France hands over ERC-90 armoured vehicles to Chad

Written by Guy Martin

An ERC-90 delivered to Chad.

France has delivered nine ERC-90 6×6 armoured vehicles to Chad’s military to bolster peacekeeping operations and help it in the fight against terrorism.

The French Embassy in Chad said the vehicles were handed over on 23 January in the capital N’Djamena in a ceremony attended by Chad’s defence minister Lieutenant General Abali Salah in the presence of the Ambassador of France Bertrand Cochery and General Jean-Pierre Perrin, Commander of the French Elements in Gabon (EFG).

The vehicles were supplied with spares, including additional engines, as well as ammunition. At the moment, 20 Chadian soldiers are training for the post of commanding officer with the armoured operational instruction detachment (DIO) of the EFG. In April, they will study fire management and combat tactics. Training will continue until June 2021, when drivers and gunners will be qualified.

In total, 12 crews will be able to use the ERC-90s and will allow the Chadian national army to have a significant, operational and reactive armoured capacity, the French Embassy said.

“Rustic, efficient and reliable, these ERC-90s have proven themselves and will perfectly meet the operational needs of the Chadian army in its contributions to the fight against terrorism and to peacekeeping operations.”

In 2013, Chad sent its troops to fight jihadists in northern Mali, during the French intervention Operation Serval. The Chadian army is also part of the regional organization G5 Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad), which since 2017 has been helping France fight terrorist groups in the region.

The French Embassy noted that the EFG trains soldiers from Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) partner countries. Nearly 10 000 personnel are trained each year within more than 200 highly specialized courses.

Chad previously had several ERC-90 vehicles in service. The vehicles delivered on 23 January are each armed with a 90 mm main gun and two 7.62 mm machineguns.

The French military is phasing out its Panhard ERC-90 in favour of EBRC Jaguar armoured reconnaissance and combat vehicles. It received 192 ERC-90s from 1984, using them in many operations around the world. By mid-2020, only 40 ERC-90s remained in French service.

Nigerian Air Force partners with Hungary on training and equipment

A Hungarian delegation visiting the Nigerian Air Force.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has strengthened ties with Hungary, which will help the service with fighter pilot training, the operation and maintenance of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) cameras and more.

This was disclosed on 22 January by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, while receiving the Hungarian Consul-General to Nigeria, Endre Peter Deri, and the Chief Executive Officer, Hungarian Magnus Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, Mr Laszo Boros, at the Headquarters NAF in Abuja.

Speaking during the visit, the CAS said that partnership between the NAF and Hungary would enable the NAF to take advantage of the competencies available in Hungary to address some of the technical challenges the service currently faces in the conduct of its operations.

Abubakar stated that the NAF was willing to send a team to Hungary to assess available opportunities for aircraft and associated equipment acquisition, human capacity development as well as Research and Development (R&D), amongst other areas of collaboration.

“As you are aware we are fighting a counter-insurgency war in the North East and the aircraft produced by the Hungarian Magnus Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, which has ISR capability, would be useful in adding value to what we are doing in the North East and other Theatres of Operation”, the CAS said. He highlighted other areas of interest to include the training of fighter pilots, aircraft technicians and engineers as well as capacity development for the operation and maintenance of ISR payloads and ISR imagery analysis.

Earlier, the Chief Executive Officer, Hungarian Magnus Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, Laszo Boros, noted that the visit was aimed at seeking avenues to strengthen strategic partnerships for aircraft and associated equipment sales as well as capacity building. He disclosed that the company was willing to provide bespoke solutions that would support the operations of the NAF in the fight against insurgency and other forms of criminality. Similarly, the Hungarian Consul-General, Endre Peter Deri, expressed preparedness to deepen partnership with the NAF, stating that it would further improve on the existing cordial relationship between Nigeria and Hungary in the area of capacity building.

Meanwhile, also on 22 January, Abubakar met with the Director General (DG) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, and the Managing Director (MD), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, to discuss flight safety, training and exchange programmes.

Abubakar said the Nigerian government has acquired 23 brand new aircraft for the NAF, while 15 more were expected to be delivered during the course of the year, alongside eight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The 15 expected manned aircraft, the CAS said, comprised 12 Super Tucano attack aircraft that would be based in Kainji as well as 3 JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter aircraft.

The expected UAVs include the Wing Loong II, which has endurance of between 16 and 20 hours depending on its operating mode, as well as the CH-4 and CH-3. The CAS also disclosed that the NAF was expecting three special mission aircraft that would be based in Benin to cover the maritime environment and handle some of the challenges in Nigeria’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

From Zim, with Love: The Russian roulette of explosives smuggling

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

In early January, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa’s land borders would be closed until at least mid-February due to the Covid-19 crisis. This includes the Beitbridge crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe, a border that is exceptionally dangerous thanks to what some risk their lives trying to smuggle through it – explosives that could ignite at any moment.

