Monthly Archives: May, 2013

What I (was NOT) doing in African Country B & Chad’s recent (alleged) coup attempt

On occasion, I write about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is about my current travel covering parts of Africa and Europe.

Dear Readers,

Earlier this week, I was in Chad (African Country B). And I’m gonna come right out and say it – I had little to no involvement in the apparent coup attempt  that may or may not have occurred in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena yesterday.

Although news is still emerging about this attempt to “destabilize the institutions of the republic,” here’s what we know:

So in sum, there’s still a lot we don’t know. As an external observer, there are two conclusions I’ve come to:

  1. If there was an opportune time to launch a coup in Chad, now’s the time. If there was a coup-plotter’s equivalent to the well-known poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (from which the oft-quoted phrase “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” comes) this would be it. What I mean is, with 2,000 of his best assault forces currently deployed in northern Mali, Déby is more vulnerable than he would be if they were not over 1500 miles away. With the president publicly signaling that these forces may be withdrawn from northern Mali, the time to unseat him would be before these forces returned home. In March, Timan Erdimi, exiled leader of the Union of Forces of Resistance (UFR) threatened to renew its previous rebellion, apparently over discontent that peace talks had never taken place. (I must caveat, though, that at present I have no indication as to who might have been behind yesterday’s disturbances). Erdimi, who is also Déby’s nephew, was a member of the coalition that almost toppled Déby in February 2008 by sweeping west across the country in a matter of days, laying siege to the presidential palace for two days before retreating east. Déby was rescued by French intervention – the French military presence of 1,000 troops and associated support elements, which already existed at the time, continuing to provide a guarantor of regime stability to this day.
  2. Yesterday’s events could simply be a regime-manufactured part of the larger game Déby has been playing with the international community since Chad entered the fight in Mali several months ago. Chad is well aware that it was the only African country that was capable of rapidly deploying highly capable assault forces to halt the January 2013 Islamist offensive into southern Mali. However, it appears that the international community has not, in turn, demonstrated its gratitude. With Chad hundreds of millions of dollars in the red over its Mali deployment, it may behoove Déby to demonstrate how much he could really use that influx of cash so that he could afford to sustain Chadian troops in Mali for the benefit of regional & global security. (For great analysis on Déby’s great game with the international community, see Celeste Hicks and Alex Thurston).

Anyway, that’s my take on things. I’m headed to African Country C tomorrow, and it’s already shaping up to be quite an eventful week.

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What I did in African Country A (Niger)

On occasion, I write about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is about my current travel covering parts of Africa and Europe.

Dear Readers,

The jig is up! I’ve moved on from African Country A, which I wrote a bit about last week, so I can now tell you that I was in Niger. I got to do several cool things while I was there.

Niger River at Sunset

Niger River at Sunset

First, I got to be a fly on the wall during meetings with representatives of the youth movement, NGOs, and the media. There, I was privy to Nigerien civil society perspectives on the country’s trajectory, including the proactive measures President Mahamadou Issoufou had taken to mitigate spillover from instability in Libya and Mali, the country’s youth bulge and why youth engagement is so critical, fears over the spread of violent extremism from northern Nigeria into Maradi and Zinder, and instances of complicity in narcotrafficking among segments of the Nigerien political class.

Later in the week, I had the opportunity to observe a simulation of a hostage rescue by the Nigerien gendarmes.

Gendarmes prepare for hostage rescue simulation

Gendarmes prepare for hostage rescue simulation

During the simulation, I wandered into the structure where the “terrorists” were holding the “hostages,” not entirely aware that a full-scale assault was imminent. In the video that I took (which I’ve decided not to post here), you see the gendarmes entering, shooting two blanks, and the camera (held by me) diving instinctively towards the ground. What is not seen or heard in the video is my soft and slightly panicked whimpering. Later on, I got to see how the unit apprehended some of the terrorists who escaped the initial operation, searched their vehicle, and had an evidence collection unit process the scene. Since I don’t have a law enforcement background and the United States doesn’t have an equivalent to gendarmerie, it was pretty cool to see how the simulation played out from start to finish.

Gendarmerie stops fleeing terrorists during simulation

Gendarmerie stops fleeing terrorists during simulation

I insisted on visiting the Musée National du Niger, and although most of the pavilions were closed at the time, I did get to preview a forthcoming exhibit on the traditional dress of Niger’s Hausa, Songhai, and Tuareg populations. I also visited the Grande Mosquée de Niamey, which was very beautiful and offered a great view of part of the city from the minaret.

Grande Mosquée de Niamey

(Part of the) Grande Mosquée de Niamey

On my last night in Niamey, I was the guest speaker at the English Language Club at the U.S. Embassy’s American Cultural Center. I opened the session by talking about my identity as a first-generation American and then opened the session up to questions from the Nigerien audience. And let me tell you – these people gave me a run for my money! They asked me questions that covered topics from the patriotism and ethnic identity among other first generation Americans to gay rights to gun control to the politics of the climate change discourse in the United States. At the end, one of the participants asked me what I thought of Niamey and if I would return. “I’ve found Niamey quite charming, and YES I must return and experience more of the country.” I responded. “I’ve only just scratched the surface!” 

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