The Brussels conference on Sahel that took place last month summarized a year of efforts to create a joint military force of the G5 Sahel nations. The meeting of the EU, the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the G5 under the auspices of Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou, accomplished a series of important objectives. Most notably, the idea of the joint force’s operational budget gathered a whooping €414 million budget. The EU doubled its planned contribution to the force, now up to €100 million, while France raised by 40% its planned contributions to development and governance assistance to the region, now totaling €1.2 billion over the next five years.
The project of G5 Sahel force continues to progress rapidly in European capitals, but more slowly on the ground. The advancements made so far are important, but they must be kept in perspective with the region’s deepening security issues. There is also a risk that an overly securitized strategy could de-prioritize equally important and needed work on governance, justice, and the protection of local communities.
At the same time, the military situation is significantly deteriorating. Insecurity and armed attacks from jihadists continue to surge in Mali as well as in northern Burkina Faso. Some military operations in G5 areas have also driven refugees into areas of Mali, which are already affected by food insecurity and growing communal conflict. In other areas along the Mali-Niger border, recent attacks against French military have triggered a major offensive.
This complicated arrangement is not very helpful as it could undermine European efforts to restore governance in conflict-ridden areas. This is particularly problematic in central Mali and the borderlands where the G5 will operate. Moreover, the deadly attack on the French Embassy and the army headquarters in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou in early March points out to the limits of the G5 force in enforcing broader regional stability. Another lesson that can be taken from this incident is that both security and governance are needed to make sustainable improvements to the security situation in the region. More generally, any Sahel operation needs to be implemented with in-depth understanding of local conflict.
The EU has clearly stated that the Sahel is important. Yet, the varied and multifaceted risks of further instability and governance failures in Mali as well as in Burkina Faso continue to showcase the limitations of these missions and the need to constantly adjust the EU’s policies in the region to respond to the changing circumstances. Ultimately, a continued decline in the stability of states like Mali will have serious implications for Europe and for the future of EU foreign policy.
‘G5 Sahel: Much Done, More to Do’ – Commentary by Andrew Lebovich – European Council on Foreign Relations / ECFR.