The Melting Horn of Africa

The decomposition of the international community from its consolidated patterns is becoming a constant element of the current landscape and this makes it very difficult for actors and powers to analyze and manage situations, being them old, new and/or renewed presences, and builds instrumental alliances depending on the areas where interests and crises are concentrated.

An example of this situation where allies are competitors and competitors can be potential partners is the Horn of Africa, region which currently experiencing high levels of political violence and instability, from the conflicts in Sudan and Ethiopia to Islamist militant activity in Kenya, the al-Shabab insurgency in Somalia to end up with the brutal, and seems endless till now, civil war in Sudan.

This region is proving to be one of the most delicate hubs on the international scene and its dynamics transcend purely geographical terms, but extend their effects to surrounding areas, such as southern and eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean up to the Mediterranean.

At the center of these dynamics there is a group of states and quasi-state realities, where there are ambitions, attempts to recompose internal cohesion and international image, jarring socio-economic situations, extreme meteorological and environmental phenomena, intrusions of new powers, international and regional organizations always undecided and velleitarian. All this creates a potential mix of instability, but, paradoxically, also of opportunities.

The Horn of Africa, which includes four states (at least those officially recognized), Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, is heavily marked by the legacy (at least in three out of four, excluding Djibouti, French, and British for Somaliland) of Italian colonization (colonialism of a poor nation, which has its own characteristics), a failed decolonization, the Cold War, the chaotic post-Cold War and the more chaotic new Cold War of the present days.

The post-World War II systematization scheme held until the 1970s, with the end of the Ethiopian empire, replaced by a pro-Soviet government, while the USSR already had a foot in Somalia since the coup d’état of the dictator Siad Barre in 1970.

In this context, Somalia, precisely because of its geographical location, multiple weaknesses, represents a central hub of regional, pan-regional and beyond, balances and fractures. What are these weaknesses? An institutional reality of a nominal federal structure, a façade to hide a clannish reality, in the process of further disintegration starting from Somaliland, a de facto independent state since 1991 and now Puntland, which looks towards the end of the ‘special autonomy’ of that territory, the ancient Migurtinia (it should be recalled that from this region started the uprising of ‘90 which overthrow the regime of general Siad Barre, in power since 1969).

The recent decision by the Federal Government of Somalia to suspend the provisional constitution, a foundation for unity and state-building, has raised concerns. This decision, made on 4 April of this year, is perceived as detrimental to the original concept of establishing a federal state (in 2012) as only possible wat to push Somalia out of the quagmire where the country is since 1991, the removal of Siad Barre, the explosion of the civil war between ‘warlords’ and the explosion of the armed Islamism. Further, Puntland has affirmed its commitment to engaging with neighboring countries, the international community, and Somalia’s partners.

The other major problem is that of security represented by the threat of Al Shabab and the inability of Mogadishu, precisely due to its mentioned clan reality, to form credible national military institutions, despite a prolonged commitment and, so far not up to various military training missions (UN, USA, EU, UK, UAE, Türkiye) and an African Union (AU) military mission, deployed since 2007 (fully financed by the EU), which suffered heavy losses and only managed to contain the pressure of the Al Shabab. This despite the presence of thousands of foreign military operators, contractors and US regular elements, mostly with members of the special forces, drones (for the US alone we are talking about 2,000 units between instructors, personnel of special forces and drones’ operators).

Now Somalia’s security situation faces a greater challenge, the announced withdrawal of the AU ‘green berets’, which began in 2023 and continued despite several obstacles posed by Mogadishu and planned to be completed in 2024. The Somali government is seriously worried for a security vacuum that could be truly fatal for the African nation.

The shape, size and mandate of a new force to secure Somalia — after the exit of the current African Union peacekeeping mission at the end of this year — remain unknown as it emerges that the Horn of Africa nation is yet to submit its plan before the UNSC (UN Security Council) for consideration and final endorsement.

In a communique issued at the beginning of April, AU said Somalia’s plan for a new force to replace ATMIS (African [Union] Transition Mission is Somalia, which replaced AMISOM, African [Union] Mission in Somalia, the initial deployment of AU-backed troops since 2007, but with limited successes in the stabilization of the country against Islamist terrorists of Al Shabab) will be submitted next month after the continental body undertakes a comprehensive study, and a initial political approval, of the threats and needs on the ground before seeking endorsement of the UNSC.

Mogadishu missed its initial timeline of end of March when it was expected to submit its proposal, due to consultations with the AU PSC (Peace and Security Council) on 26 March and 3 April to plan for the new force that will start operations on 1 January 2025, once ATMIS withdrawal will be completed. Mogadishu indicated only that the ideal force level would be around 10.000 troops.

The AU gave its support to Mogadishu call for a full assessment of the threats and current security needs, in a briefing by Somalia on its proposal for a post-ATMIS security arrangement, pursuant to the UNSC Resolution 2710 (2023).

The new force would be deployed and assume security responsibilities to support Somali security forces on 1 January 2025, a scenario that requires boots on the ground before end of this year to ensure seamless exit of ATMIS troops and immediate replacement.

The AU is keen to preserve the gains that its mission has registered in Somalia for 17 years battling the Al Shabab extremists and (allegedly) liberating more than 80% of Somali territory from the control of the Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group, the already mentioned Al Shabab.

But as the mission gradually departs the Horn of Africa nation, with periodic drawdown of troops — with another 4.000 troops to leave at the end of June — experts say Somalia remains vulnerable as the country’s efforts for force generation was not synchronized with ATMIS numbers reduction.

Accordingly, the AU underlines the importance of preserving the gains registered since 2007. International partners that have supported the AU mission and the rebuilding of Somalia’s army to take full responsibility of its security, want a “lean mission focusing on supporting the Somali security forces” to complete the country’s transition without creating a new strain on donor budgets, under a serious fatigue.

But the AU also reiterates its deep concern over the ATMIS funding gap — even as the force’s tenure ends in under eight months — stressing the need for adequate, sustainable and predictable funding for the mission, the burden of which, international partners have borne since 2007.

The EU, for instance, which funds the mission (€2.7 billion for AMISOM/ATMIS till now), face competing funding priorities elsewhere, while the AU still looks the same source for “adequate, predictable and sustainable financing to the post-ATMIS force.

In the same period, were recorded an increased number of attacks of Al Shabab attacks against security forces and ATMIS bases, as well as security force operations against the militants.

Last month, particularly in Galmudug and Hirshabelle states, the Somali troops suffered significant setbacks, which led Al Shabab to regain control of several areas after security forces withdrew from several bases, and showing how fragile were the gains of AMISOM/ATMIS and the solidity of regular somali troops, where internal tensions over logistics failures, corruption, and power struggles were reported.

Despite these shortcomings and the low level of political empathy with the Somalian leadership, the international community cannot ignore the dire stability needs of Mogadishu and want to avert any vacuum between ATMIS and the follow force (in whatever format). In the last week of April EU had approved €116 million ($117 million) for stabilisation efforts in Somalia via its Political and Security Committee. The EU added that it would add $75 million to the resources already mobilised for ATMIS in previous years, covering July 2021 to December 2023, specifying that previous support to the peacekeepers under the EPF (European Peace Facility, an off-budget EU financing tool set up in March 2021, which aims towards the delivery of military aid to partner countries and funds the deployment of EU military missions abroad under the Common Foreign and Security Policy, ECFSP) amounted to €270 million ($271 million). The agreed funding for Somali National Army amounts to €42 million ($43 million) while, according to the EU, “Previous support to the SNA under the EPF amounts to €50 million ($51 million).” This came as the UK announced a contribution of $2.8 million in support of Somali security forces via the UNSOS (UN Support Office in Somalia).

Britain already provided $29.17 million of voluntary contributions in support of UNSOS since 2022 and provides financial support to the ATMIS, which in the while has fulfilled the first two phases of its drawdown of 5,000 troops, handing over 13 FOB (Forward Operating Bases) to Somalia security forces since the beginning of 2023. The next drawdown of peacekeepers is expected to be 4,000 before end of June 2024.

But for Mogadishu, security is also undermined by unresolved internal issues and, as mentioned, external intrusions. And the recent events in Somaliland are a perfect example of this.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, who survived the Tigray insurrection, and with revolts that risk taking on similar proportions in the Amhara region (the heart of the Ethiopian ethnic group and nation), has done research since his inauguration in 2018 of his country’s access to the sea an existential question. Last October 13th he described the situation in Ethiopia as a geographical prison from which it need be freed.

