1 April 2014

Africa: The EU and AU - a New or One More Additional Summit?

Photo: European Council
The first plenary session of the EU-AU Summit in Brussels.

What new will come from this week African and European fourth summit in Brussels? Leaders will certainly agree on some practical measures to address security in the Sahel, especially on Central African Republic.

Unfortunately, the problems will remain in their entirety as both sides have yet to start addressing the root causes of the continued instability and not only its horrendous consequences: bloodletting and plight of refugees and internally displaced persons.

The difficulties to defeat structural violence in the Sahel have many causes, chief among them are the flaws in the diagnostic of the situation. National and foreign troops are deployed, at a very high cost, to fight never ending rebellions while their deeply rooted causes are ignored. There are many examples of past interventions, all successful and welcome at the times. France, sometimes supported by the USA, has carried out stabilizing missions in Kolwezi, Congo in 1978, Mauritania in 1977/78, Chad in the 1980-90's, Central Africa in the mid 1990's, Cote d'Ivoire in 2002 and subsequent years, Mali and again the Central African Republic in the 2013. In 2000, the UK Special Forces landed in Sierra Leone to help reestablish an elected president and beleaguered international troupes.

At the same time, local populations' long entrenched resentments, a consequence of neglect, exclusion and arrogant corruption of the elites, have led millions of citizen to be allergic to their governments and by reaction to support, encourage or sympathize with all sorts of rebellious groups. That has started in the 1980's in Liberia followed by Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and the never ending crises in both Guinea Bissau and the Central African Republic.

The long standing political, tribal and religious grievances have yet to be properly addressed as the real precondition to a successful fight for stability in the Sahel. Violent extremism is essentially the brutal expression of a disenchanted population against a discredited leadership. As long as these root causes remain unaddressed, costly multilateral forces will not overcome instability. On the contrary, they might exacerbate it as experienced in Afghanistan and in East Congo.

Through low intensity warfare, violent extremism stresses local governments as well as their external allies and thus alienates further the whole populations. Indeed activists have more ability to adapt to lasting challenges - sources of prestige and incomes - than most national armies in the Sahel.

At independence in the 1960's, these armies have been established, often from scratch, equipped and trained to carry out the traditional mission of all armies: to protect and defend the integrity and sovereignty of the national territory. Over time, in most states, that mission has largely evolved to protecting the regimes, then the country and last the people. Are these armies presently adapted to combat the new rebellions and other threats? They were not in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire or in Central African Republic.

A new form of armies is needed in the Sahel Sahara to confront the new enemies: terrorists and trafficking. Obviously there is a need for new types of armies or Special Forces to carry these modern missions. That means many things: new type of professional soldiers recruited on merits, new adapted equipment and better revamped defense resources. That should not in any case be the end of the national armies who should play their classical role in defense of the country and the protection of its institutions. Moreover, they will always be needed if at least to serve as deterrence against the political ambitions of the future Special Forces.

In Brussels both sides, Europeans and Africans, cannot skip a debate - public or private - on the root causes of the continued instability in the Sahel. Both the generalized frustrations of the citizen and the much needed modernization of the armies are to be addressed if these countries and their external partners want to defeat or at least to marginalize violent extremism.

Thus the African European meeting should be a new beginning and not only the fourth summit.

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