China’s Initiates Push To Establish a Military Base in Gabon

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has become a core component of China’s promoting its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).


“[Transitional President of Gabon] Nguema’s regime may not be transparent and may allow China to establish a permanent [naval] presence in Gabon.”


Gabon has become a key nation for China to expand its political, economic and, increasingly, military influence in Africa. Not only has China become Gabon’s primary trading partner, the two countries also upgraded their relations to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership when their foreign ministers met in Beijing last October.[i] Questions remain about whether China will develop naval bases or station troops in Gabon under Gabon’s new leadership, which came to power two months before the foreign ministers’ landmark meeting.

On 13 February, the Taiwanese newspaper Shijie Ribao, published the excerpted article on Bejing’s efforts to station troops in Gabon under the country’s former president, Ali Bongo. Had President Bongo not been overthrown by his own presidential guard in August 2023, China may have already been on the path to meeting that goal.[ii] Gabon could, therefore, have become the first country to provide China access to sought-after Atlantic Ocean naval bases.[iii]

The article also claims that although President Bongo’s successor, General Brice Oligui Nguema, states he will not allow any Chinese bases in Gabon, he may eventually prove unable or unwilling to resist Chinese pressure. Gabon is a uniquely oil-rich country, which, in addition to its strategic location, could make it more attractive for China to assert its influence beyond its geopolitical position. China has already built base and port infrastructure in East Africa, such as its naval base in Djibouti. However, stationing troops in West Africa has remained elusive. Should a Chinese naval base be built in Gabon, it would represent a victory for China’s global Belt and Road Initiative.[iv]


Sources:

“美中非洲角力 传北京拟于加蓬驻军未果 (U.S.-China rivalry over Africa: Beijing plans to station troops in Gabon but fails),” worldjournal.com (Largest Chinese-language newspaper in the U.S, which is moderately critical of the Chinese Communist Party), 13 February 2024. https://www.worldjournal.com/wj/story/121480/7767824?zh-cn

Bongo, the former president of Gabon, revealed he promised Beijing to station its troops [in Gabon], but Bongo was later overthrown by his own presidential guard.

According to the Chinese government, Chinese companies have constructed around 100 commercial ports in Africa since 2000, from Mauritania on the western end of Africa to Kenya on the Indian Ocean coast. But there is currently only one African port that has been built as a permanent base that can dock Chinese ships and troops. This was built by the People’s Liberation Army in Djibouti seven years ago. Aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines can dock at this Chinese base.Even though Nguema states that he understands the U.S.’s concerns, senior U.S. officials also expressed concerns that Nguema’s regime may not be transparent and may allow China to establish a permanent presence in Gabon.


Notes:

[i] Fmprc.gov.cn, “Wang Yi Meets with Gabonese Foreign Minister Hermann Immongault,” October 7, 2023, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202307/t20230725_11117519.html#:~:text=In%20April%20this%20year%2C%20President,the%20development%20of%20bilateral%20relations.

[ii] The overthrow of Ali Bongo on 30 August 2023 was related to the overthrow only five weeks earlier of Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum by his own military entourage. Ali Bongo had been officially declared the winner of Gabon’s presidential election for his third term in office. However, a group of military officers, who were influenced by the events in Niger and were displeased with Ali Bongo’s attempt to continue his tenure as Gabon’s leader, announced his removal from office, arrested him, and suspended the constitution. Besides Niger, Guinea (September 2021), Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Burkina Faso (January 2022) had also underwent coups before Gabon’s, which made attempting a coup in Gabon more palatable in the region, and especially among other post-coup countries. See “Question Time: Situation in west and central Africa in the light of the recent coups d’état,” European Parliament, Plenary—September 2023. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2023/751465/EPRS_ATA(2023)751465_EN.pdf

[iii] On Beijing’s plans to establish a naval base in Gabon, see North Africa Post, “Ousted Ali Bongo nodded to establishment of Chinese military base despite concerns of France, U.S.A.,” September 8, 2023, https://northafricapost.com/71098-ousted-ali-bongo-nodded-to-establishment-of-chinese-military-base-despite-concerns-of-france-u-s-a.html

[iv] For more information on the BRI’s previous expansion, see Les Grau, “China Belt and Road Initiative Test on Trans-Eurasian Rail,” OE Watch, September 2020. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/360893


Image Information:

Image: The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has become a core component of China’s promoting its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Source: Stephen Wallihttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forum_on_China-Africa_Cooperation.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Sudanese Leader Sees Rwandan Model for Post-Conflict Sudan

RSF-fighters-cross-Hantoub-bridge-after-the-withdrawal-of-the-Sudanese-forces-on-December-18-2023


“The war our country is experiencing today must be the last war.”


On 6 January, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) (a paramilitary force formerly overseen by the Government of Sudan which has since defected), known as “Hemedti,” wrote the excerpted post in Arabic language on X (formerly Twitter) about his trip to Rwanda to meet President Kagame, and visit the Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali. Hemedti’s remarks about the trip framed his own objectives in Sudan as mirroring those he perceives Kagame has achieved in Rwanda. Hemedti stated that Rwandans faced their problems after their civil war and genocide with courage and found radical solutions, such as gacaca,[i] which Hemedti compared to judiya,[ii] or traditional mediation, in Darfur, Sudan. It appears Hemedti is open to an elder council in Sudan that would oversee conflict resolution in the country but, the council would ensure Hemedti’s paramilitary faction retaining power over the rival Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).[iii]

Hemedti was initially seen as the underdog in the conflict with the SAF, Sudan’s officially recognized Army. However, his fighters’ brutal guerilla warfare tactics, honed when they operated as the notorious janjaweed in Darfur in the 2000s, have outmaneuvered the more conventional SAF. Moreover, Hemedti’s and his fighters’ humble beginnings—at least until they began monopolizing gold and other resource-rich mines in Darfur—may have endeared them to sectors of the embattled Sudanese population, which views the SAF as hopelessly corrupt and elitist and a continuation of the now-defunct Islamist regimes of previous decades. Hemedti added during his visit to Kigala that the ongoing Sudanese civil war must be the country’s “last war” and the experiences of other countries, particularly Rwanda, where Kagame has remained in power since the end of the Rwandan civil war, could inform Sudan’s own next steps. Hemedti’s remarks come as the Arabic-language website of the British newspaper, The Independent, published the second excerpted article about the SAF’s rejection of an invitation to attend the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s East African Summit in Uganda, which would involve mediation between the SAF and RSF. The article notes the RSF would be negotiating with the SAF from a position of strength having continuously seized territory in Sudan. This may be why Hemedti has been touring Rwanda, among other East African nations, in anticipation of the RSF’s taking control of more parts of Sudan. Further, Hemedti is seemingly planning a Rwandan-style post-conflict transitional justice system in Sudan that, like with Rwanda’s Kagame, would see Hemedti remain in power for years to come.[iv]