Landlocked since 1991 following Eritrean independence, Ethiopia is in vital need of a maritime opening, which involves either returning the port of Assab, at Asmara’s expense, or having access to it as a free port free from Eritrean customs. But given the difficult relations with Eritrea, Addis Ababa is looking elsewhere, such as facilities in the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland.

Addis Ababa announced an agreement with Hargeisa on 1 January, but without providing many details. It is useful to remember that in 1950 Eritrea, from 1941 under British military government, was federated to Ethiopia, through a vote of the UN General Assembly, as compensation for the Italian invasion and reward for the decisive pro-Western position of the late emperor Haile Selassie; Ethiopia was committed to keeping Eritrea a federated entity; in 1962, with a unilateral act, Addis Ababa formally annexed Eritrea, without any international protest.

The situation deteriorated when the pro-Soviet communist regime led by Menghistu Haile Mariam came to power in 1974 with a coup that deposed the emperor. The head of the Derg (the military junta) initiates a ferocious repression against the Eritrean independence movement, but also against the Somalis of the Ogaden, the populations of the Oromo and Tigray. The repression is so ruthless that the various resistance movements band together and lead to the fall of that bloody regime, despite the help of Soviet ‘advisers’ and Cuban troops.

In 1991, Ethiopia became a federal state and Eritrea became fully independent, but the bilateral relations, after a promising start, quickly became difficult and led to open war between 1998 and 2000. As evidence of the fluctuating relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara, on the occasion of the recent revolt in the state of Tigray, the intervention of the Eritrean forces saved Ethiopia from military collapse in the face of the Tigrayan offensive.

After this interval, bilateral relations returned to the bad and Aby Ahmed Ali realized that an outlet to the sea, moreover into a closed basin like the Red Sea and, as can be seen in this phase due to the strike of Yemenite Houtis militias against international maritime trade, was a weak option. Aby Ahmed turned his gaze and action elsewhere and the choice of Somaliland seemed obligatory and better than the port of Assab; firstly reduce the contacts with a ‘pariah’ state as Eritrea; secondly, it would give Ethiopia direct access to the Indian Ocean and international maritime trade routes.

Especially now that Ethiopia participation in the Russian-Chinese influenced BRICS group of states became effective on 1 January as well.

But this agreement impacts on a difficult geopolitical situation. Also, in this case it is useful to take a quick look at the past to better understand the present and ask questions about the future.

Somaliland is the former British Somalia and after the end of the trusteeship of Rome over the former Italian Somalia assigned by the United Nations (between 1950-1960 and started when Italy was not even part of the organization, joined only in 1955), it was united with Mogadishu, but always remaining a peripheral and little-considered reality. This situation promoted and preserved the existence of pro-independence groups.

When the regime of Mohammed Siad Barre, in power since 1969, collapsed in 1991, Somaliland took the opportunity and proclaimed itself independent and sought international recognition and attempted to assert the fact that, although for a very short period (less than one week), the former British colony was in fact independent before being united with Somalia.

So far, this project has had very little success despite Somaliland’s enviable strategic position. In fact, only Taiwan has established diplomatic contacts with Hargheisa; the very strong ties with the UAE, which has port and military installations in Somaliland to support its operations in Yemen, have not led to the expected diplomatic recognition. It must be said that Somaliland has nevertheless made good use of its independence, ensuring political stability, economic and social development, democratic openness, and respect for electoral and democratic rules and, above all, the absence of Al Shabab terrorists, who instead infest Somalia.

Somaliland has seized a window of opportunity by focusing on Ethiopia’s strategic interest in exchange for what it has stubbornly sought for more than thirty years: to unblock, even formally, its isolation.

But the agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland did not arise out of nowhere; already in 2018, Hargeisa, Addis Ababa and Dubai had signed an agreement for the development of the port of Berbera, the largest port of the small state (but this agreement was preceded by a bilateral one between the UAE and Somaliland, signed in 2017, which allowed the ‘little Sparta’ of the Arabic peninsula to open a military base on African soil).

In exchange for a coastal window in the port area of Berbera, on the coast of the Gulf of Aden and at the mouth of the Red Sea, Ethiopia would have committed to recognizing the self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland. With the signing of a memorandum of understanding on 1 January 2024, Somaliland grants Ethiopia 20 km of its coastline for a period of 50 years (renewable).

The second most populous country on the African continent with 120 million inhabitants, Ethiopia has 90% of its foreign trade passing through the port of Djibouti with an annual cost of around 1.5 billion dollars in custom duties.

The need of a free harbour, cheaper than the cost of Eritrean customs have a strategic relevance for the Ethiopian economy and its stability. Aby Ahmed needs a sustained economic growth other than the skyline of Addis Ababa; the dissemination of the socioeconomic development is a way to pay and buy the social and tribal calm in order to compensate his program to dismantling the federal nature of Ethiopia and cutting the nails at the states resistances.

The details of the agreement, presented on 1 January in the Ethiopian capital by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi, will have to be revealed later and it is still unclear precisely which part of the coast should come under Ethiopian control, but the cities of Zeilah and Zughaya, not far from Djibouti, have been mentioned by several sources. Addis Ababa plans to build a commercial port, a naval base, an industrial development zone and a road corridor.

This decision by Ethiopia leads to the effective revival of the national naval forces. In fact, the Ethiopian Navy, was reactivated in 2019, is making preparations to establish a naval facility in Somaliland. The Ethiopian navy, one of the most skilled naval forces on the continent, was disbanded in the early 1990s when Ethiopia lost its coastline to the separation of Eritrea. The restoration of the naval force was one of the first initiatives undertaken by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali when he assumed office in early 2018. Over the past five years, with the assistance of friendly nations (which were not disclosed), the Naval Force was formally re-established, with efforts concentrated on the organization of the structure and the training of officers and staff, and the first activities took place, such as the dispatch of relief teams for the Somali populations affected by catastrophic floods.

The Ethiopian Naval Force is currently training its personnel overseas and plans are underway to establish a naval training facility, academy and navy headquarters. For his part, Hargeisa is expected to acquire shares in two thriving Ethiopian companies, Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s most profitable airline, and telecommunications giant Ethio Telecom. But Somaliland hopes above all that the agreement with Ethiopia will open the way to other diplomatic relations, to be officially recognized as a sovereign state and to emerge from the galaxy of states ignored by the international community.

For its part, the Mogadishu government has denounced a flagrant violation of its sovereignty over a separatist territory not recognized by the international community and announced that Somalia will defend its territory by all means. He also recalled his ambassador to Ethiopia in response to what he considers a unilateral act that endangers regional stability; then expelled the Ethiopian ambassador and ordered to close the Ethiopian consulates in Somaliland and Puntland, which both openly ignored.

The Puntland State makes it clear that it will continue its engagements with neighboring countries, the International Community, and Somalia’s partners adding that the decision to close the Ethiopian Consulate in Garowe does not apply to Puntland. Further, Somaliland consider that the diplomatic representation of Ethiopia is now at the ambassadorial level, after the agreement of 1 January and also threatens the use of force and in the meantime Mogadishu appealed to the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body that brings together Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda) which however took a Pilate-like position, awaiting further developments.

Meanwhile, Mogadishu is widening its diplomatic offensive (some analyst says that Somalia has only those) as much as it can, also appealing to the EAC (East African Community, recently joined) and the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) and similar initiatives are planned at the African Union, United Nations, International Court of Justice, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Arab League.

Mogadishu has never accepted the independence of Somaliland, however Somalia’s hopes of bringing Somaliland (and the ‘autonomous’ Puntland) back under its control, even if in a federal form, are very limited, due to its political weakness, institutional, economic and military.

In this perspective, the approach of the Somalian president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, recall a lot the ones of the Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed, who tried to empty the federal system of his country and replacing it with a more centralized system. The first answer to this strategy was the violent uprising of Tigrai, which risked to topple him, and the groving turmoil which across Oromo and Amhara states, which openly refuse the disbandment of their own state forces.

Under general point of view, when there are ongoing strong separatist trends, a federal system, instead of control those and bring it back in a harmonious and constructive balance, risk to exacerbate it and bring to a serious fragmentation and instability. In both Ethiopia and Somalia, the federal system clearly shows a poor approach which exasperated the already existing tensions. The problem is that, between the two, Somalia appears more fragile and with more limited options.

