By Dr. Bakary Sambe

Regional Director Timbuktu Institute

From the structure of AQIM through different original groups that came together in 2017 to the recurrent attacks that spill over to the Gulf of Guinea, there has been a great evolution that West African states and their partners are slow to take into account

Both in the case of Mokhtar Bel Mokhtar's al-Mourabitoune, replaced since his death by a Mauritanian Qadi (Islamic judge) named Abu Yahya Shinqiti, and Ansardine, originally founded by Iyad Ag-Aly at the beginning of the Malian crisis, the mutations of Jihadism mean that the classic fight against terrorism still does not take into account the changes taking place.

Now the vast area between Gao and Timbuktu and a good part of the Mauritanian border is controlled by Abû Talha Al-Lîbî. Meanwhile, the Macina Katiba founded in 2012 in Konna (central Mali) by the Malian preacher Muhammadun Saada Bari, alias Muhammadun Koufa, has taken on unprecedented proportions as part of the regionalization of jihadist strategy in the Sahel. Despite the appearance of autonomy, the Katiba is under the effective command of Iyad Ag Ghali, the head of the JNIM. Certainly, since March 2015, this Katiba has been conducting operations in central Mali against symbols of the state, deployed foreign forces and against civilian populations.

Playing the community card against states under pressure

Even with the announcement of the death of Muhammadun Koufa in November 2018, the Katiba not only has a community dimension but is becoming the most structured of terrorist groups with targeted attacks. In the new jihadist division of labor, the Katiba Macina the area from central Mali to the borders of Mauritania and the roads leading to the Senegalese border. In recent years, the MUJAO (Movement of Unity for Jihad in West Africa), a former splinter group of Al-Mourabitoune, has become the EIGS, which has long been very active in the so-called tri-border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Terrorist groups that were thought to be weakened and decapitated of their leaders are regenerating and adapting to strategies of struggle that have had their day. The Serma Katiba, commonly known as “Aqmi Sud”, founded in 2012 by AQIM and whose first commander was a Malian by the name of Souleymane Keita alias Al-Bambary (the Bambara), is advancing along the Sikasso (Mali) axis towards Côte d'Ivoire. It threatened Guinea around the Yanfolia forest and the Haut-Niger Park.

The massive influx of thousands of refugees from Burkina Faso into northern Côte d'Ivoire is only the visible part of a much more worrying phenomenon, which demonstrates the unsuspected possibilities for terrorist groups to move towards the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. In these border areas, they are already finding a favorable breeding ground among communities already indexed as potentially terrorist, with the added stigma of a worrying situation. The communalization of violence is taking its course and terrorist groups are seizing on it in their reorganization and their strategy of penetration and, above all, of anchoring themselves in the coastal countries.

AQIM reorganizes and divides jihadist work

There is today a vast recomposition within the terrorist groups of the region with, in particular, defections to the Islamic State from elements of the Serma katiba. It is in this context that the structuring of AQIM, the evolution of katibas engaged in territorial expansion towards the south of Mali and Burkina Faso, and the emergence of new terrorist groups are to be seen.

These katibas, which are difficult to identify, have a certain amount of management autonomy but receive strict operational instructions on targets from the central command of JNIM. They now operate by harassing security forces in Burkina Faso, northern Togo and Benin with highly mobile elements. They have autonomy in their relations with traditional authorities, in the management of booty, and in the inclusion of influential religious leaders of the communities in the framework of the establishment of local Shûrâ

This structuring, which would give the impression of dispersion, is rather a division of labor between the sub-groups affiliated with the JNIM. Jafar Dicko's Ansarul Islam, which returned to the central fold of the JNIM after intense activity in Burkina Faso, is actively seeking to establish itself in northern Benin. It is supported by the Katiba of Serma, which targets the area around Bobo Dioulasso, and the Katiba Macina, which operates in the Oudalan and the Sahel region in general, in addition to support operations.

In this AQIM strategy of a multiplication of local 'jihads', the traditional wing of Ansarul Islam is prioritizing further expansion into Burkina Faso, while elements under the Macina Katiba and to a lesser extent the Serma Katiba are strategically fixated on the tri-border area of Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Cascades region of Côte d'Ivoire.

Moreover, since 2018/2019, a new group affiliated with the JNIM (and close to the Macina katiba) has formed in this Cascades region and calls itself "Katiba Alidougou", named after the village where it was created. Most of the attacks that have occurred on Ivorian territory have been planned and launched from this area, which is currently under high security pressure.

