What will happen when Putin signs an alliance with the little green men?
There is a danger greater than Putin, greater even than Trump—it is aliens, those that in our childhood we knew as Martians. The Yankee establishment seems very interested in drawing the attention of the American public to non-human technologies and extraterrestrial threats, which seem as problematic to demonstrate as the climate apocalypse. The Pentagon declassifies files with a transparency that would delight the late Dr. Jiménez del Oso. Those who once laughed at UFOs now seem to be convinced that we already have them here. The viewer cannot believe his eyes, while the shadow of a mothership looms over the defenseless United States: What will happen if Putin signs an alliance with the little green men? We can imagine panic on the West Coast, chaos in Washington and desperation in London: Putin is going to enter Paris, escorted by scaly Cossacks.
Such a threat to national security well deserves an increase in the Defense budget, two, three, four, five, as many times as necessary to provide us with the reverse technology that will allow us to overcome the challenge posed at Roswell. Soon, without a doubt, we will see the autopsies of the big-headed Martians who crashed their saucer after a reckless maneuver. And the public will swallow the millstone and cry out for the Military-Industrial Complex to defend them from the legions of Ummo or Ganymede. If intellectual and scientific credit is given to the girl Greta, why not give it to the abductees? At least these have been through a psychiatrist.
Popular Revolutions in Black Africa
Further down, a few thousand kilometers away from this decomposing Spain, in that Africa which we care so little about and from which so many problems come and will come to us, the wrongly labelled “European” Union is witnessing the volatilization of its influence in the Sahel, because of Russia, according to the press addicted to the Regime? Of course, since Putin replaced the coronavirus, all the evils of humanity come from Moscow.
However, the African military leaders who have taken power in recent years in Mali (2021), Burkina-Faso (2022), Guinea (2021) and this year in Niger have not resorted to the Wagner coup d’état, unlike in the past with French paratroopers and mercenaries hired by Paris. They have been military and popular coups that were fueled by France itself, a mere executor of the policies of the American Africom. After the overthrow of the Libyan state in 2011, the jihadists have found a terrestrial paradise in the lands of Fezzan and from there have intervened in Niger and Mali. France orchestrated two interventions to halt the march of the Tuareg fundamentalists on the Sahelian space, but soon discovered that it was much more practical to appease the Salafists in order to maintain their influence in Africa. The military of these countries began to see from their sad experience that the French services always had time to warn the members of the Islamic State of government attacks, in time for them to get their Qatari instructors to safety, for example. Meanwhile, and taking advantage of the occasion, Nigerian uranium was transported to France at ridiculous prices. Somehow the “protection” had to be paid for.
The Sahelian coups are true popular revolutions, like the Egyptian one of 1952, and which have been greeted with enormous popular support. Russian flags and portraits of Putin are more an expression of rejection of French (and European) perfidy than anything else. Macron, completely overwhelmed by his African debacle, has urged a military intervention by ECOWAS (a sort of African NATO) in Niger, as this country provides more than thirty percent of France’s nuclear fuel. However, knowing the internal rejection that an intervention by the sepoys would bring to their regimes, the governments of the zone refuse to move their forces. The United States, that faithful ally of Europe, has already negotiated on its own with Niger and has left Macron and dressed up and nowhere to go, as our grandmothers used to say. It was not for nothing that it was Victoria Nuland—she of F**k Europe!—who was in charge of negotiating the new state of affairs with Niger’s leaders. In case anyone thinks that this does not affect them, they should check their electricity bill in the coming months. France is the powerhouse of Europe.
Nor does it seem to be news that a good part of the weapons destined for Ukraine by NATO are turning up in Africa, where a certain power, very concerned about gender identity, climate change and aliens, is training its jihadist partners for a future pan-African war. Apparently, they can’t find a better way to end the growing influence of China and Russia on that continent. The Sahel and the Caucasus seem to be the next theater of global warfare. And we are not talking about aliens here, but surely the well-informed viewer, who knows where the star Sirius is and also knows that there are sixty genders, has no idea what Nagorno-Karabakh is or who the members of Boko-Haram are. He will find out eventually. And at his own expense.
Sertorio lives, writes and thinks in Spain. this review comes through the kind courtesy of El Manifiesto.
Featured: “Watching From Mars,” number 13, from the Mars Attacks! trading card series (1962). Drawings by Wally Wood, painted by Norman Saunders.
Numerous setbacks, criticisms and scandals have haunted and continue to haunt the coalition government, led by Pedro Sanchez, which currently aspires to extend its mandate for another four years. Undoubtedly, one of the most prominent chapters of this government centers on the Western Sahara issue. The decision taken by Sanchez in March 2022 stands as the epicenter of a political earthquake that has left its footprints in the middle of the Sahrawi desert.
In the 1970s, Spain surprisingly opted to abandon what was until then known as its fifty-third province, the Spanish Sahara. This move also implied disengaging from its commitments to the Sahrawi population and to international legality, which expected the Spanish state to lead an organized decolonization process, culminating in the declaration of independence of Western Sahara. Instead, however, Spain was forced to hand over that rich territory to an expansion-hungry Morocco, which used its usual tactics of pressure, blackmail and machinations, with the collaboration of the United States and France, to prevent decolonization from taking place.
From Spain, it was argued that this shameful abandonment of the Sahrawi people was due to a complicated period in the country’s history, with Franco’s agony and an uncertain future. In that context, yielding to the blackmail of King Hassan II and his allies seemed almost inevitable, as advantage was taken of the moment of weakness and uncertainty in Spain. This explanation, to some extent, may have some merit. However, what is completely incomprehensible is the position taken by the President of the self-styled “most progressive government in history,” Pedro Sanchez, who publicly endorsed, in March 2022, the idea that the Western Sahara should become an autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. This position justifies and supports an occupation that has been labeled illegal by all international courts and bodies. It is a new betrayal of the Sahrawi people, who have seen Spain abandon them once again.
Beyond the opinions and personal views that I may have as a Sahrawi, it is undeniable that if we evaluate the situation from an impartial perspective and considering the strategic and geopolitical interests at stake, Sanchez’s decision not only represents a betrayal to the Sahrawi people, but also to the Spanish people. This is because it clearly fuels Moroccan expansionism, which constitutes a continuous threat to the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla. At times, Morocco even claims the Canary Islands and their maritime space as part of its territory. This represents a clear danger to the integrity of the Kingdom of Spain.
José Manuel Albares, who holds the highest responsibility in the Spanish government’s foreign policy, has made it clear that his main duty and priority is to serve his monarch and master, His Majesty Mohammed VI. This loyalty persists, even when it is known that the Moroccan intelligence services spied on half of the Spanish government using Pegasus software. It persists, despite the serious consequences derived from the immigration that Morocco constantly directs towards the Spanish coasts. It persists, despite the contempt and humiliation on the part of a monarch who did not even bother to receive the Spanish President in what was announced as the most important Spain-Morocco summit in many years. Nothing seems to disturb or modify Albares’ loyalty towards Morocco.
This murky relationship raises many questions, not only about Minister Albares’ relationship with Morocco, but also about the PSOE and its continued submission to Rabat, a submission that seems to lack all logic. If it is necessary to break with Algeria, it is broken. If it is necessary to buy more gas from Russia, it is bought. If it is necessary to sell to the Sahrawis, it is sold. If it is necessary to remain silent and accept humiliation, one remains silent and accepts it. “If you have to swallow toads, you swallow them,” as the socialist López Aguilar said. But what if it is a question of handing over Ceuta and Melilla, will they be handed over? It is clear that when it comes to the PSOE and Morocco, anything is possible; anything Morocco wishes.
What every Spanish citizen should keep in mind is that problems with Morocco will always be a constant on the agenda. The cession, submission and friendly approach towards the Rabat regime only strengthen its hostile positions against Spain, and sooner or later this could explode in the form of a diplomatic crisis, migratory waves or territorial disputes. If Spain really wants to safeguard its geostrategic interests and protect its territories from the Moroccan expansionist threat, it must start implementing a firmer policy towards Morocco immediately. It must be uncompromising and play its cards on the complex geopolitical chessboard, seeking an alliance with Algeria and supporting an independent Sahrawi Republic. Such an alliance could mark the beginning of the end of the Moroccan regime, which poses a constant threat to all its neighbors.
Taleb Alisalem was born in the Sahrawi refugee camps and grew up in Spain. He trained in International Cooperation and Development Aid at The Open University. He is a prominent political activist and analyst who specializes in the Western Sahara, the Middle East as well as African issues. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.
The decomposition (or re-composition) of the international community always follows new paths and not all of them are coherent and/or (still) clear. It is a matter of fact that various actors, whose capabilities and reliability (and their own stability) are not yet known, appear on the scene and bring new elements to specific areas. One of these is Africa, where those of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ reappear in new terms, a phase which for about eighty years, approximately 1830 and 1911, saw the powers, all European, compete to grab territories and wealth of that continent.
While much is known (or assumed to know) about the ambitions of Russia, China, but also about the aspirations and ambitions of France, USA, Turkey, India, EU and others, little is known about those of the Gulf nations. These, within the multiple area of the Arab-Islamic world, due to peculiar circumstances, starting with the enormous financial resources, represent a world apart from that jagged community that goes from the Atlantic to Mesopotamia.Till now deployed in the so-called Western world, these nations have been trying for some time to find an autonomous way from the cumbersome partnership with the USA and Europe, also trying to increase their influence in Africa and also placing themselves in competition with Washington and Brussels. This analysis refers more to the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) than to the organization as such, which beyond the sumptuous and unrealistic meetings, is little more than a box of fictional cigarettes “Morley.”
Historically, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have had the most interactions with sub-Saharan Africa (defined as those areas of the continent south of the Arabic-speaking North African states located on the Mediterranean) while Bahrain has the least of all. Oman has historical ties to the east coast of Africa, while Qatar has become more active on the continent especially since its rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the UAE heated up in 2017, due to the military ties of the Qatar with Turkey, too much lining with Iran and Islamist terrorist organizations. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE became active on the African continent during the 1970s, particularly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when many African countries severed diplomatic ties with Israel due to the arrival of Israeli troops across the Suez Canal.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE launched development aid policies in Africa and even worked towards the same purpose as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the continent, where he had big plans, when the activities were aimed at garnering support for the Arab world in its conflict against Israel. Since then, investment and trade policies, as well as countering the activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Africa, have become more important to Saudi Arabia and, in more recent years, the UAE and Qatar rival the Saudis in these efforts and in considering Turkey and Iran as direct rivals for influence on the African continent, despite an (apparent) improvement in relations.
In the last fifteen years, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have strengthened economic and security ties with the African continent, primarily in the Horn of Africa region and progressively extending them towards sub-Saharan Africa. Saudis, Qataris, Emirates are working in this region with the aim of building the status of their international status by acting as protagonists in the affairs and conflicts of the continent, but it is essential to underline this not in the framework of cooperation between them, rather of more or less open rivalry and the understandings that have been registered are due to tactical necessity, as in the case of Sudan. As mentioned above, although Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have a tradition of contacts with African realities, the 2007 global financial crisis was the booster to redirect their investments towards Africa. As Western economies slow down, rapidly growing African economies have become attractive bait.
The Gulf monarchies, always in competition and never in solidarity, have strengthened their strategies of economic diversification and reduction of dependence on hydrocarbons by investing in African markets, especially when oil prices collapsed in 2014. The Gulf companies’ experience in the energy sector makes them particularly attractive to African states seeking to develop their energy industries. Furthermore, the ability of these Arab countries to carry out large-scale infrastructure projects is also a powerful attraction for African states, always in search of rapidly developing. The common religious heritage has also favored the strengthening of ties.
When Western economies went into crisis, some African leaders asked the Gulf monarchies for economic help, and they did so by appealing to their religious ties. The expansion of development aid on the continent also serves to strengthen their reputation among African Muslims, while promoting their own economic interests. As their economic interests in Africa have grown, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have also expanded their military presence, primarily in the neighboring Horn of Africa.
Indeed, in addition to supporting anti-piracy efforts in Somali waters, they boosted their military capabilities by building their first bases in the Horn of Africa. The trigger element in this case was participation in the war in Yemen, a particularly significant nation in the context of the new global order, in which maritime traffic is strategic and from where maritime traffic to and from the Red Sea, the Suez Canal (and, consequently, the Mediterranean), and the Arabian Sea can be controlled. It is also the Asian guardian of the Bab el Mandeb Strait. In both sections of the strait, between Yemen’s Perim Island and the port of Djibouti, as well as between Yemen’s Hanish Islands and the Eritrean strip of islands, it is less than 10 miles wide. This implies that maritime traffic through the strait can be easily controlled (and/or threatened).
In the case of the Emiratis and the Saudis, despite their substantial differences and oppositions, they have also intensified military cooperation with the aim of playing a leading role in international operations to combat terrorism in the Sahel. In this sense, the Islamic Military Coalition against Terrorism (IMCTC) was launched in 2015 under Saudi patronage. This platform has greatly enhanced military cooperation and intelligence sharing between Gulf monarchies and African states. In this context, Saudi Arabia and the UAE contributed $100 million and $30 million respectively to the multinational G5Sahel force in 2017. In recent years, the Gulf countries have opened dozens of embassies in sub-Saharan Africa and have intervened diplomatically in African conflicts with the aim of increasing their international prestige. The most recent is Sudan, where once again Saudi Arabia and the UAE support each of the warring factions, not to mention Libya, where the UAE openly supports the de facto government of Cyrenaica.
The perception of the uncertainties and weaknesses of US policies from the continent partly motivated these interventions. With Washington in an unclear position, the Arab monarchies seem determined to find a space. What appears different in the action of these nations is the availability to complete the peace agreements with important economic incentives, while other ‘honest brokers’ have failed, also because they did not have the availability/or the will (or the souk mentality, more openly) as in the case of the 2018 Jeddah Peace Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, sponsored by the Saudis and the Emirates and accompanied by investment promises. There is a line of thought which sees positively that diplomacy is also based on the principle of peace for money. In fact, without funds, in the aforementioned case, peace would have been impossible and that its fragility lies precisely in this condition. In the case of the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, in addition to the economic opening to the interests of the Gulf, there is, among other things, the construction of an oil pipeline between the two countries by the UAE and a railway that connects the ‘Ethiopia with the port of Assab in Eritrea. It should also be noted that since 2021, the emirate of Abu Dhabi has been working as a mediator in the dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the partition of the Nile River.
In the case of the crisis still afflicting Sudan, when it exploded closer to General Abdel Fattah al Burhan (while the UAE is openly supportive of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, “Hemeti” commander of the former Janjaweed), Saudi Arabia, together with the USA, he launched a diplomatic initiative by bringing together the representatives of the two opposing groups in Jeddah, even if without results. It also participated in the evacuation of foreign civilians on its ships by disembarking them at its bases on the eastern coast of the Red Sea.
With the ascension of Mohamed bin Salman to crown prince and actually ruler of the country, Saudi politics is undergoing a gradual transformation, not only in foreign policy but also in issues that seemed untouchable, such as individual freedoms and the rights of women and an initial opening to tourism. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, until recently Saudi Arabia had not had a specific, coherent and long-term projected foreign policy, other than the promotion, dating back to the 1960s, of the Wahabi rite among the Islamic populations of the continent and this with the aim of sabotaging the Nasserian, secular and socialist propaganda. But for about ten years, the instability of Yemen and Sudan, the fragility of Egypt have been the drivers of Riyadh’s new approach and dynamism. In this, profound differences emerge with the approach and perception (and therefore in the modus operandi) of Saudi Arabia, compared to that of its major competitors UAE and Qatar and geographical issues are prevalent.
Against the background of the war in Yemen, currently in a situation of fragile ceasefire, the Horn of Africa region has assumed an exceptional geostrategic relevance for Saudi Arabia, since the countries of this area have become an important element for the security of Riyadh, which has also maintained links of a historical nature with that region. The strategic uncertainties of Washington which, having achieved energy autonomy, has a less strong interest in the events of the region, leave a gap and Saudi Arabia has found itself forced to adopt a different approach in the Horn of ‘Africa (and on the continent) to protect their national interests.
Unlike the UAE and Qatar, Saudi Arabia is geographically close to the Horn and directly overlooks the Red Sea and any instability phenomenon in those areas can impact the security of Riyadh which must act with greater caution. Riyadh sees a link between Yemen and the Horn of Africa and since it launched military operations against the Houthis in March 2015 the importance of the region for Saudi national security is central. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has lobbied the various governments of the Horn countries to forge an alliance and join the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen. Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia then joined the Saudi Arabian-led military axis, sending contingents of infantry (which lacks Riyadh’s ground force structure) albeit intermittently. Obviously, this contribution has been generously compensated, as in the case of Sudan.
The priority in Saudi regional policy is the resolution of the conflict in Yemen, as this has become an economic and security disaster for Riyadh in recent years. The recent improved contacts with Iran, although still in their infancy, are a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s political will to diplomatically overcome this conflict, since a military solution has become unlikely. But the conflict with the Houtis is not the only source of concern for Saudi Arabia regarding the overall security of the area between the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa.
There are flows of irregular migrants, smuggling and drug trafficking, illegal fishing and piracy and Riyadh, in 2016, signed an agreement with Djibouti to build a military base and to strengthen the control of maritime and oil traffic to and from the Red Sea, which however weakened when the UAE took control, not agreed with the Yemeni authorities, of the island of Socotra and subsequently of other islets of that archipelago. Like the UAE, given the same geographical and meteorological situation, Saudi Arabia also aims at massive purchases of land for agricultural use, both in the Horn of Africa and in other parts of the African continent, in light of the expected population growth.
The tool of the Saudi penetration and influence policy is the Saudi Development Fund, a gigantic institution which finances almost everything and which has made over 4 billion euros available for Africa alone (almost half of which, however, goes to Egypt) but the Maghreb states (Morocco and Mauritania) and the Horn of Africa and East Africa stand out which also records significant losses, ultimately representing a political problem for Riyadh’s expansion projects as with financial support and humanitarian aid, Saudi leaders seek to forge political alliances, presenting themselves as reliable guarantors of support for development policy and as generous partners and donors.
In its policy of building an overall security framework, Riyadh is also interested in membership and the creation of multilateral forums. An example of this policy is the Council of Arab and African States Bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (known as the Red Sea Council). It originated in January 2020 on a Saudi initiative and includes Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. The goal of this association is to improve trade and safety along this waterway, through which approximately 13 percent of world trade flows. The forum has so far failed to achieve significant results, but it serves as a platform for the Saudis to pursue common security interests, cultivate regional loyalties and solidify anti-Iranian ties.
