China and Libya and Algeria

From the Globe and Mail, 3 September:

The documents suggest that Beijing and other governments may have played a double game in the Libyan war, claiming neutrality but covertly helping the dictator. The papers do not confirm whether any military assistance was delivered, but senior leaders of the new transitional government in Tripoli say the documents reinforce their suspicions about the recent actions of China, Algeria and South Africa. Those countries may now suffer a disadvantage as Libya’s new rulers divide the spoils from their vast energy resources, and select foreign firms for the country’s reconstruction.

Omar Hariri, chief of the transitional council’s military committee, reviewed the documents and concluded that they explain the presence of brand-new weapons his men encountered on the battlefield. He expressed outrage that the Chinese were negotiating an arms deal even while his forces suffered heavy casualties in the slow grind toward Tripoli.

“I’m almost certain that these guns arrived and were used against our people,” Mr. Hariri said.

Senior rebel officials confirmed the authenticity of the four-page memo, written in formal style on the green eagle letterhead used by a government department known as the Supply Authority, which deals with procurement. The Globe and Mail found identical letterhead in the Tripoli offices of that department. The memo was discovered in a pile of trash sitting at the curb in a neighbourhood known as Bab Akkarah, where several of Col. Gadhafi’s most loyal supporters had lavish homes.

The document reports in detail about a trip by Col. Gadhafi’s security officials from Tripoli to Beijing. They arrived on July 16, and in the following days they met with officials from three state-controlled weapons manufacturers: China North Industries Corp. (Norinco); the China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp. (CPMIC); and China XinXing Import & Export Corp. The Chinese companies offered the entire contents of their stockpiles for sale, and promised to manufacture more supplies if necessary.

The hosts thanked the Libyans for their discretion, emphasized the need for confidentiality, and recommended delivery via third parties.

“The companies suggest that they make the contracts with either Algeria or South Africa, because those countries previously worked with China,” the memo says.

The Chinese companies also noted that many of the items the Libyan delegation requested were already held in the arsenals of the Algerian military, and could be transported immediately across the border; the Chinese said they could replenish the Algerian stocks afterward. The memo also indicated that Algeria had not yet consented to such an arrangement, and proposed further talks at the branch offices of the Chinese companies in Algiers.

Mauritania/China fisheries deal

The Mauritanian parliament passed a major fisheries deal between with a Chinese firm, causing controversy in parliament and among the opposition. The deal would give the firm tax  and duties exemptions and other preferential conditions many Mauritanians feel would contribute to depletion of the country’s fish stocks, marginalize local fishermen, increase the likelihood of corruption (Al-Akhbar has a long article detailing the conditions, here; [Arabic]). Lawmakers called the deal “embarrassing for Mauritania,” and complained of “tax exemptions on the one hand and exceptions from Mauritanian law on the other”. Others argued in favor, saying the deal would bring needed jobs and industrial development, and “the maximum benefit from our [Mauritania's] fisheries”; the controversy led to a suspension of the parliamentary debate on the issue and opposition MPs to boycott the vote. Members of the ruling UPR party have also expressed reservations over the deal. Sailors and members of the 25 February youth movement protested outside of parliament recently to voice its opposition to the deal (some of whom were arrested). MPs and ministers agree the deal is “historic” in terms of the country’s fishing industry and its relationship with China; they seem divided as to whether the deal is a net plus for the country in the long term.

UPDATE: Here is the text of the agreement in French.

Experiments in Map-Making

Previously, this blogger complained about popular maps of North Africa as it related to AQIM, particularly in English-speaking media. Below are some rough, experimental maps that attempt to show some of the priorities discussed last week’s post on some of the politics between the various actors in the Maghreb-Sahel region. Nothing here is perfectly depicted or with total accuracy, but they are a start toward … something. [UPDATE: Another map, after the jump.]

1. In the first map represents the priorities discussed in the posts referenced above.  Algeria, Libya and Morocco are colored blue as key actors while other relevant local actors are colored tan. Senegal is not included, though it might be advisable to include that country (as well as Gambia). The black arrows indicate “geopolitical thrusts” and are highlighted to indicate priorities according to understandings of political, economic, social and military efforts as expressed in the posted mentioned above (under “intra-regional squabbling”). The yellow arrows indicate indirect influence or the independent influence of secondary actors.  Because this map is concerned with intra-regional priorities and interests, it does not include the behavior or priorities of western actors directly. The large number of vectors make it … potentially quite confusing.

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Rise and Fall, Push and Pull (Pt. III)

France24 has made available a video tape showing the daily routine of AQIM fighters at an undisclosed location by an unnamed “defector” from the terrorist group. The summary is as follows:

A video cassette obtained by FRANCE 24 contains rare images of Islamist militants in the remote Sahel desert. The exclusive footage shows a gathering of allied insurgent groups, training sessions for young recruits and, perhaps most interestingly, scenes of daily life and leisure of fugitive fighters.

The cassette was found on a defector of one of the insurgent groups active in northern Africa under the banner of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. The defector was stopped by security personnel for a control of personal documents.

[. . .]

The images are not dated, nor do they offer clues about what country they were taken in. What they do offer is a rare, unscripted glimpse of the lives of Islamist militants; in their daily chores, during moments of playfulness and boredom.

