Sahel: « it is the others’ fault » !

A number of the Sahel governments have their eyes fixed on the rearview mirror, wanting to know nothing of the present and even less of the future. Populist discourse with a haunting refrain –  » it is the others’ fault  » is recurrently condemning the international community action though not offering an alternative. A demagogy that does not serve the Sahel countries or the regimes themselves. A fresher and freed look is called for.

Lasting demagogic extravagances.

With a few Barkane military successes, the early 2019 has looked a turning decisive point in the conflict. Then in Mali, the basis and still the main geographical location of the conflict, and in Burkina Faso where it drifted and is prospering, the prospects are now gloomy. Eight years since its start, the political and military responses to the crisis are yet to be decisive.

Today,  » Allied forces  » face two challenges. Local armies are lesser and lesser motivated and even seem to be losing ground. Every week, when not every day, significant loss of men and heavy equipment are reported to the benefit of rebels groups often operating, at best, on motorcycle when not on foot. If the core value of the soldiers is not questioned, that is not true of the political conduct of the war. The daring successes of the rebels during the attacks of 30 September in Moudoro and Boulkessy, both in Mali, followed by armed inroads in Burkina Faso, and the widespread demonstrations, encouraged against the United Nations logistics bases, seem to confirm a new era in the conflict. An era at three levels.

First, that of denial with the witch hunts for « accomplices of the enemy and other fifth column traitors. » The domestic front is weakened following the proliferation of these « patriotic calls’’, which are not conducive to crises settlement. Thus, a de facto censorship is imposed on all. Feeling free, consequences of the weakening of central governments, agitators impose their agenda. At the same time, governments try to last rather than to find a final way out of the crisis. To outbid their opponents, they introduce populist policies that further weaken an already bloodless state.

Then follows a most dangerous phase, that of the ‘’external plot’’. That stage attributes the ‘’mistakes and multiple failures of the ruling elites to ‘’others  » i.e. the country’s external partners. Setbacks and military disasters result, not from national wrong policies, but only from the machinations against the Sahel. Indeed, they are the products of present or past haphazard management of national human and natural resources. That low-cost propaganda is a real opium drug that exacerbates public opinion mood against the Sahel countries’ external partners.

Consequently, the countries much needed political and economic reform will wait.

Finally, the crisis worsens with the meddling of minds set geo political experts supporting the genuineness of an external plot. More than all its neighbors, Mali is the most vulnerable to this narrative  »conspiracy and the powerful obscure hand that continues its undermining activities ».

Obviously, the Sahel would do well to draw lessons from the damage done by the culture of conspiracy, particularly, to the Middle East,

If this suicidal tendency is not successfully confronted, the stability and the future of the Sahel states could reach a zone of no return. The point to be made is that protracted and multifaceted crises can lead to the ‘’deconstruction’’ or the « retribalization » of states as in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq and endless wars.

A needed regional renewal.

The regional organization responsible for security issues, the G 5 Sahel, is far from unworthy. Thanks to its activities the region problems are better known and addressed.

Securing a – larger than Western Europe – vast territory where infrastructure deficits are legendary, rebellion movements a robust tradition, and loyalties often flexible, is not an easy task.

In addition, a thankless mandate, limited resources and competing regional institutions, do not stimulate success. Avoiding bureaucratization and paralysis as in similar institutions, invites the G 5 Sahel to evolve. In order to ensure its survival and especially its usefulness, two opportunities are opened to the organization: strengthening its mandate and reviewing its membership.

The strengthening of the mandate goes through that of the Secretariat in Nouakchott, with additional adequate resources, more attractiveness for professional skills and larger freedom in recommending responses to the crisis.

It is also critical for the group to be able to confront the reality on the ground. In other words, time has come to recognize that since 2013, the Sahel is in a state of war. Therefore, it is counterproductive to only focus on the immediate causes of the war break-up in 2102, rather than on: its root causes, the reasons for its protraction, the continued weakening of the national armed forces and finally the search for a quick exit.

The Sahel is going through a true war. Alone, incantations and imprecations would not put an end to it. Neither will the rhetoric built up and fueled by accusations – reminiscences of the cold war – against foreign countries and international organizations aiming at looting and not helping! The Sahel and Africa in general, should not be amnesic as to easily forget the human and material tragedies associated with the Cold War period. The era of those kinds of speeches.

Better than these slogans, belonging to another era, reforms in countries’ governance would help much better.

The enlargement of the G 5 Sahel to states in the region would offer important assets to combat insecurity in its roots and its expansionist ambitions towards the Gulf of Guinea. The appetite of jihadists is known for populated areas and where survival poses lesser difficulties than in the desert.

In that context, concerned and interested natural candidates to joining the G 5 Sahel are Senegal and Ivory Coast. To that organization, they would bring a proven expertise in the military and in the intelligence field.

Reorganized and strengthened with its member states engaged in internal reforms, the G 5 Sahel would be well positioned to thrive in implementing its mandate.

Thus its elites would cease to repeat, ad aeternam, the overused litany:  » it’s the others’ fault  »!

By Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, President centre4s.