Finally, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia does not enjoy a dominant role as a creator of maritime networks and depends in part on the infrastructure of the UAE and in the meantime pushes hard for the strengthening of its naval forces. However, Riyadh plans to invest more in the logistics sector, especially in the Horn of Africa, with the aim of lightening its dependence on the UAE and also to be able to compete with China in the region, in fact for Beijing the Horn of Africa is a strategic center of the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), which has a military base in Djibouti and major interests in Kenya.
Over the past two decades, Qatar has become a major international player due to its position as the world’s leading producer of liquefied natural gas. Its reserves, the third largest in the world after Russia and Iran, have made it possible for its rapid economic take-off. But Qatar is not satisfied with the status of energy power and from a geopolitical point of view it seeks to emerge as a regional power and above all to escape Saudi hegemony and rivalry with the UAE. It is precisely these parameters, i.e., the search for strategic independence, that Qatar has launched into an unscrupulous foreign policy, dissociating itself as much as possible from Saudi initiatives, as in Yemen, from whose anti-Houti stance Doha emerged in 2017, making public its distance from Saudi Arabia, approaching Turkey (and hosting important military installations or, still being not very hostile towards Iran and developing mediation initiatives such as sending interposition forces to patrol a disputed area between Eritrea and Djibouti, later withdrawn due to the alignment of these two states with Saudi Arabia and against Qatar itself.
In addition, Qatar uses the financial instrument of the Qatar Investment Authority, which together with Qatar Airways, Al Jazeera are important influence drivers, however Qatar’s diplomatic action in Africa, such as the opening of embassies (Qatar has opened more embassies in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years than any other state except Turkey) and the promotion of negotiations collides with the problem of the numerical and qualitative insufficiency of personnel (not yet sufficiently experienced), as in the cases of the negotiations between Eritrea and Sudan, Chad and Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti (all with poor results also for the Saudi influence which led all these countries to side with Riyadh).
But Somalia (together with Libya) remains one of the pillars of diplomatic action, and not only, of Qatar in Africa. While relations with the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania) are ancient and consolidated with sub-Saharan Africa, with the notable exceptions of Sudan and Eritrea, they are recent and in the process of further development, primarily with hydrocarbon producing nations such as Nigeria and Congo or solid economic realities like South Africa. In the area of food security, like its neighbors, Qatar is heavily dependent on food imports and has developed large agribusiness programs both in the Horn and in East Africa. As a provider of official development aid, the sub-Saharan African countries from which Qatar has benefited the most are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Guinea, Mozambique, Congo, Senegal, Comoros and Djibouti.
Qatar has had a very significant influence on conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq or recently Afghanistan, hosting talks and negotiations. All this has meant that the Qataris have become attractive and, despite a normalization with its regional competitors, the differences remain and can arise again. The Qataris maintain important discrepancies with the Saudis and the Emiratis. One of the main reasons is the rapprochement of the former with political Islam in general and with the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. The Saudis and UAE, for their part, believe that this group intends to destabilize the established order in the region. In the scenarios shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings, Saudi Arabia and Qatar found themselves supporting opposing or competing factions, and the UAE sided with the Saudis (at least in this one) and the pressure on Qatar increased. Thus, in June 2017 there was a diplomatic crisis: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan severed their diplomatic relations with Qatar, which they accused of interfering in their internal politics and supporting terrorist groups (actually Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood is anything but ideological but instrumental, given the objective of subverting the models of these states, all close to Riyadh).
The closure of the borders and the restrictions on air and sea traffic have caused a crisis in Qatar which has also affected the food supply. Iran and Turkey have supported Qatar, creating a worrying system of alliances and hostilities that has led to an imbalance in the region’s already complicated set-up. Thus, Qatar began to build a progressive rapprochement with Turkey, one of the main contestants of Saudi Arabia’s attempts to affirm its regional leadership, and with Iran, (at the time) the main enemy of the Saudis. This rivalry has transferred to the neighboring Horn of Africa; Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somaliland have been closer to Saudi Arabia and the UAE during the 2017 diplomatic crisis, while Somalia has adopted a neutral stance not to put its good economic relations with Qatar and Turkey are in danger. During the four years that the blockade has been in place, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have obtained lukewarm support in African countries (certainly not in proportion to the aid given by Riyadh and Dubai) and the choice of neutrality has been seen as a support of made of Qatar.
In the highly sensitive Somalia, the rivalry between Qatar and the UAE negatively impacted the already difficult relations between Mogadishu and the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland due to the growing economic and military presence of the UAE in those de facto independent regions, and which Somalia is trying to reabsorb in the federal structure. In any case, the rapprochement between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in January 2021, which triggered the end of the blockade and the return to diplomatic relations, has allowed African countries to improve relations with both sides and rescue them from the unpleasant situation of having to choose between two (actually) lines of funding (as was the case in Morocco).
United Arab Emirates
The will to develop a real African policy was initiated by the UAE after the 2008 financial crisis, decided to refocus your international investment strategy. The push has been such that several Western companies, already operating in Dubai, have reconfirmed it as a base from which to operate in African countries due to the advantageous tax conditions and direct connections with the main African capitals. Furthermore, Dubai has attracted a growing number of African businessmen, who have chosen this emirate as their base for investment. The number of African companies registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Investments has increased exponentially in the last decade and the UAE is firmly betting on Angola, a fast-growing country as a hub for continental expansion.
However, alongside economic interests, the UAE has important security drivers, such as the fight against religious extremism in particular that carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood galaxy. The widespread instability in the Middle East – the rise of the Islamic State, the collapse of Libya, the conflict in Syria, the never-ending crisis of Lebanon and Iraq, the ever-shaky Egypt and the growing influence of Iran (and the related Yemeni problems) has sparked paranoid fears in Gulf nation leaderships, but the threat from groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is considered existential, also have a presence, albeit limited, within the Emirates. Its rise alarmed UAE leaders, especially as conflicts in the Arab world seemed increasingly intertwined, with events in one country spilling over into others.
The UAE has implemented with many African countries what some have called its “Egyptian model” diplomatic, military and financial support to stable political actors who are seen as the most capable of containing Islamist movements. This is how it acted, as well as in Egypt, in Yemen and Sudan. In this sense, the UAE conditions its development aid and investments on the African authorities showing support for their strategic orientations, i.e. adhering to their agenda against political Islamism. The UAE is the fourth largest investor country on the African continent globally — after China, the United States and France — and the largest overall among the Gulf states. Between 2016 and 2021, the UAE invested approximately $1.2 billion in sub-Saharan Africa and is among the continent’s top ten importers of goods and commodities. Non-oil trade between the UAE and Africa is estimated at $25 billion a year. In the last fifteen years the volume of trade between the UAE and the African continent of products other than hydrocarbons has grown by 700 percent.
Investments from the Emirates are directed towards telecommunications, energy, mining (gold and coltan) agriculture, port infrastructures, where the presence of Dubai Ports (DP) stands out, currently managing some of the most important port terminals in sub-Saharan Africa: Dakar (Senegal), Berbera (Somalia), Maputo (Mozambique) and Luanda (Angola), Bosaso (Puntland [Somalia). In Djibouti, DP also managed the port of Doraleh until the contract was terminated by the local government in 2018. DP has also obtained a concession for the construction of a logistics center in Kigali (Rwanda) In addition, new projects are being negotiated in Sudan and Madagascar For its part, Abu Dhabi Ports manages the port of Kamsar (Guinea) Port investments and agricultural land acquisition are part of the food security strategy, as the UAE imports 90 percent of domestic consumption.
As with Saudi Arabia, the conflict in Yemen has made the Horn of Africa region the main strategic area where the UAE has deployed its own military mission, whose performance has solidified the myth (much mythologized, indeed, even due to the poor results obtained by the Saudi forces) of the ‘little Sparta of the Middle East’. At the outset of the conflict in Yemen, the UAE was alarmed by the advance of Houthi rebels near the Bab Al Mandeb Strait, as the possibility arose that an Iranian allied group would control that vital trading point of the Emirates. But in addition to the aforementioned Angola, the UAE is also extending its presence in West Africa, and in the Sahel: in Senegal and Guinea, as already mentioned, they manage port infrastructures in Dakar or Kamsar; in Morocco, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Burkina Faso investments were made in civil and military infrastructure. In their strategy to fight Islamist forces and financing of the G5 Sahel and there are signs for further expansion and penetrations in coastal areas of Atlantic Africa. Conclusions
The expansion of existing rivalries in the Gulf to the Horn of Africa, where there are already many, is not a good thing and risks spreading to the rest of the continent, as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar progressively consolidate their presence. In this scenario, the rivalries between these actors will be more heated in the belt that goes from Egypt to the Horn of Africa, where the control of the security and navigation of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is fundamental internal stability, commercial interests and their food security, and this is only possible if there is a presence on both sides.
The Euro-Atlantic economic and security system, which can be summarized with the EU and NATO, also looks towards the southern shore of the Mediterranean. These two organizations have gradually expanded their cooperations with the nations bordering the Mediterranean coast, establishing different architectures and programs of dialogue, economic and security cooperation.
For the EU the ENP (European Neighbourhood Policy) developed since 2004 is geared immediate neighbours both to the east (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and to the south (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Tunisia). As of 28 June 2021, Belarus has suspended its membership in the Eastern Partnership. Libya and Syria currently do not fully participate in the ENP. NATO established the Mediterranean Dialogue was launched in 1994 and include Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt (it includes also Israel, Jordan and for Libya there is the open door, if it wants to join).
However, the progressive extension and worsening of the political, economic, social and security situation in the nations south of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, and for the same countries on the southern coast obliged these two organizations to enlarge their attention to an important and large part of the African continent.
The “near abroad” concept and vision for EU and NATO, consequently expanded from Maghreb to its neighbouring region, Sahel. Both are affected by a grid of problems, fractures and opportunities and it is an obliged choice, a painful necessity in order to reduce potential damages.
The Maghreb (in Arabic, “the West”) is a geographical and political region that includes five countries: Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco Mauritania, and the disputed territory of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. The Sahel (“the edge” or “the limit”) is a geographical region that extends south of the Sahara Desert, through ten countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both spaces add up to almost 9 million square kilometers, more than twice the size of the EU. This are count more than 550 million inhabitants with a 3% of birthrate. In its social structure, with different intensities, the concept of tribe or ethnic group still prevails. The majority religion is Islam, which in some countries coexists with animistic practices.
In these regions there are failed States, such as Libya, and others are marked by internal conflict, such as Tunisia; there is regional rivalry between countries, both from the political and diplomatic point of view as well as security (Morocco and Algeria); in other territories the presence of terrorist organizations is stable (Mali or Nigeria) or there is political instability (Burkina, Niger or Mali); certain nations suffer almost endemic famines (Sudan, Eritrea or Ethiopia); some countries are places of transit or origin of irregular immigration flows to Europe (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali or Niger). And in all of them, the democratic standards, to a greater or lesser extent, are lower from Western standards. Many of these nations have natural resources that should favor their economic development and are of special interest for Western industry and economy. The risks and threats related to this area of the planet are a recurring object of interest in successive national security strategies, as well as for NATO and EU.
In this enormous region, terrorist activity with a jihadist ideology is together with other instability elements such as illicit trafficking, political instability, famine, forced displacement of the population, irregular immigration networks and poor and weak governance. In the dynamics of jihadist terrorism, it is a constant to use regional conflicts as training grounds for future terrorists who will end up acting in Western countries. These groups spread their propaganda through social networks to ideologize people who finally join the jihad in conflict zones or in the Western countries where they reside after legal and/or illegal migration. In the region there are economic resources of interest but physical and legal insecurity hinders legitimate business activity in the region.
Currently, the Sahel countries with the highest terrorist activity are Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Mali has more than 1.2 million square kilometers and a very low population density. The country and the populations in the north and south show notable differences both ethnically and culturally. As a result of the agreements of the Berlin Conference of 1884, artificial borders were imposed in Africa that separated ethnic groups and cultures, a process that also affected Mali. Traditionally the population of northern Mali (Arabs) has not felt identified with the policies of the Government of Bamako (Black dominated). The fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya triggered the return of numerous Tuareg fighters to the north of Mali and the reactivation of initiatives to advance towards the independence of the northern regions gathered around the self-proclaimed state of Azawad. The Malian forces where not in condition to control the situation and the area of fighting was used by jihadist armed groups to occupy part of the territory. The Bamako government’s inability to control the country led it to request international aid. In January 2013, the “Serval” operation began—led by France—, which in July 2014 was renamed “Barkhane,” extended to Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and concluded at the end of 2022. In 2013 the EU launched a military training mission for the Malian forces called EUTM-Mali, which would end in 2024, and two civilian missions, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger, whose mandates will end in January 2025 and September 2024 respectively, and giving the strong hostility of Bamako, the first one is probable that will be not renewed. For its part, the UNSC approved by Resolution 2100 of April 25, 2013, the establishment of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), a peace enforcement mission that had aims to pacify northern Mali and is concluded, on the request of Mali (and the withdrawal of the “blue helmets” is ongoing and it would be completed at the end of this year). All these efforts did not overcome the threat, which at the contrary licked to Niger and Burkina Faso. After the last military coup in Mali, on May 24, 2021, social and government rejection of Western troops—especially French ones— has increased. The final thing is that all the international presence is on the way to leave the country and the current government is relying on the mercenaries of the Russian company Wagner to combat terrorist groups and the anti-Western feeling spread in Burkina Faso. While the Tuareg groups maintain an agreement, certainly precarious, with the Government, while the jihadist-based armed groups have been congregating around two major groups: the Support Group for Islam and Muslims and the Islamic State for the Greater Sahara, which count on several thousand militants with the capacity to occupy territory and control the population through terror. Attacks on humanitarian aid convoys or MINUSMA columns and bases are frequent. The first and most obvious consequence of terrorist activity, not only in Mali, is the growing IDPs both to safer areas of the country and to Mauritania and Senegal, where these refugees live precarious life.
Irregular immigration is another of the risk factors that can affect the security side. This is not necessarily caused by immigrants, but by organizations that stimulate and control illegal trafficking: specialized structures, linked to other criminal traffic, that obtain great benefits and disregard the risk of losing their lives to which they expose immigrants. Irregular immigration can entail other risks —such as the increase in social unrest as a consequence of massive arrivals—which is why it is a phenomenon that can be easily used as an instrument of political pressure, like it was done by Morocco against Spain in occasion of the hospitalization in that country of the leader of the independentist movement of Western Sahara, POLISARIO in May 2021. And, in some cases, it constitutes the gateway to Europe for jihadist terrorists.
Down to Maghreb, as above mentioned, there is Sahel; this area includes countries with important differences in their economic structure and natural resources. However, they are all among the LDCs. The region has been facing multiple challenges for years —such as political instability and insecurity—, added to the economic and health crisis caused by COVID-19 and the increase in energy and food prices, a consequence of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
In the case of countries in which around 80% of the population depends on agriculture and livestock —with the exception of Nigeria—and where the primary sector represents between 20 and 45% of the GDP, the climatic conditions and the expanding desertification, are factors which challenge any option for growth. Some of these territories are rich in natural resources, including the rare earths. This is the case of Chad, where more than 90% of exports are fuel, rare hearts and precious metals, or Niger, where 80% of exports, directed to France and the UAE, are concentrated in uranium—Niger is the third world exporter of this mineral. The case of Ethiopia is significant: it has significant gold and tantalum reserves. Despite its natural wealth, as general view, the benefit obtained affects the governing leadership, linked in some cases to foreign interests, and the population does not get an improvement in their income.
On the other hand, the industrial sector is very limited, mainly linked to agri-food sub sector, with a low demand for labor with the notable exception of Nigeria’s petrochemical industry in consideration that the country is the largest producer in Africa, representing the 80% of the national export (as comparison, in Chad, income from the exploitation of natural resources constitutes almost 22% of GDP; however, the oil sector generates 80% of these incomes).
The services sector presents various degrees of development in the Sahel, with the exception of Nigeria and Senegal (for this country is tourism the leading subsector).
Trade relations are concentrated in the export of hydrocarbon (oil and gas), rare hearts stones and metals (particularly gold). In addition to commercial exchanges between neighbors, the relations that the Sahel countries maintain with China, India, US, Switzerland, UAE and EU (particularly with France, Belgium and Spain). However, there are important barriers that hinder the arrival of investors: insecurity, legal and tariff obstacles, high installation costs caused by the enormous expenses in electricity and protectionism against imports.
The region’s population structure is typical of developing countries: due to the high birth rate and low life expectancy, there is a high percentage of young people.
Undoubtedly, a characteristic common to the countries that make up this geographical area is the situation of poverty in which a large part of the population lives. In the Sahel, between 30 and 40% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Extreme poverty is especially concentrated in rural areas, where the population depends on agricultural or livestock production, subject to climatic fluctuations. The percentage of the population living in rural areas is especially high in countries such as Chad (77%) or Mali (53%), which explains the significant economic dependence on the primary sector and the difficult access to basic services, such as education or health, a situation that leads to high levels of illiteracy and high mortality rates.
In addition to the problems mentioned, there is increasing demographic pressure on certain areas of the region, caused by internal displacements caused mainly by armed conflicts.
The Maghreb occupies an extensive area that includes densely populated coastlines and desert and unpopulated areas that end up bordering on the Sahel. This circumstance produces a double territorial imbalance —between the coast and the interior and between the countryside and the city— which has triggered an exodus to the cities, whose services have been overwhelmed and suffering. The main industrial and agricultural activity in the Maghreb is located in the coastal areas; it is complemented by an important mining and hydrocarbon activity in a large part of the territory. These factors encourage the Maghreb to have a GDP per capita of more than $3,000. Mauritania with $1,700 euros it remains more closer to Sahel. However, GDP growth has been irregular, not sustained and insufficient to generate the resources required by demographic pressure. However, it remains higher than Sahel.
The economies of the Maghreb are based on three pillars: the agri-food sector, the export of manufactures and a significant contribution from hydrocarbons and minerals. In the agricultural model, modern agriculture, for export, focused on Mediterranean products (fruit, olive oil, vegetables), and traditional agriculture, dedicated to cereals, converge. This sector concentrates about half of the workforce in Morocco, but only contributes between 10 and 15% of GDP, which underline a low productivity. In Tunisia, the figures are more balanced: the activity employs 16% of the labor force and accounts for a similar percentage of GDP. In the rest of the region the weight of agriculture in exports is lower.
Fishing is a fundamental sector for Mauritania, representing 10% of GDP and 35 % of its exports. For Morocco it represents 16% of exports. Both countries have very rich fishing grounds, however exposed to risks of overexploitation. Example of it is Morocco, which has already exhausted the fishing grounds in its internationally recognized sea border and the only fisheries reserves are now in the water of the disputed Western Sahara and Rabat use it as political tool with economic and political partners/customers like EU (especially Spain and Portugal), but also South Korea, Russia and China in order to legitimize his presence in the former Spanish colony.
