This week, the European Union will be looking more openly at how it can expand its market and investment interests into the Sahel region of Africa under the pretext of combating ‘Islamic Extremism’. Officially, the EU will take up its concern with what it terms ‘the worsening military-political situation’ in the so-called “Sahel” – a vast African region south of the Sahara desert, stretching from west to east from Senegal to Sudan. In Brussels, meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Development of the EU countries with relevant representatives of the five African states of the Sahel Group – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger will be held.
In reality, these mark increased tensions between elite groups of the EU and US, which cannot agree on the imperial division of the human and natural resources of these African states. This African adventurism also represents the congealment of a phenomenon FRN has long covered, the development of an EU Army with a command structure independent of the US’ NATO.
The EU says it supports the security and military operations in the Sahel of these five states against highly diverse groups of Islamic jihadists. The Boko Haram organization operates in northeastern Nigeria and in the basin of Lake Chad. Other Islamist organizations are operating in Burkina Faso and Mali. In the middle belt of Nigeria and Mali there is a strip of conflicts between farmers and herders. The pervasive weakness of state structures, induced as a result of the imperial and colonial legacy in the Sahel, contributes to the organization of uncontrolled community militias, whose leaders become ostensibly independent players in an increasingly confusing situation.
The aggravation of the situation in the Sahel for the first time was directly indicated by the French intervention in Mali in January 2013 under the President Francois Hollande – so-called operation “Serval”. In turn, destabilization in Mali was facilitated by the intervention of the West in neighboring Libya in 2011. In July 2014, it was officially announced the completion of the French operation “Serval” in Mali. But by that time it had become clear that the crisis, in addition to Mali, had spread to the neighboring states of the Sahel. Therefore, the presence of French troops in the region continued in the same composition, but already as part of Operation Barkhan. The latter circumstance indicates an unresolved problem.
From the very beginning of Operation Serval, the French turned to the EU allies for help. Therefore, the operation began to take a common European character.
Since 2014, under the auspices of the French and the EU, the Combined Sahel Combined Military-Political Organization from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger has been declared to counter the Islamists. It was planned that the forces of the allied natives prepared and paid by Europeans would suppress other natives unfriendly to Europeans. Now the “Combined Forces of the Sahel” has about 5 thousand soldiers and is partially funded by the European Union. True, nothing is known about any effective offensive operations of these forces against the Islamists.
In the meantime, the EU has created missions for a common security and defense policy in Niger and Mali, where they conduct military exercises and other forms of support for these same “United Sahel Forces”. The greatest contributions to these missions are Germany and France. Officially, the EU money goes to the provision of “non-lethal equipment, services and infrastructure.” In reality, these are used precisely for either lethal equipment or their maintenance, one way or the other.
Initially, the EU allocated about € 50 million to finance the “United Force of the Sahel”. New cash infusions followed. It is claimed that the five-thousand contingent of the “United forces of the Sahel” will become efficient and defeat the Islamists after investing € 500 million in it.
France is forced to maintain its own military contingent of 4.5 thousand troops in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger officially – to assist local forces in the fight against jihadists. In practice, the French are bolstering more and more insolvent states in the zone of Francophone neo-colonialism. Germany also takes an active part in the events and contains about 1 thousand German soldiers in the region. The United States nominally supports the operations of Europeans by the intelligence activities of its UAVs from bases in Niger, but has grown increasingly wary of the apparently independent moves of the EU in the Sahel. As the contradictions of capitalism within the context of the declining rate of profit continue to exacerbate, we can expect US-EU relations to deteriorate specifically over the issue of Africa.
Of course, with the protracted and sluggish nature of the struggle, neither the United Forces of the Sahel, actually drawn up on paper, nor the French managed to achieve a breakthrough in the struggle against the Islamists, who in the meantime slowly expanded their control over territories in the region. The Islamists responded to the cross-border consolidation of the Sahel countries promoted from the EU with their own unification of their forces. In March 2017, they created a cross-border organization, the “Support Group for Islam and Muslims”.
In early May, the UN warned that insecurity and armed attacks in the Sahel reached unprecedented levels. Over the past year, the number of refugees as a result of the spread of hostilities has increased fivefold, adding more than 330 thousand people to the 100 thousand refugees already present in the previous period.
Now the top five countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger send their diplomats to Brussels to meet with EU ministers. They are expected to request additional assistance from the EU not only for their own security – the armed forces and the police, but also for the development of the economy and infrastructure of their states. It is significant that the current meetings in Brussels were preceded by the trip of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the countries of the Sahel. Merkel promised to allocate an additional € 40 million for “the fight against terrorism.”
On Monday, May 13, meetings began between representatives of the five states of the Sahel and the EU foreign ministers. They discuss the problems of regional policy. On Tuesday, the ministers of defense will meet with representatives of the five to discuss urgent security issues. The final meeting will be held on Thursday with the ministers of development. Thus, the European Union is trying to demonstrate an integrated approach to the problem of the region.
Brussels admits that the Sahel region suffers from widespread poverty, corruption and organized crime. Mali and Niger became centers and routes for transporting African migrants across Libya to Europe.
The difficulty of the situation for the EU is that the crisis events in the Sahel are not isolated from the neighboring North African Arab region and are directly related to it. On the one hand, a split and fighting Livia remains a nutritious source of instability for the Sahel. Therefore, now Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj representing one of the parts of Libya has been invited to the talks in Brussels on the Sahel .
On the other hand, the situation in Libya and the Sahel destabilizes neighboring Algeria, which adds foreign policy problems not just to the Europeans in Brussels, and specifically to the French President Emmanuel Macron . Historically, from the former colonies of France, Algeria was most associated with the metropolis. This connection is felt even now in the part of the multicultural migration to France. Therefore, it is necessary to remember that the unstable Sahel is also the foreign policy scenery of President Macron’s internal crisis. An additional source of his headache. France’s regional foreign policy priorities in Africa in the event of Algeria’s destabilization may well shift from the Sahel even closer to the “French house”, adding tension in France itself.