Mercy Rifundo, a mother of four from Zimbabwe, farmed beans and occasionally travelled to Johannesburg, where she would stay, to sell her produce.

On 17 August last year, she planned to travel into South Africa, this time apparently under the impression she was also transporting floor polish in her luggage on behalf of people who knew her landlord in Johannesburg.

When she got to the Beitbridge crossing a boy helped her carry her bags across the border. Rifundo then made her way to a taxi rank and got into a vehicle bound for Johannesburg.

Unknown to those around her, had her luggage been jostled a certain way or had the contents rubbed together in a particular manner, several people could have been instantly killed and others maimed.

This is because Rifundo had 496 blasting cartridge units in her luggage. Just one of these is enough to tear open a safe or kill someone.

The type of explosives discovered in her bags are often used in crimes, including ATM blasts, cash-in-transit heists and illegal mining, and could be from operations – illicit or legal – linked to mines in Zimbabwe.

Rifundo later claimed to be an unwitting explosives mule, but the severity of the crime she was part of was so extreme that the 42-year-old first-time offender is now serving a 15-year jail term in South Africa. This sentence was handed down earlier this month in the Musina Regional Court.

The case against her has emphasised the extreme risks that explosives smugglers – who often carry dozens, even hundreds, of blasting cartridges at a time – pose to those around them.

Christo Peltz, the safety and risk manager at AECI Mining Explosives, explained that, although there are different grades of explosives, a single blasting cartridge could contain 200 grams of explosive and easily kill someone if it was kept close to their body, and 50 could destroy a vehicle; 500 could wipe out the occupants of a taxi and have a “lethal blast radius” of 20m.

Limpopo’s acting Hawks head, Angie Matlabe, referring to the Rifundo case, said: “We are determined to fight all types of organised crime in our country, including transnational crimes.”

National police spokesperson Vish Naidoo said officers tried to monitor South Africa’s points of entry and exit. “We are responsible for the control of the illegal movement of people and goods at all identified ports of entry (sea, land and air), simply meaning conducting classical policing in a border control environment,” he said.

Police worked together with other units including the Hawks, and state agencies including the SA Revenue Service.

Earlier this week Daily Maverick published an Institute for Security Studies article, by Richard Chelin and Willem Els, that warned: “The unsafe transportation, storage and use of explosives by criminals is a disaster waiting to happen.”

It also said that the police, the lead regulator in terms of explosives in South Africa, were making use of an outdated Act “and the police minister should sign and promote the new explosives regulations”.

“Although the Explosives Act was approved by the president in 2003, it is yet to come into operation. This presents a major problem for law enforcement.”

Yet the police have been pushing ahead with arrests.

Every year, several explosives smugglers are intercepted at or near the Beitbridge crossing. During Rifundo’s trial it was heard that 11 explosives cases were reported in Musina in 2020, 12 in 2019 and 15 in 2018.

The state believed court sentences handed down to smugglers were acting as deterrents to potential illegal explosives transporters, hence the number of related cases had decreased. It is not clear, however, whether Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were taken into consideration when assessing these figures.

According to the state, in Rifundo’s case, she was arrested when police officers from South Africa stopped the vehicle she was travelling in from the Beitbridge border and searched its boot. This was when they discovered the explosives in her luggage.

In February 2019, Nqobizitha Ncube was also sentenced to 15 years in jail for trying to smuggle explosives from Zimbabwe to South Africa. The 30-year-old had been arrested on 26 September 2018 with two others, who went on to be acquitted.

Rifundo was charged under the Explosives Act as well as the Immigration Act – she had no passport on her at the time of her arrest.

She initially pleaded guilty to the charges but then, during proceedings to see if the sentence against her should be reduced, she claimed she had not known she was transporting explosives, but thought she was simply carrying floor polish for people in Johannesburg.

In argument that Rifundo deserved a stiff prison sentence, Maria Makushu of the police’s bomb disposal unit testified that “the crime committed is serious in that the vehicle utilised to transport the explosives was not a vehicle designed for such and that explosives [are] sensitive to heat and friction and could with the mere bump in the road have exploded”, according to a document on the court case provided by the Limpopo National Prosecuting Authority.

“She testified that the kind of explosives [are] used in South Africa for illegal purpose[s], ATM bombings, cash-in-transit heists, illegal mining, and indicated that a single blasting cartridge can rip open a safe or kill a person.

“The State further argued that, with Beitbridge being the second largest port of entry [which] multiple people frequent on a daily basis, also considering the amount of vehicle[s] and infrastructure, it was a serious offence. Taking into consideration that friction or heat can cause a blasting cartridge to ignite on its own, which would cause the rest of the 495 blasting cartridges to also ignite, this case must be considered as extremely serious.”

