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Abdelmalek Droukdel: profile of a key jihadist in the Maghreb and the Sahel

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Abdelmalek Droukdel: profile of a key jihadist in the Maghreb and the Sahel

Fecha 6/06/2020 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

On June 5, Florence Parly, Ministry of the French Armed Forces, announced that Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb’s chief was killed -together with other important members of his inner circle- two days before, during a military operation carried on by the French Army. Without any doubt it was a shocking information, especially for the jihadist movement that Abdelmalek Droukdel used to lead in the Maghreb and Sahel regions. With the Algerian chief dead, it is necessary to know a bit more about his role in Northern Africa’s terrorist scenary.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | June 6, 2020

Abdelmalek Droukdel was born in Meftah, southern Algeria, on 20 April 1970, in a very religious family. He completed school studies and then obtained a bachelor degree in the University of Bilda (1989-1993). At the same time, he was preparing his way towards jihadism and terrorism, something he had already begun at the end of the 80s, when he even went to fight the Soviet troops during Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. His first steps toward an extremist group are dated in 1993, when he started having contact with the Movement of the Islamic State (MEI). After that, in the 90s, he advanced to the ranks of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and, in 2001, to the Salafist Group for the Preaching and Combat (GSPC). In 2004, he became the leader of this latter one, which he finally merged with Al Qaeda, forming, in 2006, the known movement of the Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).

Droukdel’s role in Mali’s fragmentation

After Muammar Al Ghadaffi’s fall and murder, in October 2011, hundreds or even thousands of veteran and young fighters, now armed with the arms that they received as Ghadaffi’s mercenaries, started to escape to other bordering countries, such as Mali. This latter one was the perfect place for Tuaregs that came from Libya and wanted to revive, once again, the dream of an independent State. Therefore, in 2011 they founded the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) and in March 2012 they defeated the Malian government and declared the birth of the Azawad, which is an independent State for the Tuareg people.

(Fuente: Agencias)

With a direct collision of governmental forces, Tuareg independentists, jihadists and terrorist groups, the ground was prepared for the irruption of Abdelmalek Droukdel’s into Mali’s arena. After merging with Ansar Eddine (AE) -group that received AQMI’s financial, logistical and military help since 2011-, AQMI decided to form an alliance with AE and the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in Western Africa (Mujao), something that was concretised in 2012. Since then, Malian, French and international troops and installations have been objectives of this terrorist merge, consolidating Droukdel’s change from a local to a regional terrorist leader.

His last years

With less power and control than before, he needed to recover importance, as the Islamic State had won a lot of ground in Africa and even provoqued a fracture in the ranks of AQIM, with important members leaving the group and joining the IS. Even worse, the intervention of France in Mali, since 2013, weakened the strength of AQIM and Droukdel, making him to disappear from the main scenes. According to local sources and medias, Droukdel was capable to enter Tunisia in 2016, where he established his operation center. Nevertheless, he was still active and, in fact, was planning his return to Algeria, country in which he seemingly hid before being able to pass the Tunisian border. The consolidation of the Western Africa as a jihadist hub was one of his goals as Droukdel only controlled some feuds in Kabilya and the Sahara region.

In this context, his last victory was the creation, thanks to the ties with Iyad ag-Ghali -an important islamist leader in Mali- of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM). It was a merge of different terrorist associations that, according to some sources, had nearly 2.000 fighters and that counted with the presence of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al Mourabitoun, Ansar Eddine and Macina. Eventhough it was a great moment for the jihadist movements in Africa, Droukdel’s weakened status and influence seemed to be evident as he did not participate in the ceremony and was not part of the official photo. Instead, he sent an envoy.

Some final comments

He never received training in Yemen or Afghanistan, being a strange case in Al Qaeda. His ideological thought was a mixture between Arab nationalism and islamism (political islam) and he had the capacity to make alliances with groups that shared with him the same goals. That explains, for example, his close collaboration with jihadist groups in Mali and his plans to extend his collaboration to other terrorist cells in Western Africa.

His mentor was Abou Mousab al Zarqawi, a former leader of Al Qaeda in Irak. He had a strong character and was a tough person. Nevertheless, he had excellent oratory skills and, therefore, he used to be seen as a charismatic leader. Also, he was very ambitious and cold-blooded, as he did not have any problem to eliminate or leave aside other member, that is what happened with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran jihadist  that was “expelled” from AQIM in 2012 due to ‘ideological differences’ (according to Droukdel).

