Why the Sahel region is Africa’s problem child and growing fast

Saturday January 29 2022
French and Malian soldiers

A joint patrol between French and Malian soldiers of the Barkhane force operation “Eclipse” in the Sahel. PHOTO | AFP


On January 11, representatives of the A3 Group — African nations occupying the non-permanent seats in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) — were disappointed when they failed to reach a consensus on the political situation in Mali.

The 15-member Security Council needed to endorse new sanctions imposed on Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), with the aim of piling pressure on the military junta for failing to meet the deadline for transition to revert to civilian rule.

Russia and China, vetoed the French-drafted sanctions statement from being endorsed.

France, which is leading the Western-backed military intervention in the Sahel, has been the most vocal critic of the military junta in Mali, in the interest of democratic rule. But the junta and its supporters believe otherwise.

Last May, an angry French President Emmanuel Macron last May announced plans to withdraw all French forces from the Sahel in protest over the August 2020 and May 2021 coups in Mali.

Military intervention


Under the operation Barkhane, the French had over 5,000 troops in the Sahel. The UK, Denmark, Germany, Canada and US also have boots on the ground, but are now also considering pulling out their troops following the French threat to do so.

The French and its Western allies were riled by the Malian authorities’s move to invite a Russian-backed private security firm, the Wagner Group, to help in the war. The United States, which had until then preferred to remain in the background, got vocal when he Russians came into the picture.

A popular opinion in Mali is that Ecowas’ tough action against it has been influenced by Western powers in response to relations with Russia. When the sanctions were announced, both France and the US quickly endorsed them, as did several European Union countries.

The US States Department the said: “We…echo Ecowas’s concern over the likely destabilising impact of Russia-backed Wagner group forces in Mali. As noted in the Department’s statement of December 15, 2021, these forces will not bring peace to Mali and will divert resources away from the Malian Armed Forces’ fight against terrorism,” it said in a January 10 statement.

The US counters Russian presence everywhere, for France, it is simply a matter of protecting its influence under the increasingly fragile Françafrique alliance, a de facto arrangement that keeps African leaders as defenders of the French government’s interests in their own countries.

This arrangement has recently been questioned, even in pro-France countries like Senegal, where anti-France sentiments have flared up during anti-government demonstrations.

Vocal youth

Most recently in Burkina Faso and Niger, angry youths blocked a French military convoy for days. The troops were reportedly traveling from Cote d’Ivoire to Mali. "French army get out," "Free the Sahel," "No more French invasion and recolonisation military convoy," read some of the placards carried by protesters in the northcentral city of Kaya, close to the border with Niger.

When the troops eventually crossed into Niger, they were met by another protest.

Several protests in Mali, the latest on January 14 against the Ecowas sanctions, were targeted at France. Some of the protesters waved Russian flags.

Pan-African pressure group, African Rising, say it is opposed to military coups but also wary of French-pushed military and sanctions on Mali.

“What we do not want is Mali to become the battleground for foreign forces using proxies to fight their wars and imperiling the lives of the people and the future of the region,” said Coumba Toure, co-co-ordinator of the pressure group in statement last week.

President Yoweri Museveni, at a meeting of the Committee of 10 (C-10) member countries of the African Union in Kampala last week discussed the Sahel region being used for proxy interests.

Museveni cited the Western powers push for the Libyan invasion of 2011 through the Security Council, against the wishes of the African Union. He blamed the same situation for the present security lapses in the Sahel .

“We must be in that Security Council to ensure that it is not used negatively against Africa,” he said.