Thomas Flichy de La Neuville , Professor in Saint-Cyr’s military academy – Libya, Central African Republic, Mali.
In a regional context marked by the frailty of the State, little, determined and often violent groups currently drive political evolutions in Africa. These actors are sometimes cemented by ethnic or religious solidarities. Common interests more often gather them. They are thus in constant evolution, in particular as far as their system of alliance is concerned. The French army has been confronted to these actors on three theatres of operations: in Libya, Central Africa and Mali. The main lesson, which can be drawn in 2017, is that these violent non-state actors – which prosper on the smoking ruins of the state – mimic sovereignty. In Libya, the violent non-state actors are entirely dependent from foreign powers (I). In the Central African Republic, where UN forces are powerless, some of them intend to create new states (II). In Mali, they have decided to seize the countryside, fighting desperately against the territorial chieftaincy (III).
Libya, violent groups backed by foreign powers
In Libya, the non-state violent groups of Misrata have so far enjoyed the support of Turkey and Qatar. However, this support is today blocked because of the Russian-Turkish cooperation and the Qatar-Saudi tensions. The split between Qatar on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia on the other hand, has had immediate consequences in Libya. Qatar and Turkey are indeed the main supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Misrata, their capital is currently weakened and forced to review its ambitions. In this city, the main leaders are the brothers Ali and Ismael Sallabi and the mufti Sadok Ghariani. They lead a coalition of militias dominated by those of Misrata and which, until recent weeks, were supported by the LGNU (Libyan Government of National Unity) chaired by Fayez al-Sarraj. Qatar has been funding Libyan Islamists as well as the Ennahda movement in Tunisia, thanks to his military attaché in Tunis, which would have had a fund of $ 8 million at his disposal. In 2015, the Tunisian judiciary had opened an investigation, which had been quickly stifled by the members of Ennahda who were present in the state apparatus. But now that Doha is in turmoil, the Tunisian prosecutor may resume his investigation. The violent groups of Misrata have been deprived of their funding, as a consequence, they have become increasingly isolated. Moreover, it is said that Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria have reached a secret agreement on the establishment of a list of Libyan organizations described as terrorists and which had relays in these three countries. As a result, these violent non-state actors would be left out for the future settlement of the Libyan question.
Now, what is true for Misrata, is also valid for its opponents. The United Arab Emirates have backed General Haftar, delivering military equipment, despite the embargo decreed by the United Nations. This has enabled him to take control of most of the Fezzan and to drive his rivals to the coast, thus cutting them from the oil and gas fields of the south. In Tripoli, the LGNU (Libyan Government of National Unity) has started negotiations with General Haftar, which has provoked the fury of the Misrata militia present in the capital. Misrata, a rich, powerful stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, culturally linked to Turkey, has always pursued an autonomous policy. At the present time, it risks being caught between General Haftar and the new power of Tripoli. Two options are thus on the table: either it agrees to negotiate and peace will be secured by a three-headed coalition of Tripoli, Misrata and Cyrenaica. Either Misrata refuses to negotiate and all Libyan forces will federate against a city, which has lost the military support of Qatar and Turkey.
Last but not least, Seif al-Islam, son of Colonel Gaddafi, is now completely free in Libya. With him, General Haftar will be able to gain the support of the different and often opposed tribes. On September 14, 2015, the Supreme Council of Libyan Tribes had designated him as his legal representative. Several dozens of these tribes are grouped in çoff (confederations). Colonel Gaddafi had based his power on the balance between the three great Libyan confederations, namely the Sa’adi confederation of Cyrenaica, the Saff al-Bahar confederation of northern Tripolitania and the Awlad Sulayman confederation of East Tripolitania and the Fezzan. His son Seif al-Islam is linked to the Awlad Sulayman by his father, and Sa’adi by his mother. As a consequence, he could, reconstruct the Libyan institutional order dismantled by the war.
