Here we are! To the international community, the Sahel is now providing large dividends resulting from a long lasting political indifference and a military neglect or passivity. For over a decade, most terrorism financing in the Sahel has been generated from or has transited through western and north west Sudan. That was carried out in a total silence if not irresponsibility or even complicity. Furthermore, most traffic and trafficking in migrants, combatants as well as in arms, were prosperous in Sudan western borders especially those with chaotic Libya and insecure Central Africa.
These activities were self-financing and probably much more thanks to many returns in particular from both formal and informal gold mining as well as from its trafficking. In the whole region and beyond, formal and unformal gold exploitation was a source of hefty revenues. And it still is.
Will Sudan new structural violent civil war, now only at its beginning, opposing its regular army to an armed militia former ally – fuel further the Sahel chaos? Or will it be less contagious? Will an overwhelmed and divided international community, already stuck in the war in Ukraine, be able to do more for people and states of the Sahel? What these states should do more for themselves? Certainly, Libya continued downfall should be a harsh reminder to all. Indeed some may think that in view of the array of problems: local, regional and international, there is little alternative to a temporary neglect of Sudan
Another security collapse, Sudan.
The consequences of that Libya breakdown, more than ten years ago, keep deeply impacting on the Sahel people, governments and especially on those populations of Libya south and south western borders. Libya continued slow self-destruction through its political status quo is fueled by rooted local separatisms and obviously by their foreign sponsors’ interferences. Interferences accepted by interested national leaders and not ignored by the international community.
However, one unreported and even ignored consequence of Libya disaster is the termination of the traditional and legitimate movements of peoples and goods between that country and its southern neighbors, especially Chad, Niger and northern Darfur. Libya ongoing difficulties have impacted deeply and often tragically on all these unfortunate neighbors. Their region, already devastated by years of droughts, ferocious civil wars in the Darfur, was moreover serving as an uncontrolled corridor to migrants running away to Europe. That is not mentioning all the destructive impacts of drugs traffics and the legal as well as illegal trade in equipment for gold mining in the Sahel.
Libya European partners keep spending more time and energy in internal diplomatic squabbles, especially on migration issues, than on helping preventing the country ‘’Yemenisation /Somalisation.’’ And more migrants. In other words, perpetual armed violence and subsequent groups and individuals vested interests with long lasting consequences. Helping to address these deeply rooted causes and finding possible responses should rather be more beneficial to all parties.
Unfortunately, insecurity has become structural and is thus thought by people as part of a normal life. The unhuman treatment of internally displaced persons and refugees has gone beyond limits in Libya. That is also true of all traffics including drugs indeed.
The extreme fragility of the central Sahel states is sometimes, if not always, hidden behind an ideological political discourse. An anti-West discourse, aiming in particular at France for time being, as well as the rejuvenated revival of the old tribal systems, further weakens the entire region. An inopportune revival in face of more motivated and better equipped terrorists and other armed groups. However no resounding structural development effort, including a convincing fight against blatant corruption, is credible enough to mobilize citizen for an honorable cause. The cause of national unity through an able and respected government remains a permanent quest.
Given Sudan geographical location and its population diverse origins, its current highly contagious civil war, strengthened by deeply rooted hatred between its many communities, is carrying all ingredients for a long lasting regional chaos. Countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia – in disagreement on the Nile Millennium dam status, Nigeria and indeed Chad as well as the flows of refugees, cannot avoid being affected one way or the other.
Sudan breakdown, after that of Libya, would be a far reaching disaster indeed to itself, to the Sahel and to many other countries including in Europe. Yet, is a preventive response still possible?
What effective action to end the disaster?
In internal conflicts, a peace settlement is hard to reach and even harder to implement than one in a war between states with official governments. Indeed the main cause of a civil war is the loss of trust between political parties whose leaders have known each other for a long time. That loss of political trust is the main cause of the move from political or verbal combat to the armed fighting with its deaths, wounded, refugees and displaced persons. The war is largely the pursuit of that political dispute. Each party has the same objective: winning totally, and on all points, the new war. Therefore negotiations to reach a peaceful settlement are often plagued by that past deep mistrust.
The mere signing of a peace agreement is not enough to bring an effective and lasting. Peace agreement needs a continued backup from the negotiations true patrons as well as from the international community at large. Moreover, and that is not helpful to Sudan, the more a civil conflict lasts and the more it becomes in itself a profitable business activity to many individuals and communities. Corruption becomes pervasive as it is officially to fund each group noble cause. Moreover, parallel activities of self-mandated negotiators pollute any peace process. Foreign governments, honest or interested mediation, may if not most cautious, lead to the same result.
All in all, while easier to reach than an agreement with terrorists groups, a peaceful and lasting effective peace settlement in Sudan should be far way. Moreover, that perspective of a long-lasting domestic infighting should further aggravate insecurity in the central Sahel and specifically in Burkina Faso and Mali
Sahel, the Mali Burkina border area.
Already the weakest area to terrorists’ presence and attacks in the Sahel, the Burkina Faso and Mali border area, with deeply rooted combatants should not remain unaffected by the blooding fighting taking place in Sudan.
In particular, the attractive informal gold exploitation should flourish. Despite their claims of being simply and only religious’ combatants, any other armed rebellion in the region should aliment their budget, boosts their moral and reinforces their determination to winning. Moreover, any crises with deeply rooted grounds and vast regional fallout like the Sudanese’, would only weaken international community attention and efforts in support to other governments at war against terrorists. More precisely, the situation in Burkina Faso and Mali should worsen further from new collateral damages linked to Sudan civil war.
In the next weeks, benefitting from the approaching rainy season, the Sahel rebels should profit from more smuggled arms and much lesser controls on their traffics. Thus, an organized unformal linkage would connect them to Sudan vast and cheaper armaments’ stocks.
A new informal flow of armament and other illegal activities should prosper from Sudan to most of western Sahel and the rest of West Africa. That already destabilized zone should receive more arms, equipment and revenues thanks to uncontrolled army stocks and to illegal gold trade. A pervasive insecurity should extend while deepening its roots.
Weakened, local and regional governments as well as the international community and disillusioned public opinions, both north and south, constitute favorable ingredients to increased insecurity and thus poverty and migrations flows to and beyond their traditional destinations in Europe. Increasingly the USA and the Gulf States are the goals.
In this dangerous context, both the private sector and the NGOs should be invited to bring their contribution to security and stability.
In fine, Sudan lasting crisis, going back at least to the 11 April 2019 coup, should be an opportunity to look beyond traditional approaches to crises management. If not rapidly and vigorously addressed, in a robust manner, its consequences combined with those of the Sahel crisis, dating back to 2012, should spread far beyond the region borders. Indeed collateral damages, including states collapse, should be much larger and their international impact much more destructive.
Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, president centre4s.org