Prayer zone for a better, empowering, inspiring, promoting, prospering, progressing and more successful life through Christ Jesus

Posts tagged ‘Mauritania’

No Right To Force The Legalization Of Same-Sex Union By Hannatu Musawa.


 

Hannatu Musawa
Columnist:

Hannatu Musawa

The signing of the Same-sex Prohibition Act by President Jonathan on January 7 2014, elicited negative reactions from Western countries such as the US, member countries of the European Union and Canada. They have consistently mounted pressure on the federal government over the president’s signing of the Same-Sex Prohibition Act 2014, claiming that the law is a violation of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians with same sex orientation.

Notably, the law does not only criminalize same-sex marriage, it also makes public displays of affection and even socializing in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex community illegal. The US ambassador to Nigeria, Mr James Entwistle threatened that his country would scale down its support for HIV/AIDS and anti-malaria programs in response to government’s position on the gay rights issue. The Vanguard also reported that they learnt the US is committing “substantial” resources to fund the emergence of gay clubs and advocacy groups in Nigeria. The Canadian government canceled a planned state visit by President Jonathan scheduled for next month. The Canadian government’s action is believed to be that country’s reaction to the president’s assenting to the bill, which has so far enjoyed popular support in Nigeria.

Since 2011, certain Western countries have been considering and implementing laws that limit or prohibit general budget support to countries that restrict the rights of homosexuals. Regardless of this, many African countries have continued to refuse pressure to legalize homosexual practices. Many African leaders feel that gay rights are against Africa’s culture and religious value systems and believe that they have the sovereign right to reject what is seen as an imposition by Western nations that attempts to affect national sentiments via aid. While I vehemently disagree with the laws that impose the death penalty on those who come out as homosexuals, the reality is that same sex acts are illegal in about 38 African countries and actual enforcement varies widely and punishment ranges from prison sentences to the Draconian sentence of the death penalty.

In Mauritania, Sudan and Nigeria, homosexuality is a serious punishable crime. In Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, offenders can receive life imprisonment for homosexual acts. South Africa’s constitution is the most liberal towards gays and lesbians within the continent, with a constitution that guarantees gay and lesbian rights and legal same sex marriage. However, even there, gay rights have been described as an “exclusive privilege of the whites and well-heeled, a small but high-profile subset.”

The raucousness from Western nations that has been accompanying the banning of same sex unions in some parts of Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia has risen to a crescendo. And in their bid to ram the freedom of same sex unions down the throat of more traditional and conservative nations, the west has discarded high-minded rhetoric for bullying tactics dressed in the guise of human rights mantras. The result? Hypocrisy has taken center stage as the preferred response of the west in their bid to redefine the limits of marriage, privacy and religious freedom in some African, Eastern European and Asian countries.

The hypocrisy of the west regarding their stance on the banning of same sex unions is most apparent when considered next to the position taken on polygamy under western laws. In most western nations, the practice of polygamy is not only frowned upon but has been criminalized. The hypocrisy and bully politics of the west in regards to the banning of same sex unions occurs when Western countries pass laws that limits the boundaries of marriage, privacy and religious freedom in line with their value system while they employ strategies and tactics to intimidate, harass, undermine, threaten and abuse other countries for doing the same.

In the case of Reynolds vs. United States, the American courts declined accepting polygamy as a legitimate religious practice, dismissing it as “almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and African people.” While that particular case is very old, in later decisions, American courts have declared polygamy to be “a blot on our civilization” and compared it to human sacrifice and “a return to barbarism.”

In all the countries that have banned homosexual unions, traditions and religion defines the issue and because most countries have varying values of which they adhere to and are guided by, none should have a right to impose their value system on another. Not only is the practice of polygamy one of the common threads between Christians, Jews and Muslims, studies have found polygamy present in 78% of the world’s cultures. In the same way that countries that accept polygamy have no right to force western nations to legalize polygamy, western nations have no right to impose same sex unions on the countries that ban it.

As a sovereign nation, Nigeria has a right to ban same sex unions in the same way the west has banned polygamy. Indeed the anti-gay legislation is a reaffirmation of core Nigerian values, as the Nigerian society is, to a great extent, based on respect for traditions and religion. The leadership in Nigeria has taken a position on a practice that is alien to its culture and its religious and traditional institutions. The public relations officer of the northern Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) stated that Christians and their counterparts in other religions have unanimously expressed gratitude to the president and National Assembly for passing the Anti Same-Sex Marriage law, despite opposition from Europe and the US. Similarly, the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State, commended the president for signing the bill into law. The group applauded the president for standing his ground, despite pressure to reject the anti-gay bill by some international organizations and foreign countries.

