Stability in the West African Sahel region is teetering. The region encompasses Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mauritania, and Mali. Droughts, and other effects of climate change, are contributing to rising levels of poverty in many West Africa countries. In turn, unemployed and poorly educated individuals become vulnerable to extremist ideology, which has led to violence and ethnic conflict. Governments have offered little response to increased violence from jihadist terrorist groups such as Boko Haram or the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara, who are now able to freely operate in the Sahel region. Burkina Faso has seen deaths from terror attacks increase from 80 in 2016 to 1,800 in 2017, and with a significant increase in displacement of civilians. Chad has experienced increased attacks from the Boko Haram since 2018. Mauritania is known as an ideological breeding ground for new jihadists. Mali, most recently, was struck by jihadist militants who killed over 54 military personnel. The significant increase in violence and the displacement of civilians has led to the question of whether the governments in West African countries are capable of dealing with growing extremism.
Facing greater domestic and international pressure to reduce extremism and violence, national leaders from the region have called for greater international support, most notably from France. Earlier this month the Sahel Summit was held with West African leaders along with French President, Emmanuel Macron, to discuss the stability in the region. The summit has called for greater European and American support, more soldiers deployed to the region, and for greater intelligence sharing. Macron pledged to add 220 troops to the 4,500 currently stationed in the region. However, France has had troops in Mali since 2013 but has failed to stabilize the region, reduce violence, and stem the flow of migrants coming to Europe. This has resulted in poor perception regarding France’s involvement in its former colonies in which many African people still harbour resentment of their former colonial rulers. Despite this, France seeks to aid the region and provide stability as it is concerned over increased migration to Europe should violence continue to escalate.
Success of French and international support to promote peace in the Sahel region largely relies on factors beyond military presence, such as political support, public opinion, and economic initiatives that aim to tackle root causes of unrest. Simply increasing the number of troops will likely increase tension amongst the domestic population and fail to reduce violence as international forces face seasoned jihadist fighters. In fact, French and international military presence may even escalate violence thus perpetuating only greater unrest amongst the population. A full-scale effort is required from the international community in order to stabilize the region.