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Monday, August 27, 2012

Crisis In Mali


Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

Kelly Johnson
Research Associate


The West African country of Mali is mired in overlapping crises. A military coup overthrew Mali’s democratically elected government in March 2012 and insurgent groups seized its vast and sparsely populated northern territory. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional criminal-terrorist network and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, has expanded its presence in the north, along with two other radical Islamist organizations and the remnants of an ethnic Tuareg separatist group. The factors that drove these developments were complex; among them was the collapse of Muammar al Qadhafi’s regime in Libya, which sparked the return of Tuareg combatants to Mali and a reported surge in regional weapons flows.

Congress influences U.S. policy toward Mali through the authorization and appropriation of foreign aid and through its oversight activities. The prospect of an expanded safe-haven for AQIM and other extremists and criminal actors in Mali is a principal concern of U.S. policymakers, as it presents a serious threat to regional security and, potentially, to Western targets and interests in the region. The United States and other international actors are also concerned about the humanitarian implications of the turmoil in Mali: the conflict in the north has displaced over 420,000 people and placed additional pressures on an already dire regional food security emergency. To date, the interim government and military remain in disarray, while political rivalry and limited capacity have hindered efforts to forge an effective regional response.

The situation in Mali challenges U.S. goals of promoting stability, democracy, civilian control of the military, and effective counterterrorism in Africa, and raises questions regarding the strategic design and effectiveness of existing U.S. efforts to do so. Policymakers continue to debate whether, and how, the United States should respond to Mali’s crisis as it evolves. At present, U.S. policy seeks the return of a legitimate government in the south, and supports efforts led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to mediate a way out of Mali’s political collapse and contain violent extremism from spreading more widely in the region. The United States may provide support for an eventual ECOWAS stabilization force, depending on its scope and with the consent of Mali’s interim government; to date, State Department officials have called on ECOWAS to better articulate its plans and needs for the mission. Direct U.S. assistance to the Malian security forces—in addition to several other types of foreign aid—has been suspended in line with congressionally mandated restrictions triggered by the coup. The aid suspensions do not include humanitarian assistance, including for health and food security, of which the United States is a leading provider in Mali and the region.

With regard to the current crises, Congress may consider issues related to U.S. and international aid to Mali, support for ECOWAS, and humanitarian assistance in response to evolving conditions in the Sahel. Congress may also consider the possible implications of the situation in Mali for the design, emphasis, and evaluation of U.S. counterterrorism and good governance efforts in Africa.



Date of Report: August 16, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42664
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy


Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Libya’s post-conflict transition is underway, as Libyans work to consolidate change from the 40- year dictatorship of Muammar al Qadhafi to a representative government based on democratic and Islamic principles. On July 7, 2012, Libyan voters chose 200 members of a General National Congress (GNC) in the country’s first nationwide election in nearly 50 years. The GNC will oversee national government affairs, appoint a new cabinet, and determine the method for selecting members of a drafting committee to prepare a new constitution. If voters approve a constitution in a national referendum, then new elections are to be held by mid-2013, bringing a nearly two-year transition process to a close.

In the wake of the July election, Libya’s interim leaders remain answerable to a wide range of locally and regionally organized activists, locally elected and appointed committees, prominent personalities, tribes, militias, and civil society groups seeking to shape the transition and safeguard the revolution’s achievements. The shift from an appointed interim government to elected leaders may provide the government more democratic legitimacy and better enable it to make decisions in key areas, such as security, fiscal affairs, and post-conflict justice and reconciliation. Libyans are debating the proper balance of local, regional, and national authority and the proper role for Islam in political and social life.

Security conditions are mostly stable, although armed non-state groups continue to operate in many areas of the country amid periodic flare-ups in a number of local conflicts. In some cases, these groups work to provide security in coordination with national authorities and in other cases they operate on an independent basis. Interim leaders have issued orders calling for armed groups to hand over land and facilities to state authorities, and registration of former revolutionary fighters for recruitment and/or retraining is underway. It remains unclear whether armed groups will more fully embrace reintegration campaigns under the newly elected government.