Mainly, the industrial sector of the Maghreb has experienced growth in the north, influenced by its proximity to the EU and its low costs. In the case of Morocco and Tunisia, the protagonists have been light manufacturing; the automotive and aeronautical industry; in Algeria the steel and petrochemical industries are strong. However, the Maghreb run around the exploitation of natural resources, mainly hydrocarbons and minerals. The largest producers of oil and natural gas are Algeria (98% of export revenue) and Libya (95%). Morocco, less rich in hydrocarbons, is the world’s second largest producer of phosphates, while Algeria looks to develop the same sector and with Chinese help, the iron ore. Mauritania is hopeful that oil exploration projects will become a reality, after many promises, and iron ore now accounts for the bulk of its exports. Tunisia, despite being below its neighbors Algeria and Libya, is a producer of phosphate, iron, zinc and some oil.
The commercial activity of the Maghreb materializes fundamentally in countries of the EU; Mauritania, whose main customer is China, is the exception.
All the countries of the Maghreb and the Sahel were colonies of several European nations, but even under foreign rule existed tribes/clan dynamics which where formalized after the colonization. To this lack of political experience was added, during decolonization, artificial borders separating ethnic groups, establishing territorial units with no elements in common and the new states were unable to exercise effective control. The classic elements that make up a State—people, territory and power, governed by a legal order—have not fully articulated to ensure the necessary political stability, especially in the Sahel.
With regard to the political form of the new States, except for Morocco (even if a constitutional monarchy, the king keep an iron fist in controlling the policymaking and governance), the rest of the countries in the regions studied were constituted as French-inspired semi-presidential republics. Due to the aforementioned circumstances and the lack of stable party systems, these have frequently degenerated into personalist governments, threatened, in turn, by frequent coups, especially in the Sahel.
The wave of democratization that began in the 1990s and continued through the first decade of the 2000s gave us a glimpse of some hope, which had vanished after the failure of the so-called Arab Spring. Political fragility, corruption, the emergence of jihadism and the expansionist policies of certain countries, added to the effects of climate change, are threatening the very viability of the States of the Sahel, since without political stability robust and sustained economic growth cannot be born. Electoral systems in the Sahel area operate in a framework of political pluralism that is not guaranteed and do not generate trust among citizens. Consequently, the results are often disputed, especially when the general interest is neglected in favor of the tribal or ethnic interest. In this environment, constitutionalism becomes a purely semantic issue. European attempts to support certain governments in the Sahel so that they are able to control their security crises have not had the expected success; Support from countries with more lax democratic standards has been shown to be more effective, making available to those supported procedures that cannot be assumed by Western values.
Maghreb and Sahel are marked with a greater or lesser extent, by political and institutional instability, little chance of progress for young people, high rates of poverty, illiteracy and insecurity. All this conditions the more than uncertain future of an area besieged to a large extent by corruption, whose governments, whatever the political form of the State and the current system, lack the capacity to protect and empower their populations. The situation described generates social discontent that, on many occasions, is transformed into different forms of violence. Thus, there seems to be an obvious link between poor governance, corruption and violence, creating the potential combination for “a perfect storm.” Governance can be understood as the provision of political, social, economic and environmental goods that the citizens has the right to expect from their State, and that a State has the responsibility to provide its citizens. Poor governance manifests itself in various aspects that, broadly speaking, are shared by the least developed countries in the area:
Low economic development and extreme poverty. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) of UNDP, which includes 189 countries, those of the Sahel are at the bottom in development, with a GDP up to ten times lower than the territories of the Maghreb, which is already low, and it is estimated that at least 40% of its inhabitants live in extreme poverty, that with the endless increase of population, it will worsen the situation.
High unemployment rates and low literacy. Poor reforms are reflected in the high unemployment rates in some countries. These are very young societies, with high fertility rates and low literacy (especially in the Sahel area). The inexistence of qualified employment opportunities represents a great loss for the States, since the emigration of citizens interested in jobs of this profile prevents their contribution to national governance.
Corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, whose classification includes 180 countries and territories around the world, the public sector in the Maghreb and the Sahel is among the most corrupt on the planet. Corruption is due to political and cultural reasons and generates economic stagnation and institutional disaffection. Values such as freedom, security and transparency have not yet settled in the upper echelons of the political and military establishment.
In terms of democratic governance, there is a setback connected with high doses of institutional instability, caused by popular revolts more or less vast, as in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, or coups, as in Mali, Guinea or Burkina Faso, white coups in Chad, civil war in Libya and Ethiopia, perennial presidencies in other states. Institutional instability significantly weakens state structures and makes it difficult to implement public policies that build confidence at the internal and international level.
The extension and link between terrorism and criminality have as consequence, in some cases, of the weakness of governments and internal disagreements.
The insecurity encourages massive population movements within countries and between neighboring States and to Europe. Added to the foregoing is the socioeconomic exodus, caused by poverty and poor governance, which is precisely the reason for political instability and insecurity. These phenomena lead to hundreds of thousands of refugees, IDPs and migrants, collapsing of the already limited public services due to terrorist and criminal threats.
It is undeniable that, without skilled security forces that generate confidence among the population, progress towards economic and social development is improbable. All this generates poverty and uncertainty and encourages emigration through criminal networks in Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya to Europe.
For this, it is necessary, without a doubt, to maintain collaboration. Although it may be time to propose a new model, one that does not lose sight of the social, political and cultural reality of these countries and considers that the Western model is not welcomed and directly applicable to territories that carry a colonial past and still suffer the consequences of an unfortunate territorial division (and this is used as excuse to excite the chauvinism of the local population with the aim to consolidate the governing elites, especially now, while Russia and China take advantage of it in their confrontation with the West). Further, the emphasis of the respect of collective and individual liberties from the West it is saw with open suspicions and hostility by the region leaderships which consider these concepts as way to increase moral corruption and push for access into domestic affairs, revealing the authoritarian nature of these states.
In the field of security, it would be convenient to have a more active participation in the training of the military and security forces of the countries of the Sahel zone, (while for Maghreb this is less necessary, giving their better quality) and it would even be necessary to contemplate their accompaniment in the fight against terrorist and insurgent groups, assuming the possible risk of their own casualties. The training and provision of new skills must be accompanied by a program to monitor their effective and adequate use and their correct maintenance through a calendar of targets, conditional on meeting previously defined objectives and accepted by both local governments and by the Union or the participating Member States.
In the economic and social field, it seems necessary to create the bases to achieve sustained development, which fosters the conditions so that the population —especially young people—, mostly settled in rural areas, does not consider emigration as the only possible solution to their situation of extreme poverty. In this sense, cooperation programs could be launched aimed at modernizing agricultural and livestock production systems, improving the supply of products or developing value chains and promoting an incipient auxiliary and transformation industry linked to said production. To this end, together with international cooperation, duly coordinated with actions in other areas, the use of other types of financing should be promoted, such as microcredits, which entail monitoring and monitoring of medium-term results. Additionally, the evaluation of the impact of the projects seems to be a key element that will make it possible to redefine priorities and improve their design. However, any initiative in this sense will not achieve the objectives pursued if two essential conditions for the desired economic and social development are not met: security and national political stability and good governance.
In the field of governance, it is evident that the strengthening of institutions is a necessary step to promote the rule of law, transparency in public activity or the fight against corruption, among other aspects. Programs aimed at training officials and advising or collaborating with public administrations could perhaps have a direct effect on the better functioning and stability of the institutions. A public function made up of servers with a high level of professionalism and competence could minimize the impact of crises and/or political instability. However, as already mentioned, the push transparency and rule of law is not welcomed by the local elites and any action should be oriented to corner them into accept it and avoiding that this situation will drive those elites to rapprochement to Moscow and China, as already happened, especially for cases like Algeria, that does not depend to the economic dependence from the West.
Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a retired UN official and expert in military history and international politico-military affairs.
A little more than four years were enough for Kais Saied to realize that illegal immigration did not bring any benefit to his country. The Tunisian president, who was sworn into office in October 2019, decided to stand up about a month ago as the champion of the fight against illegal, massive and uncontrolled immigration on his territory.
Again, what is crucial is the interference of NGOs, with their constant and repeated presence in the Central Mediterranean, which have created a niche of opportunities for human trafficking mafias at different points of the Tunisian coast, as they expand their tentacles at the demand of humanitarian organizations, and are changing their territorial preferences in the face of the return of controls to Libyan territory.
Illegal immigration in Tunisia already existed; it is not something that arrived overnight. But it was certainly a controlled phenomenon, where the Tunisian Republic exercised isolated controls in its territory, with which it created a staggered deterrent effect so that the problem did not escalate.
It was from 2019, when after the implementation of more severe controls by the Libyan Coast Guard in the triangle from Zuara to Tripoli, that the mafias begin to realize that their operations on Libyan territory did not enjoy the same success they had back in 2016, 2017 or 2018. The number of vessels intercepted by the Libyan authorities has increased, and thus the failure of the operations of the warlords who handle human trafficking.
With the beginning of 2019, the first movements of illegal immigration of sub-Saharan origin towards Tunisian territory began to take place. A mixture of the failure of the maritime incursions from Libya and the change of habits on the part of the NGOs, frightened by the strengthening of controls by the Libyan coast guard, also changed the preferences of the mafias.
It was clear that the chartering of vessels no longer brought big profits to those warlords who established greater control over the illegal immigration business. Others of lesser capacity and less experience in the matter continue to further their activity; but the large slavers changed their business model, and began to take control of the border area between Libya and Tunisia, so that everything now works at the request of NGOs.
The operations of the humanitarian organizations have intensified their presence along the entire Tunisian coastline, from Zarzis to Nabeul, passing through Sfax or coastal areas near Sousse. And in front of this coastline, humanitarian organizations, with their presence, began to seduce criminal networks and Tunisian fishermen, who once again saw a business opportunity in trafficking migrants who wanted to go to Europe.
With all this activity, it is logical that these criminal organizations did not take long to expand, and with that, also the pockets of illegal immigration that exchanged Libya for Tunisia. And of course, this creates some instability when these gangs of slavers begin to control certain territories and the will of certain agents who, in exchange for a small bribe, turn a blind eye until the departure of boats from the Tunisian coasts.
You will see all this explained as if it were a story, I hope you will forgive me for sparing certain details, but that is what the newspaper archives are for. The Tunisian Coast Guard intensified its controls in some months, but none of this was enough to control the expansion of these criminal networks. At a certain point, the situation became totally unsustainable.
Undoubtedly, Italy has also played a part in this decision. Giorgia Meloni has undoubtedly raised awareness and has been able to forge collaboration agreements with the Tunisian government in order to establish greater control over the illegal immigration that is concentrated along the Tunisian coastline. One thing led to another and in February, Kais Saied decided to take a decisive stand against this problem.
The Tunisian president thus decided, just over a month and a half ago, to put an end to illegal immigration on his territory, establishing exhaustive police controls for the identification and repatriation of those immigrants who are residing in his country illegally.
What is everyone saying about his measures? The expected—that they are extremist, xenophobic and against human rights. What they do not say about his measures? That Saied has managed to dismantle dozens of criminal networks that saw in this illegal immigration a business opportunity with the organization of illegal trips to Europe via maritime incursions into southern Italy.
Since the implementation of these measures, hundreds of sub-Saharans have already been repatriated to countries such as Senegal, Mali, Guinea or Burkina Faso. And Algerian and Moroccan nationals have fled the country using the services of the mafias that have increased their illegal activity in recent years, increasing the flow of illegal immigration from Tunisia to Europe by more than 150 percent. On the other hand, controls by the Tunisian coast guard have been increased. So much so that during the first quarter of the year more than 14,000 illegal immigrants bound for southern Italy were prevented from leaving. More than 500 boats were interrupted and the criminal organizations behind these illegal incursions were dismantled.
As a result of this fight against illegal immigration along the Tunisian coastline, the Tunisian authorities have reached a figure of interceptions almost six times higher than that recorded at the same time last year. During the first quarter of 2022, the Tunisian Coast Guard intercepted a total of 2,532 illegal immigrants, in a total of 172 anti-migration operations.
The good harmony between Italy and Tunisia after Giorgia Meloni came to power has led the Tunisian authorities to increase the number of interceptions by more than 450 percent and to raise the percentage of operations carried out to curb migratory pressure by more than 190 percent.
Perhaps the entire conglomerate of humanitarian organizations is once again seeing its business model in the Central Mediterranean threatened. And perhaps, what worries these organizations the least is that these illegal immigrants lose their lives at sea, because precisely the control actions promoted by Kais Saied minimize the risk of human losses, putting an end to the major risk factors for this illegal immigration, namely, maritime incursions in adverse weather conditions and the use of increasingly precarious vessels by criminal networks that see their activity increase with the presence, on the other side of the Tunisian coasts, of the vessels of these humanitarian organizations.
Rubén Pulido served in the Air Force for 11 years, a period in which he also completed several military training courses and a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the UCAM. During his career outside the military, he has advised various organizations on immigration matters. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Posmodernia.
The war in Ukraine continue to impact on many regions of the world. This is specially true in Northern Africa, where, aside from the old and established rivalries between the states of the area, there crisscross new trends, such as the increased need for new energy sources (far, not only geographically, from the flow coming from Russia), and the search for the influence of Moscow, Beijing, Brussels (NATO and EU), Washington, Paris, Rome, Ankara and others.
Algeria, a baricentric country, is involved in a complex action of positioning, faithful to firm principles of non-alignment and anti-colonial sentiments, in a changing international context.
The growing influence of this North African country increases its attention to the eyes of USA, NATO, the EU and other states, as well as being a reason for vigilance by consolidated partners, such as Russia (since 1962, the year of independence, the USSR) and China. All this, as the 2022 energy crisis gave this nation a boost of wealth and political clout in the region.
This attention is not without pressures. In fact, in September, some members of the US Congress invoked the 2017 CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), asking for the imposition of sanctions against Algeria for purchases of arms from Russia. This appeal followed that made by Republican Senator Marco Rubio in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Marco Rubio is known for being very close to Morocco, Algiers’ historical adversary, and for his support that Rabat’s sovereignty claims over Western Sahara, whose pro-independence cause is instead defended by Algeria.
While the Spanish MEP Susana Solís Pérez, of the Renew Europe group, in early February asked the European Commission if it continued to consider Algeria a reliable partner in terms of energy supply and asked the European institution if it was evaluating the possibility that Algeria “acts at Russia’s request to aggravate the energy crisis” and warned against the use of gas by Algeria as a “political weapon” against the interests of Spain, Portugal and especially Morocco, considered as a “strategic partner” (in the light of recent developments, like Qatargate and Moroccogate, such declarations, especially from European elected officials, should invite in-depth reflections about the real meaning of ‘lobbying’).
Since the days of the Cold War, Algeria has remained outside the orbit of the West; close (but never enslaved, as some say, poor in knowledge but rich in bad faith) to Moscow, while favoring national liberation movements; and this pitted it against its western neighbour, which instead supported the dictatorial government of Mobutu in Kinshasa and the racist one in South Africa (violating the arms embargo declared by the UN, by buying, for example, among the few in the world, 6×6 wheeled protected infantry vehicles “Ratel”). However, it must be added that the common understanding about Morocco, described as always aligned with the West, is of a showy oscillation (which began with Hassan II, the father of the current king), with the most recent trips to both Moscow and Beijing, made by King Mohammed VI. This was becuase of, in the eyes of Rabat, the tepid Western support for Mohammad’s territorial claims on the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, considered by the UN General Assembly as part of the non-self-governed territories (colonies, in other words), which today number seventeen.
The persistent tension with Morocco, which attacked Algeria in 1963 (Algiers had just achieved independence from france, after a terrible war of independence that began in 1954 and ended in 1962) to attempt to annex western areas of the neighboring country, claiming their re-appropriation for unjust borders inherited from the colonial era—which led Algiers to set up a massive military apparatus, financed by its enormous energy resources, purchasing in full and for many years, its equipment from the Soviet Union and, since 1991 , from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, China, with occasional and ready presence of Western weapons systems in the bid to acquire substrategic weapons.
Thus, between 2014 and 2017, Algeria activated 4 regiments of the “Iskander” E surface-to-surface missile system (each missile regiment is made up of over 50 vehicles and 48 missiles: 12 launch vehicles, 12 missile carriers and loaders, 11 command control vehicles and other logistic and support vehicles). This equipment has significantly strengthened Algeria’s regional prominence in the volatile Middle East and North Africa.
This situation has progressively changed in the last ten years, with an increased presence of Chinese, but also German (wheeled Armoured Infantry Combat Veichles TPZ “Fuchs”), Italian (helicopters and a large amphibious assault unit and other systems lined up), aling with Moscow-based equipment.
This situation of tensions with Morocco has been accompanied by a generalized worsening of the security situation for Algiers, starting with the Libyan crisis, the vulnerabilities in Tunisia, Mali and Niger, and ending with the Turkish, Qatari, Emirates, Saudi, Israeli and Iranian diplomatic (and not only) intrusions in the region, and increased activity of NATO (with which Algeria also collaborates in the framework of the Mediterranean Dialogue since 2000).
With this in mind, on 22 November 2022, the National People’s Congress (the lower house) adopted the finance bill for the year 2023 by a majority in the plenary session. The text of the of the bill includes a series of provisions concerning, inter alia, measures regarding investments, taxation, purchasing power, etc. But the flagship of these new measures is undoubtedly that which concerns the national defense budget, which provides for the allocation for defense a total amount of 3,186 billion dinars, (or more than 22 billion dollars). A military budget more than double compared to last year which amounted to 1,300 billion dinars (9 billion dollars). In numerical terms, the budget of the National People’s Army (which includes the three principal services, but also the national gendarmerie and the coast guard) for the year 2023 will increase by 1.886 billion dinars, or almost 13 billion dollars. This represents a 145% increase. This unprecedented reassessment of the defense budget was made possible by the sharp increase in oil export revenues in 2022. “The increase in hydrocarbon prices is helping to strengthen the recovery of the Algerian economy after the shock of the pandemic. The windfall revenues from hydrocarbons have eased pressure on public and external finances,” stated the latest IMF report.
To some extent, the reasons for this increase have been outlined above. But there are others, such as the need to update the weapon systems purchased during the great 2007 agreement with Russia, and the desire to acquire new ones, in particular for combat aircraft (Sukhoi Su-75 “Checkmate”), submarines (with the expansion of the number of exisiting “Kilo” class submarines with new ones, capable of launching the “Kalibir” cruise missiles and updating others in service), and anti-aircraft defense systems (with additional S-400 “Triumf” and the brand new S-500 “Prometheus”), with an eye to the challenging reinforcement of the Moroccan Air Force (which is expanding its fleet of F-16s in service and upgrading those already in service to the 70/72 standard). Much of the Algerian arsenal does require a mid-life overhaul, but it remains to be seen whether Russian firms, involved in the support of the quagmire in Ukraine, will be able to comply with any Algerian demands, both for modernization and for new systems.
