A Third Attempt in the Sahel

BERLIN/PARIS/BAMAKO (Own report) - Berlin and Paris have announced an initiative to increase the militarization of the Sahel. The initiative is called the "Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel," German Chancellor Angela Merkel explained last Sunday at the G7 summit in Biarritz. According to Merkel, within this framework "troops and police forces" from five regional countries should be "reinforced nationally." For this purpose new financial means will be made available, French President Emmanuel Macron explained. This project is the EU's third attempt to control tensions and conflicts in the Sahel with increased militarization. With much fanfare, the EU had launched the EUTM Mali training mission in 2013 and strengthened the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali MINUSMA with soldiers from Europe. In 2017, Germany and France had promoted the establishment of the "G5 Sahel" intervention force. The conflicts had increased each time and have already spread beyond Mali to other countries, some even involving ethnic massacres.

"Missed Objectives"

The new Sahel initiative announced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during the G7 summit Sunday is already the third attempt by the EU and its two major powers to control the situation in the Sahel. The first was launched in early 2013, after French forces took control of northern Mali from jihadi militias. The EU launched the training mission EUTM Mali to train Malian forces. A military mission of the African Union (AU) was placed under the Blue Helmet flag of the United Nations and supplementarily reinforced with EU troops - including from Germany - and was expanded to the MINUSMA for so-called stabilizing missions, particularly in northern Mali. An additional 3,000 to 4,000 French troops were involved in Operation Barkhane in the Sahel. Nearly four and a half years after Berlin and Brussels - posing as usual as the knights of salvation - initiated the intervention, Mali was in a more destitute situation than before. The North - and now, even the South - of the country are "quasi out of control," Roland Marchal an expert on Africa at the Centre de recherches internationales at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) warned in September 2017. "Never before has Mali experienced the level of violence it has today." The EU missed its objectives.[1] With 133 Blue Helmets killed by September 2017, MINUSMA has long since become the UN's deadliest mission.

Still Not Fully Operational

In the Summer of 2017, Berlin and Paris launched a second attempt, with the establishment of the "G5 Sahel" intervention force. The "G5 Sahel" is a joint force of the five Sahel countries Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, established on February 16, 2014, initially to accompany, with civilian means, the EU powers' military missions. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) After four years of western European military operations, when there was still no end in sight of the conflicts, Berlin and Paris began pushing for the establishment of a local Sahel intervention force to relieve EU military forces. Thus, on July 2, 2017, the establishment of the G5 Sahel intervention force comprising 5000 soldiers was decided. In addition to soldiers from Mali, EUTM Mali soon began to train soldiers from the other G5-Sahel countries. In early November 2017, the beginning of a first operation of the intervention force was reported. However, development of the unit made little progress. Following a jihadi attack on its headquarters in Sévaré (Mali) on June 29, 2018, in which two UN soldiers were killed, the intervention force halted its activities until January 2019. Its operational capacity still stagnates at 75 percent.

Ethnic Massacres

At the same time, the situation in the Sahel - which can be considered the EU's main area of operations - has further deteriorated. Currently, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) statistics, 9.7 million people in the Sahel are threatened with an acutely precarious food situation; two million children are threatened with acute malnutrition.[3] At the same time, various conflicts are escalating; there is an upsurge of violence. On March 23, a militia of the Dogon linguistic group committed a massacre in Ogossagou, located in central Mali, where more than 160 members of the Peul (also known as the Fulani or Fulbe) linguistic group were killed. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[4]) The murderous conflicts has long since spread beyond Mali to neighboring countries. March 31, the northern Burkinabe city of Aribinda was attacked and a leading religious personality was killed along with six members of his family. This resulted in an escalation of the conflicts in the region, leading to more than 60 deaths.[5] For years, reports have emerged of civilians being murdered - even massacred - by the military. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) It remains unknown whether the units responsible for the murders had been trained by the EUTM Mali. Observers are warning that the situation could escalate further.

Like in 2013 and 2017

Chancellor Merkel and President Macron have now announced a third attempt on Sunday, at the G7 Summit: enhancing current activities with a new "Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel." Germany and France will be leading this "partnership." In addition, as Merkel announced in Biarritz, even more countries should be induced to participate. By the end of the year, Berlin and Paris intend to hold a conference that will determine the work plan. The "partnership's" substance and objectives are still rather nebulous. Apparently, it will be the third attempt since 2013 to strongly enhance the repressive activities. Merkel, in any case, has announced that "the troops and police forces of the G5 countries" should be each "reinforced nationally."[7] In any case, the deployment of more soldiers from Europe is not planned. Macron announced - without further explanation - that new financial means will also be made available. The German Chancellor admitted that "it cannot be said that the level of security has improved." Similarities to statements used in 2013 and 2017 to justify the next round of the Sahel's militarization, cannot be overheard.

Like in Afghanistan

In fact, the development in Mali increasingly resembles that in Afghanistan. There too, western troops, comprised mainly of NATO forces, had announced at regular intervals to have found a new concept that would make the situation better. And just as regularly, these concepts have proven insufficient; the military operations are simply prolonging a brutal war that obviously cannot be won with military means. Because of the consistent escalation of violence, Mali has, in the past, been repeatedly compared to Afghanistan.[8] The similarities can also be noted in the methodology: the attempt to stem the tide always with more militarization. Of course, these attempts have yet to lead to success.


[1] Jens Borchers, Jürgen König: Europas Interessen in der Sahelzone. www.deutschlandfunk.de 17.09.2017. See also The Militarization of the Sahel (II).

[2] See also Die Militarisierung des Sahel.

[3] FAO: Sahel: Regional overview. July 2019.

[4] See also Ethnic Massacres in the Sahel.

[5] May 2019 Monthly Forecast: Group of Five for the Sahel. securitycouncilreport.org 30.04.2019.

[6] See also The Human Rights Teachers.

[7] Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel mit dem französischen Präsidenten Macron und dem Präsidenten der Republik Burkina Faso, Kaboré, während des G7-Gipfels in Biarritz. 25.08.2019.

[8] See also Like in Afghanistan (II).