The proliferation of military weaponry from unsecured Libyan stockpiles—including small arms, explosives, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADs)—remains a serious concern in Libya and in neighboring countries. Security Council Resolution 2017 specifically addresses this threat. The Obama Administration is implementing a program with Libyan authorities to retrieve and disable certain types of weapons, including MANPADs. Non-government reporting indicates that arms depots remain unsecured. U.S. officials believe that nuclear materials and chemical weapons components are secure (including previously undeclared chemical weapons), and Libyan leaders have recommitted to destroying the remnants of Qadhafi’s chemical arsenal.

On March 12, 2012, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council extended the mandate of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for one year in order to assist the transitional authorities with security and administrative challenges. U.N. Security Council resolutions also set conditions for the sale of arms and training to the Libyan government and partially lift a U.N. mandated asset freeze for certain purposes. The U.S. Treasury Department has issued licenses that authorize the release of over $30 billion in formerly blocked assets belonging to Libyan entities.

As of August 2012, the United States government has provided more than $200 million in assistance to Libya since the start of the uprising in 2011, including $89 million in humanitarian assistance, $40 million for weapons abatement, and $25 million in nonlethal assistance from Department of Defense stockpiles. As Libyans work to shape their future, Congress and the Administration have the first opportunity since the 1960s to fully redefine U.S.-Libyan relations.



Date of Report: August 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33142
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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Nigeria: Current Issues and U.S. Policy


Lauren Ploch
Specialist in African Affairs

The U.S. government considers its strategic relationship with Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of oil and its second largest economy, to be among the most important on continent. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 170 million people, roughly divided between Muslims and Christians. U.S. diplomatic relations with Nigeria, which is among the top five suppliers of U.S. oil imports, have improved since the country made the transition from military to civilian rule in 1999, and Nigeria is a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid. The country is an influential actor in African politics, having mediated disputes in several African countries and ranking among the top five troop contributors to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Nigeria is a country of significant promise, but it also faces serious social, economic, and security challenges that have the potential to threaten the stability of both the state and the region, and to affect global oil prices. The country has faced intermittent political turmoil and economic crises since independence. Political life has been scarred by conflict along ethnic, geographic, and religious lines, and corruption and misrule have undermined the authority and legitimacy of the state. Despite its extensive oil and natural gas resources, Nigeria’s human development indicators are among the world’s lowest, and a majority of the population suffers from extreme poverty. Social unrest, criminality, and corruption in the oil-producing Niger Delta have hindered oil production and impeded the southern region’s economic development. Perceived neglect and economic marginalization have also fueled resentment in the north.

Inter-communal conflicts are common in parts of Nigeria. Thousands have been killed in periodic ethno-religious clashes in the past decade. The attempted terrorist attack on an American airliner by a Nigerian in December 2009 and the resurgence of a militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, have also heightened concerns about extremist recruitment in Nigeria, which has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. Boko Haram has increasingly targeted churches, sometimes triggering retaliatory violence and threatening to inflame religious tensions in the country. While the group has remained primarily focused on a domestic agenda, some U.S. officials state that its members are expanding ties with other violent Islamist groups on the continent.

Nigeria’s most recent elections, held in April 2011, were viewed by many as a critical test of the government’s commitment to democracy. The State Department had deemed the previous elections to be deeply flawed, and, by some accounts, Nigeria had not held a free and fair general election since the return to civilian rule in 1999. Election observer groups characterized the 2011 elections as a significant improvement over previous polls, but not without problems. Postelection protests and violence across the north highlighted lingering communal tensions, grievances, and mistrust of the government in the northern states. President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, was re-elected and faces multiple, sometimes competing pressures to implement reforms deemed critical to addressing the country’s security and development challenges.

The Obama Administration has been supportive of Nigeria’s recent reform initiatives, including anti-corruption efforts, economic and electoral reforms, energy sector privatization, and programs to promote peace and development in the Niger Delta. In 2010, the Administration established the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, a strategic dialogue to address issues of mutual concern. Congress regularly monitors Nigerian political developments and has expressed concerns with corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental damage in the Delta, as well as with the threat of violent extremism in Nigeria. Congress oversees more than $600 million in U.S. foreign assistance programs in Nigeria—one of the largest U.S. bilateral assistance packages in Africa.



Date of Report: July 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RL33964
Price: $29.95

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