Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.
Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court on Jan. 15 acquitted former Côte d'Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé, his former youth minister. Gbagbo and Blé Goudé were accused of four counts of crimes against humanity related to violence following a disputed 2010 election that left 3,000 dead and 500,000 displaced. Gbagbo was arrested in 2011 in a presidential palace bunker by UN and French-backed forces supporting his rival, Alassane Ouattara. He was the first former head of state to face trial at the ICC. The Chamber ordered both accused to be immediately released. A prosecution request to extend Gbagbo's custody pending appeal was rejected. "The acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé will be seen as a crushing disappointment to victims of post-election violence in Cote d'Ivoire," said Amnesty International in a statement. (BBC News, Reuters, Amnesty International, ICC press release)
A settlement of semi-nomadic Fulani herders was attacked in Mali Jan. 1, with at least 33 residents slain and several homes set aflame. Survivors said the attackers were traditional Dogon hunters, known as dozos. The army was rushed to Koulogon village in central Mopti region to control the situation following the massacre. But the perpetrators may have actually been assisted by the armed forces. Dogon residents of the area have formed a self-defense militia, known as Dana Amassagou (which translates roughly as "hunters in God's hands"), to prevent incursions by jihadists from Mali's conflicted north into the country's central region. The militia is said to have received weapons and training from the official armed forces. However, driven by conflicts over access to land and shrinking water resources, the militia has apparently been attacking local Fulani villages. Hundreds are said to have been killed in clashes between Dogon and Fulani over the past year. A Senegalese rapid reaction force under UN command was deployed to Mopti last year in response to the mounting violence. (All India Radio, Middle East Online, Jan. 2; Al Jazeera, BBC News, Jan. 1; IRIN, Sept. 4)
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."
Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled (PDF) Sept. 23 in favor of Ghana in a lengthy maritime dispute with Ivory Coast. The case, which was brought to the international body by Ghana in 2014, was an attempt to clarify the boundary between the two countries, as both countries were vying for oil in the contested area. The court unanimously ruled in favor of Ghana, dismissing the claim that Ghana violated the territorial rights of Ivory Coast when it expanded its oil exploration in the area. The ruling definitively creates a boundary, in the form of a straight line running from the land boarder of the two nations. The ruling came in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The International Organization for Migration reports that its staff have documented shocking conditions on North African migrant routes—including what they describe as "slave markets" faced by hundreds of young African men bound for Libya. Staff with the IOM's office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as "SC" to protect his identity), who was returning to his home after being held captive for months. According to SC's testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he paid a trafficker 200,000 CFA (about $320) to arrange trasnport north to Libya. But when the pick-up truck reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn't been paid by the trafficker, and brought the migrants to an area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. "Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them," IOM staff reported.
Anti-terrorism laws that were passed by Senegal's National Assembly in October, are "draconian" and could "restrict freedom of expression and roll back the rule of law in Senegal," according to a report (PDF) released April 3 by Amnesty International. The laws in question were passed as part of the government's efforts to deal with the rise of terrorism in the region, including Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria and Mali. Recognizing the country's need to address terrorism, AI claims the vagueness of the laws are problematic, as violations such as "insults" and affronts to "morality" could be interpreted in a way that suppresses dissident opinions. Other provisions of the new laws criticized by AI include those designed to prevent "defamation of the President of the Republic," "the dissemination of false news," and acts likely to "cause serious political unrest."