Sources:

 “زرت اليوم المتحف التذكاري للإبادة الجماعية بالعاصمة الرواندية كيجالي(Today I Visited the Genocide Memorial Museum in the Rwandan Capital, Kigali),” Twitter.com (@GeneralDagllo) (U.S social media website allowing users to freely post text, images, and videos known as “tweets”), 6 January 2024. https://twitter.com/GeneralDagllo/status/1743703088676897259

Today I visited the Genocide Memorial Museum in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. It is one of the most important landmarks in human history, because it witnessed a period of suffering and tragedy…. The Rwandans themselves faced their problems with courage and found radical solutions through the experience of gacaca, which is similar to judiya in Sudan. This system established the principles of transitional justice in society, realized the idea of no impunity, and changed history from division to unity.

We, Sudanese, must learn from Rwanda. The war our country is experience today must be the last war, and we must work to create a fair and sustainable peace for ourselves and for the future for our coming generations. 


“السودان يعلق وساطة “إيغاد” وسط احتدام المعارك” (Sudan suspends IGAD mediation amid increasing battles),” independentarabia.com (Arabic-language website jointly administered by Media Arabia, and The Independent, which focuses on social and humanitarian evens in the Middle East) 16 January 2024. https://www.independentarabia.com/node/538051/%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%8A%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%82-%D9%88%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B7%D8%A9-%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%BA%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D9%88%D8%B3%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%AA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%83

The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Sudan has suspended its dealings with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) of East African Countries, which has mediated the months-long fighting between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). IGAD offered to mediate between the army commanders and the RSF.


Notes:

[i] “Gacaca” courts played a role in transitional justice in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide and were known for being community-based and for providing lighter sentences to perpetrators who showed remorse and repentance and sought reintegration into their communities.

[ii] “Judiya” has been the main mechanism for traditional mediation, reconciliation and justice in Darfur, Sudan, where “al-Jaweed,” or respected elders and traditional leaders, engage in third-party mediation with the approval of conflict actors. Although it is yet to be fully established in Darfur, advocates remain optimistic that it could bring a new sense of “humanitarian diplomacy” to that region, see: Yasir Elfatih Abdelrahim Elsanousi, “Traditional Judiya Leaders in Sudan as Actors of Humanitarian Diplomacy: Are They Eligible to Fulfill These Roles in the Darfur Humanitarian Crisis?,” Journal of African Studies and Development, Vol 3 (2), July 2017. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329100692_Traditional_Judiya_Leaders_in_Sudan_as_Actors_of_Humanitarian_Diplomacy_Are_They_Eligible_to_Fulfill_These_Roles_in_the_Darfur_Humanitarian_Crisis

[iii] In Sudan, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), which are led by General Abd al-Fatah al-Burhan, are in conflict with Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitaries, which are led by “Hemedti.” When al-Burhan became the Sudanese leader after long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in 2019, he failed to rein in and incorporate Hemedti’s RSF into the SAF. This ultimately resulted in a power struggle when, in April 2023, al-Burhan called the RSF a “rebel” movement and formally dissolved it. The two military factions have been at war since then and have received backing from external powers, but as of early 2024, the RSF has the upper hand in the fighting. See: Andrew McGregor, “Gold, Arms, and Islam: Understanding the Conflict in Sudan,” Terrorism Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 9 April 2023. https://jamestown.org/program/gold-arms-and-islam-understanding-the-conflict-in-sudan/

[iv] Besides Rwanda, Hemedti has also met with leaders in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Djibouti since the start of the war with the SAF in April 2023.


Image Information:

Image: RSF-fighters-cross-Hantoub-bridge-after-the-withdrawal-of-the-Sudanese-forces-on-December-18-2023
Source: The Sudan Tribune,https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RSF-fighters-cross-Hantoub-bridge-after-the-withdrawal-of-the-Sudanese-forces-on-December-18-2023.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0

China Claims Philippine Navy Seeks External Intervention in South China Sea

Philippine Coast Guard


“China has firmly gained actual control of Second Thomas Shoal and its adjacent waters, but China and the Philippines are in a stalemate.”


On 5 January, an anonymous Chinese analyst published the accompanying excerpted Chinese-language article analyzing the ongoing clashes in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines. The article contends that Philippine warships were illegally resting on the Second Thomas Shoal.[i]. The author claims the Philippines was attempting to send repair materials to those ships, escalating tensions with China. Further, the tensions provided excuses for external forces (specifically the United States and Japan) to intervene on the Philippine side. The author also suggests that the Philippine strategy was to benefit from foreign assistance to establish full control of the Second Thomas Shoal. The author’s outlook mimics the Chinese government’s official position. To that end, the author asserts that China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea, to include the Second Thomas Shoal.[ii] While the author acknowledges that China and the Philippines are in a stalemate over control of the shoal, the author claims the Philippines will also try to provoke China into an action that would undermine its legitimate claims to the shoal. The author claims the Philippine strategy began with the new Marcos administration, which took office in June 2022.[iii] China contends the Philippine government should have removed the broken ships from the shoal instead of trying to repair them. In conclusion, the author insists that dialogue is the best way to manage differences in the South China Sea. However, as the author sees it, there appears to be little prospect for a resolution through dialogue due to the Marcos administration’s provocations.


Sources:

“非法“坐滩”军舰即将解体,菲律宾又想了个馊主意 (The illegal “beach-sitting” warships will soon be ruined, and the Philippines has another bad idea),” sohu.com (Beijing-based internet company providing information on diverse aspects of contemporary Chinese affairs), 5 January 2024. https://www.sohu.com/a/748698907_137871#google_vignette

In the past year, the Philippines has frequently provoked troubles in the South China Sea, and China has decisively counterattacked. In the end, the Philippines failed to obtain any benefits. However, the Philippines will obviously not surrender because its warships illegally on the Second Thomas Shoal beachside are about to be ruined. This is among the main reasons why the Philippines desperately breaks into the Second Thomas Shoal to transport repair materials. In addition, the Philippines intends to escalate tensions in the South China Sea and create excuses for external forces such as the United States and Japan to interfere in the situation in the South China Sea.


