Daily Archives: April 29, 2018

Islamic State Offshoot Stakes Lake Chad Territory

From the shores of Lake Chad, Islamic State’s West African ally is on a mission: winning over the local people.

Digging wells, giving out seeds and fertilizer and providing safe pasture for herders are among the inducements offered by Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), which split from Nigeria’s Boko Haram in 2016.

If you are a herder, driver or trader, they won’t touch you � just follow their rules and regulations governing the territory, said a herder, who moves cattle in and out of ISWA territory and whose identity Reuters is withholding for his safety. They don’t touch civilians, just security personnel.

The campaign, which has created an economy for ISWA to tax, is part of the armed insurgent group’s push to control territory in northeastern Nigeria and in Niger.

Territory stretches 100 miles

ISWA stretches farther and is more entrenched than officials have acknowledged, according to witnesses, people familiar with the insurgency, researchers and Western diplomats who have for the first time provided details of the group’s growing efforts to establish a form of administration in the Lake Chad area.

A map produced by the U.S. development agency in February and seen by Reuters shows ISWA territory extending more than 100 miles into the northeastern Nigerian states of Borno and Yobe, where government has in many areas all but vanished after a decade of conflict.

The Islamists have not been defeated, as Nigeria says, and researchers say ISWA, less extreme than Boko Haram, has evolved into the dominant group. The U.S. map paints a similar picture, with ISWA operating in much of Borno.

Islamic State has a terrible reputation for being so brutal around the world, and people can’t imagine an Islamic State faction could be more moderate (than Boko Haram), said Jacob Zenn, of The Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Greater threat than Boko Haram

The Lake Chad countries � Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon � have long neglected the region, allowing ISWA to create a stronghold from which to launch attacks. Its gains contrast with setbacks for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

It makes sense for ISWA to organize the local economy and raise taxes, said Vincent Foucher, who studies Boko Haram at the French National Centre for Science Research.

It opens the longer game of trying to create a connection to people, he said, adding that if ISWA succeeds it may become a greater threat than Boko Haram.

In 2015, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to finish off Boko Haram. Officials maintain this has been achieved, although the conflict continues into its 10th year. A presidency spokesman declined to comment for this story.

‘They are not a government’

Analysts estimate that ISWA has 3,000-5,000 fighters, about double Boko Haram’s strength. But ISWA’s territory is not completely secure. The Nigerian air force often bombs, and troops from Lake Chad countries attack the insurgents’ domain around its shores and islands.

Nigeria’s armed forces just see them as Boko Haram, said Brigadier General John Agim, spokesman for the Nigerian military, at a briefing. We are not interested in the faction, what has that got to do with it?

They are not a government, they kidnap girls from schools, Agim told Reuters in a separate interview.

The military has announced an operation to totally destroy Boko Haram locations in the Lake Chad Basin � ISWA’s domain � and end the insurgency within four months.

But ISWA has so far proved intractable in its Lake Chad bases, where troops have been unable to make effective inroads, according to a Western diplomat who follows the group. The Nigerian military had completely lost the initiative against the insurgency, they said.

The diplomat said ISWA was ready to cede less important areas because the military cannot hold them. However, they maintain absolute control over the islands and immediate areas near them where they train, live, etc.

The U.S., British and French militaries are helping regional governments with intelligence and training. Western officials declined, or did not respond to, requests for comment.

Protection from Boko Haram

ISWA protects locals from Boko Haram, something Nigeria’s army cannot always do. That, according to one of the people with knowledge of the insurgency, has won the group local backing and eroded support for the military.

ISWA is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram’s founder, Muhammed Yusuf, whose killing by police in 2009 sparked an Islamist insurgency in Nigeria that, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, has so far cost more than 34,000 lives.

ISWA’s leaders keep a low profile, not appearing in videos or claiming responsibility for attacks, possibly to avoid the international media, and the ire of regional governments. Reuters was unable to contact the group for comment.

This contrasts with the wholesale violence of Boko Haram under the publicity-hungry Abubakar Shekau, who has executed even close lieutenants. His group has strapped suicide bombs to women and children to attack civilians in mosques, markets and refugee camps.

Spies everywhere

Boko Haram and ISWA are bloody rivals, but some travelers in ISWA territory feel safer than elsewhere in Nigeria’s northeast.

They have checkpoints for stop and search, and if you are a regular visitor they know you, said a second herder, adding that ISWA has spies everywhere, including informers who alert them to military attacks.

He described seeing Islamic State’s black flags and said preachers were used to win people over.

Under ISWA, men must wear long beards, nighttime movements are restricted, and prayers are compulsory, the herder said. Offenders can get 40 lashes.

