Sahel Sahara: centralization - decentralization - migration. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ahmedou Ould - Abdallah, President,   
Wednesday, 28 March 2018 20:25

In the recent months, specific or mixed interests, political, military as well as economic have emerged in the Sahel. Today, on the ground, the big challenge is how to handle that new reality. Everything moves fast in the Sahel though in different directions. Centralization of efforts at the Sahel states levels including at their partners’, decentralization at the armed groups and their ‘’dormant companions’’ levels and, finally uncontrolled migrations that do not exclude manipulations.





A new reality.


Much similar to a marathon than to a fast track, the Sahel is increasingly being institutionalized. In 2013 Serval and the Chadian troops saved Bamako, Mali and the Sahel from the anarchy of an occupation that had no administrative structures. However, the Sahel crisis is a conflict that, relentlessly, continues to grow. Gradually, it takes root and especially changes perspectives. How to respond to its growing but uncoordinated internationalization and to the looked-for growth of G 5 Sahel forces? Indeed, in the long run, a single response to current threats seems ineffective though, at the same time, too many actors are not without risks of confusion or paralysis on the ground.


During the Mali fighting in 2013, only two main actors were active: France and Chad. Today, seventeen strategies are developed for the same Sahel. Obviously, the multiplication of interests is preferable to international disinterest and to a fatigue of the main actors. That is a danger that always hangs over every crisis when it gets bogged down.


This transformation in the nature of the conflict causes serious slippage risks. The management of the Sahel crisis must prepare to adapt to them. At this stage, there is a consensus. It focuses on the importance of prevention, leadership and coordination. All three have become important requirements, although difficult to implement on a regional level and in the presence of many actors.


In terms of prevention, it is important to differentiate between conventional prevention and proactive prevention. The first aims at preventing the outbreak of a crisis whose ingredients are already in place. It is about anticipating a conflict and therefore taking political and other measures to maintain stability by averting a war. Proactive prevention is a different exercise. It aims at preventing an already ongoing crisis - this is the case in the Sahel - from degenerating further and the objective is to contain and hopefully to resolving it.


The current situation in the Sahel, where a conflict is already 'hot', calls for that proactive prevention. However, the exercise is not easy as several independent actors, both official and private, already operate in the field. Coordinating, or at least harmonizing their activities remains a major challenge for national and international actors.


Effective coordination requires the presence of an experienced, and above all, a leadership accepted by the different partners involved in the conflict. In the Sahel, as in other similar situations, the longevity of the crisis, which dates back to at least 2012, makes leadership difficult to exercise. Each party seeks to minimize its losses and especially its risk commitments. It is at this level that coordination becomes practically impossible to exercise in the field. As the parties are naturally independent, even if they work towards a common agreed on goal, the most effective coordination should aim at avoiding duplication and overlapping of activities. It must then be exercised at the level of project financing, a long-term task.


Experience shows that the maximum expectation of coordination between several independent actors is, at most, a harmonization of their activities. In other words, not to expose their work to serious failures that undermines the credibility and effectiveness of crisis management efforts. Due to his vast experience, the new G 5 Sahel Secretary general is well qualified to play that coordinating role as long as his working space remains free from unnecessary interferences


It is clear, however, that these efforts and that seems to be sometimes forgotten, will only bear fruit with the support of a credible military presence. Thus priority should go to a G 5 Sahel force. However, beyond external support, to be effective, that force requires operational and combative troops that is to say motivated.


Migrations and manipulations.


While not recent, over the last few years, migration flows from the Sahel to Europe, through Libya, have taken a dramatic turn. As they say it themselves, ‘’planning to travel towards the Paradise and to end up dead and in Hell’’, is an awful lot. Last November, a CNN video entitled ‘’Slaves auction in Libya’’ has transformed that migration circuit into a global spotlight. The video, playing on deep and old sensitivities related to Slavery, was timely to draw international attention. Its impact was immediate on the flows of migrants, reducing it drastically, especially to the most concerned party, Italy.


Regular or disorganized, migration is however a complex problem with many dimensions and subsequent impacts. It is primarily a personal, a family and a community issue. Voluntary or forced, migration is also a question of national governance, with economic and diplomatic dimensions. While migrants are not criminals, they are vulnerable and exposed to abuses from states and non-states actors including in their own countries.


Stopping migrations movements will require herculean efforts from African and European governments. Therefore, in the short and mid-terms, there is no success to be expected. While the US president has announced, during his campaign, plans to erect a concrete wall to protect the country’s southern borders, the EU flotillas will have a similar hard time to meet their objectives of sealing off their countries. Exposed to massive flows of migrants and political refugees from the eastern Mediterranean coast, if it locks the Libyan entry, the EU flotilla will automatically open an old but now quiet western gate: the Canary Islands.


In addition to ongoing efforts to seal off these southern entries, the EU should address two of the main ingredients that encourage migrations from Africa countries. First, it should try to deter its own undergrounds networks that fund and contribute to organize the flow African migrants to its members’ states. Second, it should keep encouraging the Sahel governments to meet the true needs and hopes as well as fears of their own citizens. Modest governance, that is closer to people and open to their daily concerns, may do.

In fine, there is a slow and continued ‘’Zairization’’ of the Sahel Sahara. In other words, there are official governments seated in the capitals and large shanks of their countries and their populations left to themselves. Official governmental presence is more symbolic than effective in the field and, far away from the capitals, violence and insecurity are endemic.  Peoples are left on their own. To be coherent with their official policies, these governments should recognize, as did President Mahamane Youssef of Niger during his visit to Burkina early this March, that the foreign military troupes are allies not occupation forces.

Ending that double language should send a signal to all and especially to the armed rebel groups. In these security matters, as in others, double language could often be lethal.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 29 March 2018 08:41 )

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