Sahel ‘at a crossroads’ as armed groups gain sway in Africa: UN
International community criticised after joint force battling armed groups left without sufficient funding and other needed support.
Efforts to combat armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and others have failed to stop their expansion in Africa’s Sahel region, a senior United Nations official has warned.
Without greater international support and regional cooperation, the instability will increase towards West African coastal countries, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Pobee told a Security Council meeting on Tuesday.
“Resolute advances in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, and organised crime in the Sahel desperately need to be made,” said Pobee. “The devastating effects of the continuing destabilisation of the Sahel would be felt far beyond the region and the African continent.”
A counterterrorism force – now comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger – lost Mali a year ago when its ruling generals decided to pull out. Pobee said the force has not conducted any big military operations since January.
She said the force is adjusting to new realities: France moving its counterterrorism force from Mali to Niger because of tensions with the military government, and Mali’s decision to allow Russian mercenaries from Wagner Group to deploy on its territory.
Burkina Faso and Niger have recently strengthened military cooperation with Mali to counter a surge in attacks, but “despite these efforts, insecurity in the tri-border area continues to grow”, she said.
Pobee criticised the international community saying a lack of consensus among donors and partners left the joint force without sufficient funding and other needed support to become fully operational and autonomous so it could have “the capacity to help stabilise the Sahel region”.
An agreement between the UN, European Union, and the force under which the UN peacekeepers in Mali supplied fuel, rations, medical evacuation, and engineering support is expected to end in June, she said, expressing hope the Security Council will consider the issue of UN financing for African peace operations.
‘Threat to international peace’
Eric Tiaré, executive secretary of the force known as the G5 Sahel, said experts have finalised a new concept of operations, which will be submitted to its defence council and then to the African Union to be endorsed.
“Given that the Sahel is at a crossroads, as it is seeing many threats to international peace and security, it’s absolutely vital that we provide support to the force,” he said. “The force needs what it has always lacked and what it has always sought – that is sustainable funding and equipment as we seek to counter terrorism.”
UN counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov told the Security Council in January that ISIL’s expansion in Africa’s centre, south and Sahel regions is “particularly worrying”.
Last August, African security expert Martin Ewi said at least 20 African countries were directly experiencing activity by ISIL and more than 20 others were “being used for logistics and to mobilise funds and other resources”.
Ewi, who coordinates a transnational organised crime project at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, said ISIL is growing by the day in Africa and the continent could be “the future of the caliphate”.