Africa: Fév 17, 2024 –

Not long ago, one of the international community’s serious concerns, Sahel terrorist violence, is today unnoticeable on its agenda. Far behind the war in Ukraine and that in Sudan which broke out in April 2023. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sahel has disappeared from the strategic concerns of international decision-makers even though, on its immense spaces, violence and migrations are worsening and multiplying. Will the new Russian-Iranian-Turkish military-economic visibility in the Sahel (3,300 km from west to east and 1,600 km from north to south) push towards changes?

That context offers to the Sahel leaders an opportunity to run away from the resurfacing disastrous demagogies of the 1960s – 1980s. Implementing responsible policies for the management of their societies and economies should help avoid damaging excesses, in particular wars entrenchment and their consequences: exhaustion, or worse, countries implosion.

The tragedy of often long lasting and lethal ethno-political wars invites leaders to find tangible solutions rather than returning to the sterile practices of the cold war. A distant and tragic era!

Failures and enormous desolation.

Facing the risks associated to humanitarian, environmental and economic disasters, as well as to security abuses, Sahel decision-makers have essentially two choices. Much more than elsewhere, local terrorism is a form of political and economic expression. In search of success, states can choose arrogance. An appealing option still pursued, for decades, by Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. And one both Libyan parties and the two former Sudanese allies have been aiming respectively since 2011 and 2023.

Always easy to initiate, civil wars are however always difficult to resolve as their psychological dimension is essential within the parties.

Alongside that often populist confrontational option, the peaceful management of internal contradictions is meant to avoid armed conflict. Requiring courage from elites, more tempted by demagoguery, it remains difficult to implement.

It can succeed, through national reconciliation, as the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Czechoslovakia, and other ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia, achieved at the end of the cold war. That peaceful crises management is necessary in the Sahel.

Unfortunately, over the past ten years, the Sahel context has evolved in a complex manner, making peaceful conflicts resolution more problematic. Insidiously ideological, then politico-economic, wars turned inexorably into ethnic-tribal confrontations. A significant part of the religious dimension serves as cover to these wars business and tribal political objectives. It strengthens its territorial anchorage, as it did in the past in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

As fragile as these states, a number of Sahel countries are threatened by disintegration. Ethnic and regional disunions and especially financial appetites reinvigorated by corruption are excessive. Worse, their excesses are assumed by large segments of the ruling elites.

This context of multiple tensions is made even more disastrous by dubious factors illegally financing terrorism and migrations. Drugs remain indeed the most lucrative lubricant.

Migration constitutes one critical component. Internal – from the countryside to national capitals – and regional – between Sahel states – migration has quickly taken on an international dimension. Waves of resolute young people are fleeing to Europe and increasingly to the United States, even though Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates remain the main host countries (conclusions of the Marrakech 2017 Conference on migrations).

For more than a decade, migrations movements from the Sahel to Europe have continued to increase via Italy and the Canary Islands. They generate, in particular, numerous tensions with Europe, whose economies, nevertheless, cannot do without this cheap labor force. A labor force rejected by a large part of citizens and political elites who perceive only electoral themes in it

Worse, in this explosive context, the recurrent Sahel droughts have not disappeared. Nor the exceptional rains and their devastating effects on generally unequipped capital cities. The accentuation of these vulnerabilities causes food crises and weakens further the countries.

These developments often downplayed by governments harm conflicts resolution efforts.

Need for effective responses.

Facing a plethora and a complexity of challenges, governments should no longer avoid a serious inventory. They must start by recognizing that uncontrolled demography and urbanization, chronic terrorism and insecurity, multiple trafficking and massive youth migrations, are all linked to the structural public services fiasco. Assuming national responsibilities is more energizing than blaming failure on foreign governments.

Weakened and discredited, public services are often more tribal- ethnic than national. Their failure, assumed as war spoils by the leadership tribal basis, further accelerate states disintegration. Unpunished corruption and rapid and anarchic urbanization are illustrations of these orientations. Vast territories are becoming vulnerable and particularly conducive to rebellions and separatism supported by and through social networks. National leadership, unawareness of the influence of these networks, further aggravates, everywhere, already volatile situations.

Worse, the reintroduction of political discourses, evocative of the cold war era, carries the enormous danger of being followed by the practices of the latter: single or iniquitous totalitarian parties. Their corollary – demagoguery, nationalization of the economy, theoretical conspiracies – cannot offer a safe way out of the crisis. On the contrary, the risk is to further entrench the hasty rush and its uncertainties.

Introducing a new cold war in the Sahel can only ruin further that region. The implosion of states undermined by corruption and its most devastating consequence, the “retribalization”, remains a powerful fertilizer to civil wars. Unfortunately, that return of the elites to the tribal system does not seem to be perceived as a major danger to peace by researchers and the Sahel partners.