We need a Marshall Plan for West Africa
Islamist extremism targets the least stable populations in order to maximize its impact. Right now, unstable pockets of West Africa and the Sahel are leading to an infestation of religious extremists. The nationalistic fear of some of the largely Muslim population slowly becoming radicalized is imminent, yet the security issue extends far beyond that. The loss of life and instability has reached a boiling point, and the pot may soon start to spill over.
The latest in a long list of attacks took place in Mali and Burkina Faso in the last week. On Sunday, six people were killed during a service at a Protestant church in northern Burkina Faso.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the same group that threatens Algeria, is the main threat in the Sahel region. It is so dangerous because of its sophisticated organization and access to military resources. Al-Qaeda is a global organization that has plagued the world for decades, and now it has found a new foothold in Burkina Faso. In the region, it has joined forces with Al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Al-Din and the Macina Liberation Front to form Nusrat Al-Islam. This organization targets the tri-border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
When looking at the larger West African region, Boko Haram looms as the most threatening presence. It emerged in northern Nigeria in order to counter Western thought and change the country to a fundamentalist Islamic regime. Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and other countries surrounding Lake Chad face the highest risk from this group. Military units from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have formed the Multinational Joint Task Force to fight Boko Haram and Daesh, yet have been largely unsuccessful.
In response to the rise of terrorism, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger held a summit to form the G5 Sahel (G5S). This supports the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali and organizes a joint force. France has taken the initiative in supporting G5S militarily and partially financially, yet the organization remains flawed.
A 2018 UN Security Council report highlighted the issues with the joint force. The organization is underfunded and emphasizes military solutions instead of structural reform within each individual country. Since its inception, extremism has spread from the Malian border areas to central Mali, while Burkina Faso is in worse shape and the plan remains unclear.
The supporters of the G5S have a different goal from the organization. The members and backers’ individual interests get in the way of collaborative effort, and the lack of sustained monetary support from one source muddies the waters even further. The UN has received only about half of the $470 million of pledges made by the international community at a February 2018 conference and the Trump administration continues to drag its feet in addressing terrorism in West Africa, contributing only $111 million. The lack of stable leadership and urgency in the actions of the G5S has made it largely ineffective.
When looking at the larger West African region, Boko Haram looms as the most threatening presence.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has been established since 1969 and now has 57 members, including most of the at-risk nations in West Africa. Nigeria’s status as a member was met with controversy due to the Christian half of the population’s rejection of Islamic ideologies, but their prosperity adds resources to the group’s overall goal. The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) is also contributing to the efforts against terrorism in the region with its public commitment to peace and growing infrastructure in Islamic nations. The OIC’s action plan for the Sahel region is to urge the IDB to support G5S and continue with this broken plan, as outlined by its May 2018 council meeting. With Algeria facing a crisis of legitimacy and Libya falling apart, this lack of creativity and drive to fix the issue will surely lead to a domino effect.
Countering terrorism in West Africa must become a priority for any democratic nation interested in combating extremism. The lack of financial and military leadership has led to a mess of a plan and a potentially dangerous leadership taking over. Throwing a minimal amount of money and military resources at this issue is not enough — a regional problem may quickly become global if firm, thorough actions are not taken now.
The international community has to launch a strong development plan. No one will win the war against terrorism with illiteracy rates as high as 75 percent. And the war against terrorism also cannot be won without secure borders. We must help to secure the registration of births as the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and many others do not have a proper administration. How can you expect to fight terrorism without reliable data?
If we want to fight against illegal migration and if we want to secure West Africa, all contributors, including the IDB, should work together with the UN on agreeing a road map. We need a Marshall Plan for West Africa. A lot has been done but, in this unpredictable world, far more is needed.
Africa is our future, as we say in Europe, but if we don’t put in enough energy the misery of conflict will continue and the continent will lack development.
Even though Europe is involved in a very tense electoral campaign, we need to put West Africa at the top of our priorities, together with our allies and friends in the Gulf.
- Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy). Twitter: @senateur61