But there are also other reasons for the increase in the defense budget, such as the revaluation of the pensions of retired military and paramilitary personnel.
In the context of the new constitution of 2020, which has opened the door to the possibility of operating with its armed forces abroad (reversing a basic concept of the Algerian political and constitutional discourse), there is the growing involvement of the Algerian armed forces in the Sahel, through collaboration with neighboring armed forces, such as Niger and Mali; and it is believed that Algeria is gradually moving towards creating a sort of permanent aid scheme to the Nyamey armed forces to deal with the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, while trying to reduce the French influence in its “southern flank” and the revitalization of the CEMOC (Comité d’Etat-Major Opérationnel Conjoint), an Algerian-led multinational command, based in Tamanrasset and which includes delegates from Mauritania, Niger, Mali. CEMOC’s Algerian chairmanship meeting of last October was personally chaired by President Abdelmajid Tebboune. Furthermore, security issues in the Mediterranean represent a major challenge for the Algerian authorities, especially after the recent, further deterioration of relations with neighboring Morocco due to the profound disagreements on the issue of the Western Sahara and the diplomatic and military rapprochement between Rabat and Israel. This event, in August 2021, led Algeria to severe diplomatic relations with Morocco and close the airspace to flights by Moroccan airlines and/or other companies originating from, or going to, Morocco.
But Algeria, in its new dynamic of international relations, is in talks with China to acquire the new short-range ballistic missile system (SRBM) SY-400. To do this, an Algerian delegation travelled to NORINCO (North Industries Group Corporation) at the Zhuhai Airshow 2022 last November. The purchase of the SY-400 SRBM will integrate the Russian-made “Iskander” E ballistic missile system and China’s YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles (a 2014 Pentagon report calls the YJ-12 the “most lethal anti-ship missile that China has ever made”).
The Algerian Ministry of Defense initially planned to acquire a coastal battery of Russian anti-ship missiles (3K55 “Bastion”), but then chose the YJ-12B, which completed the deployment of another hypersonic cruise missile of Chinese manufacture, the ASCM CX-1, which the Algerian Navy acquired in 2022, after more than 10 years of negotiations.
Algerian diversification is not just military. In fact, Algiers has signed a new five-year strategic agreement with China to deepen its bilateral relationship in all areas, strengthening economic ties, already strong, but expanding further, such as the opening and exploitation of a huge iron mine in the Tindouf area (Der Djebilet).
The Gray Area
However, some changes have recently taken place which require reflections on the future international and regional position of Algeria. Despite the pressure and numerous high-level visits by Russian delegations, which intensified after the aggression against Ukraine, Algeria seems to be progressively distancing itself from Moscow. In fact, the Algerian defense ministry suddenly canceled the joint military maneuvers planned in November at Hammaguir, in the province of Béchar, about 50 kilometers from the border with Morocco. The anti-terrorism exercise (sic) of the special forces of the two countries, in which about 80 Russian soldiers were supposed to participate, was named “Desert Shield.” The exercise was announced last April 5, by the HQ of the Southern Military Rrgion of the Russian Army, after a first joint preparatory meeting held between staff officers of the two countries in Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia, the same area where between September and October 2021, an Algerian unit took part in an exercise with Russian troops). The Algerian Ministry of Defense has not confirmed, but has not denied, this announcement, but it is being widely reported by the Algerian and foreign press. A sober statement read on ENTV public television channel announced the cancellation, without further explanation.
The cancellation of the maneuver has stunned the Moroccan press and those close to it (such as the once prestigious Jeune Afrique, which is allegedly part of a financial holding owned by the Moroccan royal family) who tried to sell the story that Rabat, due to its proximity to the West and for having hosted the much larger “Africa Lion” exercise in the summer of 2022 (a US-led maneuver that has been taking place since 2004) in southern Morocco, was threatened by Russia and Algeria and, for this commitment, the whole of the West must accept Morocco’s claims (and annexation) of Western Sahara, ban Algiers once and for all from the international community, force it to stop supporting POLISARIO, and accept the condition of inferiority vis-à-vis Rabat.
Another indication of the possible distancing of Algiers from Moscow could be the cancelation of Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s official visit to Moscow, which would have deepened the “strategic relationship” between the two countries. Originally scheduled for July this year, the trip was reportedly postponed. The Russian ambassador to Algeria, Valerian Shuvaev (recently transferred from Rabat) told the Russian news agency Sputnik that Tebboune would visit Moscow by the end of the year; according to unofficial Algerian sources, this visit was postponed without providing new dates. The ineffectiveness of the Russian army and its weapon systems, the evident weakening of the Kremlin as a political ally and the EU’s insistence on strengthening energy ties with Algeria could be among the reasons that pushed President Tebboune to a new dynamic, even if there are large gray areas (and difficult choices) in Algerian security policy (foreign and defense, but not only).
On November 7, Leila Zerrouki, Algerian high representative in charge of partnership with international organizations (former magistrate and deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General for MONUSCO [peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]) announced that Algiers had requested the joining BRICS, an trade organization formed by China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. Within this club, which also has aspirations of becoming a full-fledged international organization, Russia is, for now, the one that has the most ties with Algiers (but there is also China, which is growing rapidly). Perhaps for this reason it was the deputy Foreign Minister of Moscow, Mikhail Bogdanov, a highly experienced and capable diplomat, specialist in the Arab world, who publicly welcomed Zerrouki.
But a gray area remains, confirming Algerian prudence. In fact, interviewed by the prestigious newspaper Le Figaro, President Tebboune (in addition to announcing a state visit to France in 2023), expressed an opinion on the presence of Wagner’s Russian mercenaries in the Sahel, saying: “The money for costs this presence would be better spent and more useful in developing the Sahel.” And regarding his relations with Vladimir Putin he said: “I can only say that I will soon go to Russia. I do not approve or condemn the Russian operation in Ukraine. Algeria is a non-aligned country and I want to respect this philosophy. No one will ever be able to turn Algeria into its satellite. Our country was born to be free. Furthermore, it would be good if the UN did not just condemn the annexations that are taking place in Europe. What about Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights or Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara?”
As mentioned above, the initiative of the pro-Moroccan US deputy Marco Rubio (and of 26 others elected with him), is supervised by Algiers, although aware that the CAATSA is a highly politically-motivated tool, which Washington sometime waves, as needed, to put pressure on other states, but which the US sometimes does not find convenient to use. For example, it had been pushed forward with India; but New Dehli, which Washington would like to involve more closely in its strategy of containment of Beijing and Moscow in the Indo-Pacific, did not care for it; and also due to Indian uncertainties on the dubious effectiveness of the S-400s and the serious Russian delays in the delivery of the promised systems (India had signed a huge contract with Russia in late 2021). And do, Washington silenced the threat of sanctions.
US Ambassador to Algiers Elisabeth Moore Aubin revealed, however, that she has asked Algerian authorities to reduce their imports of Russian arms, adding at the same time, Algeria is a strategic partner for Washington and that she has “advised partners who buy weapons from Moscow to diversify their suppliers with non-Russian suppliers,” and to have had assurances to this effect. The US diplomat’s conciliatory language can be explained (in part) because now that the French military has withdrawn from Mali, the United States needs a solid militarily partner, like Algeria, in the fight against jihadist groups destabilizing the Sahel.
Even if Algeria seems to be cooling its ties with Russia, its armed forces, the second-largest in Africa after those of Egypt, possess such quantities of weapons manufactured in that country that should keep the maintenance and training contracts signed with its military industry for several years.
But the growing difficulties of the Russian defense industry represent a further threat to the military capacity of Algiers, which risks finding itself in a short time with a huge mass of unusable materials.
All these options represent serious unknowns for Algiers, impacting on its security policy choices, more for operational, training and logistical reasons than merely financial, given that at the end of 2022, Algeria had over $60 billion in financial reserves and has no foreign debt.
Against the backdrop of tensions with its Western-aligned North African neighbor, Algiers has emerged in 2022 as a renewed regional player whose importance extends beyond the region. As the global energy crisis continues amid the West’s standoff with Russia in Ukraine, Algeria in the first five months of this year alone, has seen its energy revenue grow by more than 70%, to a total of 21.5 billion dollars.
This comes after a long period in which Algiers closed in on itself due to the institutional standoff that hit the country when in 2013 a cardiovascular attack seriously damaged the health of President Abdelaziz Boutefllika, who took office in 1999 (he was forced to resign in April 2019 and died in September 2021). Since 2013, the ruling group around Bouteflika, has worked to maintain its power. This standoff has left plenty of room for Morocco which has objectively strengthened its regional and international position with respect to the Western Sahara question, called the “national cause” and, much less prosaically, the prism through which Rabat sees and interprets all its policies, including cultural and sporting ones, both at home and abroad.
The long and painful parenthesis of Bouteflika’s lengthy illness, which formally ended with the election of Abdelmajiid Tebboune to the presidency in the summer of 2019, were signs that the armed forces, the pillar of the country policy-making, have resumed the previous situation.
Today, tensions are simmering again between the North African leaderships due to the emergence of new dynamics, especially since Morocco has decided to normalize (only officially, given that the confidential ones have been solid since the 1960s) ties with Israel due to pressure from the administration of then outgoing US President Donald Trump. This normalization is perceived by Algiers as a threat to its national security (while for Morocco it is a kind of insurance) and is intertwined with an arms race, which has existed for some time, but which has developed further since 2015.
Along with ongoing attempts to make the most of new economic advantages at the national level, Algiers also seems determined to have its own impact on regional affairs. As the nation has severed ties with neighboring Morocco, in part due to ties to Israeli intelligence and military influence, as well as support, according to press sources not just verbal, Moroccan support for the Berberophone separatist groups of Kabylia and radical Islamist movements, such as Rachad.
Algeria, the third largest gas supplier in Europe, has attracted considerable interest this year, now becoming the first energy supplier for Italy, as military ties also appear to be intensifying.
While it has to keep a careful balance, both regionally and internationally, Algeria has emerged this year as a key player in Africa, the Middle East and beyond. It forced President Emmanuel Macron to change estbalished and hostile French rhetoric against Algiers and turn the page on the unresolved post-colonial and memorial issue, and paved the way for the abandonment of French in the national education system and the choice to adopt the English language instead, further eroding the influence of France.
Another major issue: Algiers is very involved in Palestinian reconciliation, hosting a series of meetings between rival factions Hamas and Fatah in order to bridge their differences and develop a platform from which to support the joint Palestinian political initiative . This was also a central theme at the Arab League summit last November, when Algeria attempted to strengthen its position at the regional level by hosting the meeting, thereby taking away space from Morocco, which through the role played by the king, president of the Al Qods Committee (Jerusalem) set up by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, had tried to increase his influence within the Muslim community, in view of the role that Jerusalem plays for it. However, the official normalization (the concrete, but clandestine one that has existed for decades) of relations with Israel has deeply irritated Moroccan public opinion, which, although not anti-Semitic, is strongly pro-Palestinian, creating embarrassment, beyond the self-congratulations typical of the official narrative, for the institutions of Rabat.
Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).
There is a tendency to believe that proximity is a key determinant of whether events that take place within a state and/or geographic area will have an impact on the day-to-day functioning of a neighboring state and even on the same geographic area. Based on this logic, a state perceived as distant is believed to have no influence in a neighboring area, either because of its geographic location, lack of knowledge about its past or present, let along knowing that it even exists.
In a globalized and interconnected world of today, it is not possible to remain isolated from events happening in other places, affecting different areas, whether political, economic, legislative or social. In the case of unlawful acts, although some types of crimes are committed (and not properly opposed) at the national level, it is possible that these and/or their consequences cross borders and affect other nations and/or geographical areas by affecting the lives of individuals and groups, as well as the economy, security and politics. In this sense, some criminal phenomena are more striking than others, as in the case of terrorism (so far only in the Sahel); and its consequences may be much more obvious, in comparison with other phenomena, such as organized crime (still Sahel) or piracy (now growing alarmingly in the Gulf of Guinea).
However, these criminal phenomena impact on a scale that exceeds the regional scope and in different ways, and they impact the political, economic, and security relations of areas geographically far removed from both the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea.
The Gulf of Guinea: New Epicenter of Maritime Piracy after the Indian Ocean
The Gulf of Guinea is a maritime region of the Atlantic Ocean that includes approximately 6,000 km of it costs; and, as part of West and Central Africa, two sub-regions meet there—there is the northern region, which includes Senegal, Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and the southern one with Angola, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome and Príncipe, Democratic Republic of the Congo (even if for a very short coastline). Among these nations are some of the leading producers of hydrocarbons (this immense space has large reserves of crude oil and natural gas currently exploited and planned-to-be exploited), along with other mineral, agricultural and fishing reserves.
All these resources are exported by sea and are relatively close to Western markets, and they contribute to energy security for the Gulf of Guinea—a very topical issue, given the situation between Russia and Ukraine, and its consequences for Europe, for those countries that import hydrocarbons, as those of the EU. In this way, and due to the geographical position of these countries, the Gulf of Guinea acquires special significance when used as possible transit area for maritime traffic between America and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe.
Thus, it is a hub for the entry of energy supplies to Europe, as well as for other resources of the area, such as iron, gold, diamonds, peaches, agricultural products and fruit, among others. However, its energy potential in particular, and its economic potential in general, is reduced, since the Gulf of Guinea is considered a highly insecure and unstable area.
As often happens, maritime security and stability problems originate and/or contribute to problems on the ground—and all the states mentioned have serious problems, ranging from weakening or the disappearance of centralized power, corruption, the spread of violence—all of which bring instability several countries. In other words, governance is very weak and many states can be considered as being nearly bankrupt. The reasons for this are many.
First, theer are internal ethnic-religious divisions, artificial borders and the phenomenon of the irredentists/separatists (a legacy of both colonialism and the re-formulating of former German colonies after WWI as in Togo and Cameroon), and the harmful effects of a post-colonial robbery, in which leadership, enslaved to economic and external political powers (especially France and the UK), exploits local resources and upsets assets and balances, such as agriculture, which provided self-subsistence (for example, with the super-production of coffee and cocoa).
The showcase of this is Nigeria, where this situation has created an explosive mix that has led, among other things, to a significant development of crime, especially maritime crime, manifested through illicit piracy, trade and fishing. This situation threatens the stability and fluidity of maritime trade—it is estimated that up to 90% of world trade is transported by sea—generating serious consequences for sea routes which are greatly impacted because of criminal acts, leading to insecurity, higher costs for maritime transport (starting with insurance and freight), and putting lives at risk, thus leading to severe economic and material damage.
This is especially true in the Gulf of Guinea, where there are around 1500 fishing boats, oil tankers and merchant ships that navigate its waters on a daily basis. The threat was accentuated after COVID-19, which saw limited public resources allocated to maritime safety, along with the reduction of world trade, and thus of economic growth, with the consequent increase in poverty and unemployment. In connection with this, there was an extension of piracy, right up to the Ivory Coast and south of Gabon, in that piracy became a source of an alternative income and livelihood for the population. However, this scenario got worse when later, in 2020, the price of oil collapsed, which (among other reasons) led to limited maritime safety and a greater demand for necessary resources by the population. This left oil tankers vulnerable to increased piracy.
In 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau, the Gulf of Guinea saw 84 attacks against ships, with 135 seafarers kidnapped for ransom. The Gulf of Guinea recorded an increase of nearly 50 percent of ransom kidnappings between 2018 and 2019, and around 10 percent between 2019 and 2020. The region now accounts for just over 95 percent of all kidnappings for ransom at sea.
However, official data for 2021 offers a contradictory picture, with 132 incidents, 115 of them approaches, 11 attack attempts, 5 sustained attacks and one case of a vessel hijacked. These are the lowest figures recorded for piracy and armed robbery since the year 1994, and show a decrease in maritime piracy offenses in this sector. This is the result of greater cooperation from regional authorities and a greater presence of international warships, precisely because of the importance of the resources involved and the geographic location.
This apparent contradiction may be due to the so-called “dark figures”—those criminal acts that are not officially notified, and therefore do not appear in institutional statistics and should therefore be interpreted with caution, as it is estimated that up to half of the cases are not reported and, therefore, unknown. Among the reasons that lead to this lack of reporting include the costs that a delay in an investigation can entail for companies whose goods are transported on the ship, or bad publicity for the shipping company, and for the port where the attack took place, or for the ship itself on a global scale. Therefore, and despite the potential inaccuracy of the data in itself, the Gulf of Guinea is a very important center of maritime piracy.
Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea
To profit economically, maritime piracy has developed an entrepreneurial profile—the illegal oil market: The oil industry is the mainstay of the Gulf area’s economy—and thus there is also the existence of a large black market for crude oil—that is oil stolen from ships, which requires a network of sophisticated organized crime that makes oil piracy profitable. Also, the pirates profit from other revenue related to the hijacking of ships, such as the ransom-money for the captured crew.
Effects of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea for Europe
Indeed, the evolution and rise of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a concern for Europe, as many shipping and fishing companies operate in the region. Piracy also leads to the increase in the cost of maritime transport insurance, which means higher costs for companies, and thuis higher costs for the consumer of those goods.
For these reasons, Spain deployed ocean-going patrol boats in the region in 2010, in support of the 2009-2012 Africa Plan, in an attempt to help the countries of the area to exercise sovereignty and influence in their maritime spaces, as well as offering safety in these spaces. This was done by way of surveillance activities, operations, exchanges of information and bilateral activities, or at the request of the countries in the region, the purpose of which was to increase these nations’ maritime capacity.
In addition, efforts are being made to improve maritime and military capabilities of the police forces of the Gulf of Guinea countries; insecurity generated by piracy not only affects the maritime environment, but also facilitates the access of illicit products through sealed containers in legitimate shipments, thanks to bribery or coercions. This allows the entry of people, weapons and drugs, among others things, which benefit not only organized crime but also localized terrorist groups in the Sahel.
The European, US and International Response
To cope with growing instability and to protect its interests, the EU has launched a complex approach, dedicated to the Gulf of Guinea, since 2014, to support the objectives of the so-called “Yaoundé Architecture,” the intra-regional commitment between ECOWAS, ECCAS and GGC, signed at the Yaoundé Heads of State Summit in June 2013, to counter maritime crime in its broadest sense (proving that despite the difficulties, several states of the region are aware of the risks of destabilization and reputational damage).
[ECOWAS—The Economic Community of West African States was established on May 28, 1975, by the Treaty of Lagos, with its stated mission to promote economic integration across the region. A revised version of the treaty was agreed and signed on July 24, 1993 in Cotonou, to include Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea (membership suspended due to a coup in the country), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali (membership suspended due to a coup in the country), Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso (membership suspended due to a coup in the country), Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Togo.]
