The New Approach To Counterinsurgency By The Sahel 5 Countries: What Does It Mean For Regional Peacebuilding?

On 2nd July, a long awaited transnational agreement was announced by the G5 Sahel nations. Backed by French President Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger announced plans to deploy a multinational military force to combat the increasing insecurities in the Sahel caused by extremist Islamist groups. The force will be based in the Northern Malian city of Sevare and will include around 5,000 troops. Macron, who believes the new force needs to produce results rapidly to prove its worth, has urged the G5 to have troops on the ground by the autumn of this year, 2017. Therefore, it is the regions that have become the most vulnerable to extremist groups, which will be the first port of call for the G5. Three border regions, which have become increasingly infected by Islamist extremists will see military deployment. One will cover the frontier between Niger and Mali, the second between Mali and Mauritania, and the third will be within the border region between Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

This cooperative agreement between the G5 nations acts as a direct reaction to the increasing activity of extremist groups in the Sahel. One prominent group in Mali is Katiba Macina, which also holds links with other extremist organizations like the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims. The organization Ansarul Islam is also active, primarily in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has carried out violence in Burkina Faso and Niger. Thus, extremist violence in the Sahel has become more common and spread to regions that were previously envisaged as being relatively safe. The UN peace operation that is already active in Sahel, known as MINUSMA, has become the deadliest UN mission in the world, with 114 peacekeepers killed since 2013. The President of Chad, Idriss Déby, has described the G5 as being on the “frontline of terrorism.” Déby spoke in response to the recent atrocities to befall the region, such as the suicide bomb in the Malian city of Gao in January, which killed 80 people.

The policy initiative by the G5 demonstrates that security through military means has become their primary method to achieve their aim of building peace in the region. This is best demonstrated through the substantial estimated cost for the new operation, standing at around €400 million for the first year. This is a figure that the G5 nations will have to fund predominantly themselves, with major bodies like the EU only committing €50 million. This is even more notable given the severe limitation of these nations’ resources, with Déby, for example, stating that Chad is already financially “at its limit.” For many, the purely military approach announced will not effectively further

However, for many, the mainly military-based approach announced is not believed to be likely to effectively further peace-building within the region. To expand, while security is an issue, violence and the prominence of terrorist groups in G5 countries is a symptom of the wider political and social failings of their governments. For instance, in Mali, much of the countries rural and sparse north has fallen out of reach of state authority. Far away from the capital Bamako, the influence of the state has diminished. A scarcity of resources, health care system, and the lack of a judicial system in northern communities has led to a rejection of state authority. It is these circumstances, which drive alienated locals to terrorist organization and give them the footing to promote violence in the Sahel.

Therefore, while the cooperation between the G5 nations extends state influence militarily, this fails to combat the origins of the problem and merely addresses a symptom of it. As such, it would appear that the Sahel nations are yet to effectively extend state influence to these communities with means of furthering development. Analysts, such as Hussein Solomon believe that local reconciliation in alienated communities should be a priority, which would be achieved through state authorities adapting to the specific needs of neglected communities. Nonetheless, significant development funding has been promised for the region by major donors, such as France, with Macron committing €200 million for the next five years. However, the purely military-based policy furthered by the G5 is unlikely to achieve a stable peace in the Sahel. Instead, by focusing on a military solution, the consequential side-lining of more prominent development programs only risks exacerbating the government failings that brought about the insecurities in the first place.