The Next Crisis: Sahel

Sahara is sand. And from sand, nothing comes. Except glass, wind and more
sand. Once upon time, caravans plied the hinterlands of the fertile coastal
lands of North Africa. They did so in the name
of Islam. Riding on camels, transporting goods across the caranverserais of the
desert. Today, this flourishing trade is but a distant memory of past glory,
invoked by an increasingly rabid bunch of smugglers, arms dealers, and AQIM,
nurtured by grievances of the indigenous people of the Maghreb ( the “west”),
the Berbers and Touaregs, and stoked by the Algerian branch of the Salafist
movement, turned into a terrorist movement proper under the name GSPC,
screaming for justice out in the Algerian desert, following the theft of their
election victories. The war in Libya
meant a new tribal mix and the collapse of central authority. The arms depots
are now wide open. Enriching elites has been replaced by a chaotic transition.
The youngsters now feel let down by Europe, and action is needed now to make a
difference and to restate Europe’s stake in the stability of the southern Mediterranean:

I.Re-establishing Constitutional Order in Mali

The notion of a desert state in Mali has rapidly gained traction as a result of
two developments: The capture of land by the rebel brigands and the coup d’ etat in Bamako by
young officers, keen to enrich themselves and divide the spoils of the whatever
wealth remains in Mali.
This needs to be reversed and coupled to peace plan proper, the initiative of
which has to be Malian-owned through the establishment of civilian rule.

2. Regional cooperation

Containing the crisis in the Maghreb takes at
least three-four moves: (A) Europol MED country reports (B) A state-of-affairs
on Union
Maghreb Arabe
(UMA) (C) DDR-programmes as quasi-horizontal axis within
Euro-MED ( Libya, Lebanon, Palestine,
Tunesia). (D) Renewal of the diplomacy on the Saharawi conflict through US- EU

3.United Nations and African Union

The geopolitical depth of the African Union has
suffered as a result of the collapse of the regime of the al-guedadfas. The UN,
however, has scored some success in Niger, which also holds a
substantial Touareg population, whose liberation movement has added critical
mass to the esta-blishment of an Azawad-state. For this reason, both UN & AU
are key to a post-stabilisation mis-sion in Mali.

This has to be backed-up by an European
stake in arms market in Algeria,
e.g. drones.

The oil companies ought to contribute on access to arable land, which once more is fuelling conflict, dressed-up in islamist garments.

4.Inter-regional Dialogue: EU & ECOWAS

ECOWAS, the West African regional outfit, is an
ally of old of the Europeans. It is the demandeur, and its gameplen is linked to international military intervention, French leadership and west African troop deployment. The political track has been taken care off by a troika, consisting of Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Algeria. The latter is itself heavily involved in Mali. Its policies of pushing rebels into the desert and the outflow from Libya has meant trouble along with the region’s status as major drug traficking route. Mali, at the same time, is pivotal to West Africa and the defunct Ecowas. A comprehensive approach to Sahel must therefore involve a change of behaviour in Algers about the way it handles its own Toareg population, coupled to a comprehensive approach to the situation in Mali. Ghaddafis demise means ECOWAS’ rise within an African setting.

ECOWAS, however, ain’t functioning that smoothly, despite
holding prominent and wealthy members in their midst such as Ivory Coast, a key
player in the coffee markets and Nigeria, a state rich in oil & gas. The
ECOWAS PKF is in such a poor state and marred by disciplinary problems that
even if the member governments wanted to deploy them, they need to
go through the African Union to get the job done in Mali. And so does EU.

This suggests France as a lead-partner and its coalition will have to do the brotherpart of liberating Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, where the rebels are deployed in a manner to play on the differences between France and Algeria, which is constrained by the presence of a certain number of Algerians amongst the rebels, the presence of its intelligence services in the region and its neglect of its own southern popolation. It was Algiers that insisted France had to take prompt action prior to the rain season.

Even so, the links between West Africa and Europe are such and Mali’s heritage and status within ECOWAS is such that an extra effort is desirable. EU
should therefore consider investing through the ESDP Academy
and/or the UN Peace-Keeping Department, the necessary resources to make the
military branch of ECOWAS work smoothly. In addition to the ressources already committed, is could also comprise assistance to make ECOWAS work better. This a medium-term endeavour, yet the
crisis in Mali
and the region’s many civil wars, not to mention the constant of the Saharawi peoples struggle, Algeria’s compromised policies point to the need for EU, UN & AU to engage in this pivot, straddling the subsahara, the great rivers of Niger and Senegal and smuggling routes between Latin America, Africa and Europe. Indeed, words are around that the onslaught on In Amenas gas plant is linked to an internal fight over drug revenues, spilling over from Sahara.

Eu could then give thought the hatching of a regional energy transmission plan for West Africa, as it reconsiders the inter-regional dialogue between EU-Ecowas.