In line with traditions that don’t prohibit same sex unions, neither of the two dominant religions of the world supports homosexuality. In the scriptures, marriage is a sacred contract between a man and a woman that cannot be redefined and it is the cornerstone of family life. In the Bible, passages in the book of Leviticus prohibit homosexuality. Chapter 18:22 states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Similarly, chapter 20:13 also states, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Jews and Christians have historically interpreted these two verses as the clear prohibition of homosexual acts. Furthermore, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has historically been interpreted as condemning homosexual acts.

In Islam, the traditional schools of Islamic law based on Qur’anic verses and hadith consider homosexual acts a punishable crime and a sin. The Qur’an cites the story of the “people of Lot” (also known as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah), destroyed by the wrath of God, because they engaged in “lustful” carnal acts between men. The Qur’an contains seven references to the people of Lot; 7:80-84, 11:77-83, 21:74, 22:43, 26:165-175, 27:56-59 and 29:27-33, and their destruction by Allah is associated explicitly with their sexual practices.

In 2012, the Nigerian parliament approved a bill banning same sex marriage despite threats from the US and UK that they would consider withholding aid if the country didn’t recognize gay rights. Curiously though in the US, 17 states out of 50 (less than half) have endorsed same-sex practices and others reject its legality. This means that even in the US, not all its citizens are in support of same-sex practices.

Nigeria and the countries that have banned same sex unions have cultures that are clear and intact and they have a right to rededicate themselves to their traditional values. Same-sex marriage is inconsistent with Nigerian values of procreation and the belief in the continuity of family and clan. And in that vein, Nigeria has a right to fashion its laws in accordance with its values and traditions.

It increasingly seems that the Western countries’ mandate is to coerce African states to institutionalize behavior systems that they frown upon or deem illegal. There is the urgent need for these African states and the Nigerian leadership not to be dependent on foreign assistance for governance. Nigeria and the continent should use its net worth to dismantle the entrenched dependence syndrome and to also say no, no matter how many times they are accused of not adhering to the value system of the West. Aid given with strings attached is not worth it. Nigeria should not lose its moral and spiritual integrity for the sake of aid.

Just like with polygamists in Western countries, a day of social acceptance is unlikely to come for homosexuals in Nigeria and most African and Asian countries. It is unlikely that any law will be passed in Nigeria where the act of same sex marriage will be legalized. No matter, the rights of every nation to infuse its value system into its laws should not be based on the views of other nations, but on each nations individual principle.

Despite one’s view on the subject matter, there is no doubt that Nigeria has a right to enact laws that are reflective of its traditions and religious values and norms. No country has a right to dictate another countries laws that defines the boundaries of marriage, privacy and religious freedom. Thus, just as Nigeria has no right to harass America, Canada or any other nation to enforce and adopt polygamy and other traditional practices into their statutes, these nations also have no right to harass Nigeria to adopt laws that legalize homosexuality. The more the West continues to malign Nigeria for passing laws that prohibit certain modern western value systems, while they hold onto laws that disallow traditional practices acceptable in Nigeria, their hue and cry over human rights becomes a little more than hype and they become much more than hypocrites. May each country be free to preserve the value systems they wish to be defined by and adopt the laws of which they wish to be governed.

Article Written by Hannatu Musawa

I invite you to:

Follow me on Twitter- @hanneymusawa

Visit my Website- www.hannatumusawa.com

Like my Facebook- www.facebook.com/hannatu.musawa

Text (SMS Only): 08116759753

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Nigeria’s Retrogressive Anti-Gay Law By Abiodun Ladepo.


By Abiodun Ladepo

This past Wednesday, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan elevated crassness and primitiveness to the highest level imaginable by signing into law a bill banning homosexuality in Nigeria.  I deliberately crafted the previous sentence so unambiguously.  He did not just ban homosexual marriage; he banned homosexuality as a whole!  Perhaps if the law had only stopped at “persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison,” one might not feel so much outrage.  But it went on to state that “any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison”!  In essence, only heterosexuals are allowed to hold hands in public, sit on each other’s lap, hump each other while dancing in clubs or kiss publicly.  What, in the name of God, just happened to Nigeria?

Let me state upfront that I am a Straight (heterosexual) guy who is happily married to a beautiful woman.  So, this write-up is not about me or my sexual preference.  It is about Nigeria’s lack of originality and lack of creative instincts.  We the people, along with our leaders, fail to do the deep thinking, the due diligence, in many respects that will take our country farther and more quickly than we have hitherto done.  Lethargy is irredeemably ingrained in our psyche.  Otherwise, how does being openly gay draw our country back?  We already have thousands of gay people in our midst!  How does their gayness prevent those of us who are not gay from going about our businesses?