His harsh line can be seen with the fact that he transformed the SGPC into a terrorist group that could attack and kill civilians. Then, as AQIM, he did not have any problem to kidnap algerians or foreigners in order to demand randsoms.  He was also an intelligent leader, which allowed him to obtain massive sums of funds and to increase the number of terrorist incidents in which AQIM had a direct participation.

His main legacy was to expand jihadism through Africa, especially in the Maghreb and the Sahel. He was able to organize and carry on attacks in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco, always fighting against foreign activities and spreading the roots of radical islam.

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African countries processes to follow in 2018

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African countries processes to follow in 2018

Fecha 28/12/2017 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

With the arrival of a new year, it is important to analyze some important topics that will fill the African agenda of international and specifically, interafrican, issues during the current year. So, this article will present some countries that should be tracked in 2018 as they will possibly face important changes and strong (and sometimes hard) sociopolitical processes.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | December 28th, 2017

(Fotografía: Agencias)

Only by looking the electoral calendar of Africa for 2018 it seems that it will be an important year. There will be nine presidential elections and 15 legislative ones, which will be complemented with others like local elections, referendums or municipal processes. Even more, Cameroon, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Madagascar, Mauritius, Sierra Leona, South Sudan and Zimbabwe will choose a new President. So, just talking about elections it will be a year full of expectations.

At the same time, there are key events that are developing in Africa and that, obviously, will be part of 2018’s agenda por this continent. For example, the dispute of the Nile, the tasks of the new chief of the MINURSO, the immigration issues in Northern Africa but also in Eastern and Central Africa, the transformation of the African Union, advances in the African integration, the rise of terrorism, the drug traffic routes and the fight against hunger, among others. Different and tough challenges for a continent that has improved in a lot of aspects but that still confronts eternal social conflicts and, surely, a lack of a deeper integration as a whole. As Julius Nyerere declared, the fragmentation of Africa still causes damage to the path that will give Africans better life conditions.

In the following paragraphs, the context of different countries will be analyzed, so that the study of such a huge continent can be realized in a less dense way.

Egypt

Abdelfatah Al Sisi’s announcement of running for the presidential election – which should be held on Mars 26th– confirmed what all Egyptians knew, it is, he will not hold out­ the power and he will continue with his ambitions. And if there was any doubt in relation to his rivals, now everything is clear, as all of the other candidates have ended their presidential dream and al Sisi’s victory is only a matter of time.

It is true that he saved the country from the Muslim Brotherhood -a group that tried to be seen as a moderate islamist political party but that finally tried to establish changes that would have conducted Egyptian society into a more conservative one- but Egypt still faces the problem of discrimination against women, Christian minorities (nearly 10% of the country’s population) and secular sectors of the society.­ Also, the threat of terrorism is very active in the Egyptian territory and specially in the Sinai. The attacks of last months are a demonstration of this and reflect the fragile security context of the country. The situation worsens if the analysis deepens in topics like the economic reality of Egypt, the corruption and the strong-hand leadership of al Sisi, who never hesitates before sending to prison political rivals, islamists, ONGs representatives and anyone who opposes to him.

Even if the lack of civilian liberties has been a problem through decades, there was a hope that after Hosni Mubarak’s fall a new paradigm could be established, specially in freedom to express, religious liberty and, maybe the most important, the end of that deep and strong relation between politics and military in the government or power. Sadly, none of those situations have changed and, even worse, Egypt faces 2018 with lot of problems and big challenges in those issues. Then, it will be a key moment for the future of the country. The reforms are waiting and al Sisi has the opportunity to rectify the path and give, once again, hope to the Egyptians.

Libya

If there is a country that faces a crucial year for its social, political and economic re-order, it is Libya. Since the fall of Muammar al Gaddafi (in 2011), the former stable country has become into a semi-failed state. Two governments and two Parliaments, slavery, immigration crisis, difficulties for the oil production and social discontent. Also, the strong menace of Al Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State, among other terrorist groups. So, the Libyan scenario doesn’t seem to be very well during 2018. Nevertheless, there are some challenges for the Maghrebian country.