A military action by Mogadishu towards Somaliland, as well as being unlikely, would risk involving Ethiopia, which already has troops in Somalia in ATMIS (thousands of Ethiopian soldiers with the ‘green helmet’ garrisoning Bay, Bakool and Gedo regions and some areas of the Hiiraan and Galgaduud regions, even these areas are largely under the security responsibility of the Djibouti Armed Forces), but there are other thousands Ethiopian troops out of the AU framework and operate under the aegis of a previous bilateral agreement between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, always focused to fight the Al Shabab.

One option in the hands of Mogadishu would be to ignite the rebellious forces of the Somali-speaking populations of the Ogaden, as well as accentuate the intolerance of the Dhulbahante clan, located between Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland and Ethiopia; but a harsh reaction from Addis Ababa would be foreseeable with the risk, however, of being fuel for the fire of other ongoing regional revolts which would risk breaking up East Africa and all the surrounding areas, which already have their own problems, starting from the ferocious civil war that is tearing Sudan apart, and the other civil war which, even now silenced, still affect South Sudan.

The agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland is looked favorably by Russia, which has already allowed Ethiopia and the UAE join the BRICS and sees its regional position being strengthened and threatening, even if indirectly, the jugular routes of maritime traffic towards Europe and the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that Eritrea is a faithful ally of Moscow. As is clear at this stage, the agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland is part of a complex regional context. In Djibouti, although there are French, US, Japanese and Italian bases (other NATO and EU countries make extensive use of these bases), there is a Chinese military installation. As for it, the general context remains difficult, and there is the risk that other actors will enter, complicating the situation.

In fact, almost a month after the agreement between Addis Ababa and Hargeisa, Egypt also appeared on the scene; President-Marshal Al Sissi expressed a harsh judgment on the agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland, clearly expressing support for Mogadishu. Behind Egypt’s position is the unresolved issue of the construction of the GERD (Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) on the Blue Nile River, which has been going on with ups and downs for 12 years. It could appear realistic that Egypt wants to use the triangular dispute to put pressure on Ethiopia and make it be less drastic and participatory in the management of the waters of the Blue Nile which Cairo absolutely needs for its economic development and social stability.

Furthermore, there is the situation in Yemen, divided and in the hands of de facto warring factions and one of them, the Houthis, in conflict in 2014 against everyone (or almost everyone) and avalanche effects are feared. Finally, after a too short pause, threats that were thought to be overcome, but which the very difficult economic and social situation in Somalia has caused to re-emerge, such as piracy. The IMB (International Maritime Bureau) of the ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) recently advised shipping companies and operators to remain vigilant while transiting waters off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. Since November several ships have been seized off the coast of Somalia, with some still held hostage, showing that Somali pirates have rebuilt their capability.

Somalia is trying in every way to strengthen its position and find partners who can help it get out of a humiliating situation. In early February, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler and Somalia’s Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur signed a framework agreement on defense and economic cooperation between two countries in Ankara. The agreement, which adds to the previous ones (2009, technical cooperation agreement; 2010 training cooperation agreement, scientific and technical cooperation; 2012, training and cooperation agreement; 2015 defense industry agreement) as well as starting a training program of the Somali navy, aims to improve Somalia’s security perception and at the same time supports Ankara’s ambitions to project maritime power beyond its shores. The agreement falls within a regional context weakened by the recent agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland to give Addis Ababa access to the open sea in exchange for the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations.

The two nations have released few details on the terms of the agreement. What is certainly known is that Turkey will support Somalia in training and equipping its small navy, thus expanding the impact of the training mission of the Turkish army that has been operating in Mogadishu since 2017. Mogadishu, despite all its problems, has launched in a massive diplomatic offensive to counter Addis Ababa’s initiative and to give legitimacy to its claims on a territory that Somalia considers secessionist and illegal. But there is more behind the naval agreement than just a simple deterrent for Ethiopia by Somalia. It is also about Turkey’s long-standing ambitions to project its power in the Red Sea region and pave the way for further defense deals in the region in the future and the culmination of more than a decade of Turkish involvement in Somalia.

This involvement focused on a broad project of nation-building, security sector reform, humanitarian assistance and socio-economic development at a time when Somalia was a nation forgotten by the international community. The agreement aims to secure mutual interests, positioning Ankara as a significant player in the strategic dynamics of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa in times to come. This can also be seen as part of Ankara’s hard power projection capability and its advanced defense policy.

Through the agreement with Somalia, Ankara will further strengthen its defense ties with Mogadishu, which will bring benefits for the Turkish defense industry and Turkish commercial interests, while consolidating Turkey’s military presence in the strategic Horn Africa and the Red Sea. Ankara is already a regional power, active in the southern and eastern Mediterranean, in Libya, the Sahel, Central Asia, the Gulf, Syria and Iraq. It has the second largest armed forces in NATO and a very effective and active diplomatic corps that is based on a vast network of embassies, consulates and specialized institutions. The expansion of its naval presence in the Red Sea is the logical next step and it is not impossible to even imagine a future naval base in Somalia, to match ‘Turksom’ (the name of the Turkish training compound in Mogadishu).

As mentioned above, the agreement with Somalia, beyond the security needs of Mogadishu, is for Turkey a part of the broader national strategy to protect its supply chains and create strategic depth in the maritime sector and in this is the materialization of the 2021 ‘Mavi Vatan’ maritime strategy which is corroborated by recent orders for a second aircraft carrier (with a larger displacement and capacity than the ‘Anadolou’, currently in service and due to the expulsion of Ankara from the F-35 Lighting II programme, carrying only helicopters and drones) and four other frigates. ‘Mavi Vatan’ is a strategy that aims to re-establish Turkey as a maritime power with a reach well beyond the eastern Mediterranean and beyond its immediate coasts to develop a deep-sea Navy with a strategic reach and depth ranging beyond the Mediterranean, to the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean.

However, reflecting the persistent ambiguity of Turkey, originated by the requirements of multiple alignment of Ankara, despite a verbal acknowledgment of the territorial integrity of Mogadishu, the hopes of Somalian president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to see a Turkish navy squadron showing the flag in front of the waters of Somaliland and Puntland remain pure theory, despite a visit of Turkish Navy warship to Mogadishu on 24 April and the promise to assist the country to build up a navy (and apparently putting an end to a similar project launched by the Italian Minister of Defence).

After trying to block it in every way, Somalia had to accept the option of withdrawing the ‘green berets’ of ATMIS. Aware of the weakness of its armed forces, Mogadishu looks anxiously for every possible gap filler, and in case of a weak answer of AU for a post-ATMIS operation, may consider that Ankara in the perennial search of affirmation (or self-affirmation), it would be interested in support her security needs and maybe being the leading nation of another anti-Shabab coalition.

Turkey, in the eyes of some Somali leaders, could represent an alternate option in security provider in case that the ATMIS option will fail. Mogadishu is already thinking about and whose terms should be made known after the summer.

But the relations between Mogadishu and Ankara, as confirmed by the large number of agreements, include of course the economic dimension, or better say, the exploitation of natural resources (in this case hydrocarbons) by the stronger partner who leave royalties to the weak one.

Somalia says Turkey will begin drilling oil off the country’s massive coastline from next year, according to the Director General of the Somali Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Mohamed Hashi Abdi ‘Arabey’, who confirmed the recent assertion by a Turkish official on a plan for deep-sea oil drilling operation from early 2025. They will begin seismic works and drilling at the coasts facing Barawe and Hobbio districts (Barawe is about 200 km south of Mogadishu while Hobbio is about 500 km to the northeast). In addition to the inclusion of Turkey in the Red Sea-Bab el Mandeb Strait chessboard, the renewed rivalry between Ethiopia and Somalia regarding the future Somaliland has awakened another significant problem.

In fact, both Ethiopia and Somaliland, in addition to agreeing on the issue of the portion of territory that should be leased to Addis Ababa, have also agreed on the management of commercial air traffic control, creating an unclear situation as various and sometimes contradictory, instructions to airlines, which found themselves forced to modify the routes of their aircrafts and reducing access to Somali airspace, bringing to the surface the jurisdictional and political problem of who (really) controls the airspace of Somalia and whether or not this includes Somaliland.

