West Africa: Sahel, G 5 Summit at Nouakchott – Going to the Real and the Urgent

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The G 5 Sahel and France Summit should be held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on February 24. It should go to the actual issues and deal with the most urgent, in order to give hope to the Sahel populations. And probably also to their allies.

Go to actual and urgent issues

These expressions are understood to mean: stopping the killings, taking charge of IDPs and refugees, vigorously securing future liberated areas, then resettlement followed by stabilization of families in their places of origin. Development projects could be redirected to one of these imperatives. A number of them should be postponed and implemented once serenity is back to the Sahel.

This pragmatism is to be agreed on between the G 5 Sahel countries and France, then with the Alliance for the Sahel, which is supposed to mobilize development funds.

The Alliance is holding its constituent general assembly, also, in the Mauritanian capital, on February 25. The two meetings should be used to create a common vision for securing and developing the Sahel region.

For the G 5 Sahel member countries and France, on the one hand, and the Alliance for the Sahel on the other, this is an exceptional opportunity to converge their reflections and their actions towards reducing the terrorist threat in the Sahel. There are many advantages to doing so.

On January 13, 2020, at the Clarification Summit in Pau, France and its G 5 Sahel partners adopted a new anti-terrorist strategy, called « Coalition for the Sahel », built on four pillars. France, through Operation Barkhane, and the G 5 countries are fighting the Islamic State of the Grand Sahara (EIGS), a priority target, in the so-called three-border area (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) under joint command, recently installed in Niamey, Niger. Barkhane, now a rapid reaction force, operates in that triangle.

The Coalition will be reinforced by the grouping of European Special Forces, Task Force Takuba (which means « saber », in Tamasheq language). The Nordic countries, Finland, Norway and Sweden, will supply the bulk of the men and equipment, in particular drones and combat helicopters. Takuba will support the fighting on the ground against the terrorists. The Czech Republic will also try to deploy around 60 soldiers.

The G 5 Sahel military capacity building will be ensured, inter alia, by the German-French initiative of the Partnership for Stability and Security in the Sahel (P3S). The Kidal region in northern Mali, suspected of harboring terrorist groups, is being reinvested with a coalition of Malian military and civil administration. Another post-Pau measure: by the end of this February, France will dispatch 600 additional men to the Sahel with one hundred vehicles, i.e. heavy and light armored vehicles, as a reinforcement to Force Barkhane, which will therefore count 5,100 soldiers. A Chadian contingent is expected in the same three borders area.

At a meeting on 24 and 25 January 2020, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the Defense and Security Committee, which brings together the Chiefs of Defense Staff of the G 5 Sahel and France, has modified the concept of operations of the Joint Force. That was in accordance with the decisions taken at the extraordinary conference of G 5 Sahel heads of state, in Niamey, Niger, on December 15, 2019, and at Pau summit.

>> For the Sahel, the first emergency is governance

Thus, a military unit can now pursue a terrorist group and cross one border up to 100 kilometers inside another G 5 Sahel member country. Therefore, it is also possible for a battalion to leave its zone of operation, crossing an international border, in support to another unit combatting within another member state country. Other important texts of the Joint Force G 5 Sahel, giving it freedom of action on the ground, have also been reviewed, in order to increase its flexibility. Finally, the arrival of American and French armed drones at the end of 2019 is also an important asset.

Mauritania, a great asset

The presidency of the G 5 Sahel goes this February 2020, to Mauritania. A country that has been able to protect itself from terrorist attacks for the past ten years. The new president, General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, was chief of staff and Minister of National Defense for those years. Today, that position is none other than General Hanena Ould Sidi, commander of the Joint Force of the G 5 Sahel, from July 2018 to July 2019. Suffice to say that the two officials are aware of the security issues.

Mauritania is also at the origin of the « true-speaking » within the G 5 Sahel. Indeed, following the attack on the Joint Force Headquarters (HQ) in Sévaré, central Mali, on June 29, 2019, by terrorists claiming to be members of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM ), it had, in particular, pointed out the weaknesses of the Burkinabe and Malian armies. It then proposed changes within the command that were, quickly endorsed. General Hanena Ould Sidi reinstalled the Joint Force HQ in Bamako, estimating the Sévaré area too exposed.

As the Nouakchott Summit approached, the United States also chose Mauritania to host the largest US military exercise in Africa, Flintlock, from February 18 to March 1, 2020.

The other possible asset for the G 5 Sahel is the active return of Algeria to the security issue of that space. This revival completes the new strategy for the fight against terrorist groups. In search of legitimacy, in the face of Hirak, the political protest movement which has lasted for one year, the new president, Abdelmajid Tebboune, has reclaimed the Malian file, with « the blessing » of France. Jean-Yves Le Drian, France Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, visited Algiers on January 20, 2020, and held talks with the authorities on the situation in Libya and the Sahel.

The G 5 Sahel, France and their partners have thus acquired the means to gain the upper hand over armed groups in the near future. This ambition is reasonable and, some hope, promising.

Reorienting the Investment Priority Program

That phase, essentially military, being over, the agenda would then address the management of internally displaced persons and refugees. That is where the execution of projects from the Priority Investment Program (PIP), developed by the G 5 Sahel, in 2014, and made up of 40 regional projects, could accelerate, at a total cost of 2.4 Billions of Euros. In order to benefit the Sahel border areas, the program aims at building infrastructures in terms of opening up (roads, bridges, regular air links, extension and improvement of telephone coverage), access to resources, through agro-hydraulic and electrification, and governance projects, with the inclusion of women and support for justice.

The PIP also includes an emergency stabilization component to be immediately implemented in the areas most affected by terrorism and therefore vulnerable. That could be reformulated as an Emergency Resettlement and Stabilization Program, and taken as a leading priority activity, for the benefit of IDPs and refugees.

The relationship between the worsening security situation in the G 5 Sahel countries and the Libyan chaos should indeed be kept in mind.

Institutional inflation and governance

In Nouakchott, questions about the institutional overlap, in apprehending the problems of the G 5 Sahel, could arise. The Sahel Alliance is made up of Germany, France and the European Union, of which they are also the leaders. The Sahel Stability and Security Partnership (P3S) is also an initiative of these two countries. The P3S encourages the involvement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, while four of the countries belong to that organization, Chad is a member of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). A preceding agreement between the two sub-regional organizations may be necessary.