Central African violent non-state groups remain uncontrolled
In central Africa, violent non-state groups have triumphed. The territory is no longer marked by a conflict opposing the ex-Seleka to the anti-Balaka, Christians to Muslims. Instead, little armed groups have proliferated. In the West and the South, where the ex-Seleka had never penetrated, we find conflicts between opposed animist or Christian gangs. In the Centre and in the East, in the formerly Banda ethnic area, the various Muslim factions of the former Seleka fight among themselves. These ethnic groups, once allied are now divided. Among them, we find: the Fulani whose militia is the UPC (Union for Peace in the Central African Republic). Their leader is Fulani Bororo Ali Darassa, former commander Seleka for the Bambari area / The Gula, Runga and Arab RPRC (Patriotic Rally for the Renaissance of Central Africa) led by Djono Ahaba and Zaccharia Damane / The Runga of the FPRC (Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa) whose leader is Noureddine Adam who was at the origin of the creation of Seleka / The Arabs of the FPRC. They are allied to the RPRC. However, this does not prevent them from being in conflict for the control of the gold and diamond mines. After the breakup of the Seleka in 2014, its ethnic components had taken their autonomy and had competed for the capture of local resources. In order to secure the possession of a territory of exploitation, the Runga Noureddine Adam, leader of the FPRC, had proclaimed the independence of the north of the CAR under the name of Republic of the Logone. For his part, the Fulani Ali Darassa, of the UPC, had wanted to ensure control of the Ndassima gold mine located 60 kilometers north of Bambari.
At the present time, UN forces are too weak to canalise these armed groups. In the security vacuum caused by the departure of the French forces from Sangaris, the UN contingent, the United Nations Integrated Multidimensional Mission for Stabilization of the Central African Republic (Minusca) is powerless. Despite its huge budget of 800 million dollars a year and its 12,000 men, this coalition composed of 11 nationalities including elements from Papua, Egypt, Cameroon, Pakistan, Congo, Bangladesh, Morocco, Guinea Bissau etc., of which ¼ are on the ground, is largely ineffective. The peacekeepers have even become a target. On May 8, 2017, a Minusca convoy was ambushed between Bangassou and Rafai. Six of its men were killed and ten wounded. Since the beginning of the year, several attacks have taken place along the road connecting South Sudan to the border of the DRC, causing a total of several dozen deaths among UN soldiers. For their part, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) no longer exist and the 700 men trained by the EU constitute an operetta battalion.
In Mali, jihadist armed groups against the protective structure of the chieftaincy.
In Mali, we are currently witnessing a new mode of operation of the jihadists. Leaning on ethnic or social oppositions in areas abandoned by the state, terrorist groups have spread -advocating the destruction of the chieftaincies. The porosity of borders, the existence of cross-border ethnic ties and the exit of the state facilitate the movement. According to Malian official sources, in the western Sahel (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso), 257 terrorist attacks were committed in 2016. Of this total, 88 were perpetrated in the Kidal region, of which, almost all (84) were claimed by Ansar Dine. These attacks claimed the lives of 26 members of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and four French soldiers who were victims of FDI. In the North, the Barkhane operation has managed to prevent the reconstitution of sanctuary areas. In the south however, it has failed to do so. Terrorist groups now target the centre of Mali (Macina), Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
The evolution of terrorism can be easily explained. The jihadists have indeed understood that they would be unable to take the cities. Their goal is therefore to take the bush from where they will gradually force the army and the administration to abandon the small centres where they now reign supreme. The movement is facilitated by the choices of the Malian regime whose priority is to prevent attacks in large cities. As the defence of the latter requires large numbers, the bush is left without defence. Moreover, when it is present, the inhabitants who are ransomed and abused perceive the Malian army as an occupying force. In abandoned rural areas, the jihadists thrive in the midst of traffickers, self-defense militias, and irredentist movements that they are attempting to infiltrate, skillfully utilizing local rivalries. They thus appear as the protectors of the transhumant Fulani. Schools are closing one after the other and, even more seriously, the traditional chieftaincy, considered as a relay of the power of Bamako is disintegrating. If nothing is done, the authority of a caliphate of the bush will have triumphed over the ruins of the chiefdoms. We are here in the presence of the resurgence of the jihadist movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which dislocated and disintegrated the animist kingdoms, including the Bambara, replacing them by regional caliphates that colonization destroyed.
To conclude, violent non-state actors are prospering on the ruins of the African states. This should not of social structure is the anonymous band. Obviously, the three above-mentioned theatres are interconnected. Now, on the regional level, jihadist groups are now threatening Niger, which is the key of stabilisation of the entire Sahel region. Located at the crossroads of traffic between South Africa and Europe, at the junction of the terrorist hotbeds of the Saharo-Sahelian region (Aqmi, Mujao), Nigeria (Boko Haram) and those of Libya, the country is now threatened by a Toubou movement. Its entry into the war could destabilize the entire region and weaken the French apparatus articulated around the base of Madama. A new opportunity indeed for violent non-state actors, occasionally fought on the ground by its western cousins the private military companies.