The CSS Blog Network

Commanding the Sahara to Retreat

Man in Sandstorm, courtesy A. Masood

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 19 May 2016.

The blueprint for the Great Green Wall is nothing if not ambitious. Quite Canute-like, it would seem.

The aim is to plant a forest of trees about 15km wide, snaking some 7 775km from Senegal on the Atlantic to Djibouti on the Red Sea – crossing another nine Sahelian states on the way – to halt the southward march of the Sahara into the Sahel. This elongated forest would cover about 11 662 500 hectares.

The idea was originally conceived by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 and enthusiastically embraced by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. In 2007, the African Union Commission (AUC) took it up as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI). Obasanjo seems to have borrowed the idea from China, yet the Chinese precedent is not entirely encouraging. Its bricks and mortar equivalent failed to keep out the Mongolian hordes from the north in the 13th century. And China’s Great Green Wall – launched in 1978 with the aim of creating a forest of trees 4 500km long – has also not stopped the southward drift of the Gobi and other deserts, despite the planting of about 70 billion trees to date.

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Autocrats United? Electing the African Union’s Peace and Security Council

Grafitti of Snipers, courtesy Am AMISOM Public Information/flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 5 April 2016.

The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (PSC) is the most important African institution for the day-to-day management of peace and security issues facing the continent. It is the PSC, for example, that coordinates the AU’s conflict management strategies, decides when to authorize peace operations, rules on how to interpret “unconstitutional changes of government,” and determines when to impose sanctions against recalcitrant AU states.

Yet, at the last AU summit, under the headline banner: “2016: African Year of Human Rights,” African states elected arguably the most authoritarian cohort of countries ever to sit on the PSC. What consequences this will have for peace and security on the continent, as well as the AU’s relations with its principal external partners, remains to be seen.

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African Parliaments Lead the Continent’s Fight Against Weapons of Mass Destruction

Chemical Weapons

Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells containing “HD” mustard gas, courtesy US Government/wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies on 4 April 2016.

On 18 February, Moroccan police reportedly found chemical or biological agents while raiding a ‘safe house’ linked to Daesh in the province of El Jadida, on the Atlantic coast. It is presumed that the agents, possibly toxins, were intended for terrorist purposes.

Investigations are currently underway, spearheaded by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior’s Direction Générale de la Surveillance du Territoire. Official information remains scarce, but if confirmed, the discovery of a terrorist plot using chemical or biological weapons would mark a new milestone as extremists resort to more lethal and more devastating weapons, to spread violence with maximum casualties and the highest impact.

This development is not a surprise. Jihadist literature has, for a while, called for the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction – encouraging the production of ricin, botulinum and sarin. (An example of this can be found in the third edition of the magazine disseminated by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.)

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Beyond Piracy: What Next for African Maritime Security?

A Royal Navy Merlin Helicopter Provides Cover for Royal Marines

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS Africa) on 8 February 2016.

Last year saw an almost total absence of reports of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the western Indian Ocean and off the coast of Somalia. This is the laudable outcome of concerted international and regional counter-piracy efforts.

Since 2012, there has been an annual decline in the total number of reported attempted and actual attacks in the region. The decline has led to calls for reforms to four key international counter-piracy institutions in the new ‘post-piracy’ environment.

These reforms are important, but will not provide lasting solutions if African maritime, economic and developmental interests are neglected.

It will therefore be vital that local stakeholders, such as the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), drive new developments.

The drop in piracy figures means that many counter-piracy institutions and mechanisms are now seen as costly, inconvenient, cumbersome and unjustified. In their present configuration, many of these measures also seem inadequate. New maritime security tasks entail more than simply keeping piracy suppressed, but are also about simultaneously building blue economies and conducting peacebuilding in Somalia.

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What (else) to Expect in Africa in 2016?

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi

This article was originally published by ISS Africa on 12 January 2016.

Africa starts the New Year with many burning issues that escalated in 2015 and need urgent action. The crisis in Burundi, where grave human rights violations are continuing, and the war in South Sudan are the two most pressing among these.

This year will also see a number of important elections taking place in Africa. Uganda’s presidential polls are being held next month, and those scheduled for the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year will also be top of mind for most Africa watchers.

It will also be a very challenging year for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who will now have to make good on his 2015 election promises.

This includes effectively dealing with terror group Boko Haram and bringing back the kidnapped Chibok girls. Africa’s most populous nation will also look to him to continue the fight against corruption and boost economic development, despite the slump in the oil price.

But what are we missing, beyond the big newsmakers?

In 2016, we should watch for surprises from unexpected quarters. One of these might be from Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 next month, is not immortal – even if his supporters vow to push him onto the stage in a wheelchair to celebrate his victory at the next party elections in 2019.

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