Multiplication of gaps and areas of instability

As part of the extension and descent towards the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, the so-called "Gourma" Katiba, led by a Mauritanian by the name of Abu Hamza, already controls the three border areas of Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger. Some claim that this leader is a Malian Arab from the Gao region (Gourma zone). It is even very active in the forest that stretches from Niger in the Tamou area to northern Benin via eastern Burkina Faso.

It is this junction that facilitates zones of passage and sporadic attacks in northern Benin, Togo and even Ghana. Some of the precursors of the Macina Katiba were given the task by the central command of AQIM of opening up gaps in order to prepare the logistics, by setting up several Markaz which multiplied in the north of Benin; base camps, to regroup the fighters, ensure supplies to the zones and strategic withdrawal routes while waiting for a more important anchorage in the region.

This strategy would also explain the specificity of operations in eastern Burkina and northern Benin, where elements of the Katiba Macinna and the Islamic State in the Sahel, the new name for the Islamic State in the Great Sahara, which has been an independent province of ISIS since March 2022, coexist. This same type of cohabitation is noted in the Komandjari, the border region between Benin and Burkina. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that there will be a future competition for a sustainable settlement and the recruitment of the largest number of fighters in northern Benin.

A bright future for community-based recruitment

In fact, AQIM's strategy in the region today seems to revolve around the creation of zones of instability and the instrumentalization of inter-community conflicts, such as those related to pastoralism, by taking advantage of the frustration of communities due to the failings of the fight against terrorism and the blunders of national armies. Political instability allows AQIM to thrive by seeking out areas where it can make alliances with "persecuted" communities where there may be local incubators. The terrorists have succeeded in presenting themselves as protectors of local populations in the grip of insecurity.

Despite the announced readjustment of security cooperation by countries like France, the states of the region and their international partners are mired in excessive militarization, a false solution that is itself part of the problem. The harsh reality is that, according to the current form of military cooperation, our armies are training with a lot of energy and resources for forms of battle that they have little chance of fighting. This strategy, in which we are stubbornly neglecting the dialogue with the communities, has already shown its inadequacies in the face of the asymmetric threat.

The states of the region seem to want to compensate for the failures of their defense and security forces by a strategy that pits self-defense militias and volunteers against ostracized communities while creating the conditions for massive recruitment in these same communities. The fact is that every time these armies triumphantly declare that they have raided such areas and neutralized terrorists, they are at the same time sowing the seeds of future inter-communal conflicts that will further inflame the region.

@Timbuktu Institute, March, 2023

Pr. Mohamed Chérif FERJANI

Président du Haut-Conseil du Timbuktu Institute

En tant que Président du Haut Conseil Scientifique de Timbuktu Institute for Peace Studies, basé à Dakar, je suis interpelé par mes collègues et ami(e)s de l’Afrique Subsaharienne au sujet de ce qui se passe dans mon pays qui représentait, à leurs yeux, un modèle et un horizon d’espoir pour toute l’Afrique. La campagne contre les migrants subsahariens les laisse d’autant plus perplexes qu’elle n’est pas seulement le fait d’une partie de la population, comme c’était le cas avant les derniers développements. Ils sont sidérés par la caution que lui a apportée le chef de l’Etat qui, au lieu de dénoncer cette campagne et exiger son arrêt et des poursuites contre ses instigateurs, l’a reprise à son compte en voyant dans l’arrivée de migrants subsahariens un complot destiné à déstabiliser la société tunisienne et à en modifier la composition. Ils n’ont pas tort d’y voir une version tunisienne du « grand remplacement » qu’Eric Zemmour s’est empressé de saluer comme l’exemple à suivre par les autorités européennes dans le traitement de la question migratoire. Cependant, l’interpellation de mes ami(e)s subsahariens ne concerne pas seulement cette question ; on me demande des explications sur les poursuites engagées contre des acteurs politiques accusés de complot contre la sécurité intérieure et extérieure de l’Etat, des journalistes et d’autres personnes accusées de corruption, etc. J’avoue que j’ai eu beaucoup de mal à répondre à toutes ces interrogations et je n’arrive pas encore à comprendre le lien entre toutes ces affaires sorties en même temps comme pour ajouter confusion à la confusion qui règne depuis des mois et fait perdre la boussole aux observateurs les plus avertis.