Much of the video consists of Algerians and Mauritanians (as well as some Moroccans and other Arabs; they are practically all Arabic speakers) horsing around, rolling the mud and playing commando. Like previous videos of the group’s after hours activities, the new tape makes AQIM look less terrifying than their reputation portends. It underscores previous knowledge: that it draws mostly urban, Moorish Mauritanians and that Algerians appear to be heavily entrenched in leadership positions.

At the moment it is more interesting to think about the tape while at the same time considering much of the ideas put out in the very engaging and interesting ACAS Bulletin, “US militarization of the Sahara-Sahel: Security, Space & Imperialism,” which includes an excellent article on democracy promotion in the region under Bush and Obama by fellow blogger Alex Thurston of the great Sahel Blog. Most interesting is Jacob Mundy’s introduction which, as introductions do, synthesizes the over arching ideas about American involvement in the Sahara-Sahel region, particularly by way of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), energy interests and the rest. The whole issue asks important questions about the value, risks and motivations around American policy in the region and the “threat” that AQIM and “terrorism” poses to the region. Many North Americans take terrorism as first order threat to American interests in the region. Others have it somewhat differently: terrorism is a symptom (like smuggling and ethnic violence) of broader, systemic problems such as environmental, social, cultural and economic change and parasitic elites. Mundy and other authors in the Bulletin note that terrorism has been used to legitimize other, perhaps darker, motives. It is likely that the threat terrorism poses to vital American interests in North and west Africa has been exaggerated over the last decade.

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More Fast Thoughts

Nouakchott seems to be awash with rumors of a deal with France regarding a possible prisoner exchange. According to knowledgeable sources in and outside of Mauritania, rumors that Joyandet’s visit to Nouakchott would be used to press the Mauritanians to  to meet AQIM’s demands over a Frenchman kidnapped in Niger are credible. These sources say that a prisoner swap was at the top of the agenda at Alan Joyandet’s meeting with president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and that the two reached some kind of an understanding on this early. It is said that this came with assurances of French solid support (including financial aid) for Ould Abdel Aziz pending his compliance with this request. Ould Abdel Aziz would release (presumably) Salafist prisoners and AQIM would release the French citizen currently held. Additionally, other sources say that Ould Abdel Aziz planned to leverage his relations with Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew to manage Islamist opinion regarding last week’s verdicts. He was initially embarrassed by Ould Dedew’s comments but after the Aleg 3 may be more comfortable.

The French also registered their opposition to the death penalty, which may help the government in maneuvering away from Sidi Ould Sidina, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou and Maarouf Ould Hiba’s death sentences; executions are highly impolitic in Mauritania, as they risk upsetting tribal relations. Given that at least one of the killers comes from a large tribe, and that all three have launched appeals, it is seems possible for their sentences to be commuted in the future. But, as many in the media have noted, the episode is the first of its kind in Mauritania and many things are in play.

Ould Abdel Aziz’s visit to Khartoum for the inauguration of Omar al-Bashir was a demonstration of support and gratitude (for al-Bashir’s advice and backing earlier). He is now preparing for a visit Paris (as well as Nice, for independence celebrations). Also abroad this week was General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (the second most powerful figure in the regime) has been in discussions with French and Chinese officials. His mission to Beijing includes military and economic issues (with emphasis on the economic side; think fish). The outcome of both Paris visits will be especially relevant, as will be the results of the Brussels donors meeting. The economic situation (especially in agriculture) will make this summer a rough one and the government knows that it will need as much help as it can get. Workers’ strikes are threatened, staged or obstructed almost weekly (more on that later) and the opposition has capitalized on several of them thus far. More are likely to come as the summer progresses.

UPDATE: Ould Abdel Aziz’s original plan was to travel directly from Khartoum to Paris; he re-routed his travel arrangements so that he could head to Paris from Nouakchott. According to local sources this was a quick and abrupt return and its purpose is still obscure.

Algerians and Chinese: Chinatown show down

Algeria and China have quite fine relations. To say “Algeria and China” is to say the governments of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria and the People’s Republic of China enjoy long and friendly relations. The PRC was the first country to recognize independent Algeria. Quite a few Algerian military officers, engineers and others were educated in the PRC. Chinese television once broadcast programs on the Algerian “people’s revolution”. Algerian communists counted many, many Maoists in their ranks in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the Chinese Embassy is historically one of the more important in Algiers. Any Algerian who has done his national service has held a Chinese made rifle and served in a military modeled after the People’s Liberation Army.

Still, as is the case in any relationship, there is tension. Algerians have not taken well to the large numbers of Chinese that have arrived in Algeria over the last decade, mostly to build the housing units and infrastructure projects president Bouteflika promised Algerians in 1999, 2004 and 2009. Algerians want those jobs. But they’ve gone to Chinese firms on Chinese terms. So the flare ups in Sino-Algerian relations recently have been the result of domestic politics; in other words, areas the two governments historically have ignored in their dealings with one another. But now, rebells in Algeria are setting upon Chinese interests based on the conduct of a Chinese rebellion; and ordinary Algerians are roughing up Chinese nationals, brought to the country as a result of this otherwise long and happy relationship. While these things will mean little for Sino-Algerian relations on the whole (neither government places enough care on such affairs for them to be so significant as, say, the racial violence against Algerians in France in the 1970’s was to Franco-Algerian relations), it is important that they be laid out. Continue reading

Friday bulletin

Some especially relevant news: Stoning Beit Sidioca, Mauritania at the Arab Summit and the world system, Erdogan as a human being and a Muslim, who won’t be in Algeria’s election and questioning Egypt’s “leadership.” Continue reading