Notes:

[i] The Second Thomas Shoal is an atoll in the Spratly Island chain and has been a flashpoint between China and the Philippines, among their other broader disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippines has deployed marines to a broken down navy ship, which was grounded on the shoal in 1999 while attempting to protect Philippine maritime claims. In 2013, China began to increase its presence near the shoal to weaken the Philippines’ control of it. China also claims that former Philippines president, Joseph Estrada (1998-2001), had promised to remove the Philippine Navy ship, but the current Marcos government denies this. “China-Philippines Tensions in the South China Sea,” Congressional Research Service, In Focus, 13 December 2023. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12550/2

[ii] For additional information on the China-Philippines dispute over the Second Thomas Shoal, see: Dodge Billingsley, “China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship in Spratly Islands,” OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/china-and-philippines-spar-over-grounded-ship-in-spratly-islands/

[iii] In 2020 and 2021, the Duterte administration began to express concerns about Chinese island reclamation in the South China Sea. Since coming to power in 2022, geopolitical factors have moved the Marcos administration even closer to the United States and farther from China. One reason for this is China’s increasing efforts to terraform islands in the South China Sea, which enables China to assert a greater territorial presence in the sea. Another reason is that the Chinese “fishing militia” has amassed at Whitsun Reef, which demonstrates China’s intent to seize it from Philippine control. Alvina Cambria, “From Aquino to Marcos: political survival and Philippine foreign policy towards China,” China, Journal of Contemporary East Asia Studies, 6 November 2023. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24761028.2023.2281165


Image Information:

Image: A Chinese Coast Guard ship allegedly obstructs the Philippine Coast Guard vessel Malabrigo as it provided support during a Philippine Navy operation near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, 30 June 2023.
Source: Philippine Coast Guard, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:June_30,_2023_PCG_CCG_encounter_1.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Hungary Deepens Bilateral Ties With Chad

Trigger time at Flintlock 20, USAFRICOM from Stuttgart, Germany.


“Prime Minister Viktor Orban has decided to deploy a military contingent to Chad for two years before March 2024 to assist the country economically, prevent illegal immigration, and help combat terrorism.”


In recent years, France, the historical European power in West Africa, has been withdrawing from the region, while Russia has been reasserting its military and political influence.[i] Additionally, Hungary, a country with a foreign policy more aligned with Russia than other European Union (EU) countries, has begun expanding its footprint in West Africa. As the excerpted French-language article in the Chadian news website alwihdainfo.com notes, Hungary has signed military, educational, health, agricultural, and energy memoranda of understanding with Chad. Both countries have expressed the desire to strengthen their bilateral ties.

A French-language article on the website of Radio France Internationale, provides additional details, reporting that Hungary intends to send between 200 and 400 soldiers to Chad to focus on stopping migration, countering terrorism, and providing humanitarian assistance. The article also notes that with instability surrounding Chad, the country has become a refugee hub. This is why Hungary is setting up a permanent base in the country and why Hungary’s foreign minister stated his country was determined not to let Chad collapse.

The article acknowledged the domestic policy motivations for Hungary, which, like Russia, has become antagonistic to the EU, despite Hungary being a member-state.[ii] Further, according to the article, Hungarian media has promoted the story that the EU plans to establish “migrant ghettos” in Hungary. This represents an effort to sway Hungarian public opinion for foreign policy measures to stop migration, such as the new measures in Chad. It also appears Hungary is aligning its foreign policy in Africa with Russia’s. Russia is over-extended in Africa because of its Ukraine operations and can only deploy a few thousand former Wagner fighters to Africa, seemingly in the context of the Africa Corps. However, in countries where former Wagner troops are not operational, Hungary can step in and support juntas or other authoritarian regimes, such as Chad, which is seeing diminishing Western support. The emerging “coup belt” countries in West Africa will be empowered and less likely to restore civilian rule like the juntas had originally promised now that Russia and seemingly Hungary are backing them.


Sources:

“Coopération: Le Tchad et la Hongrie renforcent leur coopération dans plusieurs domaines (Cooperation: Chad and Hungary strengthen their cooperation in several domains),” alwihdainfo.com (Privately owned French-language Chadian website noted for being critical of the government), 8 December 2023. alwihdainfo.com/Cooperation-Le-Tchad-et-la-Hongrie-renforcent-leur-cooperation-dans-plusieurs-domaines_a128541.html

During a joint press conference, the two diplomats highlighted the advantages and objectives of the agreements, emphasizing their importance in strengthening the new and strengthened cooperation while respecting the interests of each country…. They expressed their confidence in strengthening ties between Chad and Hungary, and stressed that the bilateral cooperation will benefit both peoples and contribute to regional stability. According to Ndjamena, the agreements signed on December 7, 2023 create a pathway for productive collaboration between Chad and Hungary and offere new opportunities for economic growth, social development, and scientific progress.


“La Hongrie compte envoyer des militaires au Tchad pour lutter contre «les migrations» (Hungary plans to send soldiers to Chad to fight against “migration),” rfi.fr (French state-owned radio news website reporting on international affairs), 19 November 2023. rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20231118-la-hongrie-compte-envoyer-des-militaires-au-tchad-pour-lutter-contre-les-migrations

As Budapest is strongly opposed to the European refugee acceptance policy, it continues to claim that it is necessary to “support the management of problems where they begin and not transfer them to Europe”, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has decided to deploy a military contingent to Chad for two years before March 2024 to assist the country economically, prevent illegal immigration, and help combat terrorism. Instead of welcoming refugees to Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government prefers to support the African people there. Hungary will send between 200 and 400 soldiers to Chad. The government continues to generate fear of migration in the run-up to the 2024 European elections. The Hungarian Post began sending a government questionnaire to all Hungarians, which was published on the Internet. It has questions such as “Brussels wants to install migrant ghettos in Hungary. Do you agree ?” which is a totally false statement.