Certes, il y a des affaires gelées sans raison depuis plus de 10 ans comme les assassinats politiques, dont en particulier ceux de Chokri Belaïd, Mohamed Brahmi et Lotfi Naggadh, les complicités avec les réseaux terroristes partant du pays et y revenant pour commettre impunément leurs crimes, et d’autres affaires étouffées par une justice aux ordres du pouvoir politique. Mais pourquoi ces affaires ne sont-elles pas réouvertes dans la transparence et dans le cadre d’une justice indépendante réhabilitée et fonctionnant sur la base du respect de la loi et des droits des personnes poursuivies et de la défense ? Comment ne pas donner raison à la défense qui parle d’enlèvements, de poursuites engagées en dehors des règles prévues par la loi ? Comment ne pas faire le lien avec le climat dans lequel ces affaires sont reprises : Etat d’exception dont on ne connait ni le terme ni les raisons ; modifications des règles de la vie politique sans concertation avec qui que ce soit et sans adhésion de la population comme l’attestent les taux de participation à la consultation, au référendum sur une constitution que personne n’avait demandée, aux élections législatives ; conspirationnisme n’épargnant ni les partis politiques, ni les organisations syndicales, ni les associations de la société civile, ni les médias, ni les acteurs économiques, ni les pays avec lesquels la Tunisie a des relations historiques vitales, ni même les migrants devenus tout à coup la cinquième colonne d’une stratégie visant la modification de l’identité de la société, etc. ? A quelle fin cette confusion est-elle entretenue et au profit de qui ? Certainement pas au profit de la justice qui se trouve à nouveau instrumentalisée dans des affaires politiques ; encore moins au profit du pays et de l’Etat dont les intérêts exigent, plus que jamais, une vision claire concernant le fonctionnement des institutions, les relations entre les autorités, la société et les citoyens, les choix politiques, les partenariats indispensables au niveau de la région et au niveau international.

Dans cette situation de confusion qui ne peut que brouiller les chemins, la planche de salut pour la Tunisie reste, à mes yeux, l’initiative de l’UGTT et de ses partenaires de la société civile que les forces sociales et démocratiques doivent soutenir afin de l’imposer contre la volonté de ceux qui cherchent à la faire avorter ; il est d’ailleurs fort probable que la confusion entretenue ne vise qu’à faire capoter cette initiative. C’est la raison pour laquelle il ne faut pas se laisser fourvoyer et concentrer tous les efforts au soutien à cette initiative dont dépend l’avenir du pays.

Que mes ami(e)s de l’Afrique subsaharienne, dont les interrogations étaient à l’origine de cette clarification, trouvent ici mes excuses et celles d’une grande partie de la société tunisienne qui ne se reconnait pas dans la campagne xénophobe visant leurs compatriotes installés en Tunisie ; l’Ifriqia qui a donné son nom à notre continent, comme l’a bien rappelé mon collègue et ami Bakary Sambe, n’en sera pas détournée par ses brebis égarées. 

Par Dr. Bakary Sambe

Directeur Régional du Timbuktu Institute 

De la structure d’AQMI à travers différents groupes originels qui se sont retrouvés en 2017aux attaques récurrentes qui débordent vers le Golfe de Guinée, il y a eu une grande évolution que les Etats ouest-africains et leurs partenaires tardent à prendre en compte

Aussi bien dans le cas d’al-Mourabitoune de Mokhtar Bel Mokhtar, remplacé, depuis sa mort par un Qadi (juge islamique) mauritanien du nom d’Abou Yahya Shinqiti ou encore d’Ansardine originellement fondé par Iyad Ag-Aly, au début de la crise malienne, les mutations du Jihadisme font que la lutte classique contre le terrorisme n’intègre toujours pas les mutations en cours.

Désormais la vaste zone entre Gao Tombouctou et une bonne partie de la frontière mauritanienne est contrôlée par Abû Talha Al-Lîbî. Pendant ce temps, la Katiba Macina fondée en 2012 à Konna (Centre du Mali) par le prédicateur malien, Muhammadun Saada Bari, alias Muhammadun Koufa a pris une ampleur inouïe dans la cadre de la régionalisation de la stratégie djihadiste au Sahel. Malgré les apparences d’autonomie, la Katîba est placée sous le commandement effectif d’Iyad Ag Ghali patron du JNIM. Certes, depuis mars 2015, cette Katiba mène des opérations au centre du Mali contre les symboles de l’Etat, les forces étrangères déployées et les populations civiles.

