Between endogenous solutions, collective security imperatives and risks of weakening regional architecture (Interview Dr. Bakary Sambe) Spécial

Source : Le Soleil - December 1, 2023

A familiar face at the Dakar International Forum, Dr. Bakary Sambe is founder and regional director of the Timbuktu Institute - African Center for Peace Studies (Bamako, Dakar, Niamey). His current work with the Timbuktu Institute focuses on the testing of agile solutions in crisis zones. As part of the forthcoming launch of the Frangily Observatory of West Africa for Resilience & Democracy - FOWARD), he spoke at the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security, emphasizing the human security approach. It was following this intervention, which focused on the need to reconcile international cooperation and endogenous strategies, that we had this interview with him.

You've been taking part in the 9th edition of the Dakar International Forum for many years now. In your opinion, what is the place and role of this event in strategic thinking on peace and security issues in Africa?

By organizing this Forum, which closed its 9th edition yesterday, Senegal is reinforcing its strategic position and its specificity on the African continent, often distinguishing itself as a model of resilience. Our country is also a sociopolitical and historical continuum of the Arab world (located just south of Mauritania), with a specific position within the Muslim world. A rare African country to have hosted two summits of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The regional geopolitical context, fraught with risks, coincides, for Senegal, with a decisive geostrategic turning point and the imminent exploitation of major mining and energy resources in a complex configuration of international rivalries accentuated by the current war in Ukraine and its various implications. Senegal is also one of the most important sub-regional university destinations, in addition to internationally renowned research institutions and think tanks such as the Centre des Hautes Études de Défense et de Sécurité (CHEDS), the regional headquarters of the Timbuktu Institute covering the entire region, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Afrikajom Center, WATHI, IPAR, etc. All these factors make Senegal a key destination for the international community. These are all elements that place our country on the new chessboard of the knowledge economy and strategic thinking. As a regional diplomatic platform, Senegal's repositioning in Arab-African relations since the Algiers summit, as well as its recent presidency of the African Union, consolidate its position on the diplomatic and international scene, especially in the context of new South-South reconfigurations. On this precise point, there is every hope that our countries' traditional partners will accept the profound changes in our relations not as a challenge or a form of defiance, but as a precious opportunity to be seized in order to start afresh on new foundations.

The West African region, like others on the continent, has been subject to multifaceted crises for years, with institutional instability and security tensions. How can these two phenomena be mitigated?

The discussions at the Forum's various panels and workshops reiterated this desire to give endogenous strategies more dignity as a solution. During the panel on human security in which I took part, I made a point of recalling the sad fact that, despite more than a decade of commitment, the States and international partners of the Sahel have won neither the war against terrorists, nor peace with the local populations. That's why it was so important to consider how to start afresh, so as not to lose sight of our shared commitment to collective security, but also to bring about the necessary paradigm shift, starting with a certain humility in acknowledging our shared failures. As you know, the 2023 edition of the Forum took place against a backdrop of great uncertainty, with coups d'état multiplying in the sub-region and a resurgence of terrorist attacks, despite the promises of security made by the juntas that came to power. But the creation of new groupings such as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES, grouping Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) around the Liptako-Gourma Charter is a worrying sign, although some see it as a welcome effort at synergy. At a time when we need regional coordination and pooling of efforts more than ever, we risk seeing a weakening of ECOWAS, and even the tacit disappearance of the G5, which were key players in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel and West Africa in general. This is a real fragmentation of regional counter-terrorism efforts, as with the Alliance of Sahel States, other states could feel excluded or marginalized, which risks undermining the cooperation and coordination efforts needed to deal effectively with common security challenges. I'm not even talking about the negative impact on the AU's efforts with the weakening of its role insofar as this new initiative between military regimes will complicate its attempts to coordinate its security efforts on a continental scale.

So what can we do?

I believe that it is these major challenges that have motivated President Macky Sall's appeal to all countries, and above all to the military, to avoid aggravating the already worrying regional situation. As he suggests, urgent solutions are needed to consolidate the rule of law, but also to strengthen collective security by better pooling efforts (the forum also discussed the reactivation of the African standby force). Solutions can only be effective within the framework of a holistic approach, as proposed by the Senegalese President, to accelerate the development of the continent's countries by promoting investment and the strengthening of human capital, inseparable from the imperative of peace and security.

 How can we ensure that endogenous solutions are taken into account in resolving the crises that are shaking West Africa and the Sahel?

 Both in President Macky Sall's opening address and in the various speeches, this new preoccupation with aligning the international approach with endogenous strategies was evident. If there was one overall trend that emerged from the 9th Dakar Forum, it was a growing awareness of the need to reactivate endogenous mechanisms for dialogue and mediation, and a clear desire to mitigate the all-security approach. As part of our work on a manual of best practices for resilience in border areas, we recently highlighted the immense potential of our communities to transform certain "threats" into "opportunities" for synergy. From now on, we must take into account the realities and constraints of local populations, just as we must stop neglecting endogenous resources and cultural references to overcome tensions and make better use of traditional mediation and conflict management mechanisms that are commonly and culturally accepted. In any case, I remain convinced that dismantling the regional security architecture by venturing into extreme, ad hoc positions will only worsen the situation of the countries in the region.

 How do you think we can involve the regimes already in place?

 You know, it would be unrealistic to ignore the fact that these regimes in countries that have experienced coups d'état are part of a long-term process, and that we absolutely must make them our interlocutors. We need to move away from extreme positions of rejection and renew the thread of dialogue in the interests of populations suffering from insecurity and economic hardship. And international partners need to understand that dialogue and consensus-building cannot be equated with compromise, but are cardinal African virtues that need to be explored to break the current deadlock. This is in the interests of all the countries in the region, as well as of cooperation built on new foundations in line with world developments and the sovereign aspirations of new generations.

Source: Le Soleil, December 1, 2023 - Title adapted by Timbuktu Institute