Across states in the Sahel region, the continued mix of terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence remain significantly high. Terrorists have so far exploited Indigenous animosities given the absence of the Government in such porous environments, thus giving way to Salafist-jihadi ideology. Jihadi driven armed violence can be seen manifest in the three border areas of Niger (Diffa, Maradi, Tahoua, Tillaberi, Regions), Burkina Faso (Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Nord, Est, Nord, Sahel regions), and Mali (Gao, Mopti, Tombouctou), stretching to the Lake Chad swamps which connect Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, as well as pockets of erratic manifestation in Benin and Togo’s Northern axis.

Terrorist actors include the trio of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Dine (Mali), and al-Mourabitoun (a breakaway group from Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, MUJAO), now known as Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) because of their merger in 2017. Also is JNIM’s most formidable adversary, The Islamic State Sahel Province, which was formally known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) a part of the Islamic State’s West Africa Province since March 2019, ISSP comprises of MUJAO faction (a breakaway group from AQIM) that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/IS) in 2015, Macina Liberation Front (an affiliate of Ansar al-Dine) and defectors from JNIM (2017). Other relatively active stand-alone groups in the Sahel include Boko Haram – Jamaatu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Dawati wal-Jihad, Ansaroul Islam (the Burkina Faso branch of Ansar al-Dine), and Unidentified armed militias.

The impact of Islam in Africa’s Sahel parts via trade, during the spread of Islam across the African continent, has been influential in shaping some native societies here in Africa, particularly in the North as with the Tuareg. Islam and Arabic in various forms, helped with the smooth indoctrination of local groups while also maintaining traditional values, such as food, dress, and language, among others. This intriguing synergy between religion in this case Islam and ethnicity was heavily exploited by Salafi-jihadist groups, who are known to use such exploitation tactics in asserting their domination and subsequent control with false Quranic Teachings. So, after suffering significant losses in the realisation of its utopian Caliphate state in the Middle East and Asia, Al-Qaeda and its off-shoot group Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) choose Africa, given the pre-existing levels of dysfunctionality and instability across states in the Sahel region. While cultural and theological similarities with the Middle East, as well as their pre-existing Islamist militia agitations, gave way for the indoctrination with Salafist-jihadi ideology.

For over a decade of conflict and instability in the Sahel, ungoverned spaces in the Sahel have served as transit routes for organized criminal syndicates who manage major migrants’ movement northward to Europe as well as the smuggling of illegal drugs, weapons and goods. Such an environment was only naturally likely to deteriorate, creating a suitable environment for degenerates given the absence of comprehensive Government interventions in curbing insecurity. The national government’s continued use of militarized intervention vis-a-vis its security-focused approach in curbing varying forms of conflict has seen kinetics taken much prioritization over adopting non-kinetic measures in addressing the underlying issues such as environmental degradation (illegal mining, erosion, drought, desert incursions), political instability (sustained conflicts at the regional, state, and ethnoreligious levels, civil agitation), inadequate infrastructures for the improvement of life (bad roads, unstable educational institutions, poor labour/consumer rights, poor health facilities, uneven allocation of wealth/disparity in the class system, unemployment), high levels of corruption in the polity (embezzlement of nations funds, cybercrime, nepotism and bigotry), fluctuating high levels of human rights abuses, and increasing national debt much of which enable conflict in the first place. This is not to say that there haven’t been non-kinetic approaches to dealing with conflict by both national and international actors; however, the question is how feasible these interventions were in light of the transnational impact of these actions; because it is quite convenient for one country to push out insurgents only for them to regroup and return or the deliberate actions and negligence on the part of state-sponsored militias in escalating tensions through extrajudicial targeted executions.

The success of Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations is dependent on the government’s stability, which is reflected in the competence of its security apparatus as well as the patriotism of its citizenry a typical example is Niger. Despite the country’s fragile stability, Niger has seen a significant decrease in Jihadist activities this year for a variety of reasons, one of which is attributed to forces of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) comprised of Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon land and air counter-terrorism military formations operating under the auspices of Operation Lake Sanity. Also, Niger currently hosts France led Operation Barkhane and Takuba Taskforce, as well as a US drone base in the Agadez region involved in various intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance operations in the region. However, coups, corruption, and disagreement among allies, on the other hand, are capable of hampering COIN efforts, allowing insurgents to re-strategize, carry out additional attacks, and control more territory, extending their reach and propaganda dissemination.

The growth of military coups demonstrates the military’s negative impact on regional political stability. This intra-state disorder has shifted the attention away from terrorist organizations and toward generating an even larger imbalance in the unstable political environment. However, political instability persists in Mali and Burkina Faso.

 

Mali has experienced two coups on 18 August 2020 and 24 May 2021 respectively, leaving the country in complete isolation as a result of its ban from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as sanctions imposed by regional partners, ECOWAS, which froze Malian state assets, closed its borders affecting trade, and suspended non-essential financial transactions. Though its military has shown signs of giving up control to a transitional administration, its body language remains focused on retaining control over governance rather than preventing terrorist organizations from obtaining new grounds.

In Burkina Faso, the military junta which took control of the country through a coup d’état on 23 January 2022 has widespread popular backing, since the nation’s majority had engaged the democratic government in themed anti-government marches seeking the ouster of the President throughout the majority of 2021. Though the military Junta is barred from ECOWAS, no sanctions have been imposed on it; instead, ECOWAS has called on the military authorities to give a deadline for the restoration of the nation to democratic governance outside of its current 36-month transition period, which is not feasible, failure to comply will result in comparable measures as seen in Mali.

Niger, although relatively stable, is experiencing security or economic setbacks because of escalating instability on its borders with Nigeria, Chad, Libya, Burkina Faso, and Mali. The country experienced a failed coup d’etat attempt on March 31, 2021, just two days before its presidential inauguration, highlighting disunity between a section of its military and the elected Government.

Instability to any degree creates areas of increased opportunity and motive for insurgent/terrorist networks, which inevitably leads to an increase in violence and affects the safety and security of individuals and businesses alike. Corruption remains at the heart of it all, having the greatest influence and can be observed in every nook and corner of the African political climate. As a result, the government has been unable to effectively implement a Whole Security Approach, which includes the cooperation of the government, the people, and private institutions aimed at addressing basic and dynamic human security concerns

The Sahel governments’ lack of foresight on human security, as well as their weak implementation of the Whole-of-Society Approach, continue to stymie attempts to reduce insecurity. While discussing “Whole-of-Society Approach to End Separatist Agitation In Nigeria,Major General Garba Wahab (Rtd), Director General, Nigerian Army Resource Centre (NARC) Abuja, highlights that failure to address “root level” issues that are critical in dealing with such complex types of conflict will unequivocally result in the intensification of the conflict. As seen in the Sahel, these conflicts aren’t static, causing them to spread and widen the area of instability Southbound into latent/active conflict in West African states such as Nigeria, as well as latent conflict in littoral nations.

According to a scholar, former lawmaker and seasoned diplomat with extensive experience in Diplomacy and Counter-terrorism, Aliyu Ibrahim Gebi in a Twitter post-dated 8 August, while commenting on solutions to sectarian violence in Nigeria, he asserted that; “there needs to be a truth and reconciliation process to de-weaponize the current state, address traditional grievances and a deliberate consistent Govt policy to reintegrate an otherwise totally segregated society based on ethnoreligious sentimentalities.” The relevance of his statement remains unequivocally relevant to solution-based approaches to dealing with the plethora of tension across the Sahel. Unless and until these critical “traditional grievances” are identified and addressed, there will undoubtedly be instability in the Sahel and the expansion of violence farther into the West African Region and its littoral parts.