Notes:

[i] The French withdrawal from West Africa was a major trend in 2023. The year concluded with the French Embassy in Niger announcing that it was ending its diplomatic presence in the country. France also withdrew its 4,500-troop Operation Barkhane force from Mali in August 2022 and withdrew its troops from Burkina Faso in February 2023. These events have all occurred after coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in May 2021, January 2022, and July 2023, respectively, which France and the West denounced. Russia, in contrast, has backed the post-coup military regimes. For more on Burkina Faso’s role as a bellwether of Russian and France in West Africa, see Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso: A Bellwether on Russian and French Presence,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2022/burkina-faso-a-bellwether-on-russian-and-french-presence/

[ii] Since Viktor Orbán became Prime Minister in 2010, Hungary has passed several illiberal legislative bills, with strict anti-migrant legislation as a core policy. Hungary also has embraced the authoritarian leaders in Russia and China and helped to deepen their political and economic influence throughout Central Europe. Although little existing research has discussed Hungary coordinating or aligning its foreign policy with that of Russia, Hungary’s cultivating security ties specifically with Chad—whose authoritarian leader since 2021, Mahamat Déby, succeeded his father, who ruled for three decades—notably comes at a time when Russia is supporting other military-authoritarian regimes in West Africa as well, which border Chad, including in Sudan, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali, and Niger. For an assessment of Russian influence on Hungary, see Dr. Péter Krekó, “ING2 Committee Hearing on Russian interference in the EU: the distinct cases of Hungary and Spain,” European Parliament, 27 October 2022. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/256493/OJ%20item%204_peter_kreko_ing2_hearing_20221027_speaking_points.pdf.


Image Information:

Image: Trigger time at Flintlock 20, USAFRICOM from Stuttgart, Germany.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trigger_time_at_Flintlock_20_(50111204252).jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Russia’s “Africa Corps” Set To Replace Wagner in Niger

Russian mercenaries provide security for convoy with president of the Central African Republic


“The future Russian Army “Africa corps” is presented by certain Telegram channels as intended to replace Wagner.”


Russia’s Wagner Group became heavily involved in Africa in the years before the death of its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in an airplane crash in August 2023. The mercenary fighter company deployed its troops primarily to West African countries where France was the security guarantor but had become ostracized by military juntas and authoritarian regimes, such as in Mali, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, and Sudan.[i] Wagner, in turn, became a key means for Russia to exert influence on the leadership of those countries, which often resulted in Russia being granted special concessions, such as access to resources. However, the Wagner brand name has fallen out of favor with the Kremlin for African operations following Prigozhin’s rebellion against Russian leadership. Yet, the benefit for Russia of having mercenary military formations in Africa still exists. As a result, Russia may replace Wagner with a new, but similarly purposed, “Africa Corps.”

The excerpted French-language article on the website of Radio France Internationale highlighted the visit in December 2023 of Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Evkourov (often spelled Yevkurov) to Niger, where the two countries agreed to strengthen military cooperation.[ii] The was significant because it was the first time a Russian delegation visited Niger since the 2023 coup and demonstrated Russia’s endorsement of Niger’s new military junta, whereas Western countries criticized the coup. Additionally, only one month after the coup, the new junta in Niger requested from Russia Wagner’s protection of the junta from internal and external threats, including a potential military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (See Jason Warner, “West African States Split On Potential Intervention In Niger,” OE Watch, Issue # 08, 2023, https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/west-african-states-split-on-potential-intervention-in-niger/).  Evkourov’s visit solidifies the new partnership between Russia and Niger, with Wagner—or the new “Africa Corps”— as the vehicle for Russian influence. The article noted that, based on an analysis of Telegram social media channels, “Africa Corps,” like Wagner, would welcome mercenaries. Indeed, the offer of a relatively high salary, health insurance with free medical care, and life insurance, all under the supervision of Evkourov, would motivate mercenaries to join. Such inducements attract, in particular, Russian Army veterans whose professional skill set and sense of adventure is otherwise not compatible with civilian life. Further, the article indicates Russian military intelligence and businessmen close to Vladimir Putin support “Africa Corps.” The similarities between Wagner and “Africa Corps” strongly suggest the latter is a continuation of the former under different branding.


Sources:

“Russie: Moscou prépare un «corps militaire africain» pour prendre la suite de Wagner (Russia: Moscow is preparing an “African military corps” to replace Wagner),” Radio France Internationale, (French state-owned radio news website reporting on international affairs), 5 December 2023. rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20231205-russie-moscou-prépare-un-corps-militaire-africain-pour-prendre-la-suite-de-wagner

A Russian delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Defense is in Niamey. This is the first official visit by a member of the Russian government to this country since the July 26 coup which broke diplomatic relations between Niger and its international partners. The delegation led by the Russian Deputy Minister of Defense, Colonel-General Younous-bek Bamatguireevich Evkourov, was received by the head of the Nigerien military regime, General Abdourahamane Tiani. At the end of the meeting, the parties continued “to sign documents to strengthen military cooperation between the Republic of Niger and the Russian FederationThe future Russian Army “African corps” is presented by certain Telegram channels as intended to replace Wagner. Former mercenaries would be welcome. The conditions include a high salary of nearly 3,000 euros, free medical care, and life and health insurance, all under the supervision of Deputy Defense Minister Yunous-bek Bamatguireevich Evkourov. Other sources suggest that the unit receives direct patronage from Russian military intelligence, under the leadership of a businessman close to the president… This last scenario would be very similar to that applied to Wagner


Notes:

[i] In the final week of December 2023, the last remaining 1,500 French troops withdrew from Niger. In addition, Niger previously vowed to stop selling minerals to France and removed diplomatic immunity from the French Ambassador to Niger, who departed the country in August. With the closure of the French Embassy in Niamey on 31 December 2023, the 127 years of a French diplomatic presence in Niger came to an end. This followed a similar French withdrawal from Burkina Faso earlier in 2023 and from Mali in 2022. For additional details, see Morgane Le Cam, “France completes troop withdrawal from Niger, closes embassy,” lemonde.fr, 22 December 2023. lemonde.fr/en/le-monde-africa/article/2023/12/22/france-completes-troop-withdrawal-from-niger-closes-embassy_6367061_124.html

[ii] Evkourov is an interesting choice to lead Africa Corps because he was close to Yevgeny Prigozhin but remained loyal to the Russian Defense Ministry during Prigozhin’s mutiny. Evkourov played a mediating role during the mutiny. When Prigozhin’s Wagner forces entered Rostov and seized the city center, Evkourov received Prigozhin hospitably and defused tensions. However, after Prigozhin’s death, Evkourov led a delegation to Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, and other countries where Wagner operated and told Wagner forces that the Defense Ministry would take over the leadership of Wagner.


Image Information:

Image: Russian mercenaries provide security for convoy with president of the Central African Republic
Source: Clément Di Roma/VOA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussiansecurityBangui.png
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Malian Coup Leader Faces Challenges Reconquering Kidal

MINUSMA Goundam 2015


“I am sending planes to bomb their positions and the army will return to Kidal….”


