West Africa: Sahel and Mali - Still More Crises to Come

Internally displaced people in a village in Mali's Mopti area.
analysis

Nouakchott — In the Sahel, with Covid 19, 2020 will be a pivotal year in the fight against armed groups, some of which are supported from outside. Moreover, a year of Partnerships and quest for coherence in cooperative policies. Finally, a year of thinking on the responsibility to deliver, and thus to putting an end to conflicts. Despite Covid19 perverse effects and an increasing internationalisation.

Covid 19, terrorism and humanitarian crises

The consensus is universal: with Covid 19, 2020 is a catastrophic year for the world economy. The furious race for a vaccine is likely to do the same for 2021. Across the world, 67 million are infected, 1.5 million have died and the number of those requiring humanitarian assistance has increased by 40 percent. In the race to produce and sell the vaccine, the poorest will be further marginalized but recruitments of jihadists will be more served.

According to the World Terrorism Index (Institute of Economy and Peace, 2020), terrorism has been declining since 2014 except in Africa where it persists thanks to civil conflicts which are its main driving force. This decline cannot make us forget that terrorism remains a serious threat in many countries. The largest increase in the world is recorded in the Sahel (Burkina Faso where the number of deaths has increased by a factor of 7 (2019 report). Of the 18 most affected countries, 9 are already in conflict and the most affected African countries are Nigeria, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

In 2018, the cost of the fight against the scourge amounted to 13 billion USD, or 9 times that of 2007.

Experts believe that declining incomes, due to the impact of Covid 19 on economies, pose a security threat in the Sahel. Drop resulting from the reduction in foreign aid, itself linked to the fall in economic activity in partner countries. Counterproductive, these cuts reduce the public resources allocated to fight terrorism.

The same Report estimates the impact of terrorism at $ 171.7 billion for the past decade. An estimate that, however, does not include the shortfall in investment, the collapse of the informal economy, spending in the fight against terrorism, and other charges made for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Hence the importance of new projects.

Projects and other initiatives

In this context, new initiatives are welcome. The Coalition for the Sahel, announced in Pau, France, in January 2020, with a joint presidency (G 5 Sahel, European Union and France) has 50 member states. This grouping aims at bring together countries, organizations and international institutions engaged in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel: UN, European Union, African Union, etc. The Coalition aims at integrating and promoting country approaches to the struggle. A first example is the support to the G 5 Sahel in its fight against terrorism and to the return of the administration to the territories.

The Alliance for the Sahel, another group, has 23 member states countries and aims to fund 800 projects estimated at 12 billion Euros. It will have to integrate one of the four pillars of the Coalition for the Sahel, which is development aid. The others are the fight against terrorism, capacity building of the armed forces and support for the return of the State to the territories.

Finally, the Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel is a joint Franco-German initiative in favor of the Sahel. A great fight remains to be won: the rapid operationalization of these groupings in order to avoid duplication of tasks and lack of harmonization of efforts.

And indeed to preserve the G 5 Sahel Secretariat in Nouakchott.

Certainties and challenges

Some delicate issues, very tangible, are difficult to address in the Sahel and even more difficult to manage in a transparent manner. Most revolve around the nature and governance of the national state. After more than 7 years of international military presence in the Sahel, we are witnessing a contest, not a draw, but which does not end. Even though they win every fight – they always do – regular troops are still forced to remain on the ground. On alert.

In the center of the Sahel, as in its southern (Lake Chad, Gulf of Guinea and Benin) and northern (Libya) peripheries, insecurity is endemic and fear is ingrained in the minds of the populations.

The heterogeneous adversary includes jihadists, ethnic militias, vigilante groups, traffickers, migrant couriers, youth seeking action, etc. And also some advisers called « spiritual supports » from near and far countries to strengthen the morale of the combatants.

What if the Malian crisis became more international? With new military troupes from regional countries such as Algeria and from more distant states, Russia’ Wagner Group? They are, advance their supporters, at least similar to the European Takuba grouping (500 troupes) and the British Newcombe (300 soldiers) backing Barkhane. Concerned, will Morocco still remain absent from the field?

In terms of concerned governments, the national economy, often in the hands of groups linked to them, offers more fees than it advances development. In addition, fear, polarization and poverty drive immigration to capitals. That is, to cities those are already overcrowded, large, under-equipped and very expensive.

These Sahelian capitals manifest a regional reality: the official country versus the real country, the formal state versus the useful state.

Ultimately, faced with a perilous situation that persists and could become more dangerous – Covid 19, terrorism, regional and other powers games, etc – the status quo is no longer an option. Nor is demagoguery, mobilizing energy and resources, not to win the current battle but against an already very distant past.

Facing these many challenges, the Sahel should win the ongoing battle and open up horizons for its tumultuous youth.

By Ahmedou Ould Abdallah - President centre4s

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