Sahel Sahara: winning the Marathon Print
Written by Ahmedou Ould - Abdallah, President,   
Thursday, 26 April 2018 08:48

While evolving, the terrorist threat still remains pervasive. To defeat it, the international response should last and keep adapting. Who will win the Sahel Marathon will depend on the successful management of several military and political issues while paying due attention to the environmental dynamics.





Serious though contained threats.


Today, the G 5 Sahel forces are favoring an alliance under one single operational command. That centralization of operations looks rational and aims at avoiding duplication of activities and at consolidating their strike force. It also aims at strengthening the solidarities between its five member’s states which are facing a permanent and quiet determined enemy. An enemy that has got respite thanks to the laxity of indulgent and exasperated populations.


However, it is normal to think, if not to wish, that within the five countries’ Alliance, each government is honestly playing its role on both levels - the military the funding.


Despite greater vulnerability and proven human and material losses, unlike the G5 countries, rebels groups, are increasingly decentralizing their forces. The Qatibas are broken down into small operational cells of 3 to 5 combatants. Most often they carry out their attacks riding cheap Chinese made motorcycles.


Finished the era of commandos in Toyota! The same motorcycles as the ones owned by peasants around them and therefore, difficult to suspect as threats. They also use, more often than in the past, Improvised Explosive Devices against foreign and national troupes. These blasts, even without serious human or material damages, are always publicized which facilitates new recruitments and fundraising especially from external sources.


On this 25 April, the opening of the Paris Conference ‘’ No money no Terror’’, it should help to know that in the Sahel region, that money follows various intricate channels that keep evolving. At local levels, funds come from informal channels that collect money from sales of cattle and crops as well as resources paid by governments seeking protection from terrorists’ attacks. External funds, still the most important, follow long well-oiled circuits through many continents and where paper money appears only at the very end. Various consumption goods in the Sahel are bought in country X and paid by a donor of country Y before being delivered for sales in a port in country Z of the region. The product of these sales is then redistributed in the Sahel. In addition to tribal solidarities, States vulnerable administrative services help to ensure confidentiality and a greater opacity.


The 14 April 2018 spectacular terrorist attack against the International Forces Base in Timbuktu remains a disturbing event. It should not however affect fundamentally this trend. Those operations are carried out by small and agile groups that are ready to die, melt with ease within the local population or act in disguise to better surprise their targets.


In the Sahel, the real danger lies in the consequences of the perpetuation and geographical extension of the conflict. Thus, it is essential to resolve it quickly. A crisis that deepens its roots, and keep lasting, carries with it a number of daunting dangers that can aggravate it further.


The first danger is to demonize public authorities. A degradation that conveys the risk of a greater governments’ discredit. Restoring the helpfulness of the state, and not only its authority, has become crucial to ordinary citizens. No longer able to protect their citizens against armed violence - they are supposed to own arms monopoly - the helpfulness and reliability of the Sahel states is gradually degenerating.


Fighting the terrorist threat, at the grassroots level, that is recruiters' targets, calls on trustworthy government action. Especially when governments run questionable management of their countries resources and of funds provided through international cooperation.


In borders areas, apart from lucrative customs posts, governments’ authority may eventually fade away and even disappear.


In the Sahel, national protection and solidarity are regressing, becoming more tribal than national. The regression to tribal and caste systems, especially at the executive political level, is a mortal threat. It pushes backwards to the retribalisation of countries and not forwards to their consolidation as nation states or at least modern ones.


These dysfunctionments, causes and consequences of the Sahel crisis, perpetuate that same crisis. Furthermore, they contribute to making international assistance, including the military’s, less effective. The fight against terrorism will then become a long-running war, a marathon.


Marathon in the desert.


Beyond its significance security dimensions, the Sahel crisis continued entrenchment has further serious unintended consequences.


The importance given by governments and their external partners to the management of terrorist threat should of course remain a priority. That indeed includes the military response. And with it, a successful support to the G 5 Sahel reinforced by both the region and the international community.


However, other national flaws, shared by the region, remain challenging threats that cannot continue to be ignored. Failings, in many areas, that mutually feed each other, fuel terrorism and expand regional insecurity. In this connection, Somalia and eastern DR Congo are examples to consider.


One of the main threats is connected to the rapid and anarchic urbanization especially of the capital cities. Another is related to the accelerated deterioration of the environment.


In addition to many other factors, the high population growth, the pervasive insecurity and the high-profile media reports on the fight against terrorism, have had aggravating effects in the region. These effects are linked to the rapid cities growth, especially the capitals. Due to the absence of large secondary cities, these capitals have become, in each country, the most attractive destination.


Unlike previous generations, today youth move directly to the nation capitals without stopping in secondary cities and other provincial capitals. Even to prepare a journey out of the continent, the capital remains the first destination. All administrative services and the few jobs offers, not to say survival opportunities, are concentrated there.


Overcrowded or more exactly jam-packed capitals. They are spread over vast distances, in several neighborhoods that are in fact genuine villages, little or not at all connected. This physical spreading makes them very costly in terms of transportation and of access to basic services. Both are even more expensive for these citizens who are already among the most vulnerable of the country.


In these difficult situations, frustrations do not spare any social group. For successive generations, hopes are frequently thwarted. The question of security / revolt against the established order imposes itself. There is one certainty: fire will flare up. The only remaining uncertainty is: which group will light the wick that is already soaked with gasoline.


Relegated behind in the list of priorities by terrorist actions, which are much more publicized and with more immediate consequences, the deterioration of the environment in the Sahel should no longer be underestimated. Recurrent severe droughts, like those of the 1970 and 1980’s, will push a large number of youth to the cities. Costly cities but where there is hope to migrate to northern countries: Europe or America. That is so unless the lure to join terrorist groups, who offer ''a cause’’ and hope for '' concrete actions '', will prevail. No passport or visa is required to join in.


International commitments to protect the Environment and the outcomes of COP 22 and 23 should be observed with much greater interest. The protection of vulnerable regions - in the Savannah, around Niger and Senegal rivers basins and along the coastline – should become a de facto priority issue and not just good for statements of principle.


The protection of the Environment deserves to be considered a priority, including in the fight against terrorism. That choice is more than ever legitimate. The severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s have largely contributed to the destruction of rural economies and to the subsequent vast population movements. Large migrations from the Sahel countries were parts of these movements that also included youth recruitments in the Libyan "Legions" and other "militias".


Today, in addition to ongoing drought across the Sahel, the Atlantic coastline of several countries is threatened and with it the traditional maritime economy. This is particularly the case of the Mauritanian coast as well as around the delta of the Senegal River, areas that have become very fragile and at risk.




In the Sahel, it is a must to differentiate between the official / formal country, and the real country, the informal one. External interventions, supporting political stability, are often hostages of that official country. They have no, or little, relationships with the real country.


In fact, unrestricted external support can lead to more instability. This is often the case where poor governance prevails especially with its flagrant and unpunished corrupt practices.


The Sahel Marathon will be won by those who promote internal consensus and are supported by external partners. That consensus should result from the establishment of broad political alliances at the national level. Alliances aiming at better managing the countries, not to only to appropriate their resources.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 April 2018 11:04 )