Over the past half-decade, Malian insurgents, and especially the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for Supporters of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), have expanded their influence across northern Mali and have begun to control key towns in that region, such as the primarily Tuareg-inhabited Kidal. However, according to the excerpted article from the French-language publication togotimes.com, interim president of Mali, Assimi Goïta, has vowed to reconquer Kidal. While the Malian Army may be more powerful than JNIM, the reconquest and government rule of Kidal raises questions about heavy-handed tactics the Malian Army will employ and whether the Army will cooperate with Russia’s Wagner Group,[i] which has aided it in counterterrorism for the past year.[ii]

At the same time, Goïta is rejecting any negotiations with the Coalition of the Movement of Azawad (CMA), [iii] which seeks autonomy for Tuareg regions of northern Mali. Unlike JNIM, which is explicitly jihadist and unwilling to compromise with the state, the CMA accepts Mali’s legitimacy as a nation-state. In his speech, Goïta stated he would send the Army to liberate any area of the country that disassociates from being “Malian,” which hinted at little room for accommodation of the “Tuareg” CMA. Goïta’s threats to send warplanes to bomb Kidal alongside his partnership with Wagner suggest that an excessively harsh military operation may be underway and that it could alienate civilians in northern Mali from government rule and ultimately favor recruitment into JNIM or the CMA.

Less than two weeks after Goïta’s speech, discussed in the excerpted article in French-language media agenceecofin.com, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) withdrew from its base in Aguelhok, Kidal region following demands from Goïta and other Malian coup leaders.[iv] However, Goïta condemned MINUSMA for its accelerated exit from Aguelhok due to intensified combat with JNIM and not transferring the base or weapons to the Malian Army. Rather, MINUSMA destroyed them so they would not fall into the hands of JNIM, which ultimately took over the Aguelhok base for a short period of time.[v] The rapid MINUSMA withdrawal and JNIM advances in its aftermath will make Goïta’s realization of his promise to reconquer and hold Kidal more difficult, even as his political credibility rests on it. On top of this, cooperation with Wagner could result in the alienation of northern Malian civilians from the government. Further, the chasm between Goïta and the CMA make any political resolution in northern Mali less likely as well.


Sources:

“Ce message important d’Assimi Goïta au CMA, le JNIM et leurs llies (This important message from Assimi Goïta to the CMA, JNIM and their allies),” togotimes.com (French-language publication edited in Togo that provides commentary on current affairs in Francophone African countries), 10 October 2023. https://togotimes.info/2023/10/10/mali-ce-message-important-dassimi-goita-au-cma-le-jnim-et-leurs-allies/#google_vignette

The reconquering of Malian territory will not be a subject to discussion. Regarding this point, the latest transitional president Assimi Goïta is categorical. There is no question of him accepting a compromise with anyone. He refused the elders of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, who were sent by the CMA, JNIM, and their allies to negotiate. 

“We must dissolve any entity from one state or another and dissociate ourselves from any movement. You have to accept being Malian…. I am sending planes to bomb their positions and the army will return to Kidal before the 30th and if MINUSMA gets involved, the Malian people will decide their fate.”

“Bamako accuse la Minusma d’avoir précipité son retrait du camp d’Aguelhok sans le rétrocéder (Bamako accuses MINUSMA of expediting its withdrawal from the Aguelhok camp without handing it over),” agenceecofin.com (French-language publication based in Geneva, Switzerland and Yaounde, Cameroon that focuses on African economic affairs), 26 October 2023. https://www.agenceecofin.com/securite/2610-113102-mali-bamako-accuse-la-minusma-d-avoir-precipite-son-retrait-du-camp-daguelhok-sans-le-retroceder

The Malian army condemned in a press release released on Tuesday afternoon, October 24, the withdrawal of MINUSMA from the Aguelhok camp without handing it over. According to the FAMA, this rapid departure aided the introduction of “terrorists to destroy several installations,” the message added. The areas abandoned by MINUSMA have, for several months, been at the center of violent clashes between the FAMA and armed rebel groups in the north of the country…. But faced with intensifying fighting, the UN mission decided to accelerate its exit from the area, and condemned in the process the destruction of some of its equipment in attacks.


Notes:

[i] For additional details on Russia’s deepening engagement with Mali and neighboring Sahelian states, see Jason Warner, “Russia-Supported Military Rulers in Mali, Burkina, and Guinea Continue To Deepen Ties,” OE Watch, 04-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/russia-supported-military-rulers-in-mali-burkina-faso-and-guinea-continue-to-deepen-ties/

[ii] Human Rights Watch, for example, found that “Malian armed forces and foreign fighters apparently from the Russia-linked Wagner Group have summarily executed and forcibly disappeared several dozen civilians in Mali’s central region since December 2022…. They also destroyed and looted civilian property and allegedly tortured detainees in an army camp. See Human Rights Watch, “Mali: New Atrocities by Malian Army, Apparent Wagner Fighters,” July 24, 2023, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/07/24/mali-new-atrocities-malian-army-apparent-wagner-fighters

[iii] The CMA is signed the Algiers Peace Accords in June 2015, which sought “to restore peace in Mali principally through a process of decentralisation or regionalisation, reconstituting a national army from the members of the former armed groups that were signatories, and boosting the economy (particularly in the north), based on dialogue, justice and national reconciliation.” The coalition is composed of the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA), the Haut Conseil pour l’Unité de l’Azawad (HCUA), and part of the Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad (MAA-CMA), which were all formerly pro-independence movements in northern Mali. However, the CMA has remained an umbrella organization for northern Mali Tuareg militias. See International Crisis Group, “Mali’s Algiers Peace Agreement, Five Years On: An Uneasy Calm,” June 24, 2020. https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/sahel/mali/laccord-dalger-cinq-ans-apres-un-calme-precaire-dont-il-ne-faut-pas-se-satisfaire

[iv] The latest era of pervasive instability in Mali began in 2012, when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) led an attack on Aguelhok and subsequently other northern Malian towns. Several weeks later, in March 2012, one of the future JNIM coalition components, Ansar al-Din, released a video of its fighters massacring dozens of Malian soldiers at the Aguelhok base. After this, Ansar al-Din and other al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) allies took control over most of northern Mali. This led to the military overthrow of the civilian government in Bamako and later, in early 2013, the French-led military intervention in northern Mali. The intervention expelled Ansar al-Din, AQIM, and their allies – at least temporarily – from the territories they held in northern Mali, including Aguelhok. See: Alexander Thurston and Andrew Lebovich, “A Handbook on Mali’s 2012-2013 Crisis,” Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA), Working Paper No. 13-001, 2 September 2013. https://sahelresearch.africa.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/170/ISITA-13-001-Thurston-Lebovich.pdf

