The over-militarization of the crisis in the Sahel region has hardly contributed to its stability, says Folahanmi Aina, a doctoral candidate in leadership studies at King's College London.
France recently announced its intention to end its military operation against Islamist militants in the Sahel region of West Africa. President Emmanuel Macron stated that this mission would be replaced by an “operation of support, support and cooperation for the armies of countries which so wish”. And in this “new framework”, the presence of the French army in the Sahel region would be part of a military operation and an international alliance associating the countries of the region jointly with all its partners, focused solely on the fight against the terrorism.
This new framework is seen as an attempt to allow the states concerned in this region to take ownership of the process of restoring stability. Paris has, moreover, clearly indicated that the rest of the French military presence in the region would be integrated into the more global military task force of the European Union, called Takuba task force.
Almost a decade ago, France's military interventions were triggered after a protracted crisis resulting from the activities of the Tuareg separatists in Mali. Islamic extremists closely linked to Al-Qaeda had taken advantage of the situation to seize northern Mali in start of 2012.
It is common knowledge that other Islamist extremist groups now operating throughout the region also have links with theÉtat islamique. Despite France's intervention, instability worsened as Islamic extremists intensified their reign of terror over the years.
Since the launch of this operation, France has lost about 55 soldiers as a result of the activities of extremist groups. This is perhaps one of the main reasons for his decision to put an end to what increasingly resembles an endless war which continues to drain economic resources.
France's decision offers Paris and the international community the opportunity to adopt a more integrated and less militarist approach. Any other decision would only worsen an already deteriorated situation.
A decade of interventions
In 2012, France fully engaged in a military campaign, called opération Barkhane, In the region. With 5 French soldiers, the latter operated in Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. As a counterterrorism mission, its ultimate goal was to target Islamic extremists.
Then, in 2013, France launched Operation Serval. This was specifically aimed at preventing Islamic extremists from gaining access to Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Under the impetus of France, the Anti-Terrorism Force of the Group of 5 (G5) Sahel was launched in 2014. Its objective was to improve cooperation around development and security in West Africa. Operation Barkhane troops worked alongside the G5 Sahel counterterrorism force.
The latter is not yet fully operational. As part of its mission, it had planned to deploy around 5 troops in the southern part of the Sahara Desert. Her goal was to support the efforts of peacekeepers within the framework of the MINUSMA, the United Nations mission.
This force enjoys the support of the United Nations and the African Union, as well as the United States, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and the European Union. The Gulf countries have pledged to give 500 million for its financing. However, this initiative does not seem to have succeeded in gaining ground.
Meanwhile, insecurity in the Sahel does not abate.
La Takuba task force - a European military force which was until now led by France - can now play a leading role in the engagement of the international community in the region.
Why the military interventions did not succeed
Military interventions alone miss the point. A complementary approach other than military, focused on improving governance, is necessary. Its absence is at the heart of the region's instability crisis.
First, the loss of trust between states and their citizens is visible throughout the Sahel. It is due to years of bad governance and neglect, leaving the door open to systemic corruption and underdevelopment. Poverty, inequality and growing youth unemployment are endemic in the countries of the region.
Islamic extremist groups have chosen to take advantage of these realities by pitting local populations against their governments.
Given that the G5 Sahel force is not fully operational and that Nigeria and ECOWAS, the regional body, are in retreat, the states concerned remain primarily responsible for restoring stability. It is a task for which they are ill-prepared and clearly unable to do.
Implications and way forward
The lack of synergy between France and ECOWAS, with regard to the situation in Mali, does not bode well for the stability of the region.
Consequently, the immediate beneficiaries of this exit strategy proposed by France will be Islamist extremists. To prevent this from happening, France and its partners must readjust their actions and not limit themselves to military interventions to strengthen the capacities of states in the region.
To achieve this effectively and efficiently, they must harness their political capital across the region, bringing with them key stakeholders, including elites, local people and traditional leaders, all of whom have a say in the matter. peace process. At the same time, their contribution would consist in providing the platforms and the framework required for the smooth running of these conversations.
The crisis, with over-militarization in the region, has done little to foster the long-awaited stability.