Translated from:

Article dated 06/09/2016

“Les rêves de conquêtes de Bana Blachera, le nouveau chef de Boko Haram”

By Seidik Abba (Columnist for Le Monde Afrique)

Boko Haram’s new chief, Bana Blachara, dreams of conquest

The massive and deadly hit and run raid, carried out on Friday, June 3rd by Boko Haram, on the town of Bosso, in southeastern Niger, bears all the characteristics of [an attack led by] the new head of the Nigerian Islamic sect, Bana Blachera.

A Cameroonian national, Blachera does not have the ideological and religious depth that Mohamed Yusuf, the charismatic founder de Boko Haram, had. Nor does he have the “big mouth” of his predecessor, Abubakar Shekau, who was adept at making televised spectacles and sensational declarations.

Blachera is more a man of the shadows, more at ease with ground operations than with fiery religious sermons or with oratory jousting.

Before being promoted, Bana Blachera showed himself to be, above all, a formidable logistician, predominantly responsible for the organization of supply lines for arms and fuel in support of the extremist movement.

After establishing his leadership within Boko Haram, having taken advantage of the removal of Shekau, who had been weakened for several months by sickness, Blachera endowed his movement with firepower, which would seem to have made the difference last Friday, in Bosso, against the Nigerian army.

Indeed, in addition to the significant number of combatants engaged in the battle, the Islamist sect brought together in Bosso military means worthy of a national army, obliging the Nigerian troops to beat a hasty retreat and to reorganize.

A New Agenda

According to Bakary Sambe, a specialist on radical movements in West Africa, Boko Haram now has at its disposal a new arms supply route coming from Sudan. They could be, he adds, Libyan arms scattered across the entire sub-region after the fall of Mouammar Gaddafi in 2011.

According to a Libyan government source, 20 million arms were taken from the storehouses put together during the forty-one years the Libyan “Guide” was in power. 

Bana Blachera, who detests appearing in front of cameras and flashes, unlike Shekau, is part of the 2-3,000 Cameroonian nationals who have joined Boko Haram since its creation in 2002 near Maiduguri, the capital of the state of Borno.

He was among the most engaged of the sect’s leaders in the decision to give allegiance to the Islamic State organization, becoming the Islamic State West Africa Province.  We call attention the new head of the jihadist movement the intention to assure its progression in Central Africa, notably in the Central African Republic, then in Uganda. 

Nigerian soldiers

Focused on the Central African Republic

For the new leadership of Boko Haram, the Central African Republic, where the state has been weakened by the war between the Anti-balaka and Seleka, represents an ideal target as much as for recruitment as for the prospect of using it as fallback position. The Islamist sect also counts on the overly slow increase in the strength of the mixed multinational force (MMF) to establish themselves in new territories.

Of the 8,700 soldiers and police for the MMF announced by Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Benin, only 1,500 are actually operational.

Bosso, NigerIf the force headquarters has in fact been set up at N’Djamena (exactly like the one for the French forces of [Operation] “Barkhane “), the elements of the MMF are stationed, for the moment, in their respective countries: the Cameroonians in Cameroon, les Nigeriens on the Nigerien part of Lake Chad, les Chadians on the Chadian part, les Nigerians on the Nigerian part.  The only significant progress remains the automatic right to pursuit, which henceforth permits national armies to cross borders without prior consent. It remains to be seen if this is sufficient to finish off Boko Haram.

The massive attack in Bosso, which killed at least 32 soldiers, suggesNiger triangle copyts that the sect has begun a new life with the arrival of Bana Blachera at its head.

Analyst commentary

Niger finds itself in a difficult position. It is surrounded on the north and west by AQIM in northern Mali and southern Algeria, and by a myriad of extremist groups, including ISIS affiliates, in Libya. To the south lies the operational area of Boko Haram, now known as well as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). The emptying of Kadaffi’s stockpiles after his assassination in 2011 destabilized the entire region and opened the floodgates of the Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali, which was subsequently usurped by various Salafist groups. Ethnoreligous grievances continue to drive instability across the entire region as well. Tuareg and Peul (Fulani) grievances have been fully exploited by AQIM in the Sahel, and it would seem that the Central African Republic, still reeling from the war between the Christian Anti-balaka and the Muslim Seleka, would seem to be the perfect target for expanded operations by Boko Haram/ISWAP. Regional forces have seemingly been unable to contain the problem. The right to pursuit doctrine espoused by the regional force is promising. It would, on the surface, seem to enable the regional militaries to eliminate the benefit of geographical or geopolitical redoubts, and conforms to Galula’s doctrine, which dictates that insurgents must be able to use geographical features or international boundaries to their advantage. The multinational force needs more international assistance. A force similar to the French Serval and Barkhane forces or to the MINUSMA (Mission of the United Nations in Mali) force will need American and French support, most notably in the ISR and supply realms.