This law assumes that the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community just arrived in Nigeria yesterday.  No, the LGBT has been with us since, at least, when I was a young boy over 50 years ago.  I recall growing up in (yes) Zaria, Kaduna State, of all places, and going to watch evening dances of members of the LGBT.  We used to call them “Dandaudu.”  We, the kids, used to marvel at their public display of amorous acts.  This was in the early 60s.  They were not hidden behind the walls of any clubs in the middle of the night; they danced in open spaces and in early evenings.  I have also personally witnessed “Dandaudus” doing their dances in Bukuru, Jos, Bauchi and Maiduguri in the 70s.  And if you lived in the hostel during your secondary school years, don’t tell me that you did not catch a few of your guy friends “doing it.”  I have heard from some of my secondary school female friends of the sexual trysts that went on in their hostel.  Let’s not even talk about what happens in the dorms of our universities.  So, why are we just now finding out that their presence in our midst is anathema and antithetical to our moral fiber?

Reuben Abati, that formerly celebrated anti-bad government champion, who is now a turncoat and who I now detest with so much passion, defended the law with the pedestrian argument that since 90 percent of Nigerians were opposed to same-sex marriage, “…the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs.”   Ninety percent?  First, how did we come up with that percentage?  When did we poll the country to ascertain that 90 percent of our people oppose same-sex marriage?  And even if they do, what right does the majority have to trample on the basic right of the minority – the fundamental human right to freedom of association?  What right does the majority have to deprive the minority of having sex with whomever it wants as long as it is consensual?  The worst that the Nigerian government should have been able to do should have been the denial of official recognition of such a union. But to criminalize it is akin to despotism, especially in a democratic dispensation.

And by the way, since when has this government or any past Nigerian government taken a decision in favor of an issue perceived to have received the support of the majority of Nigerians?  Don’t 90 percent of our people support the removal or Stella Oduah as Aviation minister, Diezani Madueke as Petroleum minister and Reuben Abati as adviser?  Don’t 90 percent of our people support the banning of government officials, especially the President, from seeking medical attention abroad until our medical facilities and personnel are of the same standard as those they use when they go abroad?  Don’t 90 percent of our people support the supply of 24/7 uninterrupted electricity to all corners of Nigeria?  Don’t 90 percent of our people support the revamping, rejuvenating and reinvigorating of the EFCC so it can better fight corruption?  Don’t 90 percent of our people support a massive overhaul of our educational infrastructures from elementary all the way to university systems?  Don’t 90 percent of our people oppose the blocking of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by mega-churches and mega-mosques?  Have our lawmakers crafted any laws that criminalize the failure by government to do the things mentioned above?  No.  But these nosey people are eager to get into the bedrooms of Nigerians.

I find this homophobic inclination that is so rampant in our country as yet another example of religious zealotry and self-righteousness that have been the bane of our society.  Everybody is stampeding and trampling each other today in their quest to out-do one another as they condemn homosexuality.  But we will find out one day – tomorrow maybe –  just as we have found out in Europe and America that even family members of influential government officials can be (and are indeed) gay!  In fact, we will soon find out that membership in the LGBT community cuts across all spectra of our society – from the ranks of elected politicians, to traditional rulers, military officers, police officers, teachers, technocrats, pastors, imams, babalawos, traders and what not.  And what are we going to do when we find out that one of these influential people whom we had thought was heterosexual was indeed bisexual?  Would we throw OBJ or IBB or GEJ or Mama Iyabo or Dame Patience or any of their children into 14 years of prison terms if any of them turns out to be gay? What would we do when we discover that Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye or his wife, Folu do engage in homosexual acts (with other partners, of course)?  What about Sheik Muhammad Yahaya Sanni and his many wives?  Are we going to give them immunity against prosecution?

This is why I stated earlier that our leaders did not subject this law to a rigorous and intellectual discuss before allowing their emotion, religion and communal bandwagon mentality to overtake their sense of reason.  Before the bill was adopted by the Senate in 2011, a few Nigerian members of the LGBT community, supported by some civil rights activists, appeared before the Senate to argue against enacting such a law.  The lawmakers and religious zealots in the chambers of the Senate booed and heckled these gay folks till they cried and left in disgrace.  Among the booing and heckling crowd were men who maintain two, three, four or more wives – wives who are subjugated, mentally and are physically abused.  Among this crowd were women who cheat on their husbands with their pastors and imams to the extent of making babies out-of-wedlock while their husbands thought the babies were theirs.  These people, in my opinion, lack the moral right to tell a gay man or woman whom to love and whom to cavort with in public.

