Worry over Tunisia’s long-term prospects grew this week, after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced on 02 December 2013, that the country would continue to suffer from loan delays, unless it ameliorates both its budget deficit problems and its security situation. The announcement, which came in the form of a statement made by mission chief Amine Mati, also reiterated the concerns of foreign investors, noting that there remains a “wait-and-see” approach to interest in Tunisia.
The IMF has arguably exacerbated the North African nation’s Catch-22 scenario. With dwindling investments, comes a declining economy. As the economy spirals, so too do the jobs numbers. The lack of occupational opportunities, particularly those for young men, has led to a greater attraction toward extremist groups among individuals who feel marginalised and without purpose. This has led to an apparent surge in applicants interested in Ansar al Sharia, an organisation which, aside from being blamed on the 2012 attack on the US mission in Libya, has also been accused of planting hundreds of homemade explosive devices near Mount Chaambi.
This has not stopped the IMF from trying. As recently as 07 June 2013, the international organisation approved a grant of US$1.74 billion, US$150.2 million of which had already been dispersed to Tunisia that same month. The IMF even promised further instalments – security permitting – over the next two years at the enviably low interest rate of 1.08%. Two sweeten the deal, in June 2013 it announced that Tunisia would not have to start paying back the loans until 2018. So why amid this cycle of violence-turned-investor retreat, does the IMF seem so adamant about supporting Tunisia? The answer may be found within the halls of Washington, DC.
This week’s sporadic violence in Benghazi has led international investors to examine whether to place their bets on Libya due to security fears. The truth, however, is that many foreign nationals had already withdrawn their personnel following Tripoli’s mid-November militia battles. The decision to remove foreign staff is attributed to the deeply unpredictable situation that has developed in Libya. To that end, The Inkerman Group has noted the emergence of a delicate militia ecosystem, where some 1700 brigades balance out the power of their rivals, and ultimately, the power of the central authority: the administration of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and the General National Congress (GNC). This system is borne out of forty-two years of the absolute central command led by deceased dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, who controlled the lives of millions of Libyans. After decades of tyrannical abuse, it is perhaps understandable that Libyans, particularly those Islamists who felt marginalised under Gaddafi, or moderates who fought against the regime in 2011, would be reluctant to step away from their comfort zones – the brigades – and hand over their weapons to the administration of PM Zeidan. Indeed, whether the Libyan leader is Zeidan or Gaddafi matters not. Centrally controlled rule is frightening for many Libyans – a sentiment perhaps most understood by residents in the East who have been calling for more autonomy.
What if thousands had perished at the hands of ruthless militias and no one was there to report it? This seems to be the fate of the Central African Republic (CAR), a nation which has already suffered from eight coups since 1960, and is now poised to endure even more bloodshed. Indeed, whilst the international community remains cautious over the apparent success of the UN intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, across the northern border into the CAR, an even more depressing picture has emerged. In a country which consistently ranks among the least reported nations on earth, there haunts the spectre of genocide, as violence between transitional authorities and rebellious factions, combined with a conflict decidedly religious in nature, shows no signs of closure. The situation in the CAR has become so unbearable, that the French Government recently announced it will deploy more of its forces to the restive African nation. This is a considerable turn of events for President François Hollande, who is already facing severe criticism at home and abroad for his military adventures in Africa.
Nonetheless, Paris appears committed to its latest endeavour to ‘save’ one of its former colonies. Following a new UN Security Council resolution on 10 October 2013, the French Government confirmed that, by 2013, it will ramp up its military presence to a total of 1,200 troops. France is not the only international actor attempting to change the heartbreaking CAR storyline. In addition to French logistical support, transitional authorities in Bangui are also counting on military assistance from Burundi and the neighbouring Cameroon. For its part, the UN has also authorised the expansion of its International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (AFISM-CAR) to a total of 3,600 soldiers by spring of 2014. Hopes that an international military response could end hostilities, however, have given away to a heavy dosage of reality, and – as ever – more questions: what is it that ails the Central African Republic? And can it truly be saved?
It may have been the most encouraging news to come out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent months, but not all Congolese citizens feel assured. On 05 November 2013, Kinshasa’s most notorious ‘Maï-Maï’ foe, the M23 rebel movement, declared an end to its armed insurgency, claiming it would only use “political means” to achieve its goals. As if to prove its sincerity, the M23 also called upon fellow soldiers, even those who fled across the border into Uganda, to drop their weapons and cease hostilities with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) – also known as the Congolese Army. The UN welcomed the statement, saying the defeat would send an “intimidating message” to the dozens of other Maï-Maï – a term Congolese use to refer to militias – operating the region. International leaders also praised the move as a “first step” toward peace, while FARDC soldiers celebrated their victory in the streets. All positive developments aside, one burning question remains: how long will this peace last?
Amid reports that the French Government paid as much as US$27 million to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in order to secure the 29 October 2013 release of four French hostages, much media speculation has publicly criticised the French Government for paying off the terrorist group, despite the government’s repeated insistence that it did no such thing. Nonetheless, that message, no matter how many times French President Francois Holland doubles down on it, is clearly only intended for public consumption. The reality is that the French Government has regularly paid ransoms to free its citizens; a Nigerian Government document allegedly states that it also paid US$3.15 million to free seven French hostages in April 2013. That payment – nine times lower than the payment allegedly issued by France to AQIM – reportedly resulted in widespread anger amongst the British diplomatic community. In response, Prime Minister David Cameron was reportedly able to convince Hollande to sign a pledge at the June 2013 Group of Eight (G8) summit in Northern Ireland not to pay ransoms to terrorists. Nonetheless, opinions remain highly divided as to whether the UK and US method of dealing with terrorist kidnappings through their shared “no negotiations – no concessions” policy is more effective than engaging in negotiations, and occasional payments, with terrorists.
More in-depth coverage of incidents, including security forecasts, can be found in The Libya Daily and Monthly Reports. Email Cassie.Blombaum@Inkerman.com for more details.
Their name may be synonymous with terror – particularly the embassy-attacking kind – but that has not stopped the infamous Ansar al Sharia Brigade from trying to elicit support from the public. Indeed, despite being vilified by the international media, as well as the US, Libyan and Tunisian governments, the Brigade appears to be have unleashed a new marketing campaign, one that shows the ‘softer, cuddlier’ side of the hard-line Islamist organisation. Over the past few weeks Libyans have noticed that Ansar al Sharia, a group widely suspected of orchestrating the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, has stepped up its “volunteering activities” by handing out food and other supplies in the days leading up to, and following, the Islamic holy day of Eid al Adha.
To make sure the public is aware of its good deeds, in early October 2013 Ansar al Sharia circulated videos via social media which showed its members delivering sheep, to be used for slaughter during Eid al Adha, to Cyrenaica’s underprivileged citizens. Not stopping there, images highlighting Ansar al Sharia’s recruitment efforts, which involved the extremist group offering free footballs to those who signed up for the organisation, were also recently published online. These tactics, however, are only the latest in a series of publicity stunts aimed at shoring up domestic support.