Concerns over instability in the Sahel have been on the rise with the return of mercenaries and flow of arms from Libya, the persistence of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the growing presence of narcotics traffickers in the region. In this just released Africa Security Brief, Cédric Jourde cautions against responding to these threats based solely on what is observable on the surface.
Rather, the transborder illicit economy, Islamism, and other phenomena in the Sahel are constantly shifting and are shaped by actors who interpret external influences through local lenses. In Mauritania, for instance, grievances with the national government, ideological motivations, clan and caste affiliations as well as practical business interests all converge and shape how local communities engage one another or other state and nonstate groups.
The intersections of local, national, and regional dynamics are similarly complex. Political rivalries among regional neighbors rooted in several unresolved conflicts frustrate cooperation on seemingly unconnected political developments. Regimes in the Sahel that face legitimacy deficits have also been known to wave a false flag of “insecurity” in order to target political opponents or assume greater authority, sometimes with the support of misinformed international partners.
Understanding these layers of influence is vital to addressing the security challenges facing the Sahel. Policymakers and analysts must devote more time and resources to considering the complexity of the region. Marginalized communities who have grown extremely suspicious of national governments must also be convinced that their interests can be realized through nonviolent means. Governments in the region with relatively greater legitimacy have been less subject to the opposition of armed groups and better equipped to respond to societal demands – and are therefore deserving of greater support from international partners and regional organizations.
Dr. Cédric Jourde is an Associate Professor at the School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada. His research focuses on the politics of identities in Sahelian countries and on dynamics of regime change and regime survival.
Download the Brief in: [ENGLISH]