War economy, political incapacity, territorial conquest boost terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region
Terror groups want to expand their territories; opening-up policies needed, say experts
War against terrorism is getting bogged down in the Sahel region and now is affecting countries that were previously spared despite renewed national and international operational strategies.
"Armed terrorist groups will continue to try various approaches to carry out deadly incursions into neighboring countries," Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe warned in his year-end speech in December.
In Burkina Faso, Togo's neighbor in the West Africa, several dozen deaths are regularly recorded to the point where populations have expressed their frustration.
Under pressure, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore had to dismiss his government on Dec. 8 before appointing a new one.
That followed the terror attack in Inata in the north on Nov. 14, where at least 53 soldiers were killed among 57 victims.
The number of civilians killed in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger has increased seven-fold in three years to 2,440 in 2020, according to an April 2021 report by the NGO, Citizen Coalition for the Sahel, an informal alliance of a 48 Sahelian and West African civil society organizations supported by international NGOs.
The group said that in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world that is also affected by terrorism, deaths from terror attacks increased 56% during that time.
An armed forces vehicle was blown up Jan. 6 on an improvised landmine in Tanguieta, Atacora Department in Benin, a West African country long spared from terrorism.
A similar situation occurred in Togo, where security forces reported a terror attack Nov. 9 in the north, near Burkina Faso’s border.
"The Islamist hydra is on the rise and no country can consider itself safe. There is a clear desire on the part of armed terrorist groups spreading throughout the Sahel to expand their territories. This territorial conquest now affects countries like Benin and Togo. The objective is territorial and the aim is to establish a tropical terrorist state that descends from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea," Regis Hounkpe, executive director of InterGlobe Conseils, a consulting firm specializing in strategic communication and geopolitical expertise, told Anadolu Agency.
The G5 Sahel member countries decided to initiate and define a new approach to fight the scourge in their geographical space during a Aug. 31 meeting in Niamey, Niger.
But for many observers, the strategies adopted continue to suffer major flaws.
The consequences, according to Citizen Coalition for the Sahel, "show the limits of the counter-terrorism approach as it is being conducted. It is failing to stem attacks by so-called jihadist groups, which have almost doubled, annually, since 2016."
The Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger governments are struggling to fulfill their responsibility to protect while community engagement by Sahelian forces and consultation with populations affected by insecurity are very poorly developed, it said.
At the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security last month, Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum blamed strategic errors on international partners.
“One of the intelligence errors from partners is their weak involvement in anti-arms trafficking fight from Libya, which is the most important parameter in terrorism’s prevalence,” he said.
For Emmanuel Orsy Bakary, a consultant in political science and international relations, the problem is the international geopolitics of the war economy which is a phenomenon of the great powers in the landlocked areas of Sahelian countries.
"This war against terrorism in the Sahel is asymmetric, economic and typically ontological. A single region cannot find a solution for this problem. It is a problem that all of Africa must mobilize to liberate their sister countries because no African country is really spared," he told Anadolu Agency.
He said landlocked areas remain potential grounds for terrorism as well as for the employment of unemployed youth to join terror ranks.
"When a population is abandoned in an area where there are minerals and they cannot benefit from them, the war economy takes hold. The North of Mali has been opened up for a long time, but with little or no skills. It's like in all the countries of the Sahel," said Bakary.
He deplored the fact that due to a lack of political will, Sahelians states centralize everything in the main capitals and are unable to open up areas most affected by terrorism, to relocate skills and exploit mineral resources that terrorists use to enrich themselves.
On the national plans, he suggested that political actors work on the security fabric, find issues and reform the army, military ideology and security ethics.
Hounkpe believes that it is important to join forces with civil society, academics and experts, the population and, of course, authorities and the army to consolidate a radical approach against the scourge.
To meet the challenges successfully, it requires the capacity of national criminal justice systems to provide fair and effective justice to perpetrators of terrorist acts and to put in place preventive measures under the rule of law, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).