 

La carte communautaire face aux Etats en alerte

Même avec l’annonce de la mort de Muhammadun Koufa en novembre 2018, la Katiba comporte, non seulement, une dimension communautaire mais devient le plus structuré des groupes terroristes avec des attaques ciblées. Dans la nouvelle division du travail jihadiste, la Katiba Macina se charge de la zone du centre du Mali jusqu’aux confins de la Mauritanie et les routes menant vers la frontière sénégalaise. Ces dernières années, le MUJAO (Mouvement de l’unicité pour le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest) ancienne dissidence d’Al- Mourabitoune est devenue l’EIGS, restée longtemps très active dans la zone dite des trois frontières entre le Mali, le Niger et le Burkina Faso

Les groupes terroristes qu’on croyait affaiblis et décapités de leurs chefs se regénèrent et s’adaptent aux stratégies de luttes qui ont fait leur temps. Ainsi la Katiba de Serma, communément appelée Aqmi Sud, fondée en 2012 par AQMI et dont le premier commandant était un malien du nom de Souleymane Keita alias Al-Bambary (le Bambara) avance dans l’axe Sikasso (Mali) vers la Côte d’Ivoire. Elle menace la Guinée aux environs de la forêt de Yanfolia et le Parc du Haut-Niger.

L’afflux massif de milliers de réfugiés du Burkina Faso vers le Nord de la Côte d’Ivoire n’est que la partie visible d’un phénomène beaucoup plus inquiétant et qui démontre les possibilités insoupçonnées de glissement des groupes terroristes vers les pays du Golfe de Guinée. Dans ces zones frontalières, ils trouvent déjà un terreau favorable chez des communautés déjà indexées comme potentiellement terroriste avec le lot de stigmatisation aggravante d’une situation préoccupante. La communautarisation de la violence suit son cours et les groupes terroristes s’en saisissent dans leur réorganisation et leur stratégie de pénétration et surtout d’ancrage dans les pays côtiers.

Aqmi se réorganise et divise le travail djihadiste

Il y a aujourd’hui une vaste recomposition au sein des groupes terroristes de la région avec, notamment, des défections vers l’Etat islamique de la part d’éléments de la katiba de Serma. C’est dans ce contexte, qu’il faudrait intégrer la structuration d’AQMI, l’évolution de katibas engagées dans l’extension territoriale vers le sud du Mali et du Burkina

Ces katibas difficilement identifiables ont une certaine autonomie de gestion mais reçoivent des consignes opérationnelles strictes sur les cibles du commandement central du JNIM. Elles opèrent, aujourd’hui, par le harcèlement des forces de sécurité au Burkina Faso, au Nord du Togo et du Bénin avec des éléments très mobiles. Elles ont une autonomie dans la relation avec les autorités traditionnelles, la gestion des butins de même que l’inclusion des chefs religieux influents des communautés dans le cadre de la mise en place de Shûrâ locale

Cette structuration qui donnerait l’impression d’une dispersion relève, plutôt, d’une division du travail entre les sous-groupes affiliés au JNIM. Ansarul Islam de Jafar Dicko, revenu dans le giron central du JNIM avec une intense activité au Burkina Faso cherche activement un ancrage dans le Nord du Bénin. Il est épaulée par le Katiba de Serma qui vise les environs de Bobo Dioulasso et la Katiba Macina qui opère dans l’Oudalan et la région du Sahel de manière générale, en plus  d’opérations de soutien.

Dans cette stratégie d’AQMI d’une multiplication de ‘jihads » locaux, l’aile traditionnelle d’Ansarul Islam se fixe comme priorité de s’étendre davantage au Burkina Faso, tandis que les éléments relevant de la Katiba Macina et dans une moindre mesure de la Katiba de Serma ont une fixation stratégique sur la zone des trois frontières du Mali, du Burkina Faso et de la région des Cascades en Côte d’Ivoire.

D’ailleurs, depuis 2018/2019, un nouveau groupe affilié au JNIM (et proche de la katiba Macina) s’est constitué dans cette région des Cascades et se nomme « Katiba Alidougou », du nom de ce village où il est créé. La plupart des attaques survenues sur le territoire ivoirien ont été planifiées et lancées à partir de cette zone, aujourd’hui sous haute pression sécuritaire.

Multiplication des brèches et des zones d’instabilité

Dans le cadre de l’extension et de la descente vers les pays du Golfe de Guinée, la Katiba dite du « Gourma ». dirigée par un mauritanien du nom d’Abu Hamza contrôle, déjà, la zone des trois frontières du Burkina Faso, du Bénin et du Niger. D’aucuns soutiennent que ce chef serait un arabe malien de la région de Gao (Zone du Gourma). Elle est même très active dans la forêt qui s’étend du Niger dans la zone de Tamou jusqu’au Nord du Bénin en passant par l’Est burkinabé.

