France And African Sahel Nations Step Up Military Fight Against Jihadist Insurgency

A summit meeting was held on Monday 13th of January involving France and the G5 from Africa’s Sahel region, which consists of Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, agreed for France to send 220 more troops to the region amid rising violence driven by  Islamist Jihadist insurgency. The semi-arid strip of land stretching more than 3,000 kilometres across West and Central Africa has been subject to ever-increasing violence mainly carried out by Islamist Jihadist groups loosely affiliated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. The New York Times reports that French President Emmanuel Macron called the summit to publicly solidify their agreement for France’s continued involvement in the area.  These troops will join the 4,500 troops already in the region. This agreement force has been under ever-increasing criticism in some of the African countries, with protestors calling for France to depart its former colonies. Additionally, French troops have come under scrutiny for not being able to stop the consistent massacres of local armies’ troops.

The summit produced very little in way of future strategy in attempting to slow the spread of violence except for the committal of more troops by France, but as the New York Times reports, Macron may have mainly been after public confirmation by the G5 nations that they wanted France’s involvement. In a joint statement made by all nations involved, they “expressed their wish for the pursuit of France’s military engagement in the Sahel.” The nations additionally thanked the United States for their support, though a New York Times article recently raised the possibility of the Pentagon pulling U.S troops from the region. Other European nations have shown little interest in getting involved in the area despite France and the G5’s attempts to garner support. With the increasing domestic backlash within France and resentment building within the African nations towards France, it seems as though France will be alone in its support of the Sahel nations for now.

While military action should be avoided at all costs, it is necessary with regards to the situation in the Sahel. ACLED Data reports that since the beginning of 2018, there have been 8,183 reported casualties resulting from battles, explosions/remote violence, and violence against civilians. Yet this military response must be directed purely for defence and protection of civilians, and efforts to conduct dialogue and create peaceful solutions must take first place. A statement by the group of nations on Monday pledged to “speed up the return of government and public service throughout the region.” These pledges have been made numerous times before, with very little positive results to show for it. France and the G5’s military strategy has been the only strategy implemented when a more substantial and comprehensive political strategy is what is needed to slow the spread of violence.

Short-term actions such as the opening of dialogue between some of the leaders of the insurgent groups and leaders of the Sahel nations, while not a perfect fix, are capable of creating positive steps forward. Additionally, long-term strategies such as governance reforms in rural areas, conversations with those affected and those who are the most unhappy with government actions open the door to then act directly to slow the spread of Islamist jihadist influence and disruption. Governments have not done enough to help the rural communities, who are more greatly affected by things such as climate change and economic downturns. In turn, this has created the opportunity for Islamist Jihadist groups and other armed anti-government groups to gain support within parts of these countries. Government policies and directions that are aimed at helping rural communities thrive will lead to greater trust within the state, its institutions and the individuals and groups that currently hold power. As stated by Jean-Herve Jezequel of International Crisis Group, France and the G5’s one track military strategy to restore order to the state, misses the fact that the state itself was originally rejected, “If you want to restore a state, you’ve got to ask what state you’re restoring.”

It is imperative that these African nations create a clear and concise plan of political action that prioritises dialogue and a swift stop to the violence that is threatening to envelop the region. The joint threat of climate change and extreme conflict has the potential to cause one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with hundreds of thousands of people already displaced within this region.