For many years, the unstable political situation in Somalia has had a serious impact on the country’s aviation sector. The previous national airline, Somali Airlines, also suffered due to civil war in the early 1990s. However, following improvements in some areas, last year the airspace over Somalia was reclassified to “Class A” (therefore normal) and saw the return of air traffic control services to the country after three decades. Also highlighting the progress made by the aviation sector, Somalia recently opened its first MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) center in over 30 years and therefore now has a facility to repair and inspect aircraft locally. The airspace over Somalia and the surrounding ocean is managed by the SCAA (Somali Civil Aviation Authority) from the Mogadishu Area Control Center, which claims to be able to exercise its jurisdiction also over Somaliland, which instead it refuses on the grounds that it has its own independent state.

This airspace, known as the Mogadishu FIR (Flight Information Region ) and its controlling authority are defined in the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Air Navigation Plan for the Africa and Indian Ocean Region (AFI), which recognizes Somalia (including Somaliland) as the controlling state, and by extension, the Somali Civil Aviation Authority, and this position is also shared by the IATA (International Air Transport Association), the umbrella organization airlines around the world. Somaliland has control over its airports but the question of airspace remains effectively open.

Egal International Airport (HGA) is the state’s main airport and serves the capital Hargeisa. Following the signing of the Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU, Somali authorities began restricting flight activity in Somaliland to assert their authority over their airspace. As a result of the ongoing litigation, on January 17, the SCAA blocked an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft carrying Ethiopian diplomatic delegates from entering the airspace, saying it did not have permission to enter the country. According to media sources, the SCAA also blocked an air ambulance carrying a Somaliland citizen who “needed urgent help”, in violation of the rules that govern international civil aviation in such cases. However, Somali authorities have denied this latest claim.

In return, Somaliland claimed independence and jurisdiction over its territory and surrounding areas, issuing an international aviation warning and a statement on its X (formerly Twitter) page. Since both states claim the right to control traffic, there have been numerous reports of airlines receiving conflicting instructions while flying over the area from people posing as ‘air traffic controllers’ and risking collisions. It is not entirely clear whether this was also the result of the dispute between the controllers of Mogadishu and Hargeisa.

This was followed by a February 19 statement in which Mogadishu accused Somaliland of disrupting air routes used by aircraft over portions of the airspace of the northern regions of Somalia. The Somalian government added that if these offensive measures continue, Mogadishu will take strong measures to ensure the safety and security of Somali civil aviation. The dispute has also saw obscure events such as the murder of an civilian air traffic controller of the Hargheisa airport in Mogadishu and Somaliland’s protest over the arrest of six people from that territory by Somali police.

The fate of operations in Somali airspace is almost as delicate as that of maritime traffic between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The East African area is one of the busiest on the continent. The region is also home to some of Africa’s largest airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways. Some of the major airlines connecting the African subcontinent south of Ethiopia with destinations in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent pass through Somali airspace.

The same applies to air connections between Western Europe and the islands of the Indian Ocean. As IATA has stated, no airline would fly in unsafe airspace and signaling the worsening situation, Ethiopian Airlines has announced that it will change some of its routes to avoid Somali airspace. For airlines still flying to the country, crews have been advised to pay attention to the environment and follow the instructions contained in the NOTAM issued by the Mogadishu authorities which advise them to contact the Mogadishu Area Control Center in particular in the area within a radius of 150 nautical miles from Hargeisa.

Despite several attempt to reorganize the state, like blocking illegal fishing in its territorial waters (that is a real challenge giving that the coast guard and maritime police have mere ‘brown waters’ capacities), Mogadishu and make public the improving financial situation, thanks to erasure of debt from countries like Russia, Somalia is banking on new opportunities coming out of recent debt relief to seek new credit lines and open up for trade.

Last year, Mogadishu was the only East African country that had zero debt after all the debts were forgiven by the World Bank and IMF (in blatant rivalry with the cancellation of debt decided by Moscow in occasion of the last Russia-Africa summit on last July, around 600 million of US$; but not only Moscow, cancel the Mogadishu debt, also London; in fact, without providing details on the amount, UK has cancelled 100% of its Somalia’s historic debts). It gave a fresh start and opens a huge market for East Africa. In December, Somalia reached an agreement to cancel $4.5 billion of debt with international lenders. That, the diplomat says, gave it new opportunity to attract investors as well as be eligible to borrow more from lenders.

So far, Mogadishu has been cautious of simply piling new debt and officials have said they will prioritise opening up and rebuilding state institutions instead. In the month of April, Somalia signed a financial agreement with the IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development, a Rome-based UN specialized institution) which will see Mogadishu receive up to $31.22 million for support programmes related to food security in rural areas. The money is to be channelled under the Rural Livelihood Resilience Programme, aimed at improving food security and resilience in rural areas. The funding will the first direct investment by IFAD in Somalia since Mogadishu’s external debt pile was cleared. Despite the finance portfolio’s optimism, it expects that global problems affect the country both directly and indirectly.

In mid-March this year, representatives of the Paris Club met with representatives of Somalia government and reached consensus on a debt cancellation. The Club’s announcement indicated that debt cancellation came as a result of the Horn of Africa country reaching its Completion Point under the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (Enhanced HIPC) Initiative approval by the Executive Boards of the IMF and the World Bank in December 2023.

The debt owed to Paris Club creditors was estimated to be $2 billion as of January 1, 2023, which means 99% of that is now forgiven by the creditors.

However, the regional perspectives are complex. The problems of Somalia seem endless and not limited to the relations with Ethiopia, Somaliland and the collapsing of the federal system. Also, Puntland, which for years remained in a kind of political limbo, not independence but within a special ‘autonomy’ (not octroyed by Mogadishu, but self-gained), showed the fragility of attraction and coercion capability of Mogadishu.

The (Federal, nominally) Government of Somalia’s military toothlessness is responsible for its impotence; instead of focusing on rectifying the former ahead of the foreseeable terrorist upsurge that’ll follow the withdrawal of foreign forces, Mogadishu saber-rattling against Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Puntland are a distraction. As above-mentioned, the Government of Somalia demanded that the autonomous State of Puntland close the Ethiopian consulate in the regional capital of Garowe as part of Mogadishu’s latest diplomatic move to protest January’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ethiopia and Somaliland. Mogadishu also expelled the Ethiopian ambassador and his diplomatic staff alongside demanding the closure of that country’s consulate in Somaliland’s capital of Hargeisa. While the refusal of Somaliland to comply with Mogadishu instructions are understandable giving the precedent situation, the reject of Puntland is more surprising and widely based on the evolution of the situation between Addis Ababa, Hargeisha and Mogadishu. Garowe see in that a momentum which will reinforce its, never hidden, hopes to complete the independence path.

Somalia is powerless to impose its declared writ over those two regions that it still claims as its own, with this latest development exposing just the impotency of Mogadishu. Neither of Ethiopia’s traditional rivals appear really interested in joining Somalia in his efforts for reconquering Somaliland, and even his country’s Turkish military ally, even promising, could be hesitant into to get involved. About that Ankara despite the symbolic visit of its ship to Mogadishu, it still has close ties with Ethiopia despite signing a maritime security deal with Somalia in late February.

As said, even if Ankara officially regards both Somaliland and Puntland as part of the Somalia, yet it hasn’t signaled that it’ll dispatch warships to their waters (nor has Mogadishu officially requested this either, also maybe to avoid another humiliation in getting this request pushed back). The impression is that the Mogadishu barks loudly but doesn’t bite, not because it doesn’t want to do the latter, but simply because has not an autonomy military capability and there are few countries interested in involvement on behalf of a partner without capability, regardless its strategic relevance. The country’s security is dependent on those foreign forces that assist it in trying to degrade Al Shabab military potential, but their substantial reduction by the end of the year will likely lead to an explosion in terrorism. Instead of preparing for that, the Somalian leadership would rather indulge in distractions and saber-rattling, while insisting in the dismantling the fragile federal architecture and preparing for the potential blow of another civil war between new ‘warlords’.

There is a concern that spewing ultra-nationalist rhetoric can bring the Al Shabab militias, which are proved to be very efficient and deadly, onto its side as an “ally of convenience” for waging hybrid war against Somaliland, Ethiopia, and soon possibly Puntland as well. If the terrorists can’t be co-opted through these means, for obvious reasons, the threat of Islamist remain and in long-medium perspective Somalia risks to be like the erstwhile Western-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan did in summer 2021 and with the possible emerging of another “emirate” (of terror). This is a nightmare scenario of epic proportions giving the importance of the Horn and the possibly impending fall of Mogadishu under the evil influence of Al Shabab could open a Pandora’s Box of security threats if then-erstwhile Somalia becomes an ungovernable terrorist sanctuary.


Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a retired UN official and expert in military history and international politico-military affairs.


The Sahel and the Guinea Gulf: A Macro Region Still in Trouble

It is matter of fact that the macro region, which includes the Sahel and the Guinea Gulf, continues to be affected by the various fractural lines—from the lack of security, which remains the more visible one, to the weak economic and social development, to the radical Islamism and tribalism divide. However, security still remains one the most critical points. The Sahel region is one of the epicenters of jihadist terrorism worldwide, and in 2019 it was established as the area on the planet most affected by terrorism. Being close to the European borders and constituting a node of interconnection between all of West Africa, the possibility of jihadist terrorism expanding from the Sahel up to the Guinea Gulf and reaching the Maghreb and Mediterranean coasts, its stability is an issue that has always been worrisome. However, the evolution of strategic and institutional developments in the Sahel could mean that the concern for the security has led to monitoring, with increased attention the advance of jihadism towards the neighboring Gulf of Guinea as the first target.

The Gulf of Guinea is made up of seventeen coastline countries (and runs for 6,000 kilometers in total, ranging from Senegal to Angola). It is an interesting and strategic area in terms of hydrocarbon reserves, minerals (tin, cobalt and diamonds), agricultural and fishing resources. Furthermore, the Gulf of Guinea is important in maritime trade: around 25 percent of African maritime traffic passes through its waters and there are twenty commercial ports that supply both Africa and Europe with important raw materials. And then there is its importance in terms of demographics: it is one of the African subregions where the population is growing the most (the paradigmatic example of this phenomenon is Nigeria, where the population is expected to double in 2050 to reach 800 million inhabitants).

Both Nigeria and Ghana are considered part of the six ‘African lions’ (the others are Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa) in terms of potential economic growth, despite important domestic problems. However, for some years now—especially since the AQIM attack in the Grand-Bassam tourist resort (which occurred in 2016 in Ivory Coast)—there are fears that the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, which in the north borders Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (which are now under illegal governments after coups) will swell the ranks of jihadist groups and this scourge will end up turning Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin into terrorist sanctuaries. While it is true that there were already affected Gulf countries (like Nigeria and Cameroon), the reality is that the subsidiaries of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State that operate in the region now have their sights set on the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, where the presence of jihadist fighters and attacks has been detected.

Meanwhile, France is still immersed in a long-term process of re-evaluating its “foundations of its diplomatic and military policy in the region” after the deterioration of relations with Mali, Burkina Faso and now Niger. This situation is because of the coups d’état that occurred in these countries and the growing Russian influence in the Sahel through the Wagner mercenary group (now absorbed within the regular Russian armed forces).

In Niger, to help in the anti-terrorist fight after the end of the “Barkhane” operation, French troops had re-deployed some 1,500 soldiers from Mali. However, after the coup of 2023 and a bitter diplomatic tussle, Paris was obliged to withdrew its troops from the country, together with the German contingent. Consequently, the EU presence in the area has suffered a significant loss, which further pushed the Twenty-Seven to redefine the future of European operations and their nature, not only in the Sahel, the Guinea Gulf region and elsewhere (military, police, diplomatic, civilian, combat, mentoring/training, assistance).

For its part, the US has maintained a lower profile than France in reaction to the development of events in Niger and has retained its nearly 1,500 soldiers and armed drone patrols, deployed in two main compounds, tasked to the highly profiled hunt of terrorists and to identify illegal traffics and trade.

The presence of Western countries received another blow in mid-March when the junta in power in Niamey suspended “with immediate effect” all the agreements in defence and security with the US and, as a natural consequence, those forces should prepare their departure from the country (this new development, for now, seems to exclude the presence of the Italian troop contingent based in Niger).

The worsening of the security situation in the Sahel increases the dangers, given that in consideration of its geographical position, it plays the role of “sanctuary” of instability not only vis-à-vis the Guinea Gulf region, but also with the Mediterranean façade, and as mentioned also to the European continent.

It appears that in the Sahel, there are not only jihadist groups and their destabilizing threats, internal and external, but there is also the threat of the institutional changes manu militari (not only current, but also looming), together with new influences of new/old stakeholders (e.g., Russia, China, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, Japan). The most visible is the dissolution of the regional architecture, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and G5S (Group of Five—Sahel).
The coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, the confused “transitions” in Chad, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau (and now Senegal) weakened the already weak institutions. In January the military juntas in West African nations of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger jointly announced their immediate withdrawal from ECOWAS. The juntas accused the regional economic bloc of imposing inhumane sanctions aimed at reversing recent coups in their respective countries. After long and senseless tussles, ECOWAS de facto abandoned the idea of sanctions and punitive measures against the juntas. But already in the summer the three juntas decided to set up their own architecture, undermining further the solidity of the regional pacts and the plans to replace the current ones and prepare alternate architectures. ECOWAS, which recognizes only democratic governments, has faced previous challenges to its authority, with its regional court ruling last year that juntas lack the power to act on behalf of their nations in place of elected governments.
The move of the juntas followed a series of events that heightened political tensions in West Africa, including a coup in Niger last year. The three nations of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have recently formed an economic/monetary, security alliance, severed military ties with France and turned to Russia for support, and clearly look to expand their network. Moscow looking to expand its area of influence in Sahel, and based on old ties (such as, thousands of student grants issued for many years) is now looking at Chad.

In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Chadian incumbent leader Mahamat Idriss Deby, who is the son of the long-time General-President Idriss Deby, who fell in battle against Jihadists in 2021; Mahamat has been designated by the country military leadership as the “provisional” president). Thus, the Kremlin is courting a country that had previously maintained a pro-Western policy and had spurned Russia’s outreach in Africa’s Sahel region. Russia has been moving to edge out the influence of France, the former colonial power in West Africa and the Sahel, and build ties with countries that have been roiled by a wave of coups since 2020. The junta initially promised an 18-month transition to elections, but later delayed them until October this year, anticipating a massive wave of protests. Putin said that the two countries had “great opportunities to develop our bilateral ties,” and that Moscow would double the quota for Chadian students studying at Russian universities. Deby’s visit comes a week after the prime minister of Niger, also appointed by a junta, visited Moscow. Russia has courted Niger since a July 2023 coup ousted a pro-Western government there.

Chad, however, had been seen as an enduring keystone of French influence in Africa, with Moscow’s clout there far more limited than in its neighbours. Russian influence in some countries, including in Mali and the Central African Republic, was initially spearheaded by Moscow’s Wagner Group mercenary army, led by businessman and one-time Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash last August, two months after he led Wagner in a failed mutiny aimed at ousting Russia’s top military leadership, accused of bungling Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. Since Prigozhin’s death, Moscow has moved to seize control of his network in Africa, incorporating Wagner’s operations into its formal armed forces and security state led structures.

Mahamat Idriss Deby is running in the election scheduled for May 6th, with a second round on June 22nd; the Prime Minister, Succes Masra, is running against him. The electoral campaign is marked by violent and obscure facts (like the alleged revolt of a relative of Deby, who died after a clash with loyalist security forces).

A major issue for Chad is the presence of French troops in the country, the last outpost of Paris (France, after the independence of the country, carried out several military operations in order to keep her influence there, raising the confrontation with Libya in the 1980s close to open conflict). Earlier this month France’s Special Envoy to Africa, Jean-Marie Bockel, met both candidates in the capital, Ndjamena, and said the roughly 1,000 troops stationed there would stay. “We need to stay and, of course, we will stay,” he said.

There is strong concern in the small civil society of the country that France and other Western partners will not push for real change in political rule in case it jeopardizes their military presence in strategically-located Chad.
Finally, the problems of Chad are not only internal; in fact, the relations between Chad and Sudan have worsened since the conflict in Sudan occurred in April 2023, which appear without any solution. Sudanese officials and Sudanese armed forces claim that Chad is involved in the facilitating of arms to the RSF (the organized “Janjaweed” of the brutal civil war in Darfur) through their borders, leading to the recent diplomatic expulsion of diplomats in both countries. Additionally, the influx of refugees and reported war crimes on ethnic groups from Sudan by the RSF has led the situation to become uneasy between both countries as Chad and Sudan face worsening instability, even though the bilateral relations will likely decline. But an open conflict between the two is unlikely in the short term, as both nations focus on domestic issues. Chad will reinforce its refugee hosting capabilities with foreign partners as the conflict worsens in Sudan.

