Mauritania has not been attacked by terrorists since 2011, and is hosting up to 115,136 Malian refugees and asylum seekers on its territory at the end of this past October. Chad is subject to sporadic attacks, such as the one that occurred on November 22, on the Bouka-Toulloroum Island, Lake Chad province, and attributed to the Boko Haram. However, Chad retains a certain control of its territory. So far, Niger has managed to prevent terrorists from occupying one ounce of its territory, partially with support from French air forces. Burkina Faso is losing its stability following regular attacks by terrorists and criminals who control over 40% of its territory. For its part, Mali continues to go down under the terrible pounding of the jihadists who occupy or threaten 80% of its soil. Alert!
At a meeting on the sidelines of the UN general Assembly, September 22 2022, Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed concerns about « insecurity » and « instability » in the Sahel, which, according to him, represent “a global threat”. On 22 November, at the opening of the Accra Initiative meeting, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo warned his peers that the deterioration of security in the Sahel « threatens to engulf the entire West Africa ». « Terrorist groups, emboldened by their apparent success in the region, are seeking new areas of operation, a development that has led to a southward advancement of the threat, » he added. His host, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, added: “For years, we have been talking about the risk of the terrorist threat contagion from the Sahel to coastal states. Today, this is no longer a risk, it is a reality. »
Mali and Burkina, the weak links
At the end of last October, returning from a trip to the Sahel, Victoria Nuland, the American Under-Secretary of State, reported an increase of around 30% in terrorist activities in Mali, in the last six months, despite the presence of Wagner’s troops. At least 80% of the territory remains under the control of the jihadists. Last July, they were even able to launch an operation against Kati garrison, in the suburbs of the capital Bamako. Since March, the regions of Gao and Ménaka have been the scene of a vast offensive by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS). The UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) report punitive operations against communities accused of helping the enemy or refusing to join jihadist ranks. As for Burkina Faso, the figures speak for themselves. The National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (CONASUR) recorded, as of October 31, 2022, 1,719,332 internally displaced persons (IDPs), an increase of 2.48%, in one month. On the same date, about 22% of educational structures were closed. These closures affect 1,008,327 students, or 490,622 girls (48.66%) and 517,705 boys (51.34), as well as 28,919 teachers, or 9,171 women and 19,748 men. Officially, 40% of the country is outside the control of the Burkinabe state. In reality, the situation is much worse. On October 12, 2022, addressing the political class and NGO leaders, in Ouagadougou, the new Head of State, in person, courageously admitted that the territory is almost lost. He added that the army is politicized, has left its neutrality and is infiltrated by politicians. Each senior officer acts according to his political feelings. Between Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, traffic is becoming more and more dangerous. In other words, the country two largest cities, the political and economic capitals, can, at any time, be isolated and taken over by terrorists. Niger is especially weakened in its southwestern part, Tillabéry region, on its borders with Burkina and Mali, where terrorists’ attackers come from and retreat to it.
In June, the UN Security Council decided to extend the MINUSMA mandate for one year. But, what operation could it carry out without air support from France – which withdrew completely from Mali in August – and without intelligence support from the United States? That decision provides for maintaining the current troops number, present in the country since 2013, i.e. 13,289 soldiers and 1,920 police officers. A number that will melt down as, for few weeks, about fifteen troop’s providers’ countries, announced their withdrawal from the MINUSMA. The same decision called on the Secretary General to present, by January 2023, a readjustment of MINUSMA format and the evaluation of its relations with Bamako military regime. According to Antonio Guterres, a comprehensive review of the role of MINUSMA is underway, in light of the changes that have taken place in the country and the challenges that persist, despite collective efforts. The G5 Sahel is practically dead, after the withdrawal from Mali, on May 15, 2022. Bamako accuses that organization of being « instrumentalized » by ‘’an outsider », with, among other consequences, depriving the head of its junta from chairing it.
As a result, the terrorism epicenter no longer maintains so much military cooperation with its former allies that it suspects of embracing French leadership. At the United Nations general Assembly debate, the Malian junta accused France of supporting terrorists with arms and intelligence. Accusations taken up in Burkina Faso, by demonstrators who demand the departure of Operation Saber, made up of 300 French commandos, stationed in Kamboinsen, on Ouagadougou outskirts. In that country, confronted with its army difficulties, the government undertook to create a ‘’watch and patriotic defense brigade’’, strong of 50,000 volunteers. The enthusiasm was there, since 90,000 people have registered. After the training period, those selected will receive a few weeks military training before being deployed in the field. Is it the solution? A glimmer of hope also came from Accra, Ghana.
A glimmer of hope from Accra.
It is with a view of ensuring the collective safety and security of their populations that seven ECOWAS Heads of State and Government took the decision, five years ago, to create a regional body called the « Accra Initiative ». They met again with the Ghanaian Presidents and his colleagues of Benin and Togo as well as Prime Ministers of Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, in Accra on 22 November 2022. Representatives of ECOWAS and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel were also present. The United Kingdom dispatched its Minister for the Armed Forces, while France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United States have sent messages of interest. Mali boycotted the meeting whose theme was: « Accra Initiative: a credible, preventive and coordinated response to security challenges in coastal and Sahel states ».
The Accra Initiative has declared that it wants to send a joint force of 2,000 soldiers to Burkina Faso. The force is expected to eventually reach 10,000, mainly based in Tamale, northern Ghana, while intelligence services will be based in Ouagadougou. Until now, in a somewhat wait-and-see position, with regard to the initiative, the Nigeria giant took the decision to engage in the mobilization of resources and in air and logistical support for the troops. A welcome contribution. This joint force will need an estimated budget of 550 million US dollars, or 275 billion FCFA. Where to find these resources? Probably from the concerned states and the western countries that have expressed interest in the initiative. A dual Nigeria / United Kingdom leadership seems to be in the making.
The call of Centre4s
For its part, in accordance with its objectives, the Center for Strategy and Security in the Sahel Sahara (centre4s.org) ‘’aims at ensuring that the region, the Sahel, remains an actor of its future and not an issue of concerns or a new source of instability to the international community.’’ Thus, it solemnly invites all the Sahel states concerned by terrorism to truly cooperate between them, by pooling together their human and material resources and to frankly recognize the importance of international cooperation especially in the security area. The forthcoming G 5 Summit, next February in Niamey, should be the opportunity not to be missed. The current cacophony could only contribute to weakening, further each day, forces fighting terrorism.
André Marie POUYA Journalist, centre4s.org consultant.