Believe me, gays are the least of Nigeria’s problems.  Graft in high places, greed in high places, hired assassination, kidnapping, murder, armed robbery, neglect of rural areas, neglect of urban areas, lack of functioning basic amenities like electricity, water, hospitals, education, transportation, youth unemployment – all take precedence over what my neighbor is doing in his/her bedroom.  I am ashamed that my leaders do not see this.

And I get it. I get the fact that Nigeria is a deeply religious country.  Even if I wonder how truly religious we are when we watch our religious leaders steal from the religious houses and sexually abuse the laity; even if I sometimes wonder why our religious leaders live in obscene opulence while they watch their followers wallow in abject poverty, I still get the fact that Nigeria is a deeply religious country.  It is the reason why an issue such as gay rights should have been thoroughly debated intellectually.  I hope the passing of this primitive and retrogressive law begins the rigorous discussion of how we allow members of the LGBT to bask in their rightful sense of belonging.  We should lead Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leon, Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia out of the comity of nations still wedded to the archaic tradition of segregating their own people on the basis of sexual preferences.

We should join South Africa, Zaire, Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali (yes, Chad, Niger and Mali), Burkina Faso, Benin Republic, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau in the comity of nations that embrace the diversity of their people’s sexual preferences and have legislated to protect the rights of their LGBT people.

By Abiodun Ladepo

Los Angeles, California, USA

Oluyole2@yahoo.com

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

Nigeria ranked 4th highest slave country.


 

Nigeria-flag

The Global Index on Modern Slavery for 2013 released yesterday rated Nigeria as the fourth country with the highest numbers of slaves in the world.

The report shows that there are 701,032 estimated population in modern slavery in Nigeria. The range of the estimate spans from 670,000 to 740,000 salves in the country.

India has the highest population of slavery in the world with 13,956,010; China is rated second with 2,949,243; and Pakistan third, with 2,127,132. The report showed that 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude.

Almost half are in India, where slavery ranges from bonded labour in quarries and kilns to commercial sex exploitation, although the scourge exists in all 162 countries surveyed by Walk Free, an Australian-based rights group. Its estimate of 29.8 million slaves worldwide is higher than other attempts to quantify modern slavery.

 

The International Labour Organisation estimates that almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour. “Today some people are still being born into hereditary

slavery, a staggering but harsh reality, particularly in parts of West Africa and South Asia,” the report said.

“Other victims are captured or kidnapped before being sold or kept for exploitation, whether through ‘marriage’, unpaid labour on fishing boats, or as domestic workers. Others are tricked and lured into situations they cannot escape, with false promises of a good job or an education.”

The Global Slavery Index 2013 defines slavery as the possession or control of people to deny freedom and exploit them for profit or sex, usually through violence, coercion or deception. The definition includes indentured servitude, forced marriage and the abduction of children to serve in wars.

The rankings for the index are generated using three variables: a composite estimate of the number of people in slavery in each country, an estimate of the level of human trafficking from and into each country, and an estimate of the level of child and early marriage in each country.

According to the index, 10 countries, including Nigeria, alone account for three quarters of the world’s slaves. Other countries with high population of modern slavery include Ethiopia (651,000), Russia (516,000), Thailand (473,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (462,000), Myanmar (384,000) and Bangladesh (343,000). United Kingdom and Ireland tied as the least countries with low population in modern slavery.

The index also ranked nations by prevalence of slavery per head of population. By this measure, Mauritania is worst, with almost 4 percent of its 3.8 million people enslaved. Estimates by other organisations put the level at up to 20 percent.

Chattel slavery is common in Mauritania, meaning that slave status is passed down through generations. “Owners” buy, sell, rent out or give away their slaves as gifts.

After Mauritania, slavery is most prevalent by population in Haiti, where a system of child labour known as “restavek” encourages poor families to send their children to wealthier acquaintances, where many end up exploited and abused. Pakistan, India, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Gabon have the next highest prevalence rates.

At the other end of the scale, Iceland has the lowest estimated prevalence with fewer than 100 slaves.

Next best are Ireland, Britain, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Finland and Denmark, although researchers said slave numbers in such wealthy countries were higher than previously thought.

Source: Radio Biafra.

Obama Clashes with African Host Over Gay Rights.


