Regional Interconnections and Conflict in the Sahel

I am curious to hear readers’ reactions to two pieces that have appeared in recent weeks. These pieces, inspired by the recent bombings in Niger, treat interconnections between crises in different Northwest African countries, specifically Libya, Mali, and Niger.

  • AFP: “With its weak government, porous borders and proliferation of weapons, Libya has been accused of destabilising its southern neighbours, but analysts say it is wrong to point the finger at Tripoli alone. Niger’s President Mahamadou Issofou has said those behind two suicide attacks in his country on May 23 came from southern Libya. He also said the same groups had been planning another attack on Chad…Western diplomats and analysts believe that southern Libya has become a regrouping area for jihadist groups pushed out of northern Mali by a French-led offensive launched in January.”
  • Similarly, from Reuters: “Suicide attacks on a French-run mine and a military base in northern Niger have shown how an Islamist threat is spreading across the weak nations of the Sahara, meaning France may be tied down there for years to come. Regional rivalries are aggravating the problem for Paris and its Western allies, with a lack of cooperation between Saharan countries helping militants to melt away when they come under pressure and regroup in quieter parts of the vast desert. Security officials say lawless southern Libya has become the latest haven for al Qaeda-linked fighters after French-led forces drove them from strongholds in northern Mali this year, killing hundreds.”

Analyses of such interconnections are important. Just as I think the civil war in Libya played some part in intensifying the ongoing crisis in Mali, I think the fallout from war in Mali has been one key motivation for (or, at the very least, a rhetorical image invoked by) jihadist movements attacking Algeria and Niger in the first half of this year. Indeed, I would like to see deeper reflection about the unanticipated consequences of external military and political interventions in this part of the world (and in general). At the same time, I think it is important to weigh evidence carefully, to preserve awareness of how localities differ from one another even amid regional interactions, and to minimize analogical thinking (i.e., understanding one place by comparing it with another).

What do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Regional Interconnections and Conflict in the Sahel

  1. I’m not an expert, but what analogies could one draw from the situation in Syria?

    You have artificial states, meaningless colonial boundaries, poor governance, ethnic groups spread across several “nations”, historical grievances.

    People say that “Sykes-Picot” is unraveling in the Middle East, but a similar process might be well under way in the Sahel – has anyone considered that angle?

  2. Conflicts in one could easily increase conflicts in another, but the outcomes seem more likely to be based on local politics. In some nations these conflicts might actually strengthen the existing government.

  3. “Deeper reflection about the unanticipated consequences of external military and political interventions” is something we would hope more Western government would undertake prior to engaging. I think one of the consequences of engagement, in addition to retaliation as seen in Niger, is the fractioning and conjoining of groups who are forced to move and adapt to new challenges and environments.

  4. Pingback: What We Are Reading 08/06/2013 | Do No Harm

  5. Pingback: On Appraising Threats | Sahel Blog

  6. Obviously, localities differ from one another geographically, culturally, and so on, and so one has to use caution drawing parallels. However, while these localities each have their own issues, they are simultaneously pieces in a bigger puzzle for parties with a bigger picture.

    For example, while South, Southeast and East Asia differ dramatically from each other and from various parts of Europe, they were all regions in a global Cold War, and the two sides, the West and the Soviet Union, would often have operations or plans for one region that were similar to those for another, and often connected with operatives with experience in one region involved in operations in another region.

    Consequently, I think parallels and analogies can be usefully drawn in North Africa, especially when we know that many of the Islamic militant groups interact and publicly avow their interaction, and especially when we know they travel across North Africa to do so.

    In my opinion, the ideology of the Islamic militants is not accurately appreciated. On the one hand, there are too many politically-correct types who accuse one of racism for connecting Islam to violence, despite the calls for violence in Islamic holy texts, calls echoed by Islamic holy men. On the other hand, though, this ideology is too emphasized by other groups, who do not realize that the criminal activities which provide so much funding to terrorism tend to take on a very profitable life of their own, and the profits from these criminal activities connect leaders in terrorist groups to very highly-placed government officials in Western countries, very much including in the Bush-43 and Obama Administrations.

    The Bush-43 Administration had made peace with Qaddafi. Despite this, Obama provided key assistance to depose Qaddafi. In Côte d’Ivoire, a lawfully-elected President was replaced with a friend of the then-President of France by force of French arms. If one investigates cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe, much of the trouble in the region can be viewed in a new light, and if one investigates monetary policy and finances, the situations in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya can be viewed in yet another new light.

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