe. The reason for this was simple: they were not judged to fit the 1951 convention definition of a refugee. However, on ethical grounds, it was incontrovertibly cruel to deport people back to a country in a state of socio-economic and political collapse.

This example illustrates how current policy responses bypass engagement with long-term trends. The world as a whole lacks a vision for how to respond to the changing nature of displacement. So much of the current “crisis” is not a crisis of numbers but a crisis of politics. We need bold leadership that correctly and honestly articulates the causes of movement and outlines global solutions. [Continue reading…]

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