Image: Obama Clashes with African Host Over Gay Rights

President Obama on Thursday praised the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage as a “victory for American democracy” but clashed with his African host over gay rights in a sign of how far the movement has to go internationally.

Obama said recognition of gay unions in the United States should cross state lines and that equal rights should be recognized universally. It was his first chance to expand on his thoughts about the ruling, which was issued Wednesday as he flew to Senegal, one of many African countries that outlaw homosexuality.

Senegalese President Macky Sall rebuffed Obama’s call for Africans to give gays equal rights under the law.

“We are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality,” Sall said, while insisting that the country is “very tolerant” and needs more time to digest the issue without pressure. “This does not mean we are homophobic.”

Obama said gay rights didn’t come up in their private meeting at the presidential palace, a mansion that looks somewhat similar to the White House. But Obama said he wants to send a message to Africans that while he respects differing personal and religious views on the matter, it’s important to have nondiscrimination under the law.

“People should be treated equally, and that’s a principle that I think applies universally,” he said.

A report released Monday by Amnesty International says 38 African countries criminalize homosexuality. In four of those — Mauritania, northern Nigeria, southern Somalia and Sudan — the punishment is death. These laws appear to have broad public support. A June 4 Pew Research Center survey found at least nine of 10 respondents in Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

Papi Nbodj, a 19-year-old student who stood by the road to the presidential palace to see Obama’s arrival, said homosexuality is against the religious beliefs of most in Senegal.

“We are in a Muslim country, so we certainly cannot have it here,” he said. “And for me it’s not OK to have this anywhere in the world.”

Sall sought to reassure Obama that gays are not persecuted in Senegal. But under Senegalese law, “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex” can be punished by up to five years in prison.

Ndeye Kebe, president of a human rights organization that works with homosexuals called Women’s Smile, disputed Sall’s contention that gays are not discriminated against.

“I know of around a dozen people who are in prison for homosexuality as we speak,” she said. “There wasn’t any real proof against them, but they were found guilty and they are in prison.”

And as recently as February of 2008, police rounded up men suspected of being homosexual after a Senegalese tabloid published photographs of a clandestine gay wedding in a suburb of Dakar. Gays went into hiding or fled to neighboring countries, but they were pushed out of Gambia by the president’s threat of decapitation.

As for Wednesday’s court ruling, Obama said he’s directing his administration to comb through every federal statute to quickly determine the implications of a decision that gave the nation’s legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans.

He said he wants to make sure that gay couples who deserve benefits under the ruling get them quickly. Obama said he personally believes that gay couples legally married in one state should retain their benefits if they move to another state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage.

“I believe at the root of who we are as a people, as Americans, is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law,” he said. “We believe in basic fairness. And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.”

Obama also offered prayers for former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is gravely ill, ahead of Obama’s planned visit to his country this weekend. Obama said he was inspired to become political active by Mandela’s example in the anti-apartheid movement of being willing to sacrifice his life for a belief in equal treatment.

“I think he’s a hero for the world,” Obama said. “And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”

Later Obama plans to reflect on the ties many African-Americans share with the continent as he takes a tour of Goree Island, Africa’s westernmost point. Africans reportedly were shipped off into slavery across the Atlantic Ocean through the island’s “Door of No Return.”

Thousands of boisterous revelers welcomed Obama’s motorcade Thursday morning in Dakar, cheering and waving homemade signs as the first African-American president made his way to the presidential palace. A large sign outside his hotel gate had pictures of smiling Obama and Sall that read, “Welcome home, President Obama.” Some in the crowd drummed, danced and sang, and many wore white as a symbol for peace.

Obama’s focus in Senegal is on the modern-day achievements of the former French colony after half a century of independence. Sall ousted an incumbent who attempted to change the constitution to make it easier for him to be re-elected and pave the way for his son to succeed him. The power grab sparked protests, fueled by hip-hop music and social media, that led to Sall’s election.

“Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one of the strongest partners that we have in the region,” Obama said. “It’s moving in the right direction with reforms to deepen democratic institutions.”

But such people-powered democratic transitions are not always the story of the African experience. Fighting and human rights abuses limited Obama’s options for stops in his first major tour of sub-Saharan Africa since he took office more than four years ago. Obama is avoiding his father’s homeland, Kenya, whose president has been charged with war crimes, and Nigeria, the country with the continent’s most dominant economy. Nigeria is enveloped in an Islamist insurgency and military crackdown.