During the last months was revealed the existence of numerous human-trafficking networks and, even worse, the practice of slavery in the Libyan territory. The dramatic issue generated summits, meetings and political compromises in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the European Union and the Organization of the United Nations (ONU), among others. However, this conflict should be solved as possible and, therefore, has to be one of the priorities for the Libyan authorities.

The problem is that in 2018 the expectations turn around two sociopolitical key facts, it is, the reconciliation process that brings with itself a new Constitution for the country and the correct realization of the presidential and legislative elections. Thus, the first step is to work for the re-construction of the state infrastructure, as with this goal being achieved all the further projects should be faced with more strength and order. This is why the oil situation is other of the key topics for Libya in 2018. Since 2017, the numbers of oil production and exportation have been showing a positive trend, so one of the ambitions should be the consolidation of this process. With oil, new Constitution, national reconciliations and a stronger and better state apparatus, the other challenges –as fight against immigration (and slavery), terrorism, separatism and ethnic conflicts (tebou and amazigh claims) should be developed in a better context, it is, one with high levels of chaos and violence but at least with the hope given by a newly created process of rebirth of the Libyan state and society.

South Sudan

The peace talks have failed and the future of the country will be shaped, once again, by violence, poverty and other conflicts associated to the main problem, that is, hunger, displacement and immigration. To avoid this, or at least soften the consequences, the efforts of the international community (and the government, of course) should be directed to the cessation of hostilities. In this scenario, the AU5 (an African Union commission of five countries) will have the great opportunity to recover the path and return the trust to an African solution as external powers like the European Union have not been able to establish as a trustful partner in this process.

The Nile conflict

Recently, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Abeba, to solve the dispute about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has been involving these three countries and other ones, as Eritrea, in the conflict. While the image of seeing the governments of the three named states trying to find a final agreement is a positive step, the fact that Sudanese troops were deployed in the Eritrean border makes it impossible to assure that the problem will be ended in a peaceful way. Even more, the “Nile Conflict” involves countries that normally have faced diplomatic and/or military confrontations. That is the case, for example, of the ties between Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and Eritrea and Ethiopia and Egypt. So, it is clear that a little spark could start a big fire and, therefore, the “Nile Conflict” should be solved as soon as possible.

Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Zimbabwe: recovery through presidential elections

For different reasons, this countries have been fighting for establishing a re-order of its social, political and economic situation. In Cameroon, the Anglophone region –which waves the flag of separatism- continues to give strong headaches to the government and riots that still generate disorder and, the worst, deaths. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the challenge of eradicating the ‘Kabila Clan’ from the control of the country has been a very tough issue. So, the main goal in this giant state should be the organization and development of transparent and democratic elections. In Mali, another African semi-failed state, the division is still a great obstacle in the process of re-order of a country that has been facing conflicts –separatism of the Azawad region, rise of terrorism groups that formerly were not active in the Malian territory, consolidation of the governments power and drug and human trafficking- since 2012. Finally, in Zimbabwe, the end or Robert Mugabe’s era was a very good step but the next challenges seem to be even more difficult and heavy. The construction of a new state –as Mugabe was the only leader in the independent Zimbabwe-, which implies the modernization of the political structure and a huge change in the Zimbabwean social map is just the beginning of a long process.

So, these countries will need to do well in the presidential elections that will be held during 2018. Not only for having a president but, the most important, to return the hope of a better future for their population. Wars, divisions and corruption should be left aside and the African community should be able to help in this process. The same for the United Nations.

The Horn of Africa and the challenge of facing intern and extern sources of conflicts

Al Shabaab’s presence in Somalia is just enough to be worried about this region but if we add the recent political (and social) convulsions in Kenya –due to the still contested presidential election’s results- the outlook gets darker. Unfortunately, the Yemen conflict and the Arab-Iran-Turkey crisis have splitted into the Horn of Africa and, specially, into Somalia, a country that needs the help of states like United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. About this latter context, the situation seems to be very cloudy, as the net of political supports has been changing in the last months and still is in motion.