[ECCAS—The Economic Community of Central African States is an international organization established October 18, 1983 for the economic, social and cultural development of Africa, with a view to the creation of regional structures that can gradually lead to a Common Market. Member states of the organization are: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Chad, Sao Tome and Principe.]
[GGC—The Gulf of Guinea Commission was established by the Treaty signed in Libreville, Gabon, on July 3, 2001, comprising Angola, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe. GGC shall constitute a framework of consultation among the countries of the Gulf of Guinea for cooperation and development, as well as for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts that may arise from the delimitation of borders and the economic and commercial exploitation of natural resources within the territorial boundaries, particularly in the overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of the participating states. It constitutes a permanent institutional framework for cooperation amongst the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea in order to defend their common interest and promote peace and socio-economic development based on the bases of dialogue, consensus and friendship. GGC started operations in March 2007, with the establishment of its Executive Secretariat in Luanda, Angola. Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo joined GGC in 2008.]
The “Code of conduct relating to the repression of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illegal maritime activity in West and Central Africa,” also known as” Yaoundé Architecture,” has as its objective the promotion of regional maritime cooperation and a stable maritime environment that can contribute to regional prosperity. The signatory states have established regional centers for sharing and coordinating information. These include the Interregional Coordination Center (ICC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon; the Regional Center for West African Maritime Security (CRSMAO) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and the Center Central African Maritime Security Regional (CRESMAC) in Pointe Noire, Congo, where experts and military and civilian personnel from both participating European nations, the EU and the local authorities cooperate.
Following the definition of the action plan, Brussels has defined a strategy for the region, aimed at supporting regional efforts to address the many challenges of maritime security and transnational organized crime, substantially increasing the capabilities of the local forces and collaborating closely with regional organizations and international institutions, such as IMB, Interpol and UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Program.
[IMB—The International Maritime Bureau is a specialized department of the International Chamber of Commerce, established in 1981, and its responsibilities lie in fighting crimes related to maritime trade and transportation, particularly piracy and commercial fraud, and in protecting the crews of ocean-going vessels. It publishes a weekly piracy report and maintains a 24-hour piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. IMB is part of ICC Commercial Crime Services bodies like the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau, the Financial Investigation Bureau, FraudNet. IMB has observer status with Interpol and a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Customs Organization.]
As for the option of a stabilizing European naval presence, similar, if possible, to the operation “Atalanta” and the establishment of specific training and support missions for local forces, like EUCAP Somalia—it seems unrealistic, at least at the moment, due to the necessity of concentrating the Euro (Atlantic) naval forces in other areas, and for a general pause for reflection on future of these activities.
[EUCAP Somalia, the Maritime Capabilities Support Mission in Somalia is a European Union civilian mission. Originally established in 201 and called EUCAP Nestor, in tribute to the Greek hero of the Trojan War, the mission changed its name in 2016 to EUCAP Somalia to illustrate a refocusing of the mandate on Somalia.]
Furthermore it must be remembered that France, which has a strong tradition of presence in the region, has set up a training center for the region’s navies (which are nothing more than coast0guards) in Equatorial Guinea, while Spain has deployed ocean-going patrol boats in the region in 2010, in support of the 2009-2012 Africa Plan, as part of an assistance program to the countries of the area to exercise sovereignty and influence in their maritime spaces.
As well, in a broader perspective of the G7, a “steering group” was set up, the G7 ++ FOGG (Friends of the Gulf of Guinea), which carries out an important role in advancing the maritime security agenda in the region by bringing together coastal states, private actors and regional and international stakeholders in its efforts to promote greater international cooperation.
[The G7++ Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (FOGG) is a multilateral maritime security group that supports the implementation of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct for regional maritime security, established in 2013 during the UK Chairmanship of G7 and include Germany, Canada, USA, Italy, Japan, UK, and France), the G7++ FoGG include Belgium, Brazil (observer), South Korea, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, EU, UNODC and Interpol.]
The Sahel as a Center of Operations for Criminal Organizations
The Sahel is a strip of land located south of the Sahara Desert, and which includes the borders between twelve countries, extending from west to east of the continent, about 5,500 kilometers long and with an average width of 400 kilometers. It is characterized by being a large transition space in which community and tribal structures have prevailed over time, with the constant search for resources and for the development of its activities; in essence in the primary sector which tend to be linked to different ethnic groups.
For this reason, it is the climate, as well as its accidents, that dictate the pace of life of its inhabitants. However, the constant increase in the population and the struggle for its resources—rather scarce— generate disputes that quickly lead to ethnic conflicts.
To all this must be added the movements of caravans and businesses that circulate along the same routes, as they have done for thousands of years, and which have created a network of communication in Africa. This network has managed to transcend the continent to connect with Europe and thus obtain advantages, both for trade and for the possibilities of mobility it offers to the population. Therefore, the Sahel is a center of very important interconnections that unite peoples, countries and continents through their ancient routes.
However, this very network in the vast territories that make up the Sahel has been exploited by new non-state and transnational structures which, in the face of border permeability—the lack of effective border control by national authorities that facilitate complete freedom of movement— groups have established dynamics of social relations based on illicit trade and trafficking, thus facilitating the establishment of criminal and terrorist groups in the region. These groups then took advantage of the great political instability and distrust in the system. Given the limited resources of the state for its defense and the great breadth of its territories and the growth of the culture of impunity, the capacity for action for these nations has greatly diminished, and this has contributed in strengthening the dominance of criminal organizations among the population.
In this way, the Sahel, which has long been a trade and mobility route, today is a favorable space, due to these circumstances, for organized crime and terrorism which have firmly established their strongholds and centers of operations in these regions, by subduing the local population. This is how violent armed groups have increased their actions in the Sahel region, expanding their activities and creating major destabilization and impacting development and security, with alarming effects. In short, the region is a paradise for criminal activity.
Coexistence of Terrorism and Organized Crime in the Sahel
The fact that terrorism and organized crime form alliances is well known, given their freedom and ability to act, in that both have established dynamics characterized by adaptation to circumstances and the local population, acquiring a leading role as the new “power manager,” and thus creating a new political context and a new dynamics of socioeconomic. This is how the formation of alliances gives continuity to business and allows for the survival of organized crime and terrorism, for it is the lack of control, governance and the instability of the territory which allows for high degrees of mobility and impunity.
In any case, for their survival, these groups need an ever-increasing flow of human, financial and material resources. For this reason, the recruitment of new followers or criminals is crucial. In fact, on many occasions, they are more trained and better equipped than the armed forces and security organs of the area. However, to get of these resources, requires the control of the ancient routes of the Sahel, which initially were used by nomads, who controlled who crossed the Sahara desert and tolled the merchants who passed through them. Today they are used by several criminal networks, be they organized crime or terrorists, for the control of the territory and the development of illicit trade in the region, including drug trafficking, tobacco, weapons, food, fuel and humans, among others.
Therefore, the Sahel is a transitional space, and its roads, once used by caravans, are now the thoroughfares of criminal networks, resulting in new and greater sources of crime synergies that cross borders, including continental ones.
Effects of Violent Armed Groups in the Sahel for Europe
As with the Gulf of Guinea, it has become clear that the Sahel is at the center of terrorist threats, illicit trafficking and ethnic /religious /tribal conflicts.
The EU has a special interest in the Sahel, most particularly Spain, given its geographical proximity, and its two enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla (on the African mainland) and the Canary archipelago. Thus, Spain feels itself particularly exposed to outcomes related to the instability of West Africa and the Sahel. So it is not surprising that the Sahel region is of prime interest for Brussels (and Madrid), with a focus on military assistance and training missions on the continent.
For organized crime, the connections with terrorism represent new opportunities for illicit trade, from which it makes huge economic profits—generally, through extortion—which not only implies profit, but also expansion of their criminal or terrorist activities. At the same time, this promotes increased political and social corruption, further weakening the state supports of nations increasingly unable to face this landscape or take advantage of it.
Thus, the collaboration between different criminal networks and terrorism not only weakens states, but rather, it creates “failed states,” causing fractures in the governance that are then exploited by these networks, creating environments conducive to achieving the fulfillment of their objectives, and further nurturing activities necessary for their survival and growth.
The weaker the state, the greater the ability of these networks to develop their businesses and to go unpunished and to expand even further. In fact, these growth opportunities materialized in the Gulf of Guinea—among other regions—where organized crime has long found profitability in the smuggling of fuel and financing of pirate groups. At the same time, terrorist groups (Daesh and Al Qaeda territorial branches ) have succeeded in expanding south from the Sahel, through actions carried out last year in Benin, Ivory Coast, Congo and DRC—countries belonging to the Gulf of Guinea, and thus establishing the first alliances with violent Islamist groups that already existed in the territory, such as the ADF (Allied Democratic Force) or Ansar Al Sunna. This has allowed for an increase in their influence in these territories, and in finding new areas from which to recruit more members, stockpile weapons and gain financing.
Furthermore, the possibilities offered by the geographical position of the Gulf of Guinea, with its access to the sea, allows them to establish alliances with other criminal groups present in the area, such as those involved in smuggling, piracy or organized crime. And being close to the sea allows them to continue developing a form of terrorism—maritime—which in itself is not new, but which offers other benefits to terrorist organizations, because of the vulnerabilities of the maritime traffic itself, such as the increased use of containers in the trade—which can be used by terrorist groups for the transport of weapons and people. As a result, the range and presence of terrorist groups increases costs, while organized crime and piracy continue to engage in illegal trade.
Such criminal phenomena complement each other, as long as their interests coincide, even if their goals are not the same. Indeed organized crime and piracy seek profit, while the jihadist terrorists seek to establish an Islamic state, although this is not it is an impediment in establishing alliances whenever they need them, even with entities that they do not agree with in their values, but which can be exploited in order to achieve their jihadist strategic objectives, such as with drugs which weaken the social structures of the Western world.
The development, evolution and continuous adaptation of these groups means that criminal and terrorist alliances will continue to grow, devastating the societies of the region. Furthermore, and contrary to what it may seem, these criminal phenomena take place in spaces closer than it may seem, since the proximity of Europe to the African continent is evident. But the network of age-old routes that connect the Sahel and Europe is still active and increasing in use. Thus the events taking place in the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel influence European policies, politics, security and commerce, among many other sectors.
Consequently, it seems obvious that all of this region is increasingly becoming an Eden for pirates, terrorists and groups of organized crime. But what is an Eden for these “evil” groups, becomes hell for “good groups,” both in Africa and, through their connections, in Europe. Therefore, it is necessary to continue to monitor and to act positively in this area.
Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).
When Queen Elizabeth II died the poorest people in the United Kingdom crawled out of their hovels in their dirty rags to join in solidarity with all those poor people who were still suffering from the yoke of colonialism in the undeveloped world. As one, they cheered that the source of all their suffering was finally gone—now, at long last, they could all live the free and prosperous lives that the Queen of the British Empire had denied them. YIPPEE… Oh, sorry, that did not happen.
If the lines of millions mourning her passing are anything to go by, there were plenty of outpourings of grief from her subjects, not to mention her own family who, for all the tabloid guff, are people. The grief of the living in their mourning is something that is a reminder of the fleeting nature of life on earth and what awaits us all. Irrespective of whether one is for or against the monarchy, it was a somber occasion, signaling the passing of an age as much as a sovereign, as much as a person.
Some people, though, are incapable of mustering even a modicum of decency in the face of death—they are the ones that generally show as little respect for the living as for the dead, though they often yell and scream as if they were the carriers of humanity’s better self, which is the picture that they have of themselves. And while there is a good case to be made that the monarchy as an institution in Great Britain may not last much longer, now that one of the most popular and dutiful of monarchs has died, the fact is that the Queen always displayed far more compassion, and respect for her subjects and their institutions than the members of that class that has successfully seized upon the moral imagination of the present, which it uses to denounce any relics of the past as well as anyone else that may obstruct the imperial ambitions of its authority. What they call diversity is merely division.
The Queen was indisputably vastly wealthy, but her life was one which few of us would like to lead. It required the kind of curbing of appetites and desires that few of us, and few in her family, were capable of—of devoting herself to a life-time, in which decorum and duty overrode everything else. This was authority and duty in the old style. She may not have been so flash on Derrida or Foucault, but her bearing and intelligence and character were all tailored to the position for which she had been groomed and which she carried out with grace.
Grace is not a word that comes to mind when I think of the new pro-globalists moralists that run the show now, in every Western land. They see the world as a great big trough which they will lead others to, provided they, in their role as liberators and representators of the oppressed, have their fill first. Anyone who thinks that their ideas are just verbal squish covering up their own sense of self-importance and ambitions to rule the earth alongside the globalist corporations and technocrats will need to be destroyed. Tyrants, as Plato rightly observed, are bred in the chaos of ultra-democratic aspirations and the accompanying social breakdown those aspirations create.
Just as their view of the present involves preferring abstractions (you know the ones, equality/equity/diversity/inclusivity/ emancipation, etc.), which have not been adequately tested in the reality of history, to see if they are of any more value than providing some kind of status of moral authority to the ones who use them—it takes these same abstractions into the past, and in finding that these abstractions were not there in any meaningful way is able to condemn the past as one of sheer oppression. Of course, the past they select to condemn is very selective: for the same class loves to create fantastical stories about premodern or non-Christian societies, as if they were just wondrous paradises of tolerance, diversity, equity and inclusion—from the world’s first and greatest democracy in Aboriginal Australia, where they would meet in their town-halls to make sure all was fair and square, to the wonderful multiculturalism of the Ottoman empire, with its pride parades.
It was primarily the members of this class of fabulists, who now control the Western education system and media outlets, who were predominantly using the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s death to bang on about the genocidal history of the British empire and the role of the monarchy in general, and Elizabeth in particular. I do think the treatment of the native Americans in the USA in the nineteenth century might be described as genocidal; it was certainly absolutely shocking, but that was not the fault of the British empire, any more than the gulags were the fault of the Romanovs. But it did not matter to those tweeting their spittle about the Queen’s death that since the handing over of Hong Kong to the CCP in 1997 (something deeply regretted by the many Hong Kong locals I met in my eight or so years living there), Great Britain no longer has any colonies, while when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 there were still over 70 colonies. Not that decolonization was an act triggered by the crown for, as everybody but those doing their celebration of spitting and drooling, seem to know, the British monarch while a de jure Head of State/constitutional monarch is de facto a ceremonial figure, symbolizing the nation’s unity—which to be sure is no easy feat in the divided area of the United Kingdom. In any case, her position requires her not intervening in political decisions that are the province of the parliament and courts. Thus, it was when there was a constitutional crisis in Australia back in the 1970s, and the deposed Prime Minister sought for her to intervene, she stayed right out of it.
In the United States, one of the first out of the blocks to drool and punch the air in celebration was the Nigerian born Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University, Uju Anya. She tweeted, “That wretched woman and her bloodthirsty throne have fucked generations of my ancestors on both sides of the family, and she supervised a government that sponsored the genocide my parents and siblings survived. May she die in agony.” The fact that, a few days after tweeting this bile, some 4000 other “scholars” publicly endorsed her (there must be far more by now), just goes to show what tax-payers and students are getting for their money.
From what I can gather, the slender threads of reality that Anya has woven into her fabric of verbal vomit and idiocy are that the British government supplied arms to the Nigerian government in their war against the secessionist attempt by the military governor of Nigeria’s Eastern Region, Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, in what turned into a horrific civil war. A mountain of literature exists on the war, though anyone who wants fair and brief appraisals of what occurred might read pages 199-205 (2011 edition) of Martin Meredith’s magisterial, The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence, or Margery Perham’s even-handed and first-hand account, “Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War” in International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944), vol. 46, No. 2 (Apr., 1970)., pp. 231-246.
In a manner befitting the moralizing, fabulizing, historically revisionist class of which she is a member, Anya fails to address the most basic of facts about her own country’s history: the French and Russians were also providing arms to the belligerents; that is belligerents on all sides were killing each other and seeking weapons from anyone willing to supply the same to them; the secession attempt by Ojukwu was a resource grab without any legitimacy that would have had disastrous results for Nigerians outside Biafra; Ojukwu’s propaganda game was as dangerous as it was vile as it was disastrous in its contribution to the mass starvation of the Biafran people that remains one of the most shocking famines in relatively recent historical memory. The chain of events which sparked the war and famine was ignited by Igbo military officers who assassinated key figures in the First Nigerian Republic. Finally, and to quote Perham, “the federal constitution of the three provinces, taken over by the Nigerians in October 1960 was largely the product of the Nigerians themselves, built up in intensive discussions and conferences, and attended by all the political leaders over a period beginning in the forties, and ending with the final conference of 1958. The basic differences between the main parts of Nigeria were not evaded: they were endlessly argued, but not even a dozen years of discussion and political advance, following half a century together under the canopy of British rule, could square the obstinate circlers within which deep and ancient tribalisms were enclosed.”
But who needs real political facts when you can become a mega-star in todays’ academic world with a tweet, so long as the tweet amplifies an ostensibly morally certain consensus, whilst confirming the moral superiority of all those, who also don’t need to actually know anything to know what they know, viz. that empires and colonialism are very, very bad? And no good person could ever be a beneficiary of empire—somehow, magically, the Nigerian born Anya, along with God knows how many of the other 4000 scholars, lives in the USA, reaping the benefits of office and wealth that come from what colonizers and their techniques and technologies of world-making have created.
This “logic” is the logic of the silly, who think that they can just arbitrarily go back into bits and pieces of history to select a point from which they can blame the people they don’t like—this time British imperialists. Sorry, but no people anywhere have been where they are forever. Which is partly to say the world is not a moral fabrication of bits and pieces all fitted together into a nice Disney movie about all the inclusion and diversity there would have been had it not been for… the British, the Germans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Gauls, the Celts, the Abassids, the Persians.
Really folks! The world we inhabit is what people in their conflict, scarcity, cruelty, suffering, and everything else that has been done in the past have made. We are all respondents to a reality that precedes us and that we then work upon. Here, the moralists puff themselves up and splutter some kind of nonsense that has to do with their indignation that some people have killed more or suffered more…blah blah…than others. Let’s just say, we can’t undo the past, and pretending that we do by having reparations, etc. is just one more fantastical bit of fanaticism that is only a new way of creating work for a bureaucracy and moralizing class seeking ever more dependents.
In the case of reparations, they will mean nothing two generations down the track—but understanding that means thinking about economic behaviour, and human motivation and institutions, and the kind of thing that requires that rarest of things in today’s Tik Tok academic world—thoughtfulness.