It was effectively found that, in transporting the explosives, Rifundo had “risked the property and livelihood of all people that frequented the border”. The fact that she had four minor children was not enough to reduce her sentence. Rifundo was sentenced to 15 years’ direct imprisonment, and was additionally fined R20,000, or six months in jail, for being an illegal immigrant.

The prison sentence imposed on Rifundo, even as a first-time offender, is not unusual.

In February 2019, Nqobizitha Ncube was also sentenced to 15 years in jail for trying to smuggle explosives from Zimbabwe to South Africa. The 30-year-old had been arrested on 26 September 2018 with two others, who went on to be acquitted.

Ncube had pleaded guilty to the charges she faced, relating to explosives worth R200,000 found in her car.

“In aggravation of sentence the state prosecutor, Patricia Dorothy Jacobs, emphasised that the offence was serious with 15 years’ imprisonment sentence for a first offender,” said a statement issued by Mashudu Malabi-Dzhangi, the Limpopo National Prosecuting Authority’s spokesperson.

“She also pointed [out] that the offence was prevalent in the border post of Limpopo … She referred to the evidence of … an explosives expert who earlier testified that the kind of explosives were used in commission of ATM bombings and cash-in-transit offences.”

Other similar smuggling crimes date back several years. In November 2013, Elita Sibanda was sentenced to eight years in jail for trying to smuggle explosives into SA the previous month. She was 23 years old at the time.

“While busy searching the suspect’s luggage, members discovered 26 plastic cartridges and 100 detonators,” a Hawks statement on her conviction said. “She indicated that she bought the explosives from a shop in Harare and that she was transporting [them] to South Africa with the intention to sell the devices to illegal miners.”

Earlier this month DM168 reported on how illegal mining in SA added to the problem of international smugglers using SA as a transit point to sneak illicit gold into one of the world’s most prolific players in that industry, Dubai. The smuggling of explosives from Zimbabwe adds another link to this chain, further entrenching SA in global organised crime networks. DM168

Somalia’s intelligence chief worked with an al Qaeda affiliate, so why do we fund him?

Somalia has become a money pit for the United States. In recent years, the U.S. government has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the country. Just one month ago, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto and Somali Minister of Finance Abdirahman Duale Beyle signed a deal to reduce Somalia’s U.S. debt. “When Somalia reaches the final stage … the United States will have forgiven more than $1 billion in debt,” the embassy reported. Generous debt relief is just the tip of the iceberg, as Yamamoto, who crafted Somalia strategy as an assistant secretary prior to his current post, appears to believe that channeling money through Mogadishu can enable the Somali government to buy friends and allies.

Most of the U.S. investment has been in the person of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known to Somalis as “Farmajo,” but much of the State Department’s hope appears misplaced. Thrust into Somalia’s presidency, Farmajo has modeled himself more after his uncle (the late dictator Siad Barre, whose venality and thirst for power drove Somalia into state failure) than any inspiration garnered during his years in America.

Farmajo may be president, but perhaps the most powerful man in Somalia is Fahad Yasin Haji Dahir, the head of the country’s National Intelligence and Security Agency. Farmajo might try to stitch together political coalitions, but it is Fahad who is the point man in efforts by Somalia to defeat terrorism and, in theory, the point of contact between the various intelligence services who seek to defeat the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabab. That the United States also reportedly funds Somalia’s intelligence agency makes him directly the target of American largesse. Off-books, Fahad also reportedly receives money from Qatar and perhaps Turkey as well.

That such investment has not paid off should not surprise. A deep dive into Fahad’s biography suggests he could very well be al Qaeda’s inside man in the Somali government.

Fahad’s Somali and Kenyan documents (copies of which I have) say he was born in Mandera, Kenya, in July 1978, just across the border from Somalia, although his family members say he was born in Beled Hawo, in the Gedo region of Somalia, a year earlier.

Clans are important in Somalia and Fahad was born into a minor one: the Reer Aw-Hassan, a subclan of the Kalweyne, which are concentrated in the Somali-populated region of Ethiopia. When Fahad was around four years old, his mother Halima Said Dhere and father divorced, and Fahad traveled with his mother from Gedo to Mogadishu, where she settled in a shantytown in the Hawlwadaag district of the capital, near where the Black Hawk Down episode would later occur. Fahad studied in a series of madrasas, including the Moalim Abdirahman Dhere, near the Salama mosque, and the Isbaheysiga Islaamka Mosque. Most of his non-Quranic education appears to have been self-study rather than formal. Childhood acquaintances describe him as a loner.