As mentioned above, the spread of terrorism to neighboring regions and especially to the Gulf of Guinea because of the porosity of the borders. This subregion also has its particular security problems coming from the sea: piracy, organized crime and illicit trafficking and illegal fishing. Some analysts observed that the terrorist groups have stated that they will not give up expanding their activities from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea (specifically, Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea and Togo).

This regional repositioning strategy responds to multiple objectives: a double political target, which confirms its call of protection for oppressed Muslims (the coast countries have large Christian populations that could be targeted and pushed to exile/forced migration by focused violence campaign) and the establishment of a regional caliphate. As well, there is a strategic objective, which allows projecting a more dangerous image, and a tactical objective, which seeks control of borders marked by the presence of natural parks as a tool of refuge and a base of operations and internal communication routes.

On the other hand, for any initiative to be successful, the financial tool is required. In this sense, the survival of these extremist groups depends on illegal activities, including arms and drug trafficking, livestock theft, gold extraction and poaching, activities that they can exploit more prolifically by gaining the control of territories in the Gulf of Guinea and setting up “no-go-areas” and/or “sanctuaries.”

Furthermore, the plans of these terrorist groups include the creation of a great caliphate, which requires conquering territories. Added to this, is that the Gulf of Guinea is a strategic area of great interest for jihadists because it allows access to the sea, and from there the further expansion of their range of threat (e.g., how the Yemenite Houti have affected the world trade market and global communication network).

In the hypothetical case that terrorist groups gain a foothold in this region, the benefits they would acquire would be multiple. Firstly, this would increase their logistics and movement capacity, especially on the northern border of the Gulf countries bordering Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where there are a large number of natural parks with impressive forests that could serve as refuge (like the Camoé National Park (Ivory Coast) and the W-Arly Pendjari which exceeds 32,000 square kilometers of protected areas. The last one is becoming an important corridor for jihadist movements due to the operational capabilities it allows. This park serves as a shelter and training site, while making aerial surveillance and obtaining supplies difficult. Furthermore, it makes it possible for terrorists to establish close contact with the populations, to whom they allow to continue their illicit activities—or even encourage them—and to whom they present themselves as an alternative government. For this reason, it is the area with the most jihadist attacks, as can be seen in the map below.

On the other hand, by controlling more territory, jihadist groups could expand their financing capacity, since this implies controlling more of the population and an increase in the number of people who must pay “zakat” (as one of the pillars of the faith, it requires all Muslims to donate a portion of their wealth to charity. Muslim believers must meet a certain threshold before they can qualify for “zakat.” The amount is 2.5 percent or 1/40 of an individual’s total savings and wealth. Of course, in a framework of terrorist caliphate it is a criminal toll), thus increasing their coffers. This money is used to pay fighters, acquire weapons and other products, build mosques and madrassas and is also invested in the community to administer justice, make donations, etc., which, ultimately, favors the radicalization of the population. At the same time, territorial expansion allows jihadist groups to expand the places where they commit illicit activities, either through the illegal exploitation of resources or through participation in illicit trafficking businesses.

West Africa is a region with abundant raw materials that are welcomed in the international markets, given that they are in constant high demand, such as gold which brings high benefits. In this region, artisanal mining or unregulated extraction is increasingly widespread, and jihadists take advantage of this by charging taxes to miners or trading the extracted mineral. Again, the situation can contribute to the radicalization of the population or to its sympathization with the jihadist cause to the extent that the terrorists can offer it protection against the forces of the State that expels them from the mines or demands legal (taxes) or illegal (briberies) contributions to continue the exploitation.

However, organized crime and terrorism maintain different objectives and modus operandi. The first acts more discreetly so that their operations are successful, while the latter seeks publicity for their attacks to spread terror and to get popular support. Even so, both types of criminal organizations cooperate on numerous occasions, although these are usually short-term relationships of convenience. For example, one of the most profitable illicit businesses for organized crime is drug smuggling, for which African routes are increasingly important internationally. Tobacco, hashish, heroin, amphetamines and, above all, cocaine are trafficked through what is known as “Highway 10” (the name comes from the 10th parallel, which covers South American countries such as Colombia or Brazil, places of origin of cocaine, and the Gulf of Guinea, whose ports receive the drugs that are brought into Europe through the trans-Saharan routes via Morocco and Algeria to Spain, France and Italy). This promises to be more fruitful if the increase in demand for cocaine in Middle Eastern countries is consolidated.

The jihadists benefit from smuggling by providing security services and collecting tolls from traffickers in the large areas they control, ensuring the destination of their shipping. All of this contradicts the image of men of faith who follow the tenets of Islam that the jihadists want to project, and for this reason the links with illicit activities depend on the groups’ need for money at all times. In fact, AQIM or Ansar el Dine issued fatwas condemning drug trafficking and confiscated and incinerated cigarettes and narcotics. However, for other groups like MUJAO smuggling is an advantage for the logistical and operational capacity of the jihadists groups since it allows them to acquire weapons, fertilizers (for explosives and IEDs) vehicles and motorcycles that they use in their attacks. And sometimes smugglers occasionally swell the ranks of jihadists to commit attacks in exchange for money.

Therefore, the strategic objective of conquering territories allows jihadists to increase their recruitment niche and sympathizers among the population, which favors their intelligence work. Thus, through the Koranic schools they replace the state in the provision of basic services, allowing the population to continue with their illicit economic activities or supporting the cause of the Fulani or Peul tribe herdsmen.

When analyzing the aspects that may favor the ability of jihadists to move to the Gulf of Guinea, the first thing to take into account is the idiosyncrasy of these countries: porous borders; exponential population growth; structural weaknesses at the political, economic and social levels; and where ethnic, religious and shepherd-farmer conflicts are common. The population is numerous, very young, but has few economic and educational opportunities; there is are striking differences in standard of living between those who live in the coast and inner areas.

The aforementioned challenges cause terrorism to proliferate, expand and exploit. On the northern borders of these countries with the Sahel, specifically with Burkina Faso, there were recorded more than 189 unofficial access points, which facilitate the entry and exit of jihadists and take advantage of the lush forests of the national parks. to make quick raids and avoid security forces.

As mentioned, the demographic trends indicate exponential population growth: by 2050, Africa is expected to be populated by 2.4 billion people and Nigeria is expected to become the third most populous country in the world. Although this phenomenon represents an opportunity, it also represents an enormous challenge to the extent that it exacerbates social problems and the feeling of marginalization among part of the population, especially among young people, and shows in full the poor governance of the state authorities.

At the same time, in the inner side of the Gulf of Guinea, and bordering the Sahel, there is significant disaffection towards the State, due to its unequal access to basic resources such as drinking water or electricity. These communities are persecuted for their economic activities, while half of their inhabitants live in extreme poverty. Added to this is that the majority of people who live in these areas are Muslims and tend to be discriminated against by the often Christian dominated leaderships, like in Ivory Coast, with a strong Christian identity in the south, where the administrative, political and economic power is located and the question of ivoirité is decided. In this way, the religious component plays a fundamental role. In the examples of Togo and Benin, the Muslim population represents less than 20 percent of the total and is mainly found in the north, where they often lack access to basic resources. This situation is a great window of opportunity for the jihadists to exploit the situation to their advantage, attracting to Salafism young Muslims who feel betrayed by the elites of their religion, with a Sufi majority, relatively close to a Christian government that does not satisfy basic needs.

In Ghana, where in principle the religious component does not generate so many differences between its inhabitants—the different confessions coexist peacefully and interreligious marriages occur and there are good relations between leaders—the jihadists find another way to exploit friction, as the Katiba Macina does. Also known as the Macina Liberation Front, this jihadist group is made up of a majority of former MUJAO combatants from the Peul community. Their recruitment method is based on exploiting the inter- and intra-community tensions of the Peul. Furthermore, they consider that the upper castes “act in complicity with the administrative, judicial and military authorities, which prevents Peul herders from turning to the state to assert their rights, leaving them with no other alternative than to turn to terrorist groups.” The conflict is exacerbated by the progressive degradation of land caused by climate change, which makes this disputed resource increasingly scarce.