C’est cette jonction qui facilite des zones de passages et des attaques sporadiques aussi bien dans le nord du Bénin, du Togo et même du Ghana. Une partie des précurseurs de la Katiba Macina sont chargés par le commandement central d’AQMI d’ouvrir des brèches pour préparer la logistique, par l’installation de plusieurs Markaz qui se multiplient au Nord du Bénin ; des base-vies, pour regrouper les combattants, assurer les ravitaillements des zones et pistes de repli stratégique en attendant un plus important ancrage dans la région.

Cette stratégie expliquerait, aussi, la spécificité des opérations à l’Est du Burkina et au nord du Bénin où on note une cohabitation entre des éléments de la Katiba Macina et de l’Etat Islamique au Sahel ; la nouvelle appellation de  le groupe Etat islamique au Grand Sahara qui a été érigé en province indépendante de l’EI ou ISIS depuis mars 2022. Ce même type de cohabitation est notée dans la Komandjari, région frontalière entre le Bénin et le Burkina. Malgré tout, il faudra s’attendre à une future compétition pour une installation durable et le recrutement du plus grand nombre de combattants dans le nord du Bénin.

Bel avenir du recrutement au sein des communautés

En fait la stratégie d’AQMI, dans la région semble, aujourd’hui, tourner autour de la création de zones d’instabilité et de l’instrumentalisation des conflits intercommunautaires comme ceux liés au pastoralisme en profitant de la frustration des communautés due aux travers de la lutte contre le terrorisme et des bavures des armées nationales. L’instabilité politique permet à AQMI de prospérer en cherchant surtout des terrains propices aux alliances avec les communautés « persécutées » où il peut y avoir des couveuses locales. Les terroristes ont réussi à se présenter, désormais, comme des protecteurs des populations locales en proie à l’insécurité.

Malgré la réadaptation annoncée de la coopération sécuritaire par des pays comme la France, les Etats de la région et leurs partenaires internationaux s’embourbent dans la militarisation à outrance, une fausse solution, elle-même partie intégrante du problème. La dure réalité est que, selon la forme actuelle de la coopération militaire, nos armées s’entraînent en y mettant beaucoup d’énergies et de moyens à des formes de batailles qu’elles n’ont que peu de chance à livrer. Cette stratégie dans laquelle on s’entête en négligeant la part du dialogue avec les communautés avait déjà largement montré ses insuffisances en face de la menace asymétrique.

Les Etats de la région semblent vouloir compenser les échecs de leurs forces de défense et de sécurité par une stratégie qui dresse des milices d’auto-défense et les volontaires contre des communautés ostracisées tout en créant les conditions de recrutements massifs dans ces mêmes communautés. Le fait est qu’à chaque fois que ces armées déclarent, triomphalistes, avoir ratissé telles zones et neutralisé des terroristes, elles sèment, en même temps, les graines des futures conflits intercommunautaires qui embraseront davantage la région.

@Timbuktu Institute, Mars 2023

 

 

 

This interview with Dr. Bakary Sambe is the long version of an interview given to the French online magazine Le Point Afrique in early February 2023 which was conducted by the eminent journalist specializing in strategic issues, Malick Diawara. Among other issues related to the burning news in the Sahel and West Africa, this interview deals with issues related to the ongoing political transitions in Mali and Burkina Faso. Dr. Sambe answers straightforward questions about the perception of security cooperation in the Sahel, the contestation of the French presence and the contradictions of Europe on the issue of migration. He pleads for a better awareness of interdependencies and the topicality of the notion of "collective security" in a world in upheaval. He also, in the context of the war in Ukraine, returns to the rivalries between powers and the struggle for influence between Western powers, Russia, China and emerging powers of the Middle East in addition to the issues of the dispute between Algeria and Morocco and its impact in the construction of new political and economic spaces at the continental level.

Dr. Bakary Sambe, Regional Director of the Timbuktu Institute - African Center for Peace Studies (Dakar, Bamako, Niamey), a leading regional think tank in strategic studies and experimentation of agile approaches in crisis zones. Dr. Sambe is Assistant Professor and researcher at the Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis (Senegal).

 

How do you see the political and social evolution of the countries concerned, particularly those of the Sudano-Sahelian strip?

