The great difficulty for France in the Sahel is having to manage the emergency and history at the same time Spécial

Source : La croix

Bakary Sambe is a teacher-researcher at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis (Senegal) and regional director Timbuktu Institute-African Center for Peace Studies, (1). He returns to the role of France and the situation in Niger after the July 26 military coup which saw President Mohamed Bazoum overthrown by a military junta.

The Africa Cross: Like Mali and Burkina Faso now ruled by military juntas, Niger is affected by a coup. Should we make a link between jihadism and the installation of military regimes in these Sahelian countries? 

Bakary Sambe: The case of Niger is specific because there was a lot of hope for the stabilization of the country. Niger has, in fact, experienced an experience of democratic political alternation with the end of the mandate of Mahamadou Issoufou and the beginning of that of Mohamed Bazoum in 2022. This election of Bazoum had been considered as a non-negligible advance at the democratic level.

Observers are surprised that the ruling junta cites the security issue as the cause of the coup because Niger had managed to stabilize the situation even slightly. The success of Niger’s strategy was notably due to the mixed approach: military, community with a dialogue within the communities where the jihadists were recruited.

We are in a global regional situation where instability is growing more and more. It is particularly aggravated by the seizure of power by the military after decades when people began to believe that the era of coups was over. In addition, the coup affects a country that was considered the last bastion of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, but also a pivotal country at the heart of geopolitical realities.

Can the establishment of these military regimes be a bulwark against terrorism or, on the contrary, does it facilitate its installation?

Bakary Sambe: The only real winners from the situation of chaos and instability are the terrorist groups who will be able to continue to carry out their activities in areas such as that of the three borders (Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali) of Liptako Gourma. But also in the face of military regimes which, despite populist discourse on victories against terrorist groups, are struggling to stabilize the situation. I take the example of Mali where the security situation is not stabilized in the north. Worse, central Mali continues to be an epicenter of jihadism.

Despite the triumphalist discourse of Assimi Goïta’s regime, the Katiba Macina, a jihadist group, managed to strike the Kati military camp, which is the strategic heart of the current regime. It is hardly better in Burkina Faso where the experts are unanimous. The coup d’etat was perpetrated in the name of the fight against insecurity, but the current power cannot even control 40% of the territory with the explosion of terrorist attacks which are now almost daily.

One constant after these coups is that anti-French sentiment is very noticeable. How do you analyze this?

Bakary Sambe: The great difficulty for France in the Sahel is that it is forced to manage the emergency and history at the same time. The security emergency is military cooperation which has not worked, with its shortcomings and which has not succeeded in defeating terrorist groups. Operation Serval was relatively successful, but Barkhane was criticized for its repeated failures. In addition, France has a rather delicate position in this region of the Sahel where it has a colonial past. At the same time, we are witnessing the rise of a new generation which rejects, precisely, any form of domination.

But you have to see the situation in a more global way: there is an awareness of a moment when Africa is becoming a nerve center that can change the nature of the balance of power at the international level. We are in a world where the alignments are both multiple and diffuse, a world where the distribution of power is fragmented with the effect of classic powers like France which declines and emerging powers like China, Turkey, Russia who seek to impose themselves.

We are also in a region where, under the effect of a more uninhibited elite and a more demanding population, States are seeking a new type of more egalitarian international relations. Added to this is the fact that security issues are no longer the prerogative of States, rising civil societies with young people and social networks have appropriated them to make them a public debate. We are finally in a context of Russian-Ukrainian conflict where Russia is trying to increase its influence in Africa.

How can instability not contaminate all West African countries?

Bakary Sambe: We should already review the world of security cooperation which, so far, has not yielded the expected results. Today, if these military regimes are allowed to prosper in the sub-region, contagion is inevitable. We also need to reflect on the inconsistencies of governance in our countries. There is all the same a paradox to note that the African youth who fought for democracy in the years 1990-2000, applaud the coups d’etat now. We must rethink democracy in the way it is exercised in our countries. Especially since competing models today oppose democracy and development by promoting more autocratic regimes but which are making economic progress. It will also be necessary to deal with a visible contradiction with a youth which represents 75% of the population but which remains excluded from the field of political decisions.

Interview by Lucie Sarr

(1) Research-action center favoring transdisciplinary approaches on issues related to peace and regional security.