This same intercommunity violence occurs in other Gulf countries. In Ivory Coast, the Lobi and Koulango ethnic groups, farmers and landowners, confront the Peul, nomadic shepherds. In Benin, it is the Bariba and the Dendi who confront them. The problem is that because of the difficult living conditions in the south of the Sahel countries, the Peul are moving to the north of the Gulf of Guinea territories, which generates tension among the local populations, already in difficult situations.

While it is true that the current economic and social situation of the Gulf nations is not as bad as that of the Western Sahel countries when they began to feel the jihadist threat, both subregions have many weaknesses in common. Jihadists are aware of this and, for this reason, they replicate the models that have proven successful over the last decade.

The jihadists begin by progressively integrating into the political, economic and social structures of the localities that interest them—specifically, in the areas belonging to natural parks—creating clientelist networks and taking control of trade routes, given the importance of the organized crime in the region. After this, they attack infrastructure and posts linked to the state, such as schools, municipalities, police stations, customs, etc. In this way, they manage to delegitimize the state—which already has a bad reputation—while instrumentalizing the unrest in these societies, injecting weapons that aggravate conflicts and later presenting themselves as peacemakers. Ultimately, they settle in communities, consolidate themselves in a certain area and end up supplanting the state.

However, the Gulf of Guinea does not yet suffer from established terrorism as the Sahel does, which requires the establishment of a strategy to confront the jihadist threat as soon as possible. There are many dimensions that must be taken into account for the fight against jihadist terrorism to be effective and to contain its advance in the Gulf of Guinea. Unlike the Sahelian countries, those in the Gulf of Guinea are stronger economically and politically (both relatively), although they must face similar challenges. In this sense, not repeating the mistakes that have led Mali or Burkina Faso to become the focus of jihadist terrorism worldwide becomes imperative for the Gulf of Guinea. Therefore, the approach of these countries must be comprehensive. That is, the solution lies through the indissoluble link between security, good government and development; however, there is still a long way to go to contain the threat.

The most urgent measure—because it is the most short-term—is to secure the borders by promoting security. This requires increasing the preparation of the armed forces and police—including respect for human rights—and improving their equipment and training. As of now, Benin and Togo are at the lowest level and the most threatened and weak, to the point that they are not even among the 140 best military forces in the world. Benin has already increased defence spending and requested aid from Rwanda; Togo has also increased defence spending, declared a state of emergency in the north and launched a development program for the “Savanes” (in French) region, the northernmost, poorest and most threatened by jihadists groups filtering in from Burkina Faso.

Promoting development is essential to stop the jihadist advance, although its results will only be seen in the longer term. It is necessary to invest in public infrastructure—especially in communication networks—education, health and employment. However, traditionally these types of measures have lacked effectiveness because the financing—national and international—ends up not being directed to the projects, since the corruption within state structures has hindered previous attempts.

For the above reasons, establishing good governance in these countries is key for future stability. The situation not only requires fighting corruption, measures must also be put in place to promote social cohesion and ensure peaceful coexistence, so that citizens, when threatened by terrorists, do not choose to turn their backs on the state, but that they take advantage of its protection.
The countries of the Gulf of Guinea are increasingly aware of the threat posed by the transfer of jihadist activities from the Sahel region to their northern borders and are taking measures to combat them. However, these have not yet had any effect and it is necessary to give them greater impetus, especially with regard to development.

Again, there are several points that must be taken into account: first, the religious issue must be addressed, cooperating with religious and ethnic leaders to prevent radicalization and promulgating a moderate and peaceful Islam, but avoiding the external hand of countries that use this tool to try to expand their area of influence like Morocco (which use religious diplomacy as one of its multifaced external action, focused to contrast the one of Algeria). Second, grazing and agriculture must be regulated with projects that establish conciliation in land use. Third, the sources of financing for terrorists must be cut off through the fight against organized crime, the regulation of small-scale mining and the implementation of blockchain technology to control the origin of gold and other traded materials. Likewise, the efforts made by these countries must be accompanied by international cooperation, especially in terms of financing and capacity support. For example, the “Accra Initiative” has to be strengthened to avoid the disastrous results of the G5-Sahel. Therefore, the involvement of Europe and specifically France is essential, which must rethink cooperation relations and approach—especially in terms of security—with its former colonies, since the current situation in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger risks to make things replicated also in the Guinea Gulf region. A greater role for the local security forces, with training help from the West, would boost cooperation in intelligence and prevent the warlike scenario that is taking place in the Sahel.

All these measures and initiatives should be periodically monitored to control their evolution and effectiveness, which would also allow for the establishment of an early warning system that helps anticipate threats. At a European level, a careful monitoring of situation and trends must be promoted, given the high interests in terms of energy, raw materials (minerals, fishing) and immigration. Although only 10 percent of migrations in Africa are destined for Europe, in the face of a demographic boom as high as the one expected, the number of people who want to reach European soil could become unaffordable.

Today the outlook is not very promising, taking into account the deterioration of security that is being experienced in the neighborhood of these countries, especially after the recent coups d’état in Niger and Gabon (the dubious situation in Senegal is reason of concern, as well the situation in Cameroon and Central African Republic). Europe must pay attention to the role that Russia plays—for now, through Wagner—in the region, given that Moscow has presented itself as a partner for security cooperation in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger or Chad: Sergei Lavrov made reference in statements to Guinea and the rest of the countries bordering the Gulf.
Further, the appeal of Russia as anticolonial and antagonist of Western economic and security architectures has found a large and positive feedback in the local populations. The Gulf of Guinea is, therefore, at a crossroads. Behind it, there is the multifaced pro-Western system (EU, NATO, G7, OECD, IMF/WB) which is veering away from the evolution of the microregion (and the two subregions). Rather, it depends on the capacity of the Guinea Gulf states, singularly taken and/or organized in the residual regional architectures, to face this challenge whether this ends up becoming a replica of Sahel, or whether it ends the jihadist threat and is more resilient in the fight against other security problems it suffers from, such as organized crime and piracy.


Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a retired UN official and expert in military history and international politico-military affairs.


Belt and Road at Ten

China wanted to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with a sumptuous ceremony in Beijing in mid-October. This was intended to mark the success of the project which represents the net of all kind of agreements, accords and presences that bind a large number of nations across the globe and which the competitors, primarily the USA and EU, understand that Beijing’s assault on world power can no longer be stopped.

President Vladimir Putin, on his first trip outside Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine, visited China for the summit. This decision underlined Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing for trade and political support, in an attempt to circumvent Western sanctions but also that Xi Jinping is now the majority partner of the global anti-Western alliance. China exploits Russia aggressive approach worldwide, hoping to concentrate on the attention of the USA, Europe, NATO and the G7 on Moscow. For China, this would weaken the response towards Beijing’s initiatives and actions, trying to take advantage of Western divisions and difficulties. During a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the visit, Putin stressed the need for close coordination of Sino-Russian foreign policy to address the current difficult circumstances. A sentiment echoed by Xi, who praised their “close and effective strategic coordination.”

In reality this meeting was of a minor nature, given that the number of participating foreign leaders was constantly decreasing from one summit to another; further, the “allure” of the meeting was heavily affected by the news of the growing difficulties afflicting China (and which Beijing is no more in condition to hide or camouflage), such as a heavy slowdown in economic development, a looming financial disaster in the immense real estate programme, the growing youth unemployment, the sharp decline of foreign investments, the piling errors of Xi Jinping’s governing style, such the disastrous Covid management and the re-nationalisation of large sectors of production and services.

But there are also other reasons, a growing number of states, especially African ones, are starting a slow but steady disengagement from China. There are various reasons for this. First of all, the very heavy Western pressure; secondly, there is a growing awareness that Chinese offers of help and financing have a greater counterweight, and the failure to repay the loans have similar punitive consequences, for the indebted country, not very different from those of the IMF and similar institutions (methodologies that originally pushed many nations to move closer to China, believed to be more generous and objective) and discovering the dark face of Beijing. Another reason of growing distancing is the fact that China started to reduce the flow of financing and loans to the continent, and tighten further the reimbursement of credits policies, as witnessed at the Africa-China Summit in Dakar on 2021, where was announced the new approach.

This situation is a window of opportunity that the competitors of Beijing do not want to lose as they try to recover political and commercial positions in Africa, and try to improve their strategic autonomy in some specific sectors, such as rare materials, a sector in which Beijing maintains a strong position on the continent (but not only, given the infiltrations in Australia and in North America itself).