The States of the region cannot escape the global trend according to which governments will be increasingly confronted with the pressure of various demands that they cannot satisfy, a rise in power of civil societies and citizens who are more and more informed and demanding. This explains all the recent turmoil in Mali, Burkina Faso and elsewhere. In addition, the efforts made for democracy and the adherence to the neoliberal economy have not kept their promises of security and development. The populations are rising up against their national authorities as well as their international partners. The accumulation of problems that have led to institutional crises coupled with security crises has turned the region into a boiler, a pressure cooker that is only waiting for the circumstantial conditions of deflagration whose debris will cause a domino effect that is already of concern to our States and the international community. There is the multiplication of inter-community conflicts, the shortcomings of the fight against terrorism, while with the stigmatization of certain communities and the generalized ostracism, we have already entered the era of a communalization of the Jihad which threatens many States with progressive implosion. While we refuse to change the paradigm in this struggle that is far from being won.

 

What evolution do you see on the front of radicalism and religious fundamentalism?

Radicalization is no longer solely religious or ideological, although extremist groups like to put an Islamic veneer on all the mobilizing conflicts that allow them to recruit by presenting themselves, from now on, as "legitimate" protectors of marginalized communities in border areas. What is happening in the region is the final phase of a long struggle for influence and competition between religious models. Faced with the weakening of the leadership of traditional Islam in countries such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and, to a lesser extent, Côte d'Ivoire, the salafist currents have had the fine strategy of using technological and communicational modernity to better combat social and democratic modernity. In addition, salafism has now imposed itself not as the religion of those who are resistant to social progress, but as the mode of religiosity that recruits the most among the elites. There is a little visible and under-researched trend of an elitization of extremism and a progressive salafization of Islamic practice in the region. The contestation of secularism in Mali today is made in the name of a demand for sovereignty of thought and an endogenization of modes of governance. This tendency is the result of two factors: the recurrent links between the traditional Islamic leadership and all the successive regimes with a political class that is now largely rejected by a youth in search of meaning and opportunity. There is also the capacity of salafist currents to create discursive spaces of convergence with traditional Islam. They do this through the contestation of the secular model but also through the "defense of values" against what they call the Westernization of society and its "shortcomings" such as homosexuality and the "depravity of morals".

 

You have just published a book entitled "Islam in Senegal. Where do the brotherhoods come from? How can they make a difference in a country like Senegal? Can they be a real brake on religious extremism in the current context?

Brotherhood Islam is often analyzed in Senegal as the main bulwark against the radical Islamism that is already shaking several regions of the world and the Sahel. But the problem is that this confraternity model is weak in the eastern border regions, which are the most exposed and neighboring Mali and Mauritania. We must remain vigilant in the face of recent developments: the disappointment of young bangs vis-à-vis the confraternity discourse and certain marabouts seen as allies and guarantors of successive regimes has favored the influence of salafist doctrines perceived as more modern and committed, such as "theologies of liberation" seducing even the educated elites. At the end of my last book, "D'où viennent les confréries?", I explain the rise of a form of islamo-nationalism favoured by the cyclical inseparability between the religious and nationalist imaginations at a time when various identity claims are emerging. Paradoxically, today they unite certain members of the traditional left who are regenerating with Salafist movements under the banner of rejecting neo-liberalism and contesting Western domination, which is gaining ground in the region.

 

Do you see a link between what is currently happening in the Sahel and the issues of the food and health crisis?

Everything is connected. The Sahelian crisis is multidimensional; its resolution will be achieved precisely by moving away from mono-causal analyses. It is no coincidence that in recent years the international community has moved towards the paradigm of a security-development nexus. The security crisis in Burkina Faso and in the tri-border area of the Liptako Gourma in general has enormous consequences for the movement of populations and the abandonment or extortion of cultivable land. Insecure roads and the control of trade routes by extremist or criminal groups inevitably have an impact on food production and the availability of food in areas that have been severely affected by mass exodus. There are more than 2 million internally displaced persons in Burkina Faso today, not to mention the closure of more than 5,000 schools, not to mention the humanitarian consequences of the massive influx of refugees, with no less than 9,000 already heading to neighboring Côte d'Ivoire alone.

 

How do you think the situation and the management of the migration issue will evolve in this area?