[v] France24 journalist Wassim Nasr posted on X (formerly Twitter) the claim by JNIM of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a MINUSMA convoy as it was departing the Aguelhok base. According to JNIM “all of the occupants” of one vehicle were killed. This claim reflected how JNIM was prepared to immediately frustrate and take advantage of the MINUSMA withdrawal to seize the base and pilfer items from it before the Malian armed forces could arrive. Wassim Nasr, “#Mali #JNIM #AQMI revendique un IED contre un convoi @UN_MINUSMA à #Aguelhok « le 23.10 un véhicule détruit […] tous les occupants tués » // « le 24.10 un IED contre un blindé FAMa & #Wagner entre #Hombori et #Gossi […] tous les passagers tués »,” X (formerly Twitter), 25 October 2023. https://twitter.com/SimNasr/status/1717211647608021370


Image Information:

Image: MINUSMA Goundam 2015
Source: Attribution: MINUSMA
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MINUSMA_Goundam_2015.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Chinese Media Defends PLA Navy in Maritime Dispute With the Philippines

People’s Liberation Army (Navy) frigate PLA(N) Yueyang (FF 575) [R1] steams in formation with 42 other ships and submarines during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.


“The Chinese Coast Guard will continue to protect its rights and conduct law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction and strongly defend national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”


China has multiple maritime disputes with neighboring countries in the South China Sea, but tensions have risen primarily with the Philippines since September. Chinese media, however, has defended and downplayed China’s actions, while placing blame for the increased tensions on the Philippines and its “external” allies, such as the U.S. For example, on 28 September, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) website, huanqiu.mil, published the excerpted Chinese-language article, which acknowledges rising tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The article notes a Chinese Coast Guard ship intercepted a Philippine Naval ship that, according to the article, illegally entered the area around Scarborough Shoal, which the CCP refers to as Huangyan Island.[i] In addition, according to the article, a Philippine diver removed a “floating barrier” placed by China southeast of the shoal. However, the article did not mention that the barrier’s purpose was to prevent Philippine fishermen from fishing in those waters. The Philippines claims the shoal is within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) while China seeks to access its fishing waters and other natural resources, such as petroleum and gas.

The article claimed the international media reported that regular military exercises the Philippines announced it would hold with the United States, Japan, and other partner navies, were in response to the increased tensions. Yet, the article held the CCP line that rejects any role for countries from outside the South China Sea region in resolving local maritime territorial disputes or defending the claims of adjacent South China Sea countries.[ii] The article further portrayed the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) actions as legal and reasonable and the Philippine Navy’s actions as selfish and based on psychological manipulation or deceit (niēzào shìshí).

Two weeks after the article’s publication, the second excerpted Chinese-language article on the popular social media news website, qq.com suggested that China would only engage in naval conflict with the Philippines if all other options had been exhausted. Further, it claimed any such conflict would only please the United States. Both articles, therefore, portrayed China as defensive and the Philippines or its external allies’ actions as contributing to the rise of tensions. These tensions rose to the fore on 22 October when Chinese and Philippine naval ships clashed.[iii] After the clash, the Chinese media continued to justify the PLAN as being in the right and the Philippines and its backers as the aggressors.


Sources:

“菲律宾宣布将与美日等国举行军演,外媒借机炒作南海紧张局势 (The Philippines announced that with the United States, Japan and other countries it will hold military exercises, foreign media exaggerated tensions in the South China Sea),” Huanqui.Mil.com (Chinese Communist Party online news website presenting pro-government perspectives), 28 September 2023. https://mil.huanqiu.com/article/4EivRbNVa0W

The Philippine navy issued a statement that it would conduct annual military exercises with the United States and other countries south of Luzon in the Philippines. Reports suggested this action came at a time when tensions between the Philippines and China are rising due to disputes in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard intercepted a Philippine official ship that illegally entered Huangyan Island.

Previously, the Philippine Coast Guard claimed to have dismantled the “floating barrier” placed by China in the southeastern waters of Scarborough Shoal. This action led to a warning from the Chinese government and required the Philippines not to cause provocations and cause trouble.

The Chinese Coast Guard will continue to protect its rights and conduct law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction and strongly defend national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. In addition, China has asserted many times previously that the South China Sea is the common homeland for regional countries and should not become a hunting ground for external powers.


“美国盼着菲律宾与中国开战?中菲不会在南海发生冲突原因有四 (Is the United States looking forward to a war between the Philippines and China? There are four reasons why China and the Philippines will not conflict in the South China Sea.)” QQ.com (Chinese social media platform run by the Tencent technology company), 5 October 2023. https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20231005A07M3600

Will the Philippines conflict with China in the South China Sea? I believe that this is a topic that everyone is very concerned about…. My country’s Coast Guard took restrained and rational measures such as warnings and monitoring, but did not take action to remove the illegal beachside vessel from the Philippines that was stationed on Renai Reef. Therefore, China will not easily use force against the Philippines until the last minute.When the time comes, China will definitely seize the opportunity to teach the Philippines a lesson…. However, judging from the actual situation, it seems that we are not ready for a conflict with the Philippines. Therefore, China’s best choice at the moment is to exercise restraint and calm down and avoid conflict with the Philippines.


