AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

Al-Shabaab, the terrorist organization that controls stretches of Somalia, made a splash February 21 when it released a video featuring a masked spokesman calling for attacks on malls in England, Canada, and the United States. This is the group that in 2013 attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya with terrible result, giving its threat an additional air of menace.

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the near- and long-term consequences of the Nigerian refugee crisis as tens of thousands of Nigerians flee across borders from the violence the terrorist group Boko Haram is meting out in the northeastern part of the country. I wrote that the world needs to surge resources into the area to care both for the current refugees and those that would surely be coming in the future. Failing to do so will further destabilize the region for years to come.

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Buried at the bottom of page A8 of Thursday’s New York Times was a brief Associated Press report that Armel Sayo, Minister of Youth and Sports in the transitional regime of the Central African Republic (CAR), who had been abducted more than two weeks earlier, had been freed. According to the account, the exact circumstances of the official’s release “were not immediately clear.” However, what one can be certain of is that the fact the man in question is a “minister” in what passes as a “government” for the conflict-ridden country underscores the incredible challenges facing both its people and the international community that has intervened with a blue-helmeted force in an attempt to stop the violence.

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On February 6, 2015, one of the last Western banks willing to transfer money to Somalia on behalf of the country’s diaspora—transfers which represent up to 80 percent of all funds sent from the US to Somalia—ceased operations, cutting off one of the diaspora’s last options to support relatives and friends still in Somalia.

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Late Saturday evening local time in Abuja, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for February 14, would be postponed until March 28, while the gubernatorial and state legislative elections scheduled for February 28 would be held April 11. The decision was taken at the urging of the security services which not only could not guarantee the safety of election official and voters in four northeastern states—Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, and Gombe—where the Boko Haram insurgency is most active, but also advised that the deployment of military forces during the coming weeks to operations currently underway against the militants meant that there would be insufficient personnel to lend the security assistance normally provided throughout Nigeria to police and other civilian authorities during election periods.

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The February 14th presidential elections in Nigeria signal an important milestone in the political trajectory of Africa’s most populous country. Nigeria has held three successive presidential elections since its return to democracy in 1999 after years of authoritarian rule. The presidential elections, which occur on a four year cycle, have varied in terms of accepted standards of free, fair, and transparent elections. The 2007 elections, in particular, were described by the International Republican Institute (IRI), an American democracy promotion organization that had observed the elections, as “well below international standards and below the standards Nigeria set for itself in the previous two elections….” In contrast, the 2011 elections were described by IRI “as a major step forward in advancing Nigeria’s democracy.”

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Violent riots broke out in Niger last month following the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Ten people were killed and forty-five churches torched by protesters on January 16 and 17. Niger declared three days of mourning.

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On January 7, US forces took into custody Dominic Ongwen, a commander in the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), after his capture in the Central African Republic (CAR) by rebel forces.

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 REUTERS/Stringer
Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group that has a foothold in northern Nigeria, has begun to consolidate control over large swathes of territory threatening the stability of Nigeria and its neighbors.

The militants have resorted to using female suicide bombers as they ramp up their fight against the Nigerian government ahead of elections in February.

Bronwyn E. Bruton, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, attributes Boko Haram's rise to the Nigerian government's failure to deliver good governance and the atrocities committed by Nigerian security forces.

The US should be looking for ways to engage Boko Haram, Bruton tells New Atlanticist's Ashish Kumar Sen.

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Last week was a good week for the militant group Boko Haram and much less so for Nigeria and its neighbors, although one would be hard pressed to tell it from the relative nonchalance with which significant developments in the West African country’s fight against the brutal insurgency have been greeted not only by American media focused largely on new standoffs in Washington between the White House and emboldened Congressional Republicans after the midterm election, but also by the international community as a whole, the latter’s attention devoted almost entirely to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing and the G20 summit in Brisbane shortly thereafter.

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