This virtue stuff exhibited by people who are paid to denounce unequal things that obstruct universal emancipation is today’s electric Kool-Aid Acid of the moral imagination. Let’s face it, everyone has to earn a buck, and there is no easier way to do so today than by running around tweeting, screaming, teaching, or writing great big refereed academic tomes from illustrious brand name presses or densely footnoted articles in “prestigious journals” denouncing people who just won’t take out that part of their brain that enables them to see that all that stands between them and emancipation (which means—as far as I can see—having lots of sex and having lots of stuff) is their being subject to racist, sexist, colonialist blah blah blah ideas that scholars like Anya and her 4,000 mates (probably far more by now) think are “facts.”
So, I really can’t blame Anya; or, to pluck another from the media wing of the cathedral of woke idiocy, Tirhakah Love, a “senior newsletter writer for New York Magazine, who wrote, “For 96 years. That colonizer has been sucking up the Earth’s (sic.) resources,” and “You can’t be a literal oppressor and not expect the people you’ve oppressed not to rejoice on news of your death” for seizing the career opportunities made available to them by a ruling class whose rule is predicated upon destroying the shared norms, institutions and cultural achievements of the West in the name of the moral progress they embody, and the great future they believe they will bring into being—on the basis of which we can see already that would be a world of ever greater spiraling inflation, ethnic/tribal violence resulting from opening up “citizenship” to anyone who wants to live anywhere irrespective of criminal background, or commitment to any traditions of their new homeland; far more urban, racially based riots and burning of businesses, including black ones (to make way for gentrification); far greater crime (from burglary, shoplifting to murder), adorning inner city areas with tents for the ever-increasing number of homeless junkies; the redeployment of police resources away from crime prevention and into community development activities, such as flying pride flags and dancing in parades when they are not arresting racists, and homo-transphobes; schools in which critical race theory (whites are all the same—unless they teach critical race theory—and all bad), and the joys of the multiverse of sex and the importance of sexual rights, like the rights to change your sex as soon as you can speak are the main curricula; ever more spaces for public denunciations and ever more censorship; sacking of all who won’t do whatever the right-thinking authorities say they must do, say, or think; increasing the number of abortions up to and in the aftermath of an unwanted birth; ever more military interventions funded by you in the West for people outside the West to die in in far off lands that will save this great world from its nefarious enemies—and lots more butcher’s paper and crayons for “life-long” learning because learning to live in this shit will require that one remains a compliant imbecile during the entirety of one’s life-time.
Bruce Gilley is a Professor of Political Science at Portland University—at least he was still there last time I looked, though it seems his existence is an affront to all the other good and virtuous professors who work there and who are doing their damnedest to push him into unemployment (the idea that professors could in any way be more virtuous than other people, and hence be tasked with instructing them in how to be better people, is something that, in a world less insane, would be worked into one of the more incredulous episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm).
Bruce Gilley was once a highly respected scholar—with a dizzying number of academic prizes behind him—who once published books with such illustrious academic presses as the University Of California, and Columbia and Cambridge University. He burnt his bridges within the academic world with his essay “The Case for Colonialism.” The paper originally appeared in Third World Quarterly in 2017, having passed the blind refereeing process—a process that might give the delusion that the refereeing process in the Humanities and Social Sciences ensures academic quality and integrity—it doesn’t. But in any case those denouncing Gilley only care about referees who agree with them; and in the case of this essay, a petition of “thousands of scholars” and the resignation, in protest, of nearly half the editorial board of the journal, plus death threats being sent to the editor of the journal ensured it being “withdrawn” and given a new home.
Since the denunciations and attacks, Professor Gilley has written two books, both with Regnery Press—one can safely assume a university press will no longer touch anything he writes. His previous book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’s Epic Defense of the British Empire, before getting into print, underwent a similar saga. It was first going to be published by Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield), where Gilley was also going to oversee, as the Series Editor, “Problems of Anti-Colonialism,” which would bring out books that sought “to reignite debate through a critical examination of the anti-colonial, decolonizing, and post-colonial projects.”
Then, the cancel crowd stepped in, started a petition on change.org: “Against Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics.” Many indignant “scholars” eagerly added their signatures. There was a counter-petition, which got nearly 5000 signatures, to try to save the series. But true-to-form, Rowman & Littlefield buckled and cancelled the series.
Professor Gilley does not need my help in the shootout with the academy, as he takes down one “scholar” after another for preferring their ideological concoctions to the facts of the matter. But it is worth drawing attention to a few points that undermine not simply the ideological nonsense or inconvenient facts that derail the academic consensus which Gilley takes on with verve and astuteness, but both the role that the academy has adopted in ostensibly learning from the evils of the past to build a better future, and the mind-set that so commonly succumbs to preferring ideological simplicities and grand sounding nostrums to the far more complicated explorations which yield equivocations and hesitations in judgments about people who have had to deal with vastly different circumstances than those of our professional idea-makers, brokers, and overseers—as well as conclusions which one might not particularly be appreciated for reaching. That is, the study of real history requires being prepared to consider questions that transport one outside of a consensus that has been cemented because it was not driven by facts, historical or otherwise, nor by a well-considered and well-orchestrated series of questions, but by a priori “morally” and politically derived commitments which close off all manner of questions and hence understandings about reality.
History was among the more belated of the Humanities to fall into the kind of ethico-politics that took over Literary Studies for at least a generation.
In any case, working in the profession of “ideas” today involves little by way of having any virtue other than repeating and making inferences based upon certain moral consensuses and topics. One becomes a member of the profession of ideas by virtue of teaching and writing—the one exception in the doing is that increasingly universities have accepted the pedagogical value of political activism, if it is of the sort that conforms to the ethico-political ideas that have been accepted as true by those who write and teach on, and administer, the ideas which are to be socially instantiated. There are, to be sure, things one must not say (words or phrases one must not use) or do (at least to certain people with certain identities); but in the main not saying or doing those things is not remotely difficult, especially when the rewards are there for the taking, if one just goes along with things.
Just as character is a matter of irrelevance in today’s ideational configuration of identity, bestowing the right to a position, as a representative of one’s favoured disempowered group, being committed to a group narrational identity, has professional currency. Being an identity is to today’s mindset; what intelligence and character used to be. Neither of the latter are particular important anymore, as intelligence is dumbed down to the level of the school child, and character dissolved into an identity feature.
Today, our morally-fuelled anti-colonialists are condemning something that is now totally safe to condemn because it is no longer a reality that has any other part to play in their world than a moral occasion for their career advancement as talking moral heads. Being a part of today’s educated/ educational “leadership” brings with it all manner of predispositions and circumstances, and they are not ones that have anything remotely to do with what people who signed onto the foreign service or civil service in the age of colonialism, or even the academy some sixty or so years back, had to do.
People of different ages are pushed and pulled by different influences and priorities—and in so far as most young people are swept into whatever activities are part of the streams of opportunity, approval, ambition and mimetic desire that defines them, the difference between the youth who were caught up in the colonial enterprise, the revolutionary enterprises in Russia or China, or liberal progressive Wokeness today is not so much in their emotional enthusiasm and certainty, but the specific enterprise that has been socially and pedagogically concocted by the preceding generation and the opportunities that they grasp.
One can definitely identify which elites and which nations fare better by their doing; but so much of the doing is based upon what was made by previous generations, and who did what with the opportunities they had, as well as how much overreach and wastage occurred. Yes, I do think the elite generation of the West are more imbecilic and less charitable and capable of understanding the world and the circumstances that have made it and what is required to sustain a civilization than the elite that spawned colonialism. All groups have their blind-spots, and pathologies (here I am an unreconstructible Aristotelian) and the elites of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century are not beyond criticism—no group is, because no group and no one can see exactly what they are doing, nor have all the information that would help their doing—but to dismiss them all as racists and plunderers is to be shockingly ignorant about their intelligence, moral sensibilities and motivations.
In any case, the various reasons that were involved in decolonization, including their excessive cost, an increasing lack of support on the home front, and the aspirations of an indigenous elite and rebels calling and /or fighting for national independence, were not events that had anything to do with the academics of today who contemplate colonialism as a moral problem with a very simple answer—it’s really bad.
Our time is not one in which colonialism offers any kind of desideratum at a personal, social or political level. Which is also to say the academic who writes critically about colonialism today is doing about as much to stop colonialism occurring now as their writings have to do with preventing a reconnaissance mission on Venus.
Of those teaching in universities who have fought for wars of independence who are still alive and who might hold a job in a university or in the media, the kind of questions raised by Gilley then come into play, viz. did things fare better once there was “liberation?” The answer to that will depend upon many things—who the colonizers were and what they did, and what transpired afterward.
Having taught in Darwin (Australia), I met a number of people who had fought against the Indonesians to create an independent East Timor/Timor-Leste. The results in Timor-Leste are mixed, though it is very poor; and while there are issues of corruption, it is stable. For their part, the Indonesians were, to put it mildly, not loved by the locals. The fact that the Indonesians occupied it after they had liberated themselves from the Dutch only goes to show that yesterday’s colonized can readily become tomorrow’s colonizer.
The question of how a country fares after colonialism is a serious one, and in some places the results have been horrific. It was the existence of such cases, of which there are many, with Cambodia winning the prize in that department, closely followed by a number of African nations like Uganda and Congo, that makes an article, such as Gilley’s case for re-colonialism, worth considering. But it is a far better career move to hate on Gilley by people who would rather ignore any facts which might complicate the founding passage of post-colonial scripture that the ‘white-colonialist devil’ is the demiurge responsible for all the post-colonial violence that occurs, and the formerly colonized are either angels of light and liberation, or zombies created by their white masters.
Gilley’s article is short enough for me not to have to repeat its contents. I will simply say that Gilley was trying to make serious recommendations about how recolonizing might be a better option in some places than continuing in the same way. That is the kind of idealism/thinking by design that I genuinely eschew, but as a thought experiment it deserved better than the accolades of denunciation it garnered. And had his critics taken their heads out of the sack of Kool Aid Acid, they might have realized that Gilley does not argue for reconquering territory, but for investment with legal/sovereign strings attached being undertaken in areas desperately in need of economic and social development.
My problem with this is that just as the anti-colonialists in Africa were often educated in the West, where ideas about how great communism and such-like started to abound and were commonplace in the 1960s, now what the Western mind offers would be even worse. The re-colonizers would be operating with their ESG and their DEI commitments and targets—they would be saddled with green energy goals, which would make sure they stay poor, and be expected to buy electric cars, otherwise keep on walking; their kids would be schooled in critical race theory, so they could blame everything that goes wrong on white people, and gender-sexual anatomy fluidity to break up the traditional family and anything else that the elite running corporations have seized on to incorporate into the great new world.
The new mental imperialism promises nothing but the endless division and persecution of anyone out of step with the ideology that ensconces Western liberal progressivism as the global norm. The clientelist assumptions and strategies which make of our professional ideas-people the emancipators of all and sundry who are not white, wealthy, cisgender men, who don’t support the globalist political left/progressive technocratic view of life being transposable to any circumstance, including that of people who live in former colonies, who only have to sit down and read their various primers on Fanon, or study post-colonial fiction and poetry, etc., along with Judith Butler to see how they can fix up their world, and get to the same standard as, say, a San Francisco tent for the homeless with free crack.
Much of what Gilley says in his article has been said by others, his “mistake” was to say it straight and assemble it into a formulation that exposes the thoughtlessness of the modern ideological consensus about colonialism. More broadly, though, the thoughtlessness that Gilley is dealing with is not just about colonialism, it is about how the world has come to be the world that is. Colonialism is certainly one part of that, and it is what concerns Gilley.
But if we take a step back from colonialism (and it is this that also distinguished, as Gilley notes, the “pro-colonialist” Marx from the “anti-colonialist” Lenin), two further considerations about the world are particularly pertinent, if we want to free our minds from the enchainment of stupidity that is presented as some kind of moral progress which is due to the purity of thought and being of our contemporary pontificating paragons. The first is where violence and war fit generally into the schema of human things. The second is technology (including the division of labour it requires—one of Marx’s better thoughts was to see the interconnection the division of labour, i.e., classes and technology; and like all Marx’s better thought, Marxists have abandoned it), and administrative technique.
With respect to the first, warfare is a perennial feature of human existence. The reasons for any given war may vary, but to blame war itself on one particular group is ridiculous. In the context of colonialism, warfare was pertinent to colonialism at every level of its development—from the wars that were commonly occurring between rival groups that colonialists were frequently able to use to their strategic advantage, to the wars between and against colonial powers that led to the demise of empires and their colonies.
That wars would continue after colonialism would only surprise those who think that merely deeming war a bad or an immoral thing might somehow play a role in preventing it. But while I find pacificism to be a response to war akin to when my cat thinks that if he cannot see me, I cannot see him—so he hides under a stool with his back to the wall and tale sticking out right under my nose—I find even more abominable the moral cherry-picking that poorly informed academics make about which violent conflicts they choose to take a stand on, without concerning themselves too much with all the forces and flows that go into it—thus, in general, their tacit support for the NATO proxy war in Ukraine.
A general, and hence, to be sure, not overly helpful formulation about why wars occur is that competing interests, predicated upon ways of being in the world and making the world, go to war when they see no other way to get what they want—in the past, more often than not, that was acquiring or protecting scarce resources, including labour power. Modern commerce does not necessarily prevent war because some resources are such that access may be unreliable or so tenuous that conquest is the more certain way to acquire them. But international trade is often the more secure way to acquire wealth. Of course, the moral imagination of the modern academic is not slow to critique capitalism. But as with violence and war, it cherry-picks which kind of capitalists are bad and who it serves (finance capital/big tech/big pharma are now its major “masters”)—it also comes up with fudge-words when confronted with the truth that socialism was no less murderous—and generally resulted in even more poverty—than capitalism, though state apparatuses and the elites who run them do make a very big difference as to whether capitalism can be even mildly benign.
Just as there is no genuine design solution to the problem of competing interests and life-ways, there is no simple design system that can eliminate war or class differences—though one thing that might ameliorate some of our problems is that groups have more thoughtful and well informed sources of information and representation, so they might be able to broker their differences from positions of strength (which in turn requires discipline in what is done with resources, how they are channelled in terms of strategic priorities, and who is fit and able in applying them).
But sadly, we have handed over the minds of our public and private institutions to a class of people, in the main, with ambition and enterprise existing in inverse relationship to the ability to think through alternative scenarios and consequences.
Irrespective of how one “parses” the moral behaviour and qualities of any group in conflict with another, and while just war theory may have an illustrious history, it has become a standard go-to position of idea professionals, whose sense of justice can be traced back to their own magnanimity—the fuse of most wars is woven out of various complex threads that go a long way back and have their own “reasons,” which is why a new party of force may take advantage of older animosities between groups to leverage its new authority.
Imperialism and the establishment of colonies are ancient ways of doing power that involve war; and any suggestion, whether tacit or outright, that suggests that there was something uniquely immoral about British imperialism or modern European colonialism is a fantasy.
The question of what benefits or costs were associated with any given empire or colonialisation project can only be answered by sitting down and doing the calculating. At some point, one might find that certain behaviours fit into some kind of moral calculus—such as Spaniards ending human sacrifice in the Aztec empire, or the British prohibiting the practice of widow-burning (sati) in India; or one might count the number and scale of massacres and ethnic and religious rivalries and wars committed during the reign of a colonizing power with those that occur previous to or after their reign. In the latter case, no matter how heated someone wants to get about the violence of the British in India, none in their right mind could think that the scale ever remotely approximated the scale of violence of the Partition (1947), or the subsequent war of Bangladesh.
In any case, and in any given colonial or imperial venture, there will be all manner of pluses and minuses that could be calculated, and there will be some beneficiaries and some losers. The point here, though, is that any fool can say that any imperial or colonial endeavour of yesterday is immoral—but the reasons for the endeavour were as much the reasons of yesterday as were the morals of those who undertook them. We might well be thankful that we do not live in such times with such choices or moral consensuses—all well and good, but so what? A strictly moral account of any given society is always going to turn out negative—life is frequently one tragic set of choices after another—which in part is why our educated elite can keep getting away with the nonsense of the air in their heads and the smoke of their words seeming more beguiling to youth and know-nothings who believe that all we have to do is “reimagine” the world to get the world we want—one of endless stuff and sexual pleasure—yippee!
While Gilley, citing pertinent writings and speeches from Bismarck, makes a case for Germany’s colonial enterprise being largely driven by extra-commercial incentives, in the main I think it difficult to un-entwine benign moral intentions of those with authority from opportunity for cads and bounders that may exist in the new colonies—though, my point is equally that wherever you go and whenever you went there was always some lot extracting stuff from and being cruel to another lot. Concomitantly, anti-colonialist forces often had to be as ferocious and cruel against those who did not find the new aspiring hegemonic elite to be serving their interests, as they were against the colonialists whose resources and power they wished to capture.
If the point I have just made emphasizes the eternal return of violence/ war/ opportunity/ authority, the second point, I think extremely important, is the unique nature of the technological and technocratic levels of advancement that occurred in the West, leading up to and culminating in the industrial revolution.
There are many aspects that we can consider to be definitive in the formation of the modern, but the industrial revolution makes any nation, in the position to take advantage of it, far more powerful than any peoples who are required to succumb to its authority. But, as Carroll Quigley convincingly argues in Tragedy and Hope, the industrial revolution is but one in a sequence of revolutions that occurred in the West; and the uniqueness of the West’s potency—as well as the problems it generates for itself and elsewhere—is intrinsically bound up with the sequences of its revolutions.
Here there can in my mind be no doubt that the world wars are the West’s creation, and I strongly recommend the little known book by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out Of Revolution: An Autobiography of Western Man, which provides an account of the flow and circulatory nature of the revolutionary events which formed the peoples of Western Europe into the powers that would find themselves in the Great War and its aftermath.
But when the West is transported into other regions, such as its colonies, the powers that have been its revolutionary offspring come in a very different sequence and with varying accompanying problems.
I do not want to go into the different sequence of structural developments of revolutionary processes feeding into different and staggered modernities, but I do want to highlight the point that whether it was grace, genes, or the luck of the historical draw, or something else again that led to the modern West, once there was a modern West, and once there were modern weapons, and an industrial revolution, then class conflicts in non-Western countries played out along lines which have everything to do with resource-opportunities and competition and wilful determination by groups ready to use their arms to engage in the age-old act of resource extraction, from those who grow food to those whose labour can be put to use for them to expand the possessions and services at their disposal. One can morally condemn this all one wants, but it is a universal phenomenon that only passes by the intellect of people whose understanding of premodern life comes from Rousseau and Disney.
That is, once modern weaponry and machinery and the various goods they produce, from cars to tanks, designer clothes and luxury homes, smart drugs and high-class whores (let’s face it, the appetites of gangsters are as basic as they are commonplace among the extremely wealthy), exist, along with a group who are willing to do anything to get them, there will be an “enslaved” or violently brutalized class. That there will be tribal-elements involved in the social bonding is also pretty well inevitable (the Mafia and dynasties follow a similar logic).
