Sahel: the lasting terrorism. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ahmedou Ould Abdallah president centre4s   
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 19:25


Many experts agree: terrorist risks remain real across the Sahel. Deeply rooted risks are slowly spreading to the Gulf of Benin and reaching Europe remains the objective.

In reality, the terrorist threat is not exaggerated, it is underestimated.





Threats fueled by weak governance


The Sahel is a region of recurrent conflicts. More than anywhere else, terrorism has no specific identity or nationality. It is diverse and transnational. In recent years, the nepotistic political systems, prevailing in many states, have undermined the national integration projects and have, instead, prepared the fertile ground for terrorism.


The terrorists’ risks and threats are not accidental. They dwell on many causes: fossilized political systems; indigent and often unhealthy governance; rapid and uncontrolled urbanization; informal economies riddled with corrupt practices.


Throughout several Sahel countries, the harsh reality is a deeply rooted terrorism and armed violence. Often neglected by central governments, the populations are ready to live in coexistence, or indifference, between the struggling parties from each of which they expect little or nothing. The restoration of the state moral authority is a prerequisite some say. Others, more numerous, talk rather of restoring the state usefulness.


The moral weakening of the central authorities, not to say their nuisance, is a powerful ingredient of instability. It leads to a regression in the process of the nation building process. As a result, more and more citizens look back to their own community for their wellbeing and security.


Throughout the Sahel strip, large tribes (Fulani, Kanuri, Toubou, etc) feel marginalized in their traditional geographic areas. Subsequent to dubious governance, the retribalisation and the splitting of the societies along ethnic and religious lines and geographical origins, encourage terrorist vocations among the youngest.


While seeking jobs, the youth hope to, at least,  get social recognition in particular on the part of governmental authorities. As continuously manifested by a vast majority of them, they want to work in this world i.e. today. Nothing revolts them more than to keep hearing repeatedly from officials that ‘‘you are in store for the future and indeed it belongs to you.'' While they need and look for jobs and recognition, they feel excluded from the present!


In the Sahel, two types of violence overlap. The first is states violence against some of their own citizens, generally the minorities. The second violence, carried out by terrorists and threatening the countries, is the one that, often unwillingly, governments have contributed to creating.


The terrorists’ threat must be fought at the base among the targets of future jihadists’ recruiters. This objective of fighting at the roots causes is however not easy because, to some, those root causes are mostly governments’ policies. Indeed, fighting the root causes is first to encourage governments to improve national governance as well as to better manage funds provided by international cooperation.

The great challenge to public authorities, both at national and international levels, is to avoid creating a climate of fear and hatred that breeds suspicion of citizens towards each other.


Adopting winning strategies.


To successfully combat terrorism, leaders must first understand and know the risk it entails. One of the oddities of that combat is about de-radicalization policies. It can very easily turn into a source of revenues for governments officials instead of money for the concerned youth. The many national and international plans, earmarked for the deradicalization programs, are easily converted into a source of funding with the most perverse effects.


In the Sahel, the fight against terrorism is often carried out following old once effective strategies. Today, these doctrines are much less suited to the strategic and tactical operations carried out by the present jihadists. Today assaults are not executed by one organization but by dozens of its individuals motivated by ideology or by other considerations.


For their attacks, the militants need no more than a very basic and cheap but effective logistics: motorbikes and mobile phones. The latters are used for intelligence collection and to spread propaganda via electronic networks. Terrorism is also connected to various trafficking especially in drugs. That one stands out as a genuine, serious and entrenched threat. Such trafficking, linked to organized crime, affects the entire region and is encouraged by political corruption, that, in return, it feeds.


The battle for security in the Sahel is not yet completely lost. However, one can wonder whether governments can win as they are already deeply weakened by the repeated terrorist attacks and the subsequent financial and human costs.


Armies and police cannot monitor all the national territory and even less follow the actions prepared from abroad. Monitoring that requires human and financial resources are beyond their reach while the radicals have quasi-official grants. Intelligence suffers from two handicaps. The weakness of external intelligence is known and is only slightly offset by bilateral cooperation. As for domestic intelligence, its structural bias remains the heaviest of its shortcomings.


Terrorism has changed and continues to mutate. It does this by recruiting younger people for a new generation of combats. Some recruits are genuine activists with strong convictions; others feel excluded from the socio-political systems and are angry. But all want, through violence, to do better than their elders. One thing to note: terrorism in the Sahel is yet to recruit girls for combat. Opposing costly national armies, this decentralized terrorism has a bright future ahead.


The global fight against terrorism has widely opened the doors of democratic countries (France, Europe, and USA) to the Sahel states who claim a mobilization against a common enemy. By joining international alliances against terrorism, regimes, previously marginalized or shunned by major democracies, now get their understanding and support. They have managed to find a role in the international security dynamics. Their security elite, especially the military, has benefited politically and also in resources to equip their armies.


Collectively and individually, the Sahel states should know better and set their priorities. The focal point should be around more freedom and support to their economies. Naturally, police and the armed forces remain essential. However, for a lasting success, that strategy must be based on multiple elements that include governance respectful of its citizen and its own laws. In addition, the need for strong and credible alliances between the Sahel and the Maghreb remains to be implemented.


Finally, one of the worse effects of terrorism lies in the perverse but unavoidable press coverage. The countries enduring challenge is how to delink the components of the nexus: terrorism, media reports and political leaders’ comments. Indeed, and rightly so, the headlines always go to terrorists’ attacks and subsequent political comments. However, in the short and midterms, that complex situation constitutes a handicap to the efforts in the fight against the scourge of terrorism.




Based in Nouakchott, the Centre’s area of intervention is the band of land stretching from Mauritania down to Guinea along the Atlantic coast and, across the savannah, to Chad and Sudan. The main issues it ADDRESSES are: defense and security of the Sahel Sahara; armed violence and terrorism; competition for oil, gas and uranium; irregular migrations within and outside the region; trafficking in human, cigarettes, drugs, etc; environmental and renewable energies. The main priority is to help the region and its international partners – public and private, as well as those from Civil Society organizations, Universities, Forums, and others Groups, to collaborate further in order to ensure security and prosperity of the Sahel.  


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 October 2016 19:35 )

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