Therefore, 2018 should be an opportunity to demonstrate that Somalia and Kenya –but also Ethiopia, which has given some tiny hints of a depressurization of the social and political situation- can reach balanced and strategic diplomacy objectives, in order that the Horn of Africa can avoid more tension in the region and, in consequence, to prevent a high risk of conflict. The decision that will be made in relation to Al Shabaab, ties with external powers, the Nile issue and political reconciliation will be key elements.

The Maghrebian context

Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania can be categorized as countries that have maintained the status quo and, also, the equilibrium in their social and political aspects. Surely, with risks –among others, Bouteflika’s health and Kabilia’s movement in Algeria; the social protests in the Rif and the raise of the life’s cost in Morocco; and the authoritarian rule of Abdelaziz in Mauritania- but with some stability. Different is the situation of Libya (already analyzed) and Tunisia. This latter has confronted economic crisis, political disfunction and protests of Tunisians that year after year lose hope of the country’s recovery.

Nevertheless, there is a silent topic that should be observed with a lot of care during 2018. It is the relation between Morocco and the Polisario and Algeria, which should change as in 2017 two important facts took place. The first, and most important, the official return of Morocco into de African Union. The second, the appointment of the Canadian Colin Stewart  and the German Horst Kohler as the new head of the MINURSO and as the new General Secretary Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, respectively.

With these movements and the permanent hostilities witnessed along 2018, the Sahara conflict should not be forgotten. Even if the risk of a military conflict is nearly nonexistent, the political consequences of this issue could threaten, once again, the political cohesion of the Maghreb and regional blocks of integration, including the African Union.

Countries looking for the democratization of their state and society

For different reasons, Equatorial-Guinea, Central African Republic, Angola, South Africa and Madagascar have the obligation of advancing towards democracy and/or social reconstruction. In Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in power for 38 years and is the oldest African governor. In December, he faced another coup attempt and, as all the previous ones, he survived. However, the opposition will not stop their fight, even if the use of military abuses (detentions and repression) is one of the most recurrent strategies of the current government in order to confront the political and social rivals.

Central African Republic is still facing one of the most difficult and long peace processes in Africa, so in 2018 the goal is to achieve more objectives and to continue fostering arrangements, reconciliation and social peace. Concerning, Angola, South Africa and Madagascar, they will have new challenges. In Angola, there is a new (and younger) president, while in South Africa the corruption scandals are a big threat to Zuma’s era. Finally, Marc Ravalomanana, ousted and exiled president of the country, will try to return to power after he suffered a coup d’etat in 2009. He will do that amid political, economic and social crisis, so the scenario does not seem to be very calm in 2018.

Nigeria, the big leader in trouble

Oil? Not really. Sure it will be one of the most important topics, which explains many of economic,political or social processes that take place in Nigeria, but during 2018 the agenda should keep a special place for the territory conflicts. The first of them is one already known and is the current presence of Boko Haram in different regions of the country and, mainly, in the northeast part of the territory. Nevertheless, the main issue will be the territorial disputes between farmers (of Central region of Nigeria) and nomadic herdsmen (coming from the North), a conflict that should worsen due to the difficulties to find the necessary amount of water for agricultural activities and works. The clashes have already erupted and only in 2016 they took the life of nearly 2.500 people, a number that should be analyzed with special attention in a country that has within its margins more than 100 ethnical groups and also faces the threat of separatists from Biafra and terrorists of Boko Haram.

Liberia, with the hope of better times

With George Weah recently sworned as the new President of the country, Liberia starts a new political cycle, in which a former football star will be in charge of changing the country’s image but, the most important, of strengthening the sociopolitical transition that has been taking place in the westerner African state. The challenge will be very big, the same as the hopes and expectations of seeing a well carried transition in this state used, unfortunately, to see riots, political division and lack of democracy.

Final comments

Apart from the conflicts that were described in the previous paragraphs, it should be said that Africa, as a continent, will be facing problematic trends or contexts such terrorism, integration difficulties, fight against corruption, fragile situation of some states, economic growth, gender equality, relations with the European Union and United States of America and the advance of Turkey, China, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, Iran and United Arab Emirates.

These big challenges will be an opportunity for Africa, a continent that should demonstrate to itself and to the world –particularly, to the major powers- that African countries and leaders have the capacity and the will to affront this situations. In this context, the reform of the African Union, specially those about the origin of the funds, should have an important place and weight in the African agenda of 2018.

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