The herders said ISWA provides safe grazing for about 2,500 naira ($8) a cow and 1,500 naira ($5) for smaller animals. ISWA also runs slaughterhouses for the cattle, taking a cut for each animal, as well as from other activities like gathering firewood.

Supply and demand

Maiduguri is the biggest city in Nigeria’s northeast, the center of the military’s fight against Boko Haram.

But rural areas largely remain no-go zones for the authorities. It is there that ISWA is making its mark, offering people protection, particularly from Boko Haram.

Al-Barnawi is sending people into IDP (displaced persons) camps to encourage people to return and farm, and the people are, said a person with knowledge of ISWA’s activities.

The person said Nigeria’s military plays into the insurgents’ hands by shutting down markets to deny supplies to the group, while ISWA encourages business.

They are friendly and nice to those who come to the area, while they indoctrinate other people and sometimes they bring motorcycles for those who want to join them, a charcoal maker said.

Distant relations

Despite its name, experts believe ISWA’s ties to Islamic State in the Middle East are limited.

What’s clear from ISWA primary source documents is that ISWA has asked IS for theological guidance on who it is lawful to attack, said Zenn. Daily activities, including military operations, are left to its leaders, he said.

Others say the insurgency lacks the broader appeal of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

ISWA is the largest IS affiliate, but it’s very much a Nigerian organization. It doesn’t have foreign fighters coming, it’s hard to get to this place, said the Western diplomat.

What fighters it does have can carry out targeted attacks, including the February kidnapping of 100 schoolgirls from the town of Dapchi, most later released without explanation, and a deadly raid on a Nigerian military base in March.

But ISWA faces a dilemma: while wooing the population, it has harshly punished those who resist it, for example massacring dozens of fishermen last August, and this could hurt its standing with local people.

It’s important not to paint too rosy a picture, said Foucher, the researcher.

Source: Voice of America

Ballot boxes open in Africa

Balloting stations have opened their doors for Lebanese expatriates to vote throughout Africa.

The following is the total number of registered voters in Africa: Liberia 211, Sierra Leone 260, Senegal 400, New Guinea 439 and Ghana 592.

Source: National News Agency

Pompeo: Trump Will Exit Iran Deal If It’s Not Fixed

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear Sunday that President Donald Trump plans to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal next month unless it is “fixed” to the U.S. liking.

Pompeo, in the Middle East on his first overseas trip as the top U.S. diplomat, said, “President Trump’s been pretty clear, this deal is very flawed. He’s directed the administration to try and fix it and if we can’t fix it he’s going to withdraw from the deal. It’s pretty straightforward.”

Speaking in Israel, he said that “unlike the past administration, President Trump has a comprehensive Iran strategy that is designed to counter the full array of threats emanating from Tehran.”

En route from Saudi Arabia to Israel, Pompeo told reporters that he had briefed Riyadh’s leaders on U.S. talks with European officials on efforts to end Iranian missile tests and combat Tehran’s military involvement in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the Mideast. He said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a “common challenge in Iran,” but that “there’s still some work to do” in crafting any changes to the 2015 nuclear deal or in creating a new pact.

For its part, Iran has said it has no intention of altering the deal it agreed to with Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the U.S. in any way or agreeing to a new nuclear pact.

Trump faces a May 12 deadline whether to reimpose economic sanctions against Iran, pulling the U.S. out of the deal agreed to by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump stands alone among the six signatories to the accord in threatening to abrogate it.

In Tel Aviv, Pompeo, after meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the U.S. remains “deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats towards Israel and the region.”

Earlier, in Riyadh, the new secretary of state said, “Iran destabilizes this entire region. It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It supports the murderous Assad regime [in Syria] as well.”

Pompeo stressed the need for unity among Persian Gulf allies of the U.S. to show support for new sanctions against Iran unless new restrictions are imposed on Iran’s nuclear program.

In Saudi Arabia, a senior policy adviser to Pompeo who is accompanying the secretary of state, called on European allies and other countries to impose sanctions on Iran to weaken its missile program.

“We are urging nations around the world to sanction any individuals and entities associated with Iran’s missile program, and it has also been a big part of discussions with Europeans,” the adviser told reporters in Riyadh.

The three-day trip also includes a stop in Jordan.

In Brussels on Friday, Pompeo said he had discussed the nuclear deal with his NATO counterparts.

Pompeo is said to be more “hawkish” on the Iranian government than his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who wanted the U.S. to stay in the Iran nuclear agreement.

Tillerson was abruptly fired by Trump last month, just hours after returning from a trip to Africa. Trump said he and Pompeo are much more “on the same wavelength” on Iran and other issues.