Notes:

[i] The Philippines asserts claims to Scarborough Shoal as well as around 50 other features in the Spratly Islands, which are known in the Philippines as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG). According to a Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) report, the evidence in favor of the Philippine claims compared to the Chinese claims “is hardly a legal ‘slam dunk,’ but the evidence supporting Philippine sovereignty appears stronger. The fact that [Scarborough Shoal] is 400 nautical miles closer to the Philippines than to China and well within the Philippine EEZ weighs in on this determination.” See: Mark E. Rosen, “A CNA Occasional Paper Philippine Claims in the South China Sea: A Legal Analysis,” August 2014. https://www.cna.org/archive/CNA_Files/pdf/iop-2014-u-008435.pdf

[ii] For more on China-Philippine tension in the South China Sea, see: Dodge Billingsley, “China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship In Spratly Islands, OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/china-and-philippines-spar-over-grounded-ship-in-spratly-islands/

[iii] On 22 October, a Philippines boat sending supplies to forces at the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands was disrupted by a Chinese “blocking maneuver,” which the Chinese Coast Guard claimed was a “slight collision” from a Chinese ship into a Philippine boat that was transporting “illegal construction materials” to a Philippine warship. See: Nikkei Asia, “China and Philippines trade accusations over latest clash at sea,” 22 October 2023,https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/South-China-Sea/China-and-Philippines-trade-accusations-over-latest-clash-at-sea. See also ANI News, “Deadly collision caught on cam! China coast guard hits Philippines supply boat in South China Sea,” 24 October 2023. youtube.com/watch?v=EDXzs7To7Xc


Image Information:

Image: People’s Liberation Army (Navy) frigate PLA(N) Yueyang (FF 575) [R1] steams in formation with 42 other ships and submarines during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.
Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:People%27s_Liberation_Army_(Navy)_frigate_PLA(N)_Yueyang_(FF_575)_steams_in_formation_with_42_other_ships_and_submarines_during_Rim_of_the_Pacific_(RIMPAC)_Exercise_2014.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Beyond Borno: Islamic State’s Expansion into Southern Nigeria (Jacob Zenn) (February 2024)

(Click image to download brief.)


  • Key Takeaways:
  • Although the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has historically been deeply
    rooted in northeastern Nigeria, recent patterns demonstrate that it is expanding operations
    to the more economically prosperous and majority Christian south.
  • The most plausible explanations for ISWAP’s move south are to “outbid” the rival Sunni
    Muslim Group for Preaching and Jihad (JASDJ); to follow Islamic State (IS) “core” directives
    to attract attention by attacking Christians and other high-profile targets; and to divert
    the Nigerian army’s attention from the north and relieve counterterrorism pressure near
    ISWAP’s main bases.
  • Beyond these heightened risks, ISWAP’s southern expansion threatens U.S. interests in
    Nigeria, Nigeria’s national security, and West African security more broadly

Côte d’Ivoire’s Stance On Military Interventions Prioritize Democratic Principles

Members of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center honor guard stand in formation during a welcoming ceremony for Ivory Coast Gen. Soumaila Bakayoko.


“If ECOWAS chooses a particular option to resolve the regional crisis, Côte d’Ivoire will follow this option in solidarity with other member states.”


On 29 September, the Turkish website of Anadolu News Agency published the excerpted French-language article on Côte d’Ivoire’s intention to comply with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if the organization military intervenes in Niger. The article notes that ECOWAS has threatened to intervene militarily in Niger to reinstall deposed president Mohamed Bazoum to power. A spokesperson for Côte d’Ivoire’s government confirmed that the country will not make any decision regarding Niger unilaterally but will respect the outcomes of ECOWAS member states’ debates.

The decision to follow ECOWAS into battle in Niger differs from Côte d’Ivoire’s announcement in November 2022 that it would withdraw its forces from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), despite MINUSMA’s continued counterinsurgency efforts against al-Qaeda and Islamic State-loyal militants. According to the excerpted French-language article in tvmonde5.com, Côte d’Ivoire’s withdrawal from MINUSMA came after Mali’s coup leaders alleged that Ivorian troops who entered Mali to operate with a German contingent were “mercenaries.”[i] Côte d’Ivoire’s commitment to ECOWAS and reduction in military support to MINUSMA can be interpreted as a reflection of how opposition parties have been permitted to participate in Ivorian politics and how other reforms have improved electoral competition since 2020.[ii] Côte d’Ivoire is willing to support military efforts to restore democratically elected civilian rulers, such as Bazoum, to power. However, the country is refraining from offering its troops for regional military efforts to support governments, such as in Mali, that refuse to return power to democratically elected leaders and that express allegiance towards Russia, including its proxy, Wagner Group.


Sources:

“L’option d’une intervention militaire de la Cédéao au Niger reste possible (The option of ECOWAS military intervention in Niger remains possible),” Anadolu News Agency (Turkish state-run news agency aligned with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), 29 September 2023. https://www.aa.com.tr/fr/afrique/loption-dune-intervention-militaire-de-la-c%C3%A9d%C3%A9ao-au-niger-reste-possible/3003520

The option of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Niger remains on the table and Côte d’Ivoire will comply with the decisions adopted collectively by the community “if ECOWAS decides on this option,” said Ivorian government spokesperson Amadou Coulibaly. The government spokesperson affirmed that Côte d’Ivoire is a member that respects its commitments in ECOWAS.

In Niger, members of the presidential guard took power on July 26, pushing aside President Mohamed Bazoum and announcing the suspension of the Constitution and the formation of a National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland. ECOWAS threatened to intervene militarily to enable Bazoum to regain power and considered this an option ready to be implemented alongside strict punitive measures.


“La Côte d’Ivoire va retirer progressivement ses soldats du Mali (Ivory Coast will withdraw its soldiers from Mali gradually),” tvmonde5.com (French public television broadcaster’s website focusing on worldwide affairs affecting France), 16 November 2022. https://information.tv5monde.com/afrique/la-cote-divoire-va-retirer-progressivement-ses-soldats-du-mali-1424754

Côte d’Ivoire indicates that the soldiers and other elements active within MINUSMA will not be relieved in August 2023.Relations between Côte d’Ivoire have become significantly strained in recent months, particularly after the arrest last July of 49 Ivorian soldiers in Bamako.


Notes:

[i] The bilateral dispute between Côte d’Ivoire and Mali reached a culmination in January 2023 when Côte d’Ivoire honored 49 soldiers after they were released from detention in Mali, where there were held for half a year, and returned home. Only weeks before their release from detention, a Bamako court had sentenced most of the Ivorian soldiers to 20 years in prison and others to death for being “mercenaries”. Although Ivorian soldiers had been invited to Mali by the German contingent of MINUSMA, the Malian coup leaders alleged the “Sahel Aviation Service (SAS),” which is a private company, transported the Ivorian soldiers. In contrast, the Wagner Group, which is affiliated to the Russian government, was welcomed into Mali by the Malian coup leaders. It is possible that the Ivorian and German governments’ criticism of the coup in Mali and lack of transition back to democracy underscored the Malian coup leaders’ initial actions to detains the Ivorian soldiers. See; “Mali detains Ivorian soldiers, accuses them of being mercenaries,” Rfi.fr, 12 July 2022. https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20220712-mali-detains-ivorian-soldiers-accuses-them-of-being-mercenaries