Obama’s itinerary in Senegal was designed to send a message, purposefully delivered in a French-speaking, Muslim-majority nation, to other Africans in countries that have not made the strides toward democracy that Senegal has. Obama plans to meet with civil society leaders at the Goree Institute and visited the Supreme Court to speak about the importance of an independent judiciary and the rule of law in Africa’s development.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Analysis: After Algerian incident, West Africa fears Mali spillover.


  • Benin soldiers stand in preparation to leave for their deployment to Mali, in the capital Cotonou January 18, 2013. The contingent of around 30 Benin troops will leave Cotonou for the Mali capital Bamako. REUTERS/Charles Placide

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Benin soldiers stand in preparation to leave for their deployment to Mali, in the capital Cotonou January 18, 2013. The contingent of around 30 Benin troops will leave Cotonou for the Mali …more 

DAKAR (Reuters) – By seizing hundreds of hostages at a gas plant in the Algerian desert, al Qaeda-linked militants angry at French intervention in Mali sent a clear message: they could strike anywhere in the Sahara.

Many experts now believe the sight of a former colonial power leading unprepared West African armies into war against Islamists in Mali could spark similar attacks across a swathe of smaller, more vulnerable nations to the south.

Islamist fighters who escape the French onslaught are likely to scatter, with some remaining in Mali to fight a guerilla-style war while others trickle across its porous borders into countries where pockets of radicalism already exist.

“This could lead to frustration amongst Muslims towards the French,” said young Senegalese man Adama Sall, leaving afternoon prayers at a mosque in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

“In any intervention there is collateral damage, there are innocent people who could die. This could radicalize people.”

Security experts have traditionally played down the threat of radical Islam across West Africa apart from Nigeria, where Boko Haram militants operate.

They cite the moderate form of Sufi Islam which predominates across the region, its largely open if ineffectual governments, and the limited number of past attacks by fundamentalist groups.

But the crisis in Mali has radically changed the dynamics in a region where a growing number of international firms operate, ranging from mining and petroleum to transport and construction.

Al Qaeda-linked groups which seized control of Mali’s north had time to organize, recruit and rearm last year as regional governments wasted time trying to prise apart their alliance by offering talks to Ansar Dine, one of its main factions.

African nations now face the challenge of tracking groups of mobile Islamists across virtually meaningless borders while monitoring threats from radical Islam at home.

Paris had long pledged to back an African intervention in Mali but was determined to avoid French boots on the ground for fear of being painted as a crusading force. But images of French troops and armor in Mali are being beamed across the world, inflaming sentiment among some Muslims.

Aaron Zellin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who monitors jihadi forums, said Mali had overtaken Syria as the top subject of online discussion.

“A lot of these people are more like online cheerleaders,” he said. “But this could lead individuals to put away the keyboard and pick up an AK47 instead.”

MALI’S JITTERY NEIGHBOURS

Islamists have repeatedly warned they will strike regional powers or Western interests if attacked. With the Algerian gas plant drama still unfolding, the group claiming responsibility threatened foreign companies with fresh attacks.

Experts warn that if the Islamists can hit Algerian interests, protected by security forces hardened by a bloody conflict against Islamists in the 1990s, West African nations with ill-equipped and inexperienced troops look vulnerable to a militant threat that has become increasingly international.

Among the militants killed in the Algeria hostage siege, Algerian security sources reported there were Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, a Frenchman and a Malian.

During the months they occupied northern Mali, West African security sources say Islamists in Mali lured a range of foreign recruits, including significant numbers from sub-Saharan Africa, previously under-represented within regional al Qaeda factions.

In Senegal, a neighboring Muslim nation proud of its religious tolerance, Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye warned this week that al Qaeda had set up sleeper cells in the country.

President Macky Sall called on all Senegalese to report suspicious activities by Muslims coming from abroad. “We must remain vigilant in our towns and villages as infiltrations exist,” said Sall, who is sending 500 troops to Mali.

In Mauritania, bordering Mali to the west, both secular and Islamist parties across a deeply divided political spectrum have insisted the Islamic republic must stay out of Mali.

Before Islamists seized northern Mali, Mauritania was the country of the region most exposed to al Qaeda’s activities. It has launched raids on Islamist camps across the border in Mali after attacks on its army and Western interests in the country.

“Mauritania will not get involved in the conflict,” said Mohamed Yahya Ould Horma, vice president of the ruling UPR party. “We have already paid too high a price for acting alone against terrorist groups over the years.”

Underlining the presence of radical thinking in a nation straddling Black and Arab Africa, a group of 30 Mauritanian religious scholars have called on Muslims across the region to protect jihadists from Mali.

“France wants to drive out extremists. But to where? Mauritania and Niger could be in trouble. Burkina Faso will face threats,” said Kwesi Aning, an expert at the Ghana-based Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre.