Source: Voice of America

A Unique Window on Being Queer in Nigeria

Whenever I was with her, I was open. I could talk … my sexuality does not define who I am.

These words are from a new book, “She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak.”

The new book, released this week, is a collection of interviews with two dozen women. It offers an unprecedented window into what it means to be a queer woman in Nigeria, where homosexuality is illegal.

Intimate interviews

The book recounts a series of intimate interviews with 25 lesbian Nigerian women of various religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

I’m really nervous and I’m also nervous about the reception of Nigerians to the book, Woman A, as she asked to be referred to, told VOA.

Woman A, one of the women featured in the book, said most queer Nigerian women are like her, living in the closet.

In 2014, Nigeria banned same-sex marriage. The law is far-reaching. It also bans any cohabitation or public displays of affection, like kissing or hand holding, between same-sex partners. Anyone who breaks the law could face up to 14 years in prison.

There is also a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs or organizations.

Human Rights Watch said with the law, Nigeria effectively criminalized being LGBTQ � lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

That’s what makes this book so groundbreaking.

One woman reveals she lives with her partner in Abuja, which is illegal. She says it’s nice to wake up in the morning and have a cup of tea ready for her. Another woman speaks with anguish about the religious dilemma she faces being queer and Christian in Nigeria.

Azeenarh Mohammed, one of the book’s editors, helped capture the one-on-one interviews. She said discussions of homosexuality in Africa focus on men. Lesbians have been excluded.

There was an erasure of them. We said they really need to be heard and the reason why they hadn’t been heard is because the mic had not been passed to them. So we tried to do that with the book to let them be heard in their own voice with their own words, Mohammed told VOA.

Bracing for a backlash

The book has garnered buzz on social media. Many people say they’re worried that homosexual lifestyles may become normalized in Nigerian society. Others say they have already pre-ordered the book in anticipation.

The book was published and released in the U.K., but the book’s editors say it will soon be available in Nigeria. They are bracing for backlash. In the past, the Nigerian government has banned controversial art, including books.

Personally I’m curious, and I’m definitely going to read this book. To hear that there’s women talking about the fact that they’re queer and what they want to do is get with other women I think, to even be talking about it, I’m excited that we’re talking about it. I think this book is needed, said Rosemary Ajuka, a feminist and media professional based in the Nigeria’s business hub of Lagos.

The book’s release comes as authorities in Kenya ban the new film by celebrated Kenyan director Waniru Kahiu. The film, called “Rafiki,” is a coming-of-age story about two girls falling in love. It will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the first feature-length Kenyan film ever to do so.

“Inxeba,” another controversial film won six South African Film and Television Awards in March, despite campaigns to ban it by community groups and political leaders. The film portrays two boys developing a sexual attraction for each other while participating in a cultural rite of passage ceremony for young men from the Xhosa ethnic group. The film was removed from some cinemas in the South Africa.

Optimistic but cautious

An oft-repeated sentiment is that homosexuality is un-African.

Which is ridiculous, before just look at Nigeria for instance,” Mohammed said. “Homosexuality and queer identity is portrayed in the cultures of many ethnic groups and even across Africa, there is evidence that pre-dates colonialism that people were involved in same-sex romantic relationships.”

She said she’s hopeful that attitudes will change.

Asked what impact their book may have in Nigeria, Woman A is cautious.

I wish someday I will be able to live openly, but until then

Until then, she said, she will keep living in the closet.

Source: Voice of America


BLACKHEATH (WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA)– The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) is investigating the collision at Buttskop Level Crossing in Blackheath, which claimed the lives of seven people on Friday morning.

The regulator dispatched inspectors to the scene of the railway level crossing accident in the Western Cape, where a train collided with a bakkie (pickup truck) at 5:46 am.

The RSR inspectors are currently at the scene to conduct a preliminary investigation and to establish the root cause of the accident, said the regulator.

The bakkie was following a taxi on Frederick Road, parallel to the railway track approaching Buttskop Level Crossing, which is protected by boom gates and flashing lights. As the train was approaching the crossing, the taxi drove across and the bakkie followed the taxi, but was hit by the train.

The regulator has extended its condolences to the affected families, while also appealing to the public and all road and rail users to always take safety precautions, follow the road rules and signage when approaching a railway level crossing.

It is very sad and extremely concerning that this level crossing has yet again claimed the lives of road users. We need to redouble our efforts on our collaborations in enforcing the rail-road interface rules to ensure the safety of our people. One life lost is one life too many, said RSR acting CEO Tshepo Kgare.

Friday’s accident at the level crossing happened as the country readied to commemorate the 24th anniversary of freedom.

The level crossing in 2010 claimed the lives of 10 children when the taxi they were travelling in was hit by a train.