[ii] The U.S. State Department notes that since the Ivorian president’s election to a third term in 2020, the country’s democratic processes have been “generally considered free.” Similarly, the election monitoring group, New Dawn, assessed that the latest Ivorian local and regional elections in September 2023 “had gone smoothly.” Consistent with these democratic trends, Ivorian foreign policy has become increasingly aligned with ECOWAS and its member-states’ oppositions to military coups in West Africa. See; “2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cote d’Ivoire,” U.S. Department of State, 2023. https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/cote-divoire. See also; “Sweeping win for ruling party in Ivory Coast local and regional elections,” france24.com, 5 September 2023. https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20230904-sweeping-win-for-ruling-party-in-ivory-coast-local-and-regional-elections


Image Information:

Image: Members of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center honor guard stand in formation during a welcoming ceremony for Ivory Coast Gen. Soumaila Bakayoko.
Source: MSG Montigo White https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Members_of_the_Kofi_Annan_International_Peacekeeping_Training_Center_honor_guard_stand_in_formation_during_a_welcoming_ceremony_for_Ivory_Coast_Gen._Soumaila_Bakayoko%2C_the_Economic_Community_of_West_African_130626-A-ZZ999-016.jpg
Attribution: CC x 2.0


Indonesia Attempts To Calm Sentiments After Counterinsurgency Operation

A picture of Wamena, Papua, Indonesia, from 2019.


“The protest focused on the government, and in this case the security forces, for actions that the public considers immoral.”


Indonesia has been combatting separatist insurgents in its Papua region since 1965. While the long-running insurgency has ebbed and flowed, there has been a notable increase in tempo in the last five years.[i] The excerpted article from the Papua-based Indonesian-language media outlet Seputarpapua.com describes Indonesia’s calculus in attempting to win over the Papuan civilian population despite their opposition to certain counterinsurgency operations.

The article focuses on the 17 September arrests adjacent to a Papuan church of five suspected members of the Free Papua Organization (OPM), which the Indonesian government calls the “Armed Criminal Group” (KKB). Indonesian police justified the operation by claiming the suspects’ confessions and cellphone content strengthened the evidence of their affiliations and support to KKB. According to the article, the operation enflamed local sensitivities because the house was behind a church and the officers broke down the doors of the house and scuffled with the suspects.[ii] Following the arrests, local Papuans began protesting the perceived desecration of church grounds. The local police chief and the head of the operation responded to the public dissent by meeting with the regional secretary, the chairman of the People’s Representative Council of Papua, the families of the five suspects, and the neighbors of the house where the arrests occurred, explaining the legal process and providing justification for the arrests. In addition, as per the second excerpted article from the independent online Catholic news agency Union of Catholic Asian News, on 22 September, the police chief acknowledged that police engaged in violence and encouraged officers to maintain professionality to not provide any reasons for critics to use their actions to discredit the security forces. The response demonstrates Indonesian authorities’ determination to defuse controversy over the arrests to avoid losing the support of the local population.


Sources:

“Tangkap 5 Warga Sipil di Nduga, Polisi: Mereka Diduga Kuat Dukung KKB (Police Arrest 5 Civilians in Nduga: They Allegedly Strongly Support the KKB),” seputarpapua.com (Papua-based Indonesian-language media outlet claiming to provide the most current and accurate news from Papua), 18 September 2023. https://seputarpapua.com/view/tangkap-5-warga-sipil-di-nduga-polisi-mereka-diduga-kuat-dukung-kkb.html

Nduga Police Chief Commissioner Vinsensius Jimm, through the operational head, AKP Bayu Pratama Sudirno, confirmed the arrest of five civilians by personnel. The police suspect that the five civilians are KKB supporters in the area. “This is because of the perpetrators’ confessions regarding their participation [in KKB], which is supported by documentation such as photos on the confiscated cellphones,” stated the operational head in his written statement.

The arrests were made in one of the houses in the neighborhood behind the church. At the time of the arrest, there were attempts of resistance, such as locking the door from the inside to prevent the officers from entering, which resulted in a clash and attempts to push the officers when they were making the arrests…. The local community and congregation from several churches staged a protest. The protest focused on the government, and in this case the security forces, for actions that the public considers immoral.

Because of this, the Nduga police chief accompanied by the operational met directly with the Nduga regional secretary and the chairman of the DPRD to discuss the arrest process. [They] also met the families of the five individuals who were arrested as well as other residents at the house where the arrests were made.


“Indonesia police slammed for violent action inside church,ucanews.com (independent online Catholic news agency reporting on multiple Asian countries), 22 September 2023. https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesia-police-slammed-for-violent-action-inside-church/102685

The Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of Jayapura Diocese and Papua Bureau of Union of Churches in Indonesia joined the coalition in condemning the incident and demanding action against the police personnel involved in the incident. Papua Police Chief Mathius Fakhiri said the five people were arrested because they had links to an armed criminal group, a term used by the Indonesian government for those fighting for Papuan independence. Fakhiri though admitted there “had been acts of violence by the police” and said he “had admonished the local police chief to act professionally.”


Notes:

[i] Data collected by Amnesty International Indonesia showed that at least 179 civilians, 35 Indonesian soldiers and nine police officers, as well as 23 Papuan insurgents were killed in clashes between the insurgents and security forces between 2018 and 2022. In contrast, a fewer 95 people were killed in the eight previous years from 2010 to 2018. See abc.net.au, “West Papua Liberation Army fighters linked with kidnapped pilot Phillip Mark Mehrtens killed in clash,” 2 October 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-03/independence-fighters-killed-indonesia-papua-phillip-mehrtens/102927194. See also Amnesty, “Indonesia: Police and military unlawfully kill almost 100 people in Papua in eight years with near total impunity,” 2019. https://amnesty.org.nz/indonesia-police-and-military-unlawfully-kill-almost-100-people-papua-eight-years-near-total

[ii] Catholic and Protestant churches have long “played a leadership role through developing the ‘Papua Land of Peace’ campaign calling for dialogue, demilitarization and respect for human rights” in Papua. The churches also have been among the most critical and influential voices against Indonesian military activities in Papua and are seen as “representing the overwhelming majority of Papuan opinion.” Jason MacLeod, “The Struggle for Self-Determination in West Papua (1969-present),” International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, March 2011. https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/West-Papua-1.pdf


Image Information:

Image:  A picture of Wamena, Papua, Indonesia, from 2019.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wamena,_Papua,_Indonesia_2019_21.jpg
Attribution: Spasimir Pilev, CC x 2.0