In the late 1980s, Halima married Abdulkadir Gardheere, from the Marehan clan. Those who knew Abdulkadir described him as a religious fanatic. There was initial tension between Fahad and his stepfather, who insisted that Fahad adopt his extremist lifestyle or be cast out onto the streets. Ultimately, Fahad caved in, and Abdulkadir soon began to indoctrinate the teenager Fahad into radicalism.

In 1991, when the Siad Barre regime collapsed, Fahad’s family fled to Kenya because both stepfather and mother had clan connections to the ex-dictator. They found refuge for several years in the Utanga refugee camp near Mombasa. In Utanga, Fahad became a prayer leader in the Abu Dujana mosque. It was there that he met Abdishakur Ali Mire and Gamal Mohamed Hasan, both of whom were involved in al Ittihad al Islamiya, a U.S.- and UN-designated terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda. The relationship among the three has continued: Gamal is today Somalia’s minister of planning and international development, a capacity in which he also receives U.S. aid money, and Abdishakur is a member of parliament.

Fahad next moved to Nairobi, where he studied at the Sixth Street Mosque in Eastliegh, near where his stepfather, who had joined al Ittihad al Islamiya, had bought a restaurant. In mid-1997, Ethiopian forces killed Fahad’s stepfather as he fought in Beled Hawo. It was a formative moment that crystallized Fahad’s anti-Western, anti-Christian animus. His friends and acquaintances at the time say he then began to rail about “Western crusaders in East Africa.”

As the internet took off, Fahad seized upon the new technology and soon gained a following for his work on a radical nationalist portal called where he discussed politics, often from an Islamist perspective. There is then a gap in his public activities, with some friends suggesting he traveled to Yemen to continue his religious studies, while other friends say he instead went to Pakistan. Regardless, when he returned to Somalia, he met Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir, a prominent clansman and politician, who had graduated from the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Farah introduced him to Wadah Khanfar, a Palestinian classmate of his who was chief editor at Al Jazeera, the Qatari satellite network. Fahad initially served as a religious tutor for Khanfar’s children but, as Islamists gained ground in Somalia in late 2005 or early 2006, Fahad returned to Mogadishu as an Al Jazeera stringer. He immediately distinguished himself by gaining access to an Islamist training camp in Ras Kamboni, where Sheikh Hasan Turki, an al Ittihad al Islamiya veteran and founder of al Shabab, personally gave him a tour of the camp. He also interviewed al Shabab figures who, at the time, were sheltering al Qaeda operatives wanted in the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

During his time with Al Jazeera, Fahad confided in friends that he also trained as an informant for Qatari intelligence. His Kenyan passport enabled him to travel more widely and give coverage and publicity to al Shabab. In 2012, he began a more active role in Somali politics, using Qatari money to buy votes from Somali members of parliament. He has, until recently, bragged about this role as Qatar’s bagman and as the behind-the-scenes key to political success. In 2016, Fahad began channeling Qatari funds in support of the Farmajo campaign, an investment that paid off the following year both for Farmajo and for Fahad, who ultimately became Farmajo’s intelligence chief.

In that role, Fahad brought in Islamist allies and dismissed old-guard professionals. After al Shabab executed an attack in October 2017 that killed more than 500, Fahad struck a deal with his terrorist allies in which they would reduce operations in the capital in exchange for the intelligence service turning a blind eye toward taxing businesses and citizens in the capital. It is this relationship that Farmajo hinted at when he urged al Shabab to attack targets outside Somalia.

In addition to his past ties to al Ittihad al Islamiya and his close relationship with al Shabab, Fahad’s actions show that he still maintains a quid pro quo with Qatar. In December 2017, for example, Fahad reportedly ordered an attack on the home of a rival politician and presidential contender in which his forces killed six guards and apprehended Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, apparently because Qatar distrusted his links to the United Arab Emirates. Fahad’s Qatar and terror ties also emerged in the press in the aftermath of a leaked phone call suggesting Qatar had ordered a terror attack on Bosaso, the main port in Puntland.

Back to Washington: Too often, the State Department calibrates policy toward wishful thinking rather than reality. At the same time, diplomats are loath to abandon peace or development processes once underway. Yamamoto and others in the State Department’s Africa Bureau have invested years in seeking to build Africa up from the rubble and are unwilling to accept clear evidence that the process has derailed. There is no clearer example than in Somalia, where the desire to maintain business as usual has led the State Department and other government agencies to pour funds into a government organization whose leader embraced radicalism at a young age, blames the West for the death of his father, and has, for two decades now, had uncomfortably close ties to al Qaeda affiliates. Simply put, until Farmajo dismisses Fahad as head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency and Somali officials credibly investigate him for his terror ties and abuses of power within Somalia, the U.S. government should cut Somalia off from all U.S. government assistance. Perhaps the U.S. Embassy in Somalia wants to look the other way, but Congress should not.