NIGERIA THREATENED

But it is Nigeria which could be the greatest concern. With the region’s biggest oil reserves and economy, its security forces are already bogged down in on-off fighting with Boko Haram militants in the north.

Abuja has wavered between not wanting to overstretch its army by intervening in Mali and hoping the mission could stamp out links between homegrown and global militants.

By dispatching the first of 1,200 soldiers this week, President Goodluck Jonathan opted for the latter.

“They want to cut off the Islamist problem at the root,” said Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives. “Not only could it inflame things here, but in the long run it won’t solve the problem of Boko Haram’s insurgency, which is to do with inequality and poor governance.”

Most West Africans, including the Malians themselves, have been largely supportive of French intervention while regretting the inaction of regional powers to come to Bamako’s rescue.

However, the failure of democracy to improve daily life in some of the world’s poorest countries has opened the door to Islamic organizations to play a bigger role.

Ultra-conservative Wahhabism, spread by preachers coming from the Gulf, has made inroads.

“This intervention (in Mali) makes the whole sub-region considerably more vulnerable,” Aning added.

“We are going to see the spread of the fronts from Mali.”

(Additional reporting by Diadie Ba in Dakar, Laurent Prieur in Nouakchott, Tom Perry in Cairo and Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Daniel Flynn)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By David Lewis | Reuters

Sahara Islamists take hostages, spreading Mali war.


  • Mokhtar Belmokhtar, identified by the Algerian interior ministry as the leader of a militant Islamic group, is pictured in a screen capture from an undated video distributed by the Belmokhtar Brigade obtained by Reuters January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Belmokhtar Brigade/Handout

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Mokhtar Belmokhtar, identified by the Algerian interior ministry as the leader of a militant Islamic group, is pictured in a screen capture from an undated video distributed by the Belmokhtar …more 

RELATED CONTENT

ALGIERS/BAMAKO (Reuters) – Islamist fighters seized dozens of Western and Algerian hostages in a dawn raid on a natural gas facility deep in the Sahara on Wednesday and demanded Francehalt a new offensive against rebels in neighboring Mali.

Three people, among them one British and one French, were reported killed, but details were sketchy and numbers of those held at Tigantourine ranged from 41 foreigners – including perhaps seven Americans as well as Japanese and Europeans – to over 100 local staff, held separately and less closely watched.

What is clear is that with a dramatic counterpunch to this week’s French build-up in Mali, the region’s loosely allied, al Qaeda-inspired radicals have set Paris a daunting dilemma and spread fallout from Mali’s hitherto obscure civil war far beyond northwest Africa, challenging Washington as well as Europeans and shutting down a major gas field that pumps energy to Europe.

The attack, which Algeria said was led by a veteran, Afghan-trained holy warrior-cum-smuggler dubbed “The Uncatchable” by French intelligence, came just as French ground troops in Mali launched their first assault after six days of air strikes.

The United States, which like European powers endorsed France’s decision to intervene last week against Islamists who have seized vast tracts of northern Mali, confirmed Americans were among the hostages and said it would work to “secure” them.

Western and African governments have been alarmed by a flow of weapons and fighters across the unmarked Sahara borders following the end of Libya‘s civil war in 2011 and fear that Mali, where Islamists drive the national army from the north nine months ago, could become an Afghan-style al Qaeda haven.

The militants, who said they had dozens of fighters in the gas field, issued no explicit threat but made clear to media in neighboring Mauritania the hostages’ lives were at risk.

“We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali,” read one statement from the group, which called itself the “Battalion of Blood”.

In other comments carried by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, the group said its fighters had rigged explosives around the site and any attempt to free the hostages would lead to a “tragic end”. The unusually large numbers of gunmen and hostages involved pose serious problems for any rescue operation.

After dark, ANI quoted a militant source saying fighters had repelled a raid by Algerian troops. He added that the hostage-takers’ weaponry included mortars and anti-aircraft missiles.

AMERICANS

The militants said seven Americans were among the 41 foreign hostages – a figure U.S. officials said they could not confirm.

Norwegian energy company Statoil, which operates the gas field in a joint venture with Britain’s BP and the Algerian state company Sonatrach, said nine of its Norwegian employees and three of its Algerian staff were being held.

Also reported kidnapped by various sources were five Japanese working for the engineering firm JGC Corp, a French national, an Austrian, an Irishman and a number of Britons.

The Algerian government, which fought a bloody civil war against Islamists in the 1990s, said it would not negotiate.

French media said the militants were also demanding that Algeria release dozens of Islamist prisoners from its jails.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation.”

