The Sahel Sahara: expecting the unexpected PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ahmedou Ould - Abdallah, President,   
Thursday, 02 March 2017 10:29

Over the last five years, the Sahel turmoil has, at the same time, diversified in its nature while deepening its roots in the region. Though of crucial importance, the current international military cooperation may soon be having a lesser impact on the ground. That would cast a doubt on its effectiveness and create panics on the grounds. Then, what policy to stabilize the troubled region?




A set of intricate overlapping issues.


The Sahel continues to be a major source of concerns within and beyond the region. Frequent visits to the Sahel by French and the European Union officials, the January 2017 France / Africa Summit held in Bamako as well as the tour undertaken by the German Chancellor Merkel to Mali and Niger, a rare event, illustrate the concerns linked to the region structural instability.


 Besides the threats to the future of the countries, the region continued instability is a strategic issue Europe and the USA cannot ignore or minimize. However, to be successful, they should keep expecting the unexpected.


As the epicenter of the Sahel crisis for decades, and specifically since 2012, Mali has rightly been the focus of a sustained regional and international attention and support. However, besides Mali there are many other issues and questions connected to the everlasting Sahel instability. They cry for a lasting solution.


First of all, there are a number of commitments that all the partners – national and international - should agree on and engage to address concretely and in a simultaneous manner.


The commitments to be made should encompass the following.


Firstly, it is to ensure that, in the region and beyond, there is a common perception of the threat. Secondly, it is important to understand that the threat is an issue of concern to all – governments, populations as well as the states themselves. Thirdly, to agree on building and sustaining an appropriate framework to address the security related issues. The multiplicity of organizations would not help. Fourthly, to organize strong national coalitions, or synergies, between all various concerned organs and organizations: intelligence services, defense, justice, financial services including customs, communication and public awareness. In compliance with the law, and under the political control, to professionalize the intelligence services through better internal organization.


Obviously, external cooperation (exchange of information at neighbors, regional and international levels) would be of importance.


The second is a priority to address issues that are specific to the region as a whole and to each country as a particular entity. That means weighting the historical / political backgrounds of each crisis, the interference of external factors, including various traffics and other sources of funding.


At this level, one major priority is to understand that, in joining radical movements, many youth may be primarily expressing only the simple desire to exist. They are trying to get recognition at home and nationally. Therefore, one important issue is how to prevent this group of about 1.000 to 1.500 youth in the Sahel, from joining the radical groups now fighting national and foreign armies.


Paradoxically, a number of these youth are trying to convey this message, a cry: ‘’our combat is our way to reaffirm our strong will to stay home! We are victims of unfair and inefficient governance’’.


How do the Sahel governments and their external partners understand these messages?


A further difficult question is what to do with these youth, many of whom are, due to the context, possibly terrorists in waiting? Still, it is not supporting or defending extremist views if one blames bad governance, corrupt practices and various traffics in a country.


Continued denial by Sahel officials of the threats seriousness as well as their ready-made responses –‘’ terrorism is everywhere,’’ and  ‘’worldwide no region or city is safe ‘’, - would not help. Indeed, due to their level of organization and the qualities of their many infrastructures, developed countries are able to respond much better to the havocs inflicted by terrorists’ attacks than do the poor states of the Sahel. That situation makes a huge difference between countries. It could not allow minimizing terrorists’ threats in the Sahel but should encourage an absolute need for continued preparedness.


Expecting more serious threats.


It is obvious that, between the Sahel governments and their external partners and between both and the local populations a number of misunderstandings keep building up.


They are about how to define and combat terrorists’ activities. These contradictions exist at policy level as well as on the ground, therefore at citizen level. Unfortunately they keep building up, especially after each terrorist’s armed operation or in the aftermath of the subsequent military response. Within larger segments of the most concerned populations, especially those on the borders areas, there are continued discussion with questions about the usefulness and the real objectives behind fighting radical groups.


While not often clearly well formulated or openly expressed or fully relayed in mass demonstrations, the misunderstandings around the combat against terrorism keep building up. Associated to fear and insecurity, they are deeply rooted in the countries most affected by terrorists’ attacks, and especially Mali and Niger. If not properly and urgently addressed, they could result in more popular support to criminal activities in the Sahel. Delivering a sort of ‘’legitimacy’’ as the one claimed by the Al Shebaab in Somalia.


Increasingly, it is now obvious that terrorist threats do not necessarily mean the same thing to all.


In most border areas, the local economy is often largely dependent on traffics, irregular migrations and more or less on other illegal activities. These activities prosper in places where governments’ representations and resources are weak, accomplice or simply not existing.


Due to family or political linkages, patronages and other vested interests, central governments are either unwilling or unable to address in a firm manner these ambiguous situations. In front of their external partners, they also may have difficulties to formally admit the reality of their political deficits. This is more so as the financial dividends of the informal economy keep increasing steadily and thus comforting the loyalties of a number of regimes.


 At the same time, the external partners, especially from the southern European countries, remain primarily concerned by the migrations issues. They are lesser vocal and lesser effective in combating drugs and cigarettes traffics. However, these are the very destabilizing factors that often fund radical activities, domestic political campaigns and minimize international aid effectiveness.


Moreover, the money illicitly generated is, and with notable success, increasingly intrusive in the Sahel countries elections and other political processes. The more these situations deepened their roots, the more difficult it would be harder to eradicate them or indeed to control migrations flows, the European Union main priority issue.


There is a lesson to be drawn from the decades long, and never ending, fight against drugs and related activities - including irregular migrations - between Latin America and the USA.  The failure to stop these traffics, despite considerable financial and police efforts should provide guidance to the present relationships - in these areas - between Europe and the Sahel Sahara. Better local governance has helped there and would here, in the Sahel.


The importance of eradicating lucrative drug businesses, before it takes much deeper roots in fragile nations, should be a priority over the complex and costly control of migrations from one region to a much richer one. That priority deserves to be enforced in a manner similar to the fight against terrorists’ activities many of which are funded by these very traffics.


That policy would be a projection of stability beyond the borders.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 02 March 2017 10:40 )

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