Nouakchott — Nouakchott played host to a Maghreb and Sahel security conference last week, bringing together experts from Europe and North Africa to discuss the implications of the security crisis.
The November 6th-7th event was organised by the Maghreb Centre for Strategic Studies and the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Magharebia spoke to Ladji Traoré, a renowned Mauritanian analyst and Africanist leader, on the side-lines of the event to get his take on the fallout from events in Mali and how they impact Mauritania.
Magharebia: How do you see the security situation in the Maghreb and the Sahel?
Ladji Traoré: It's a very worrying situation, all the more so because Mauritania is at the historic and ideological epicentre of this insecurity.
You can see that from the spread of the jihadist terrorist ideology and the trafficking of drugs. So the attacks and other terrorist activities affected Mauritania at a very early stage, at the same time as Mali.
And Bin Laden's first collaborators were Mauritanian, most notably his private secretary and his imam. And among the brigades in northern Mali, most of the leaders are Mauritanian. Added to which, Mauritanians have spread the jihadist ideology throughout the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and even Europe.
Magharebia: So why have the terrorist movements chosen to base themselves in Mali rather than in Mauritania?
Traoré: The Mauritanian government began its fierce opposition to terrorism at an early stage, which was not the case in Mali... .
By contrast, in Mauritania the government even went so far as to mount offensive operations on Malian soil to attack the terrorists. That policy was very well received by the West, which saw in Mauritania a solid partner in the fight against terrorism in that region.
Magharebia: And what about the co-operation between countries in the region in the fight against terrorism?
Traoré: There are a lot of initiatives and institutions, but they are not working. That is true of CEMOC (the Joint Military Staff Committee of the Sahel Region). They hold a lot of conferences, but nothing tangible comes out of it.
Magharebia: Why do you think young people are the terrorists' preferred target?
Traoré: You know that young people don't have it easy in our various countries. They're left to deal with unemployment, poverty, a lack of vocational training, a lack of prospects for the future. They're exposed to the high cost of living and the international media, which present them with the wealthy lifestyle to which they aspire.
For that reason, young people are ready to sell out to all sorts of opportunists. They're tempted by illegal migration and all kinds of smuggling. So for them jihad is a way of making money. This desperate situation means they fall victim to all the various temptations.
Magharebia: Do you think outside assistance is needed to help our countries fight terrorism?
Traoré: Our states and armies are ineffectual. You've seen that with the Malian problem. The Serval operation happened because not a single African army could meet the challenge. So there is an objective need to turn to the West for help. What we have are not national armies. They're armies designed to defend regimes. And the West knows the economic importance of this region, hence the need for it to help these countries, to prevent the insecurity from spilling over and reaching it.