Hello I’m Juanita Williams, allAfrica’s managing editor, and we’ll be discussing the Sahel region today and aiming for an understanding of the region’s history of peacebuilding and conflict, how it brought us to Niger’s coup in August 2023, and what the peacebuilding possibilities are going forward.
Welcome to our three contributors today, but I’ll let them introduce themselves.
Gare Amadou 00:01
Okay, so I’m Gare Amadou, a journalist from Niger Republic, I begin journalism since 15, or around 20 years ago. So my favourite I mean, the subject of journalism is security, fighting against terrorism, or let’s say, also political subjects. I also am interested on social subjects, as you know, in my country, we do not have a journalist to specialise on just one field. You know, we are most of time journalists who can do everything. I can do politics, I can do security, I can do something. So I can’t say that I’m only specialising on one subject. So let’s say, you know, general journalists, if I can say that.
Dr Festus Aubyn 00:52
I’m Festus Kofi Aubyn. I’m a senior researcher, and also a lecturer. Currently, I’m the Head of Research and Capacity Building at the West African Network for Peacebuilding (Wanep), which is located in Accra, but has offices in all the ECOWAS countries. Basically, I’m in charge of research at Wanep. We’ve been researching over the years on issues around conflict prevention, peacebuilding, violent extremism, gender, peace and security, youth, peace and security and issues around early warning within their region. We’ve also been doing capacity building interventions to support state institutions, community activists, in terms of their response to peace and security issues within the region. Besides that, I’m also an adjunct lecturer in a number of institutions in Ghana, including the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, where I used to work, and then the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College and also the Lincoln Centre for International Affairs, and Diplomacy.
Prof Ibrahim Bangura 02:24
Thank you very much. I’m a lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. And I’m also a partner of Transition International, which is a consultancy firm based in the Netherlands. And I do a lot of work evaluating EU-funded projects and programmes in Africa as a result-oriented monitoring expert. And I do a lot of research some of the work that I’ve done in the past I’ve done alongside Festus, Dr Aubyn. We published a book last year, titled Youth-Led Social Movements and Peacebuilding in Africa. This year, there’s a publication titled Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants in Africa. And we’re finalising a book on Youth and Urban Mobilities in Covid-19-Affected Africa. So there’s a lot of work done. And I also teach alongside Festus, in places like the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, and also do a lot of research in the Sahel and other parts of Africa.
Juanita Williams 03:36
It seems like a confluence of coups and military governments that have decided that they do not want the colonialist power that they’ve had before. Even though they’re not being colonised anymore, they’ve decided they don’t want France in the countries at all. So Amadou could you tell us what your analysis of the situation is? Why you think the Niger coup happened and why do you think the Sahel region specifically is dealing with this?
Gare Amadou 05:24
We cannot say that the reason given by the junta in Niger, in Mali, and Burkina Faso as the truth because this is not true. Because the military, head of the army, wants it just to get the power. So the only reason that can make people come and support the junta is to say that they aim to fight against colonialism, and the fact that African countries has lots of resources (being controlled by foreign forces), Because the poor countries in the world that they want to fight against this. The reason given, they cannot convince anyone. They just want to have the means to have money to manage the country to rule people. And if you consider the situation, in the three countries, let’s talk about Mali and Burkina Faso.
So we have two juntas who decided that they will set up a process that can move the country to democratic election, but as we go, step by step, we can see that these junta members do not want to give back the power to civilians. So we have a situation in which head of army said that ‘we want to fight against terrorists, we want to fight against colonialism. So this is why we overthrew the democratic regime who failed to gain results on these two fronts. So we are here to establish a kind of new kind of governance in which Africa can profit from its resources, and Africa can decide what to do for its people, and we will fight we will be able to fight against terrorism without the help of any country.’ Well, the situation we have currently is that terrorism is gaining, in terms of territories in Abuja, Burkina Faso, in Mali and Niger. So the situation is getting worse. That means that the reason given was not really true because they fail to fight really against terrorists. The fact that African countries who have lots of resources, African countries are the poorest countries in the world, they want to fight against this, the only reason is that we have the same military, I mean, head of armies, who just wanted to get the power.