He said he lacked firm information on whether there were links to the situation in Mali. Analysts pointed to shifting alliances and rivalries among Islamists in the region to suggest the hostage-takers may have a range of motives.

In their own statements, they condemned Algeria’s secularist government for “betraying” its predecessors in the bloody anti-colonial war against French rule half a century ago by letting French warplanes fly over its territory to Mali. They also accused Algeria of shutting its border to Malian refugees.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia told the state news agency APS there were about 20 hostage-takers led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian who fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and set up his own group in the Sahara recently after falling out with other al Qaeda leaders.

Some of those held at the facility, near the small town of In Amenas, close to the Libyan border and about 1,300 km (800 miles) inland, had sporadic contact with the outside world.

The head of a French catering company said he had information from a manager who supervised some 150 Algerian employees at the site. Regis Arnoux of CIS Catering told France’s BFM television the local staff were being prevented from leaving but were otherwise free to move around inside and keep on working.

“The Westerners are kept in a separate wing of the base,” Arnoux said. “They are tied up and are being filmed. Electricity is cut off, and mobile phones have no charge.

“Direct action seems very difficult … Algerian officials have told the French authorities as well as BP that they have the situation under control and do not need their assistance.”

MALI OFFENSIVE

Just days after a bold deployment of French troops to Mali, another former colony, that had largely silenced critics questioning his leadership after eight months in office, French President Francois Hollande faced a possible further escalation of the conflict, with Western targets at risk across Africa.

He has called for international support against insurgents who France says pose a threat to Africa and the West, and admits it faces a long struggle against well-equipped fighters who seized Timbuktu and other oasis towns in northern Mali and have imposed Islamic law, including public amputation and beheading.

Islamists have warned Hollande that he has “opened the gates of hell” for all French citizens.

French army chief Edouard Guillaud said ground forces were stepping up their operation to engage directly “within hours” the alliance of Islamist fighters, grouping al Qaeda’s North African wing AQIM and Mali’s home grown Ansar Dine and MUJWA.

Residents said a column of some 30 French Sagaie armored vehicles has set off toward rebel positions from the town of Niono, 300 km (190 miles) from the capital Bamako.

A Malian military source said French special forces units were taking part in the operation. Guillaud said France’s strikes, involving Rafale and Mirage jet fighters, were being hampered because militants were sheltering among civilians.

Many inhabitants of northern Mali have welcomed the French attacks though some also fear being caught in the cross-fire.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged that France faced a hard slog, particularly in western Mali where AQIM’s mostly foreign fighters have camps: “It’s tough. We were aware from the beginning it would be a very difficult operation.”

Hollande said on Tuesday that French forces would remain in Mali until stability returned to the West African nation. Hollande said France hoped, however, to hand over to African forces in its former colony, “in the coming days or weeks”.

West African military chiefs met for a second day in Bamako to hammer out details of a U.N.-mandated deployment that had been expected to start only in September but was suddenly kick-started by French intervention. They said their aim was to send in the first units of a 2,000-man emergency force on Thursday.

Hollande’s intervention in Mali brings risks for eight French hostages held by AQIM in the Sahara as well as the 30,000 French citizens living across West Africa. A French helicopter pilot was killed on Friday, France’s only combat death so far.

The conflict in Mali, a landlocked state of 15 million twice the size of France, has displaced an estimated 30,000 people and raised concerns across mostly Muslim West Africa of a radicalization of Islam in the region.

“There is a great hope,” one man said from Timbuktu, where he said Islamist fighters were trying to blend into civilian neighborhoods. “We hope that the city will be freed soon.”

(Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Andrew Callus in London, Balazs Koranyi in Oslo, Laurent Prieur in Nouakchott, Daniel Flynn in Dakar, John Irish, Catherine Bremer and Nick Vinocur in Paris, David Alexander in Rome and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Lamine Chikhi and Bate Felix | Reuters

French, Malian troops encircle Islamist rebels in central Mali.


BAMAKO (Reuters) – French ground troops deployed around the central Malian town of Niono on Wednesday in a bid to halt any further advance by Islamist rebels who have seized the nearby villageof Diabaly, Malian military sources said.

“French forces have secured Niono to stop the Islamists advancing to Segou while the Malian army is securing the border area with Mauritania,” said one source. “They are now encircled and a final assault is only a matter of time.”

In a sixth day of air assaults, French fighter jets also struck the headquarters of the Islamic police in Niafunke, near the ancient caravan town of Timbuktu, local residents said.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

Reuters

Tag Cloud