Sahel Sahara: fragility, intractability and armed violence. Print
Written by Ahmedou Ould - Abdallah, President, www.Centre4s.org   
Tuesday, 07 November 2017 23:52

With the operationalization of their joint force since November 1, 2017, there is hardly a way for the G 5 Sahel countries to dispute the seriousness of the region armed crisis. A crisis that, as it lasts and deepens its roots, has become more entrenched, perverse, costly, and thus more difficult to resolve.

 

 

 

 A crisis with deeply spread roots.

 

Like all deep-rooted structural crises, Sahelian conflicts are a combination of several interlinked factors. There are many internal elements – identity issues, civilian concerns and military problems - specific to the affected countries. Furthermore, like a millefeuille, multiple strata, superimposed on each other - global, regional and local, aggravate the context.

 

This highly explosive cocktail is within and nurtured by a particular context. A context of rapid urbanization, high demographics growth, high unemployment, widespread popular discontent and strong protest movements in increasingly informal economies. These economies are undermined by various trafficking fueled by pervasive corruption. New and fast growing social networks make communications much easier including for the radical groups.

 

It is in this very volatile national and regional environment that international terrorism or jihadism is being nurtured and strengthened. There, it has found a social context (tribalism and sectarianism) and an economic system (rents) favorable to its anchorage and expansion. Nepotism, as well as ethnic political controls prevailing in this or that country, at the level of major economic and security positions, feeds political instability and promotes a resilient terrorism. Well integrated in the Sahelian societies, the jihadists know well the strong and weak political positions as well as the official or de facto, decisions making processes. They are familiar with the way National Security, Gendarmerie, Customs, Police and the lead Public Administrations operate. Little, in the bureaucratic apparatus that they may need to operate successfully, is alien to them.

 

In such volatile context, external support - United Nations, United States, France and European Union - can only be a plus to national political and military efforts. Without the loyalty of its local allies, a foreign military force can, very quickly, reach its strategic and budgetary limits before transmuting into a political disaster and a military nightmare.

 

Today, in the fight against extremism, the G 5 Sahel Achilles’ heel is precisely at this level. To make this fight even more efficient, the Sahel governments should explain to their public opinion the nature of and the reasons for the foreign military presence and advocate for its defense. Ambiguity such as the prevailing double messages - one to the national opinion and the other to outside partners - is suicidal.

 

Associated with the beginning of the Malian crisis when France launched its military interventions (Serval and Barkhane) followed by the United Nations (MINUSMA) and smaller presences of the US and European troupes, the militarization of the Sahel is well in progress. Its success matters more than its stagnation.

 

To be successful, especially in a complex and hostile environment such as the Sahel, a national or international military intervention must be accepted and not suspected by public opinions. Moreover, it requires, in addition to well-trained and motivated troops, capacities and logistical arrangements adapted to their activities.

 

Any attempt to settle a conflict that ignores its multiple origins and historical developments, before and after 2011 - the fall of the Malian regime - is bound to be bogged down and to aggravate a local situation already compromised. This is even truer if there is doubt about the objectives assigned to foreign troops. A clarification is imperative to all.

 

The stabilization of the Sahel should help to avoid or minimize unintended consequences: various trafficking and massive irregular migration. That stability is necessary and useful to both the states of the region and to concerned external countries.

 

Settling the Sahel crisis.

 

The first question to be asked is: how did the countries of the Sahel find themselves in such a disastrous situation?

 

The Sahel crisis did not come out of nowhere. Old enough, it is multifaceted - national, regional and international - with deep roots in the countries. Year and again, it continues to manifest a strong ability to reject any attempt at lasting settlement. The different parties, rebellions and governments, gradually become resilient to mediation efforts. Curiously those with an international component are systematically perceived as equivalent to an intolerable external interference!

 

Obviously, there are several means for reaching a lasting settlement. However, due to various past abuses, chronic impunity, and the selfish short-term interests of the elites, mistrusts and doubts have favored the perpetuation of the status quo. However, these rigidities cannot constitute lasting obstacles to the implementation of early confidence-building measures that could facilitate attempts at solutions.

 

One of the first confidence-building measures to undertake is in the political area. It is about consolidating and strengthening the legitimacy of governments through the building of national fronts. Coalitions, or national unity government, should be set up with the aim of broadening the political base of present regimes occupying the capitals palaces. These inclusive efforts should also reassure the populations, especially the minority groups – ethnic, caste, religious or geographical – that are often ostracized.

 

This internal effort should prove its credibility to the population through a visible manifestation of more political and administrative integrity. One of the most trusted measures of confidence building, both inside and outside the region, would be a credible and sustained fight against the cancer of corruption. It should never be forgotten that unpunished corruption, discredits governments as well as the political and administrative institutions.

 

The strengthening of internal political fronts should be consolidated through regional cooperation among the Sahel countries. Groups such as the G 5 Sahel and the Liptako Gourma can continue to  reinforce their technical structures and, through open and intelligent cooperation, prove their usefulness both to the population and to their international partners.

 

Concerned and interested neighboring countries – specifically Algeria, Morocco and Senegal – should be associated in a form to be found with them, collectively, or state by state. The G 5 Sahel and its external supports may not suffer from this opening whose contours remain to be determined. However, it cannot underestimate the role of '' spoiler '' that a state, absent or excluded from a project in which its thinks it can make a contribution, may play.

 

The Sahel States fragility is not written in the marble.

 

Rebuilding countries helps to make them capable of facilitating the free movement of people in and between countries. It would also help attract and carry out large investments needed to develop infrastructures and facilitates the exploitation of the vast agricultural and mining wealth.

 

The operationalization of G5 forces and international support cannot have other goals.

 

 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 November 2017 00:00 )