The reason given, the reason given, they cannot convince anyone. Okay, in reality, we have just been head of the armies, we just wanted to get to power and to rule the country, they just want to have means to have money to manage the country, to rule people. And if you consider the situation, in the three countries, we have Mali and Burkina Faso. So we have two juntas who decided that they will set up a process that can move the country to, democratic election, but as we go, step by step, we can see that really these junta members do not want to give back the power to civilians. So we have a situation in which head of army said that we want to fight against terrorism, we want to fight against colonialism.
So this is why we overthrew the democratical regime who failed to to gain results these two fields. So we are here to establish a kind of new kind of governance in which Africa can profit from its resources, and Africa can decide what to do for its people, and we will fight, we will be able to fight against terrorism without the help of any country. Well, the situation we have currently is that terrorism is gaining a lot of spaces, in terms of territories in Burkina Faso, Mali and in Niger. So the situation is getting worse. So that means that the reason given were not really true because they fail to fight really against terrorism. What we can what can see currently is that terrorists are stronger than before, I mean, since the coming of the junta on the political field.
Juanita Williams 07:44
Thank you so much for those insights. Festus, Ibrahim, could you add some perspective to what is happening now in terms of the conflict in Sahel? And how peacebuilding can contribute to bringing a better life for people that are in the Sahel. We’ll start with the what steps have been taken in the Sahel that you are aware of in terms of peacebuilding.
Dr Festus Aubyn 08:23
Thank you very much. Historically, we’ve had some turbulent periods within the Sahel. But I think that the situation got worse after the NATO intervention in Libya, which we are experiencing the effect of that intervention within the Sahel, before NATO intervene in Libya. Although the Sahel had some issues of governance, development, the situation was not what we see today, since that intervention, the situation has deteriorated starting from Mali, where we had the Tuareg rebellion, which led to a coup and counter coups. And then also bringing in the element of violent extremism and terrorism, which has spread from Mali, to Burkina Faso to Niger. And also currently even moving towards the coastal states of Benin, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire.
Since that intervention, we’ve seen a deterioration of the situation and COVID-19 added another layer to that problem, as well as issues around climate change, which also is impacting on the situation. And since then, if you recall, when that situation happened in Mali, we had a military intervention by the French called Operation Serval. After Operation Serval, we had the AFISMA, African-led mission in Mali, which was handled by the African Union. And Ecowas – that intervention helped in terms of recapturing some of the areas in Mali, that was captured by the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and uncertain and other groups who had captured Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. And after the intervention of AFISMA, we saw the deployment of the UN Mission in Mali called MINUSMA. MINUSMA has been in Mali since 2013 and has been helping the Malian authorities in their peacebuilding efforts together with other partners like the African Union, and ECOWAS, which had offices in Mali, the AU office was called MISAHEL, and Ecowas also had an office.
Together with other partners like the EU, the EU had a capacity building mission that was helping to build the capacity of the Malian forces, and then AU, Ecowas were also supporting the political processes together with the UN through MINUSMA. And that is what led to the Algiers Agreement in 2015, where all the parties in Mali signed a peace accord to undertake certain reforms to bring stability into the country. But all these interventions have not been able to stabilise the situation. And we have seen a spread to other neighbouring countries and the recent coup d’etats, which has further disrupted the gains that have been made in the past, one of the challenge has been the weakening capacity of most of these states. If you look at most of the reasons cited by the coup makers, for engaging in the coup they cited three main reasons. One, issues of poor governance, two, issues of socio economic challenges, which was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 aftermath. And then three is the deteriorating security situation, where counterterrorism effort has not worked despite the presence of the French Operation Barkhane, the EU missions, US special forces, MINUSMA and others, the situation is getting worse.
These terror groups are capturing new territories, new areas, you know, so the situation is getting worse by the day. And that is raising a lot of discontent among the population. And that is why they (the Niger junta) have this military support. Also capitalise on the public dissatisfaction of the government to stage most of the coups that we see today, you know, so in terms of building peace in these areas, I think that the most important issue that we need to deal with now is transitioning to democratic governance or transitioning from military regimes to a democratic order, where then the various reforms can be undertaken. Because currently, most of the military regimes lack legitimacy and credibility, even internally and externally, to even get the needed support to restore peace in these countries. So we need a transition to democratic order. And once we have a legitimate government in place, we can now look at how to deal with the issues. And this is where the AU, ECOWAS comes in to guide these countries towards that path of democratic order in these…