"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
The past years, there has been a lot of attention paid to security issues in the Sahel region. It even made the 2019 Munich Security Report (prestigious, but probably better not to be mentioned…), according to which, “The Sahel region or “African arc of instability” faces an interrelated set of security challenges, which exacerbate each other and have prompted some observers to describe the states in the region as the most vulnerable in the world. Although both the United States and the European Union have recognized the importance of the Sahel in their respective regional security strategies, for a long time the region did not feature high on the international agenda. This has changed since the French-led intervention in 2013 in Mali, which put the Sahel and its security challenges in the international spotlight.” The report provides a good overview, including on the international impact. Noteworthy is the spike in amount of fatalities in the region as a result Islamist attacks, which has gone from around 200 / year for several years in 2016, to over 1 000 in 2018 (based on research by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Recently, in Mali, 160 villagers were killed in an attack. While (seemingly) not done by Islamists, and had a tribal / ethnic dimension, it is clear that the overall Malian and Sahelian context of violence played a role. In particular the failure of the state to play a role as guarantee of security stands out. An interesting backgrounder by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute provides a good overview of some of the interventions. At its core, looking forward, it joins the many calls to better and faster implementation of the G5 initiative (in particular the military “joint force” component), the need for development initiatives, and the tricky situation of elections (four out of five of the countries will hold elections this year).
All of this advice is useful and well argued. However, one cannot help but feel a certain amount of frustration. Surely, even back in 2014 (when the G5 initiative was set-up), we knew that security was important. While the international community has pushed for such a multi-national structure, is this the best approach? (The backgrounder points out much of the criticism in this regard.) Moreover, are approaches by international partners towards the region even understood with regards to how they impact insecurity? There has been some criticism, for example of the EU’s CSDP missions and France’s army’s military interventions to support the Chadian regime.
The state having a monopoly of violence is a critical definition of a state going back to Jean Bodin (1576) and Thomas Hobbes (1651). Even more than the capacity of the national armies in the Sahelian countries, their legitimacy is probably the first issue to address if they are to have a positive role in the future. A very interesting recent OECD paper in their West African Papers series shows the “praetorian” history of military forces in the region, and notes that, while some progress has been made, “This must not distract from the fact that in all three countries, a visible section of the armed forces remains at odds with democratic principles. The behaviour of sections of the Malian armed forces in the aftermath of the 2012 coup and recent speculations about a failed military coup in Niger in December 2015 illustrate this. It is too early to assess the political progress in Burkina Faso and the extent to which recent events will affect civil-military relations. In Chad and Mauritania, by contrast, the armed forces are firmly entrenched in power and there is little to suggest that this will change soon.” Here in Niger, for the elections in 2021, the main potential candidates for the ruling party (which is almost certain to win) are the current Minister of the Interior (who is charged with organizing the elections…) and a high-ranking army officer. Clear civilian oversight, professionalism, and technical solutions such as public expenditure reviews of defense expenditure, might be more important than jet fighters and new uniforms for security in the Sahel.
28.3.2019, Niamey, Niger.
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.