During a meeting with a European Head of State visiting Senegal, I told him that Europe should take into account the new situation, according to which we have become an international community that is increasingly close because of the vulnerability we share. Terrorism strikes us in Gao, Timbuktu, Ayerou or Tchintabaraden, but threatens you every day in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. Far be it from me to believe in a massive flood of migrants from the continent to Europe in case of a major crisis. Europe believes it has created the conditions - sometimes selfishly and at the cost of its own principles - for a façade of protection against African migration by spending colossal sums on initiatives such as Frontex and other trust funds. But it forgets our interdependence, which is now accentuated by the illusory nature of watertight borders. The world economy from which it derives the greatest benefit also exposes Europe to various vulnerabilities in terms of raw material supply. It is true that intra-continental migration is far more important than migration to Europe, which continues to barricade itself against Africa, whose natural resources it needs as well as the vitality of its youth. But the latter is less and less willing to accept and challenge the unequal paradigm of globalization where human flows seem to be one-way. You know, this one-way mobility is central to the perceptions of African youth who, in order to challenge a former colonial power, often first attack the visa services of consulates, as recently in Ouagadougou. As if it were necessary to use the very symbol of discord as a means of venting their anger.

 

With all the upheavals currently observed, notably the departure of French troops from Mali and Burkina, the installation of Wagner,..., what security situation do you foresee in and around the Sahel?

Wagner has never been an actor in regulation or stabilization; in fact, the use of Wagner is a sign of security failure, either assumed or repressed in populism. The famous rise in power of the FAMS, supported by Wagner, in Mali is often against ostracized communities that were more in need of protection than persecution. It is well known that in Mali, in particular, all of these movements - armed or terrorist - are each backed by a tribe, and some of their leaders even have a second hat as a tribal chief. A recent report by the Timbuktu Institute announced in mid-January that a clear alliance is emerging between the signatory movements and the JNIM against the EIS, which could mark a major turning point in the northern regions for the year 2023. This unexpected situation may also rekindle inter-communal tensions, particularly between the Tuareg and the Peulh (Fulani), and increase acts of banditry and other forms of violence.

The official end of the Barkhane operation in the Sahel announced by French President Emmanuel Macron on November 9, 2022, raises questions about the future of the G5 Sahel force in Niger and Burkina Faso, which are still members. The territorial discontinuity of the G5 Sahel following Mali's withdrawal alone risks giving more space to radical groups in the tri-border area. The future of the G5 Sahel is fraught with uncertainty, as a new alliance of circumstances between Mali and Burkina Faso is emerging that will consolidate Wagner's presence in the region. In addition, the tense climate between Mali and Niger makes it politically and practically impossible to take a common approach, let alone the necessary cooperation in the so-called "Three Borders" zone. Certainly, Burkina is preparing itself accordingly with a massive recruitment of VDP and a very likely rapprochement with Wagner. At the same time, Niger is opting to strengthen its national guard through a nomadic component and the support of its international partners, notably France, Italy and Germany, among others. But the truth is that in Mali, the Wagner option and the "all-military" approach have not produced the expected results. On the contrary, in addition to the isolation of the country from its traditional partners and immediate neighbors, serious human rights violations, ethnic and communal amalgamation and the massacres of civilian populations make the situation much more critical than before. With such a situation, there is every reason to believe that Mali is headed for a situation more serious than that of 2012, which will not spare any part of the country and, worse, will quickly spread to neighboring countries.

 

How could the alliances between Maghrebian and sub-Saharan countries between them and Europe and the United States, between them and countries such as China, India and Russia, while the latter is now  mired in its war against Ukraine?

 In Europe, public opinion will tend to tire of the war in Ukraine, which is likely to last longer than expected, as can be seen in Germany and even in France, a country that is already paying the price. If Africa does not succeed in taking advantage and playing, in the direction of its own interests, of this unprecedented positioning according to which the strategic tilt of our continent towards one of the blocks can modify the state of the international balance of power, it will be reduced, unfortunately, to a simple theater of confrontation by interposed countries. Syria is the perfect example, and even Mali is heading in that direction. Today, we are in the configuration of an off-shore balancing, a mechanism by which the great classical powers ensure that the strategic shift of the continent, which today can change the configuration of powers on the international scene, will not be at their expense or even better, will be to their advantage.

President Macky Sall's speech to Vladimir Putin explaining that, from now on, the continent would no longer vote by injunction or by simple alignment is a signal. Today, the situation has changed and Africa, if only its political leadership were to become aware of it, should do better in this new great game. There are at least three reasons for this: First, we are in a divided world where alignments are both multiple and diffuse. Second, the distribution of power is increasingly fragmented with the combined effect of classic powers that are declining, emerging powers that are rising, and a multitude of states claiming middle power status. Finally, and this is the trigger, we are in the context of an Africa that, through the dual effect of an increasingly uninhibited elite and a more demanding population, is seeking to better position itself in the game of international relations.