This situation, to repeat, is not the result of colonialism as such but of modernity. And modernity brings with it a reality in which the choices are as inevitable as they are terrible: join it or don’t join it. Any group that opts out of joining makes itself vulnerable to any group with weapons who wants to encroach upon its territory, its resources, its labour, and its women. Further, the longer the delay in joining it, the more difficult it will be to adapt to what to a traditional life-way is a massive juggernaut of technologies and techniques exploding its fabric.
This is why the greatest enemies of the traditional life of the most vulnerable of social groups on the planet, the indigenous peoples who had not formed cities and/or larger units of social organization, were not missionaries or colonizers of the nineteenth century but the progressives of today who purport to ally themselves with anyone against Western supremacy, but who are, in fact, anti-traditionalists, Western supremacists, who have ditched anything that grounded the West in those pathways of life shared by all peoples.
Irrespective of the time of “joining” with a life-way of a superior power, and irrespective if the joining is one of choice or conquest, any group that joins in the process of modernization will find that it has to compromise/adapt its traditions and behaviours to the juggernaut. Seen thus it is hard to see how colonialism itself can be blamed for the choice. It isn’t responsible for that choice. Though our ideocrats tend to think that every problem is merely a matter of educating moral reprobates, which seems to be working out swell in US inner cities, where all manner of crimes go unpunished, and levels of violence and criminality are plummeting—NOT. Why not, though, try exporting a batch of critical race theory books to those areas where post-colonial gangsters and dictators—sorry victims of colonialism—now extort and kill others so they can wake up and see the light and go back to college, perhaps even one in the USA, and learn how to teach critical race theory and so be part of the great love fest that the new moral leaders of the West are creating.
But let’s get back to reality—colonialism might better induct the colonized into the means and manners required to live with the machinery and technology, and administrative and various systems that are being introduced into this world that cannot escape modernity—to repeat, because if it is not introduced by the colonizers, it will definitely be introduced by those “industrious” enough to get hold of the equipment and weapons that they can put to use. This is where Bruce Gilley raises important arguments, and why the reaction to him only illustrates what a mind dump the academy is, as it disseminates fantasies, moral and not so moral, about the world and its history so that it can enable a technocratic infantile future, as bereft of knowledge and wisdom, as it will be bereft of real love, and creative and cooperative endeavours.
I have already made the points that I wish to emphasise about modern colonialism needing to be interpreted against the constant of human conflict nd the tragic choice placed before any premodern people. I do think that life is ever one in which we are born into the sins and transgressions of our fathers; which is to say, I think Greeks and Christian were essentially correct and in agreement about the kinds of limits we confront, and that the modern elite aspires to throw away those limits and does so by substituting fantasies about the past as well as the future to beguile us into their nightmare.
But there can be no doubt that the modern opens up previously undreamt-of technologies and techniques which are amazing, and which enable the possibility of greater comfort and opportunities to do things for those that can get access to them. Thus, it is inevitably the case that any people who are conquered by a technologically superior people, if not completely turned into slaves, will benefit from the materials now available to them. We might call this the Monty Python/ Life of Brian argument for colonialism. To put it briefly: What have European colonizers ever done for the World? Answer: they brought with them the modern techniques and technologies of wealth creation. And the absence of those techniques and technologies is lower life expectancy and, in terms of sheer numbers, less wealth and less social choices.
Of course, in any society not everyone is or was a beneficiary of new social or technological innovations, and in every society the number of poor is significant—and prior to the industrial revolution poverty was far greater, and far more people were far more vulnerable to unfortunate climate conditions. And let us be real, at a time when there is so much panic about climate change, the fact is that any future famine, as with a number of past ones, will be far more likely due to political conditions than climate alone. At a time when the Malthusians run amok and aspire to dictate how the world should be depopulated, there is less global poverty and food shortage than ever; and where it does occur, politics and corruption rather than climate or population are the primary causes.
The points I have made above are general, but if I were to recommend one book that any reader wanting to consider a test case, which refutes so much of the moralising that is done about colonialism should read it would be Gilley’s In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West. The Postil has already published a short extract from it; but that extract did not indicate the extent to which Gilley exposes and successfully critiques the thoughtless claims that academics have made about German colonialism—or, in his (un-minced) words, “the drivel that passes for academic history” about German colonial history.
Early in the work, Gilley makes three points about colonialism in general, which are worth repeating and the antithesis of the kinds of facts that get in the way of a good moral fantasy. I will quote them:
“Islands offer an almost perfect natural experiment in colonialism’s economic effects because their discovery by Europeans was sufficiently random. As a result, they should not have been affected by the ‘pull’ factors that made some places easier to colonize than others. In a 2009 study of the effects of colonialism on the income levels of people on eighty-one islands, two Dartmouth College economists found ‘a robust positive relationship between colonial tenure and modern outcomes.’ Bermuda and Guam are better off than Papua New Guinea and Fiji because they were colonized for longer. That helps explain why the biggest countries with limited or no formal colonial periods (especially China, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Thailand, and Nepal) or whose colonial experiences ended before the modern colonial era (Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti) are hardly compelling as evidence that not being colonized was a boon.”
“Colonialism also enhanced later political freedoms. To be colonized in the nineteenth–twentieth-century era was to have much better prospects for democratic government, according to a statistical study of 143 colonial episodes by the Swedish economist Ola Olsson in 2009.”
“These twin legacies of economic development and political liberalism brought with them a host of social and cultural benefits—improved public health, the formation of education systems, the articulation and documentation of cultural diversity, the rights of women and minorities, and much else. It is no wonder, then, that colonized peoples by and large supported colonial rule. They migrated closer to more intensive areas of colonialism, paid taxes and reported crimes to colonial authorities, fought for colonial armies, administered colonial policies, and celebrated their status as colonial subjects. Without the willing collaboration of large parts of the population, colonialism would have been impossible.”
With respect to the motives and the legacy of German colonialism, Gilley makes the argument that it was not primarily a plundering undertaking, in which blacks were to be treated as sub-humans and whites could treat them however they wanted—Gilley provides a number of examples of whites behaving badly in the German colonies and being punished for doing so. To frame it thus is not only to replace fact with fantasy but it is to ignore not only the statements of the colonizers themselves, but more important the voices of the colonized—Gilley provides numerous citations—who found that German colonial rule had bought greater peace and prosperity to them, thanks to placating tribal rivalries and long held animosities (Chapter 3 provides an analysis of the Herero and Nama peoples, and the imaginative claims that Herero-Nama wars were created by the Germans, or even more fantastically that they were gestures of anti-colonialism!). The major motivation, argues Gilley, is that colonialism was perceived as the accompanying condition of nation-building and being taken seriously as a major European power. The point is an interesting and important one, and it illustrates the vast gulf that separates the mindset of the generation that now dominates in the universities from that of a previous generation caught up in a completely different set of priorities of world-making.
Gilley provides numerous examples of what the German colonialists built, and again I will cite a few of his cases.
“Having first established peace in East Africa, the Germans proceeded to establish prosperity. A 1,250-kilometer railway was built linking Lake Tanganyika to Dar es Salaam. To this day, the railway remains the lifeblood of Tanzania’s economy and of Zambia’s trans-shipment traffic. The German colonial railway was not just economically beneficial. It also led to the documenting of the region’s geography, vegetation, minerals, and peoples—much of which was carried out by the German-English railway engineer Clement Gillman as he surveyed the new line.”
“For the green conscious, it is especially noteworthy that German colonialism discovered the knowledge and crafted the regulations that protected the great forests and fauna of today’s Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.”
“Without doubt, Germany’s greatest humanitarian contribution to Africa during its colonial period was the discovery of a cure for sleeping sickness. In terms of lives saved, Germany’s colonial achievement could stand on this ground alone. Sleeping sickness originated in nomadic cattle-herding populations in Africa whose movements had spread the disease for hundreds of years before the colonial era. The increase in intensive farming under colonialism accelerated its spread, an inevitable result of policies to increase food supply and modernize agriculture. The disease was ravenous. The British calculated that an outbreak in 1901–07 killed between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand people in British Uganda, and two million people succumbed in all of East Africa in 1903 alone.”
Nineteenth century colonialism is, as Gilley rightly notes, part of a genuinely civilizing approach to world-making. While that approach had both liberal and traditional European (conservative) accompaniments, it was also to be found in the communists Marx and Engels; and while the German socialists opposed how colonialism was being administered, they were, again as noted by Gilley, not unsupportive of colonial rule.
While the success of the modern, as these examples indicate, can be seen in terms of technical and technological advances, its diabolical underside is disclosed by the ideological concoctions that were to be transposed globally with far more devastating effects than colonialism itself. And if the first part of Gilley’s book might be an eyeopener for those who have not wanted to seriously think about what benefits accompanied colonialism, which is to say, those who have not thought out of the now fashionable moral academic box, the second part of the book makes the important point that both the Nazi and the communist projects were able to fuel anti-colonialist sentiments among various members of the aspirant elites in colonized country for their own geopolitical benefit and to the greater detriment of the societies in which these ideologically “educated” elites took power.
Need I say that any elite members wishing to gain power through national independence had no need to worry about the boring give-and-take and talk-fest that is endemic to democracies. Far easier to push through one’s will and that of one’s loyal support group or tribe and end up with—bloody chaos.
In an age where the holocaust is the diabolical terminus of history and anything and anyone from St. John to Luther to the family has been held up by some scholar or philosopher to be responsible, it is not surprising that colonialism would also be held responsible for the holocaust. But in spite of it now being commonplace among German academics to claim that there is line of continuity between German colonialism and the Nazis, the Nazis themselves from Hitler down wanted no truck with the colonialists and, in the main, few of the colonialists wanted what the Nazis wanted. In case anyone had not noticed, the Nazis were not in the civilizing business. Their fusion of nationalism and socialism, along with their antisemitism, and cult of the leader, was also embraced, along with open admiration for Hitler himself, by numerous anti-colonial leaders, most famously Nehru, Nasser, Amin and the Palestinian cleric Amin al-Husseini.
In the main, while academics don’t like the Nazis (unless they are Ukrainian ones who kill Russians and draw up hit lists of people to be liquidated for speaking out against them), they generally do like communists – in their upside-down world, communist rebels are freedom fighters. That communism is a Western ideological import that has not only exacerbated group and class conflicts but has been the means for justifying and entrenching “third world” elites with no idea how to better enhance economic conditions of people other than seizing land and property and pointing guns at people who must do what they are told.
The story of former colonies becoming entangled in the cross-fire of the Cold War like that of ambitious elites who used independence to secure their own power and wealth, along with those groups who give them their allegiances, is a horror story that belongs to the post-colonial age; but it is not the kind of story that neatly folds into a curricula or mind-set, where the answers to the cause of all things bad are white supremacism, i.e., European colonialists.
In a world as complicated as ours, the failure of the West to have an educated elite that are incapable of understanding the world before it, and the past behind it, is devastating. We are now living in that devastation; and although I detest those whose moral imaginations have been formed by sticking their heads in the bucket of Electric-Kool Aid Acid that now passes for an education, I have to concede that previous better-educated generations failed to see the consequences of their actions, and we are now living within those consequences.
Post script. Readers of a certain age will probably have recognised that I have borrowed the phrase “The Electric Kool-Aid” from Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Test, a book about Timothy Leary and his Merry Pranksters bussing across the US and their other shenanagins. This was in the days before college kids demanded safe spaces and fentanyl had become the drug of social breakdown. Wolfe was one of the founders of what was hailed as the new journalism in the early 1970s. Our world looks life the morning after what may have started as a party of sex and drugs and rock n roll and has turned into a nightmare of loneliness and totalitarianism.
Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books. He also doubles up as a singer songwriter. His latest album can be found here.
Featured: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa,” a poster by Grotemeyer, dated 1918. The caption reads: “Kolonial-Krieger-Spende,” or “Colonial Soldiers Fund.” Signature of von Lettow-Vorbeck at the bottom.
Between the second half of July and the beginning of August over thirty people died (among them two Moroccan soldiers and two Indian policemen) during very violent riots that opposed civilians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the “blue helmets” of MONUSCO (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilization au Congo). Local civilians asked UN troops to leave the country and attacked several installations of the mission. The violence and the extent of the incidents, however, let to the suspicion that it was much more than spontaneous and uncoordinated initiatives. These incidents highlight the profound crises of consensus and legitimacy of these operations.
MONUSCO has the weak consensus of the government to operate, but has failed to build legitimacy and consensus among ordinary people, those most affected by an internal and international conflict that began with the end of the Marshal/President Joseph-Désiré Mobutu’s regime in 1997 and has not yet been resolved.
The government of Kinshasa asked the UN to withdraw the mission back in 2010; and the UN has started to reduce it slowly, beginning in 2020, with a plan that should proceed with caution, given the unstable situation in the east of the immense country, the high number of military personnel involved, and the enormous logistical-operational installations and burden.
The protesters, meanwhile, claimed (and still affirm) that they wanted the UN to leave because it failed to protect civilians and ensure peace. As evidence of a situation that became very tense after the incidents, a UN military unit, confronted by a peaceful protest demonstration by civilians, opened fire on them, killing two and injuring over a dozen. This rather serious fact has embarrassed New York and has brought further pressure to bear on the request of the government of Kinshasa to speed up the end of the mission.
In reality, MONUSCO, heir to MONUC (deployed since 1999), is an entity in continuous evolution, having changed, often drastically, its mandate over the years, but always with the same objective—that of cooperating with the local government, contributing to the protection of the civilian population, protecting refugees from the violence of armed groups from the east, disarming the latter (through a special entity of the mission, the Force Intervention Brigade, established in 2017, albeit after much hesitation), and improving internal political dialogue. Many promises, and very few results.
President Felix Tshisekedi, elected in 2019, has an ambiguous attitude towards MONUSCO. His armed and security forces are unable to face external and internal threats in the east, so he needs the “blue helmets” but wants to reduce their presence to the minimum necessary. And he has major problems of legitimacy inside the country, which makes dialogue with the UN even more difficult, which is not willing to appear even indirectly supporting ambiguous internal (and electoral) policies.
At the beginning of August, the Security Council met for consultations after the incidents and the Undersecretary General for Peace Operations, the French diplomat Jean-Pierre Lacroix, informed the Council about his visit to Kinshasa on 28-29 July, where he met with senior Congolese officials and UN personnel in the country. The meeting, sought by India, was held amidst heightened tensions between the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, accused by Kinshasa of hostile activities in the eastern region of Kivu through both the infiltration of regular military forces and the support for local armed groups, obscure entities such as M23 and ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) involved in the exploitation of rare earths, diamonds and more, in which the eastern region is very rich.
But the relationship between the UN and the host states is also flawed elsewhere. In Mali, the government’s consensus for MINUSMA (Integrated Multidimensional Stabilization Mission) is equally weak. The government of Bamako delayed authorization for the rotation of troops of the mission for a whole month and only authorized it in the middle of August, with the widely expected result of accelerating the return of the other contingents of “blue helmets,” such as now the Germans. Bamako also expelled the mission’s deputy spokesperson (the government of Kinshasa did the same, immediately after the incidents in the DRC).
From 2020 on, the mission (which was activated in 2013), following a coup d’état, has been sailing in dire waters and is increasingly badly tolerated by the military junta (which is growing closer to Moscow). It has thus managed to speed up the departure of the French troops of the “Berkhane” operation, those of the European multinational mission “Takuba,” and those of the EU training mission, EUTM-Mali. The recent debate at the UN Security Council on the MINUSMA renewal mandate initially stalled on freedom of movement in the country and on how to manage the reported increase in alleged human rights violations by the Malian armed forces and the presence of contractors, such as Russians from Wagner.
The “blue helmets” in Mali today operate in a political context for which their mandate is not suitable, with a diminishing benefit for the civilian population and with great risk for themselves: for eight consecutive years, MINUSMA was the most lethal in the world among UN operations in terms of those fallen in its military ranks.
Protests in the DRC underline how the consensus of the populations, and not just the state, is central to the effective work of UN peacekeeping operations, while the turmoil over the terms of MINUSMA’s deployment highlights how political issues, the inappropriate and the contextualized exercise of force, remain at the center of the debate on how to conceive and conduct peace operations.
If the member states (which ones? And on this question, a serious debate should take place) of the United Nations want multidimensional peacekeeping operations to survive, they should authorize peace operations that create consensus and support for peace and for their presence and objectives at multiple levels—including the state and its populations—along with the drafting of mandates that are anchored in meaningful and context-sensitive political processes which target diplomatic and humanitarian goals. United Nations peace operations are the most important contemporary tool for multilateral conflict management around the world and have historically distinguished themselves from other types of military interventions by adhering to three fundamental principles: the consensus of the parties; impartiality and the limited (and appropriate) use of force.
MONUSCO and MINUSMA, as well as MINUSCA, the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), are large-scale peace operations, with stabilization mandates. These three missions involve the bulk of the “blue helmets” deployed around the world, but are also at the center of growing internal and external pressures that make their end, or in the best of cases, their resettlement, uncertain. Unlike the old missions that focused on maintaining peace agreements between warring parties, MONUSCO, MINUSMA and MINUSCA are all tasked with helping the state government deal with violent internal challenges and assert their leadership, reflecting the dramatic change in the nature of the conflicts that have emerged since the end of the Cold War, where the predominant conflicts are intra-state ones to the detriment, up to now, of inter-state ones.
In these missions, the UN is explicitly intervening on the side of the state, and the peacekeepers have been accused of using force in defense of state authority, which sometime lacks legitimacy. But peace operations that undertake offensive military action (applying Chapter VII of the UN Charter) defy the principles of impartiality and the limited use of force, leaving only consensus to distinguish UN operations from other types of military interventions. Consequently, consent matters a great deal.
Traditionally, consensus is based on the approval of the host government, even when the state itself that is rescued by UN action is a notorious violator of the human (but also economic and social) rights of its population.
While MONUSCO today still operates with the consent of the Kinshasa government, it is clear that the civilian population is not very favorable to the presence of “blue helmets;” and this especially in the seething eastern region, where enormous natural wealth and interests of neighboring countries make the area explosive. The mission failed to address the security problems of civilian populations in the east; and for decades, thousands of soldiers have been rotated from half the world—but nothing has changed on the ground.
Furthermore, the behavior of international soldiers towards the civilian population that they should protect from violence is so deplorable that they open deep wounds due to serious and prolonged abuses, which can be easily exploited by those who want to target an exasperated population against the UN.
As a general aspiration, UN interventions are undertaken in the service of people, not just states. In one interpretation, a whole body of international obligations stems from the UN Charter’s initial declaration that peoples, not states, make a pact to save subsequent generations from the scourge of war. In this interpretation, the UN mandate is not simply about defending state sovereignty and the preferences of member states, but about the security, dignity and protection of people—ideas that are reflected in the mandate to protect civilians, that each multidimensional mission has authorized since 1999, and received by the Security Council.
