Sahel: prevention and conflict management. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ahmedou Ould Abdallah   
Tuesday, 16 October 2018 09:48

For the last few years, the Sahel Sahara region has been deeply weakened by violent and multidimensional conflicts. These conflicts affect people, economies, institutions as well as the relationships with the region external partners. Their extension, towards both the Gulfs of Benin and of Guinea will not take long and one has to be blind to ignore it.



National and international responses are slow to bring lasting solutions to these conflicts. Faced with such unceasingly more expensive prolonged status quo, should the region stay on the same approaches of fighting armed violence or, on the contrary, should it introduce new actors and new approaches?


A most expensive status quo.


Since 2005 - the year of hostage-taking in that Sahel business – or the liberation of hostages against the payment of large ransoms, the nascent tourism industries has been in shambles. That is to say the end of infrastructures building (roads, airports, and hotels), of commercial activities (traditional crafts industry, vegetable crops, etc.) and of local jobs creation in the barren regions. These lost activities were gradually supplanted by much more lucrative others: trafficking – in human beings through irregular migrations, in cigarettes and various drugs – and also the end of the trans-Saharan trade, (north-south and east-west). The modern activities went into decline when they did not simply cease to exist.


The continued deterioration in security is a huge challenge to governments. It is especially a daily concern to populations exposed to tangible threats to their livelihood and to their economic activities already weakened by climate change.


Moreover, geological surveys and mining activities were either frozen or operating at minima. That is, generating fewer resources for governments’ budgets, workers and local communities, and thus providing disillusioned youth to radical groups.


In 2012, occupation of northern Mali and the attempt to install a jihadist authority has profoundly changed the regional context. The armed intrusion of "Islamist" fighters, determined to bring Mali and the region into a new era of turbulence, was on its way. France military response has certainly secured the unity of that country. However, the crisis is still on, metamorphosing, evolving and contaminating several provinces of the country and beyond throughout the Sahel fringes.


Unfortunately, it is precisely at this time of crisis and lean resources, that security necessity require larger funds for military action. In fact, even if the military response is not sufficient enough to resolve a crisis, it is nonetheless a necessary first step. Without it, the radicals see no motivation to stop their spreading and digging efforts in and throughout the Sahel. Beyond that region, their targets are the rich and densely populated states around the gulfs of Guinea and Benin. These areas are already their set next targets.


This overall context is extremely volatile. In fact, it is a context filled by oversized political ambitions, reinvigorated political tribalism, mineral wealth exploited for the benefit of a few and a large number of lucrative trafficking. These sharp appetites become entangled in capital cities that are more and more sprawling, jam-packed, overcrowded and therefore costly and unsafe.


This uncertain situation calls for a new approach to the management of crises and conflicts in the Sahel in particular and in Africa in general. 


New approaches to conflict management.


The first post-cold war era civil conflicts, were deadly in West Africa and in the Maghreb. Their human and material damage, including environmental destruction, were enormous. However, they ended up being contained. Today once bruised countries, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone or Algeria, to name only the most devastated, enjoy a peace that was then unthinkable of.


Nowadays, conflicts are presented or present themselves as "ideological". The reality however is much more complex as various traffics are often the main lubricants of these conflicts. Moreover, after an official settlement, they do not disappear completely, continuing to generate a structural insecurity. Even at a low intensity level, that latent insecurity discourages modern investments that the region needs most. On the contrary, the informal sector and archaic trade flourish vigorously. The result is not only the weakening of public institutions and official authorities but also that of the modern economy sector. The very sector that connects with the international economy, introduces innovations in the countries, provides taxes and contributes to the nations’ pension funds.


It is in that perspective that security, of all and to all, should be re-examined and new approaches to crisis management and conflict proposed.


Concerned by insecurity, the modern private sector can, in cooperation with governments, play a significant role in crisis prevention, management and resolution. Moreover, its place in post-conflict reconstruction remains paramount. Naturally, that should not lead to a confusion of responsibilities. Each sector should play its own role through a close cooperation between military and diplomatic action on the one hand and the expertise of the private sector on the other.


The aim is to maximize the expertise and experience of the private sector to help contribute more to the prevention and management of the new generations of these perverse conflicts. A specialized private sector can exert a crucial preventive influence on crises.


The search for structured information and Internet watch, sites, online press and social networks can be relays for the services of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and the Interior. This influence can also be exerted on the economic and commercial activities as well as those of the civil societies organizations. As for the States, the influence of a company can also constitute a major card in crises prevention and resolution. Those crises that continue to destabilize many African countries.


Field experience and notoriety, in managing in an effective manner seemingly contradictory interests, are preparing, more than before, for some private sectors to manage national and regional security. From the standpoint of economic security, prevention and mediation should encourage governments (Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Interior), people and large multinational corporations, to a new cooperation free from past stereotypes.


Ultimately, the spreading out of deadly ideologies is also the consequence of serious governance deficits. In the Sahel, most conflicts are multifaceted, contagious, difficult to define and even more difficult to resolve. They seem to be reluctant to regulations based solely on maintaining the status quo. Therefore, a new and more flexible management approach is called for.


Less orthodox than past practices that have been going on since the end of the cold war, this management approach requires more open cooperation between all parties concerned: the citizen, governments and the private sector. It is probably time to put it into practice.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 October 2018 09:59 )

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