Mauritania: monthly report April 2024

With the world's eyes turned to Gaza and the war in Ukraine, April witnessed significant developments in the Sahel region on the military front. US authorities have informally announced their intention to withdraw from Niger. This announcement follows weeks of intense negotiations between the transitional government in Niamey and American top officials. The United States has clarified that withdrawing its contingent will not result in the cessation of diplomatic relations or economic cooperation with Niger. Initial reports of the American withdrawal from Niger coincided with the arrival of Russian soldiers in the country. Russian operators were filmed by the national television (RTN) on the tarmac of Diori Hamani Airport, stating, "We are here to train the Nigerien army and establish military cooperation between Russia and Niger." While the nature of this cooperation remains unclear, the uniforms and equipment worn by Russian personnel suggest the presence of regular army troops rather than members of the Africa Corps (heirs to the Wagner Group). The Tchiani-led junta justified the US departure and the arrival of Russian personnel based on inadequate intelligence cooperation between the armies of both countries.

Despite the withdrawal of American troops, Italian institutions have managed to maintain dialogue with Niger's new leadership, as demonstrated by the visit of AISE Director, General Giovanni Caravelli, leading a high-level delegation received byTchiani in person. During the summit, Tchiani commended the training activities conducted by the Italian contingent in the country. It is worth noting that following the withdrawal of American troops, Italy and Germany are the only Western countries to maintain a military presence in the Sahelian nation. Lastly, there was a meeting between Prime Minister Lamine Zeine and a delegation from the Chinese oil company CNPC, in the presence of Beijing's ambassador to Niger, Chiang Feng. During the meeting, the parties signed a $400 million MoU, details of which were not provided by the Nigerien government. According to local sources, the new agreement is part of the junta's efforts to secure new liquidity to cope with the pressure on Niger's finances resulting from the suspension of humanitarian cooperation.

As Niger adjusts its international posture, Burkina Faso is rearming to confront internal insurgency. The Ouagadougou government signed an agreement with the Turkish company Baykar Defense for military supplies worth 124 billion CFA francs. This agreement is part of a new procurement scheme aimed at reducing corruption and increasing economic savings. In the context of this agreement, President Ibrahim Traoré personally announced the delivery of 12 new Turkish drones, TB2 and Akinci models. These new agreements have made Turkey the second-largest arms supplier to Burkina Faso after Russia. However, despite government claims, the situation on the ground continues to reflect the incapacity of Burkinabé security forces to address the insurgency effectively. In April, relations worsened with the government of Côte d'Ivoire following another incursion by Burkinabé troops across the border. The action culminated in 15 hours of gunfire involving Ivorian military helicopters. There is a growing concern that the Burkinabé government might not only succumb to insurgent advances but that the country as a whole can become a destabilizing element for neighboring countries increasing pressure on the West African coast. Lastly, the Burkinabé government expelled three French accused of "subversive activities,". This latest anti-French move is aimed at rallying internal support amid a growing food crisis.

The government of Mali has tightened control against internal dissent. Pressured by energy and security crises, the transitional executive has indefinitely suspended all political party activities and imposed a ban on local media covering political initiatives. This marks a further step towards establishing a totalitarian government, as implicitly reaffirmed by Prime Minister Choguel Maïga's statements nullifying transition timelines agreed upon with ECOWAS. This move exacerbates the rift between the executive and civil society, exemplified by influential Imam Mahmoud Dicko's statements, who, following the "suspension" of political parties, vowed absolute disobedience to the government's orders and described junta members as "young people seduced by power." Towards the end of the month, relations between Mali and Mauritania became more strained following yet another accusation of Russian mercenaries crossing into Mauritanian territory and allegations of harassment by some citizens. Despite visits by Malian foreign and defense ministers (Diop and Camara), received by President Ghazouani, at the end of the month, the Malian ambassador to Mauritania was summoned by Nouakchott's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reaffirm the government's firmness regarding the actions of Malian security forces and their allies.

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