Local activists and scholars have argued that peace takes root only when international actors invest in local communities and when political solutions that center the concerns of the local population have a way to develop. Missions focused on state security rather than people’s will and security explicitly make peacekeepers another potential source of instability in areas already fraught with threats to ordinary people. This more securitized and coercive version of peace operations runs counter to the United Nations’ vision of peacekeeping and peacebuilding that emphasizes the “primacy of politics.”
The Missions in Mali, DRC and CAR, on the other hand, act with the explicit consent of the host state in order to support and extend the power of the nation, often working alongside state forces, to counter the groups that it has identified as rebels.
In Mali, MINUSMA’s sustainability was in question long before the military coups—as the UN Secretary-General’s 2018 report noted, an independent analysis from that year concluded that the mission “was faced with a dilemma between the need to reform and reconstitute the Malian defense and security forces and at the same time support the existing forces in dealing with the current situation of stability,” and that only a “clear regional political framework” would make the mission’s objectives achievable. And now, the cannot move freely; cannot investigate alleged violations of human rights; can rotate troops only after a month of suspension. Finally, while there is an underlying political process on paper, in practice it is empty.
Furthermore, the instability of regional security arrangements raises further questions about the mission’s ability to implement its mandate. MINUSMA depended heavily on French, European, and African counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, which had formed a unique architecture of external forces with over 21,000 troops deployed across the region. This architecture is in flux, having proved ineffective and largely unpopular (it must be admitted that the narrative of some media on the welcome given by local populations to international forces, wherever they are deployed, is a legend fueled by the needs of internal politics of many states that participate in those operations to make them acceptable to their public opinions, especially in case of a politically controversial operation and in case of sustained human losses).
Furthermore, the same states that formally invite the UN to deploy, very often have no other choice in order to avoid internal collapse; and many governments do not look favorably on foreign military circulating freely in their own territory.
Mali is not the first host state to be so openly hostile to the peacekeepers. Perhaps the best-known example is the United Nations operation in Sudan in the early 2000s, carried out without the consent of Khartoum’s government, which did everything to sabotage its work and freedom of movement. But MINUSMA’s mandate to stabilize Mali makes the situation unusual: the “blue helmets” are in the field to help the Malian government fight jihadists and terrorists, while they are accepted with increasing difficulty by the same government they are supposed to be helping (and this ill-will towards the “blue helmets” is present both in DRC and CAR, at government level and in local public opinion). The political context has changed to such a radical extent that MINUSMA may no longer be in a position to operate in its current form and mandate.
Renegotiations of this year’s mandate at the United Nations Security Council also proved very difficult. The transitional government and Russian mercenaries were accused of being involved in atrocities against civilians and Russia initially opposed the draft resolution to address the violations of human rights and local restrictions on MINUSMA movements; and an attenuated solution was reached to avoid Moscow’s veto, which would have meant the total end of the mission; and, thus, the lesser evil was chosen.
UNSC, now more and more internally polarized, tends to simply renew the mandates and repeat the language and terms of commitment, when possible, instead of having to completely renegotiate the terms of an intervention; and this approach favors solutions of downside compromise. In the case of Mali, DRC and CAR, this approach places peacekeepers in an increasingly hostile environment, with little noticeable benefit, while leaving the door open to their near demise or (costly) irrelevance.
For these three missions, two potential options are open: either to be re-authorized as a more effective mission and with clear mandates, enforceable and clearly negotiated with host nations; or to terminate them. A third option is to prioritize the protection of civilians and document human rights violations, tasks that would require the consent which governments are clearly reluctant to give.
In more general terms, the protests in the DRC raise questions about the current nature and prospects of peace operations. They cannot do their jobs when the local population does not want them there; and UN operations without the consent of the local people are mere exercises to defend state sovereignty, not attempts to build lasting peace (and which therefore leave as soon as possible). And operating in dangerous circumstances without the consent of the host state or the ability to protect people from state violence or a clear peace to be maintained, as they are doing in Mali, DRC and CAR, risks further damaging the position of the UN and its residual prestige.
Building consensus at multiple levels is the key to the lasting success of UN peacekeeping operations and is the cornerstone for finding lasting political solutions to conflicts. The UN has tools and techniques to promote local peacebuilding efforts; and focusing these tools and techniques to build consensus for UN presence in local communities should be a key part of any mission. And, where host state consent is not possible, humanitarian, and diplomatic goals—not security goals—should be the central axis of UN efforts in a conflict. Otherwise, UN peacekeeping operations risk being left in a quagmire between divergent and unattainable goals, such as protecting people and solving security problems.
But if the UN is in the process of losing consensus in Africa, the USA, one of the most important states with the organization (and one of several) is actively looking for it, although the results are not very convincing. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on tour in Africa, with the announcement of the Biden administration’s policy towards the continent as a highlight of the visit. The new strategy was launched during the South African leg of the tour that also took Blinken to DRC and Rwanda, from August 7-12.
In Blinken’s country-specific discussions in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda are not to be defined as irrelevant, but as part of the US global strategy to contain Russian and Chinese pressure, and consolidate the anti-Moscow and Beijing approach in every sphere, including that of the United Nations, considered by Washington as basic and legitimizing.
However, it is the announcement of this new policy for the entire continent which is the most significant development, with far-reaching ramifications in the immediate, medium, and long term. It is the tradition of most American administrations to set up political and economic projects and initiatives for Africa, whether they are well-structured and articulated or simply ad hoc and disordered. The importance of these policies is that they shape relationships through trade and investment, political and diplomatic engagements, assistance through various humanitarian agencies and initiatives, and military relations.
According to an improper narrative, Donald Trump’s administration (2016-2020) would have made Africa disappear from its global political agenda. To be fair, the Trump administration hadn’t completely neglected Africa. One of the highlights of the Trump administration’s engagement with Africa was the 2018 launch of Prosper Africa, an inter-agency entity that provides a coordination mechanism for trade and investment programs. That Prosper Africa continues to exist during the Biden era, so ideologically polarized against the Trump one, shows that something good for Africa also came from the Trump administration.
However, the Trump administration did not engineer a global strategy, aside from casual statements by officials at the time—such as former National Councilor John Bolton—and often based on the United States’ exclusive need to stand up to China and Russia on the continent. But essentially there is a lack of a constant approach, replaced by moments of interest and phases of stagnation.
The latest US global strategy towards Africa was formulated ten years ago by the Barrack Obama administration. That policy prioritized strengthening democratic institutions; stimulating economic growth, trade, and investment; promoting peace and security; and, promoting opportunities and development through initiatives in the fields of health, food safety, climate change. While these issues remain relevant to Africa-US relations in 2022, political, economic, security and geopolitical circumstances have changed exponentially in the United States, Africa and around the world.
During the first months of Biden’s presidency, there was optimism in Africa about better relations with the then new administration. Some of the optimisms have been bolstered by the appointment of personalities believed to be in tune with African causes and interests, starting with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations.
While analysts, scholars and strategists await formal politics, there are first indications on the key aspects, which recall what was proposed by Washington on the occasion of the Pan-American Summit in Los Angeles and Biden’s trip to Korea and Japan: democracy, good governance and respect for human rights, security support (through AFRICOM). But on the economic front, the policy should include “economic prosperity,” and to be inclusive; and it should consider not only the interests of American companies, which made offers to the Indo-Pacific and Latin America rather weak.
Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).
On May 3, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the UN Security Council, the US State Department and the European High Representative Josep Borrell issued harsh statements condemning an attack by the Islamist Al-Shabab militias on an advanced base in Elbaraf, in the Middle Shabelle region, held by Burundian troops, of ATMIS, the recently activated stabilization operation of the African Union, established at the end of the mandate of AMISOM.
There are conflicting reports of the attack. Officially, there were about ten killed among the “green helmets.” Other sources report instead of almost two hundred killed and that the base was briefly occupied by Islamist militiamen, who after having sacked and burned it, abandoned the position. The gravity of the incident was however confirmed by the fact that the President of the Commission of the African Union (former Chadian foreign minister Mussa Faki) also broke silence by condemning the incident. Although AMISOM (like ATMIS) is, albeit in a politically ambiguous way, an articulation of the Union, a declaration from Addis Ababa reveals the gravity of the moment (especially considering that the regional organization has always been very sparing regarding public statements about Somalia, which is considered the most difficult area for the organization).
The attack on the base, in central Somalia, part of the Al-Shabab, was a grave signal to the AU, but also to the UN (whose Security Council Resolution 2628 of 31 March 2022 sanctioned the end of AMISOM and the activation of ATMIS), and to the EU, which has several operations on site, such as EUTM-Somalia (which has been operating since 2010 and in which military instructors from Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Romania, UK and Serbia take part), the EU CAP-Somalia (which has been operating since 2013), and the EUNAVFOR “Atalanta” (activated in 2008). It also means that the change of name means nothing and the Islamicists will continue to strike.
ATMIS (African [Union] Transition Mission in Somalia) replaced AMISOM (African [Union] Mission in Somalia) on 1 April, in line with a decision by the AU Peace and Security Council. The new mission has the mandate to support the Somali government in the implementation of the Transition Plan and in the transfer of greater responsibilities to the Somali armed forces and police. The activation of ATMIS was scheduled for December 2021 but disagreements with the Somali authorities delayed it and an agreement was finally reached on what appears to be more only a change of name and an extension of the existing mandate. ATMIS will operate until the end of 2024, after which all responsibilities will be transferred to the Somali security forces.
The ATMIS “capacity” of approximately 18,000 soldiers, 1,000 policemen (from Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda, Sierra Leone) and a hundred civilian staffers (all diplomats seconded from their respective nations and based in Nairobi) seems a mirror of its predecessor, as well as a large part of its mandate. The work of AMISOM, which began in March 2007, was focused on degrading the military capacity of Al-Shabab and strengthening the capacity of the Somali army and police, so that the mission could eventually withdraw as soon as possible. This happened only in part; the pan-African forces engaged in violent clashes with the Islamist militias, suffering heavy losses (some sources refer to up to 3,000 KIA), and even carried out an amphibious assault in 2012 in Chisimaio.
The mandate of the “green helmets” has been renewed several times and came to a difficult end in 2021. However, the exit did not happen, as the security threats that necessitated the arrival of pan-African soldiers continue to exist and Somalia continues to face three emergencies: security, governance, and development. These emergencies continue to grip the country and AMISOM, which was supposed to be the first response to security challenges, and the start of a positive loop, in which governance and development would lead the country out of the condition of a failed state (in existence since the fall of the never sufficiently deprecated regime of Siad Barre, which laid the foundations of the current instability). There has only been control of the situation, but no reversing of the negative trend. To determine the future of AMISOM, the AU and the UN conducted independent assessments last year and various options were proposed. An agreement was required on the mandate, composition, size, strategic and specific objectives of a new mission and the tasks of the military, civilian and police components. These processes have made the relations between the international community and the Somali authorities very tense, which although divided over everything, were unanimous in the very strong opposition to any possible reduction of forces and substantial modification of the mandate of AMISOM due to the slow process of integration between the national armed and security forces and those of the autonomous regions of Puntland and Jubaland.
Such was the hostility that last November the deputy head of the mission, the Ugandan diplomat Simon Mulongo was expelled, and a week after the start of ATMIS (!). The same was done with the Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia (SRCC), the Mozambican diplomat Francisco Madeira.
Now the mission is guided by an acting head, and Addis Ababa is negotiating with Mogadishu for another head of mission; and clearly the problem is not in the choice of the person but what the mission should do. This shows how for ATMIS the scenario is difficult and all uphill even without Al-Shabab. Somalia’s government wants ATMIS to focus on implementing the Transition Plan, developed in 2018, to transfer security responsibilities from AMISOM to the country’s security forces, but with substantial cash flows to equip and train them. It has recently been revised and will be implemented (hopefully) over the next three years. The AU and the UN agreed to this approach. Bankole Adeoye, the Nigerian diplomat who is the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs and Head of the Peace and Security Council, said the stabilization and construction goals of the Somali state and the activation of ATMIS will be fully in line with the Transition Plan.
The AU Peace and Security Council outlined a mandate for the new mission which included reducing the military capabilities of Al-Shabab and other terrorist groups, providing security, building the capabilities of security forces, justice and local authorities and support for peace and reconciliation. But as well, the mandate of AMISOM was the same and was aligned with the Transition Plan, so there was nothing new in ATMIS in this regard, compared to the previous one.
The biggest change is perhaps that the emphasis on the idea of a “transition” is most strongly rooted in the logic of the new mission, which has a four-step timeline for working with the Somali government to implement the Transition Plan. In addition, some minor adjustments should also occur, such as realignment of ATMIS facilities relative to those of AMISOM and greater command and control authority under the mission force commander; but these are limited overall. In terms of operational changes, ATMIS will differ from AMISOM in increasing mobility, lethality, and efficiency in every sector of the mission, with the main goal of rapidly degrading the capabilities of Al-Shabab and other extremist militant groups.
This capacity should increase soon, after it was dramatically reduced when the US forces present in Somalia were withdrawn in a controversial decision by President Trump in December 2020. Just after the election of the new President of Somalia, the Pentagon notified the return of a substantial presence. This presence, with special forces operators and drone units, and after the withdrawal was re-deployed in Djibouti, will increase the capabilities of the pan-African troops.
Regardless of the May 2 attack, Al-Shabab continues to exert strong pressure on international and Somali forces and the group still controls vast territories of central and southern Somalia. It carries out deadly raids in the Somali capital itself and has substantial financial resources (according to a research institute based in Mogadishu, in 2021 it has collected about $180 Million in revenue [taxes and customs] and has spent 24 million dollars on weapons). In recent months, many attacks have been reported, aggravated by social strikes and riots in Mogadishu and Beledweyne which caused over 53 deaths.
As mentioned, the presence of the “green helmets” was envisaged as an element of activation of a process of national unification, albeit in a federal context. Thus, prioritizing the political deadlock would help resolve the country’s security challenges; but the replacement of AMISOM with ATMIS comes at a critical time. Political tensions in the country still threaten the modest progress made over the years. The divisions among the Somali elites over the distribution of power and resources are at the heart of all problems. Two peaceful transitions of power occurred in 2012 and 2017, but the third faltered due to disputes over election management. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” in power since 2017, remained in office after his term expired in February 2021 and he was re-elected on 15 May, ending, at least formally, the institutional stalemate and re-activating a more serene dialogue also with the international community.
Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble (the defeated competitor of “Farmaajo” in the presidential run) has been tasked with reforming the electoral process. But progress has been slow, despite the tireless mediation work of UNPOS (UN Political Office for Somalia). The country’s future is unpredictable, with the political impasse sometimes leading to armed clashes and persistent external interference, such as by Turkey, Qatar and the UAE, which have their own agendas (and substantial military presences on the ground) and which do not necessarily coincide with the plans of the UN and the EU. (But then the UK also has its own bilateral training mission of the Somali armed forces, the “Tangham” operation, with about sixty instructors; and Italy, the former colonial power, has a similar one, MIADIT-Somalia, which is focused on training the Somali and Djibouti police forces and which works closely with EUCAP- Somalia).
In terms of the wider regional dynamics, how the new government will position itself in the neighbourhood will have implications in terms of realignment of regional politics and may affect the project of a tripartite alliance of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The outcome of the election will also affect Somalia’s relations with Gulf countries. Qatar is said to have supported Farmaajo’s re-election, whereas the UAE has maintained ties with Roble and some of the federal member states. ATMIS will also suffer the same financial problems as AMISOM. The United Nations has provided logistical support to the mission, and will continue to do so with the UNSOS (UN Support Office for Somalia). The new (or old) AU presence in Somalia will impact also in the format and mandate of UNSOS, which will get a “technical” extension mandate in the month of May from the Security Council in the perspective of a strategic assessment of the mission and a possible re-tailoring.
The EU, it is supposed, will continue to pay the salaries of ATMIS military and police personnel, as it had done for AMISOM. But the EU has progressively reduced its support in recent years (also to protest the internal policies of some countries participating in AMISOM, especially in the areas of political and civil liberties), and its intentions for ATMIS are not yet clear, even if the EU Delegation in Somalia assured that the organization is ready to contribute and ensure predictability of funding as long as the configuration plan is realistic, pragmatic and focused.
Thus, it appears that ATMIS will not differ substantially from AMISOM in its ultimate purposes. It will mainly be a continuation of the current military support which, although essential for the security of the country, will not be new.
As political deadlock is at the heart of Somalia’s social and security problems. Resolving these should be the priority; and the recent election of a new President is not a guarantee for such a resolution, given the controversial and conflictive political life of the country. If it is to differ from AMISOM, the mandate of ATMIS and the reconfiguration of international and local forces should include a solid political commitment to support reconciliation between the country’s divided political groups and better political cooperation between the UN and AU (and EU). Otherwise, the exercise of simply renaming the mission without addressing the institutional and political problems in the first place that afflict the country and that keep it anchored to the condition of a “failed state,” will not help much to change. Analyzing the recent developments in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, a region of increasing importance, naturally leads to a broadening of view, considering, or at least trying to consider, the possible future regional and sub-regional repercussions of the war in Ukraine. Russia’s relations with Africa are under heavy pressure in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine and amidst the articulate reactions from the continent’s states to the new war in Europe.
In recent years, Moscow has strengthened ties with countries across the continent, especially those plagued by internal violence and which are also disillusioned with Western powers. Russia remains a leading arms supplier and Russian private military contractors continue to expand their presence, most recently in Mali, Central Africa, Cameroon, and Sudan (not counting the political-diplomatic forays into Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad). Whether Russia is pursuing a broader strategy, or simply engaging in tactical power plays, focused to disturb the role and presence of Western powers in Africa, remains a matter of debate. Russia has long sought a naval base on the Red Sea and holds its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to influence the Continent.
Africa’s response to the Ukrainian crisis has been far from united. During the historic session of the UN General Assembly in early March, the emerging rifts were clearly shown: only about half of African states supported the resolution’s denunciation of Russian aggression; one, the only one of the Continent and furthermore belonging to the Horn of Africa, Eritrea, has opposed. While some countries have strongly condemned the invasion as a flagrant violation of crucial norms, others have been more hesitant, often emphasizing the West’s inconsistent commitment to these same principles in other situations, and the West’s murky and contradictory statements and actions.
It is a fact that in the African Continent, and in the very sensitive region of the Horn of Africa and its surrounding areas (the Suez Canal/Red Sea/Bab-el-Mandeb Strait axis), the situation remains open to interference, if not directly Russian, possibly by other players (such as Iran, present in Yemen), with further upheavals in an already fragile region.
Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).