27 February 2013

West Africa: Mali, Booby Trap for West Africa, Says Prof. Oche


Nigeria's participation in the multinational military coalition in Mali continues to generate interest as the Islamists in the Sahel are ready to engage France and the foreign troops on a prolonged military combat.

In this interview with Vanguard Newspaper, the Director of Research and Studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs(NIIA ) Professor Ogaba Oche looks at the dynamics playing out in the crisis in the Sahel. Excerpt:

HOW would you look at the security situation in West Africa region today against the objectives of what ECOWAS was set up to achieve

Well, my view or perception of West Africa in terms of economic integration which is basically what the Economic Community of West African states was meant to achieve in the first place is that we are slightly better off than where we started off in 1975.

Our economies are more integrate to the external world than amongst ourselves in West Africa .West African leaders that formed ECOWAS have become more pre-occupied with security issues than with economic issues. ECOWAS has become more pre-occupied with political and security than with economic.

Extensive poverty

This has manifested itself in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire and now Mali. There is no doubt that security is important, but we must not forget economic. We have very poor states in the Sahel. West Africa is characterised by poor states and even the seemingly oil rich country like Nigeria, there is extensive poverty.

So we must not forget about economic issues as well as governance issues. With regards to what has happened in Mali, it is good that a multinational military intervention has taken place. It is necessary given the character of the threat that poses itself in Mali, terrorism, Islam inspired terrorism; I think it is good thing that it is being taken care of because it can spread across borders very easily.

In Nigeria we already have the Boko Haram insurgency, and people are talking about the emergence of other terrorist groups within Nigeria and other West African countries. Let's look at it from the perspectives of Nigeria, I think that without Nigeria, there wont be ECOWAS. So for endeavours like this, I think Nigeria has to be involved otherwise, it wont succeed, of course,with respect to our national security, it all depends on how we define our national interest, terrorism is something we know has no borders. It is occurring within Nigeria and some people say that Boko Haram has been training in Mali or that the Whatever the case may be, they may have links with terrorist in Mali and the dynamics within Mali is such that some actions from ECOWAS, some form of intervention, any thinking is that if Nigeria did not take part it would fail ab initio

The French led intervention has come with a prize as we can now see a domino effect in acts of kidnappings and adoptions and upsurge on threats to foreigners all over the place, is this a pattern of things to come in the region?

Well I think it was a pattern even before the French intervention, some of the extremist groups in the Sahel seem to have specialised in the area of kidnapping, trading in drugs, arms and other illegal activities to make money and sustain their activities. I don't think it is something new but if it becomes intensified, because of the French intervention then, I think there is a visible problem there, that has to be tackled.

At what stage do you think the global community should come together to look at the issues of migration, terrorism, sovereignty of states and globalisation as we have began to see discontents in all these areas?

Well first in terms of sovereignty, there is no real distinction between de facto and de jure sovereignty. African states are generally weak and cannot sustain their sovereignty, their borders are highly permeable, there are a lot of trans-border movement here and there, it is not what states alone can tackle. In terms of globalisation as you rightly pointed out, some countries are beneficiaries some are not but the problems that African countries are facing now in the Sahel region is that of weakness in terms of governance, in terms of institutions that can sustain the states, weakness in terms of economic opportunities and activities for the people.

These terrorist activities arise out of discontent and deprivations and if the states are so weak to be able to intervene materially in the lives of the people, there is little that can be done even by the international community , we must not forget that Sahelian states are very poor.

The threat of terrorism is not what we sit back in Africa or West Africa and expect the international community solve It is something we must solve ourselves, especially with the evolution of strong states systems. We must realise that these terrorists although religious in their orientation, they are viewing the actions of the state from their religious world view and making their demands based on their perspectives.

How do we rationalise the terrorist targeting former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, Alhaji Dasuki, for assassination even when some one like Gen. Babangida was the one that took Nigeria to OIC these are known Muslim?

Their own end goal is a theocracy a government based on Islamic tenets, they see that as a means to establish a just society by targeting people like Gen. Babaingida, the Emir of Kano and Sultan of Sokoto to me it means that these are individuals who do not have legitimacy in their own estimations. That is why they are ready to attack them as well as other highly placed Muslims in the society.

Islamic theocracy

In their eyes, these people do not count for much. In fact, they see them as part of the problem. So according to what their scripture tells them, putting in place an Islamic Theocracy would be one major advancement in solving the problem once and for all.

How would you describe the management of information on our mission in Mali? If America is going to put its troops to a foreign mission the government will spend time to educating its citizens on why it is sending Americans soldiers abroad but here it seems as if were are shipping out cattle?

With respect to that, informing the intelligentsia of Nigeria, I don't think that information has been handled adequately. We have not informed Nigerians adequately on why we are in Mali. I think is even in the mindset of our leaders now that Nigeria is a leading peace keeping nation globally in contributing troops to any major peace keeping so our door are open whenever they come knocking. I think t is a mindset It definitely has not been explained to Nigerians, to that extent I think we were to hasty in going in and again we should not assume that the participation of French initially paved the way for us to go in, it may be a long drawn out affairs but that is for military analysts to handle, all said and done, I think there should be more information regarding Nigeria's contribution of troops to international peace keeping.

What has been the contribution of intellectuals and institutions like the NIIA and other research and policy institutions to studying and analysing Nigeria's participations in peace keeping operations since the 196os, in terms of the lesson we have have learnt, the mistakes that we may have made, analysis of policy initiatives, etc?

We have made our contributions, conferences have been held, books have been written, debates have been held, and I think we have done much to contribute to policy. But I wont hesitate to say that there is no strong connect between our contribution to international peace keeping and defined national interest in the peace we are going to keep or in the conflict internationally, take for example the case of Liberia as example. We spent over $12billion , lost so many lives, many officers died, yet without and consummate stake in the Liberian economy, political system, we have left Liberia to be politically influence by the forces that watched Liberians butcher themselves openly on the streets. The same thing happened in Sierra Leone, and now in Mali . I think what government should do is to define in concrete term what we stand to gain or what we stand to loose by being international peace keeping in Mali.

We must know what the dangers are for the region, for the continent and for Nigeria and what the benefits are, Because we contribute so much in human and non human resources and at the end of the day, there is no commensurate returns in terms of economic, political gains or anything like that, so I think to that extent government has a lot of work to do.

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