China has understood this at the expense of Europe and the United States, which are in the process of making a comeback. Russia does not have a clear vision for Africa; the continent serves, for the time being, as a demonstration ground for its capacity to harm Europe, France and the West in general. In this context, Africa is moving, at least in perceptions, from an acquired zone, a simple adjustment variable, to a more comfortable and advantageous zone in which its influence and weight could decide the balance of power on an international scale. It is a pity that the latent war between Morocco and Algeria is fragmenting continental alliances when what is needed is the synergy of efforts required for concerted African solutions. Only the overcoming of this conflict could facilitate a better reconnection of the two shores of the Sahara in the service of an integrated development of the continent.

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Violent Extremism remains one of West Africa's most pressing security threats. Violent extremism is a phenomenon that threatens the peace and tranquility of different countries and has claimed the lives of millions of people around the world in recent years.

Radicalization has different forms and dimensions; religious, sectional and, sometimes, racial. Internationally and regionally, no country is left unchallenged about this phenomenon and the dangers it poses to society at large. Religious radicalization has captured the attention of the international community and poses a major threat to global peace and security; it winds have believed to have blown from the Arabic world and spread like wildfires in countries around the world. It should be remembered from the outset that the phenomenon of extremism is not unique to predominantly Muslim societies. It is a phenomenon that is experienced by all religions in different social contexts and geographical areas.

Since decades, West Africa and the sahel are at the forefront of radicalization thoughts and activities, primarily carried out by local actors and small theaters in the region. Groups such as Jamâat Nusrat Al-Islam Wal Muslimeen (JNIM) and Islamic State Sahel province (ISSP),which operates in Mali and Burkina Fasso, and Boko haram in Nigeria, among others, have been carryout terrorist activities in their respective countries and far beyond.

Unlike the countries of the central Sahel, some West African countries are still spared terrorist attacks, although they are gradually being marked by the rise of a certain radicalization. This trend can be seen in the behaviors, modes of religiosity, and speeches of new preachers who are increasingly influential among young people.

As observed in the recent evolution of the countries of the region, the hardening of the increasingly contentious religious discourse is also linked to interactions between the political and religious spheres. The specific case of the Gambia cannot be properly analyzed without taking into account the inconsistencies of Yayah Jammeh's regime as well as the influences coming from abroad, more specifically from the Middle East and the Gulf countries.

Radicalism perspectives in The Gambia

One will, without a second thought, negate the question of The Gambia being completely immune from all elements of Islamic radicalization. To begin with, Gambia is geographically located in a community of nations that share not only an open and porous border but also deeply ingrained values and religious brotherhoods. The independence of nations within the Sahel and West African countries has increased the possibilities of radicalization. As a Muslim-majority country that regained its democratic values following the highly controversial 2016 presidential elections which brought current president Adama Barrow to power. However, the Gambia is a very welcoming country,its citizens also travel to different predominantly Islamic countries notably Iran,Iraq and Syria to pursue Islamic and Coranic studies. There is still no concrete evidence as to what type of knowledge such Gambian receive when they reach those countries. Also, the lack of adequate vetting process put the country into serious threats of radicalization etc.

The other important element is that there exist many Quranic educational centres that are run outside the umbrella of the government and its agencies. One might find it difficult to ascertain the philosophy being inculcated in the minds of these knowledge seekers in these completely isolated Islamic and Quaranic establishments. A study of Government programs revealed a well-organized structure in place to moderate and monitor what happens in conventional and Arabic (Madarasas) schools, but until now little is known of the locally run "daara" which are mainly run under the watch of learned community leaders. This survey intends to detail elements of Islamic radicalization in the Gambia and aims to find linkages with groups in Sub-Saharan Africa and globally recognized radicalized groups.

Through an analysis of the recent dynamics of the Gambian religious field, this article will first look at the prospects of radicalism in the Gambia. After an examination of the management of religion during the Yaya Jammeh era, the evolution of the relationship between Islamic actors and the regime will be discussed, as well as the process that has seen the development of Wahhabi movements and the evolution of religious discourse. Finally, beyond a simple religious phenomenon, it will be discussed how the hardening of preaching could constitute early signals of radicalization in the Gambia and why this country should be able to learn from the mistakes of Sahelian states in the face of the rise of violent extremism.