The tool which appears leading the counteroffensive is the G7, thanks to its informal nature of interstate conference, more flexible than the structured architectures like EU, NATO (and OECD).

The US and the EU have joined forces with the African Development Bank (AFDB) and the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC, a pan-African multilateral development financial institution established in 2007 by 40 African states [out of 54 of African Union] to provide pragmatic solutions to continent’s infrastructure deficit and challenging operating environment) to launch the west’s latest attempt to counter BRI in the continent, and as said above, to regain control over the market of rare hearts.

The four partners signed a memorandum of understanding setting out plans to develop the “Lobito Corridor” which will setup a link across Atlantic Ocean Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean façade of the continent through a number of large mining area, joining Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (in the Katanga province), Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya and, with the real aim of replacing China, or, at least, undermining her influence there.

In the area, there are already existing railways, even if with narrow gauge, the “Benguela railway,” the Portuguese colonial time mining exploitation line of 1344 kms and the “Tazara railway” of 1860 kms. The first one was rebuilt by China in 2014, and the second was completely built by China in 1975. But there is a large gap of 800 km between the two lines and the US and EU initiative look to fill it. The railway, with Lobito, the main harbour of Angola and Mombasa (Kenya), Dar Es Salam, Bagamoio (this one under construction by Chinese firms) in Tanzania on the Indian Ocean coast will represent a transcontinental corridor for trade and development of global profile in consideration of the raw materials which are found along the planned line.

This also describes how stiff is the rivalry between the non-African competitors and the values on the table. The deal was done on the margins of the Global Gateway Forum in Brussels, an invitation-only meeting of EU governments with companies, banks, and international organisations intended to promote international infrastructure. Washington labelled the project as “the most significant transport infrastructure that the US has helped develop on the African continent in a generation, and will enhance regional trade and growth as well as advance the shared vision of connected, open-access rail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.”

The projects will be carried out under the auspices of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the G7’s operational sub architecture established to counter to the BRI. The Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment was launched in June 2022 at the G7 summit in Germany.

The aim of the Partnership is to invest over $600 billion by 2027 to close infrastructure gaps around the world and exclude China from geographical strategic areas and markets. The Western block has already launched initiatives to compete with Chinese infrastructure largesse in the developing world. In 2013, then president Barack Obama launched his “Power Africa” initiative aimed at investing $7 billion to add more than 10,000 megawatts of clean electricity—but it did not work. The G7 tried again in June 2021 with its “Build Back Better World” scheme, intended to funnel billions into infrastructure in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific. At the end of 2021 EU launched the “Global Gateway,” a project of $300 billion only for Africa for a time length of 2030.

The G7 initiative appears to be more targeted and takes into consideration the interests of the African countries to develop exploitation and trade in the region. The project aims to expand and improve the “Benguela Railways,” which runs within Angola, to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a new railway from northwest Zambia will join that line. The project also involves building 260 kms of roads and about 550 kms of track in Zambia, spanning from the Jimbe border to Chingola in the country’s copper region. As well as the railway, the corridor will involve 4G and later 5G telecoms systems and a billion-dollar investment in solar farms and microgrids.

Analysts suggest that this is a direct challenge to BRI, largely viewed as an unsettling extension of China’s rising power, and that it will be impossible to avoid working with Beijing on the Lobito project, as for example in the telecommunications sector, since local firms, partly owned by China Communications, signed an agreement to run the Lobito Corridor network. These analysts foresee that Beijing, despite the internal difficulties, will fight stiffly to face the response of the Western countries and will continue to bet on the campaign to reinforce her position on the rare materials, essential elements for the environmental conversion and technology developments.

As example of this enlarged battlefield, China is the world’s top graphite producer and exporter. It also refines more than 90% of the world’s graphite into the material that is used in virtually all EV battery anodes, and the demand for graphite over the next decade will grow at an annual compound rate of 10.5%, but supply will lag, expanding at only 5.7% per year. While there is a need for 200,000 tonnes of graphite to meet demand, the reality is, the current US supply capability is zero. But there are signs that, slowly a dynamic by the Western countries is beginning, like the reopening of North America’s only graphite producing mine in Canada.

Other than China, the world leaders in graphite exploitation are Madagascar, Mozambique, Brazil, South Korea, Russia, Canada, Norway, India, North Korea, while the US Geological Survey states that Africa has been a recent focus for graphite exploration, with projects under development in Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania (this list clearly shows that few exporter countries are close to the Western security and economic architectures).

With the BRI, China wants to seek its own space and assert its global leadership; and the “New Silk Road,” as it is also informally called, is part of a series of architectures (some under its full control, like the SCO, with others less, like the BRICS), which are part of a large-scale project. The “broadened” Western system has understood that the confrontation will be at least long and certainly not easy, even if China itself does not want to take the confrontation to extreme consequences, as it is aware that the price would still be high. The internal difficulties are starting to have an impact on Beijing’s policy-making and proof of this is the bilateral meetings between Xi and Biden, on the sidelines of the San Francisco summit; they are the signal of a possible resumption of dialogue, though China will not give up its ambitions, but it will reorient them, based on circumstances, needs and resources.


Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a retired UN official and expert in military history and international politico-military affairs.


Turkey, Africa and the World: A Fragmented View

The decomposition of patterns dating back to the Cold War and their ongoing recomposition according to new, but still uncertain parameters, is particularly evident in Africa, where ancient presences are progressively attenuating their influence and new ones are pushing to assert themselves on the continent, despite their own internal problems, while others try return there. An example of it is the fogging of France, the penetration of Turkey, the return of Moscow and the not so clear stance of China.

The reality, however, is more articulated and complex and alliances and hostilities are intertwined in the constant diplomatic game of influences, to which are added imperial and/or neo-imperial dreams, economic interests, internal political needs.

Turkey’s efforts to expand its influence in Africa often align with those of Russia, with both Ankara and Moscow holding back from condemning recent military coups in Sahel and seeking to capitalize on post-colonial resentments growing in the region, especially against France, but widely hostile to the Western economic and political states and architectures (e. g. G7, NATO and EU).

While the analysts look on the Turkish ambitions only towards the Turanic area (Caucasus and former USSR Central Asian republic) and Middle East, Africa is also an important element of the Ankara welt politik and the highly mediatized presence and influence of Turkey in Libya is a mere, even important, part of a broader strategy of influence and penetration in the continent.

A series of military takeovers in West Africa, the latest occurring in Gabon at the end of August, may reveal the extent to which Turkish and Russian efforts converge in trying to leverage political shifts to the detriment of former colonial powers, chiefly among them France, and expand their own influence in the region.

Keen to seize opportunities under the new African governments, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Russian head of state Vladimir Putin, have refrained from condemning the putschists riding the wave of popular resentment toward the ongoing influence of former colonial powers, their endless exploitation of local natural resources and the failure of Western-led anti-terror operations in the region.

Speaking at a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg shortly after the July coup in Niger, Putin remarked that some manifestations of colonialism remain in Africa and underlie the instability in many regions on the continent.

Erdogan has employed similar rhetoric for years, in particular targeting France, expanding the rift that opposed the two countries in the demarcation of hydrocarbon fields in Eastern Mediterranean waters and the consequent rapprochement of Paris with Greece and Cyprus, and leading to a dangerous confrontation in June 2020 when, when a French frigate under NATO command tried to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of the UN embargo, was harassed by three Turkish navy vessels escorting this one. A Turkish ship flashed its radar lights and its crew put on bulletproof vests and stood behind their light weapons.

However, as many other aspects of the Russian-Turkish relationship, also there is a strong background of ambiguity, giving the divergent strategic and long-term objectives. But this ambiguity is present as well with the relationship with NATO, of which Ankara is full member, and EU, and these ambiguities reflect, paradoxically, the firmness of Turkey in finding her own way, space and ambitions, regardless the expectations of partners/competitors, but the dreams of Ankara’s leadership could be undermined by intrinsic fragilities, weakness and fracture affecting the country.

In August 2020, just after the coup, the (then) FM Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Mali, putting his opportunism on striking display and openly irritating (further) France and US. However, after the coup in Niger (July 2023), Ankara has been more prudent expressing concern for the toppled President Bazoum and the suspension of democratic framework (the prudence of statement in Niger could be read as concern also for the presence of a quite large group of Turkish aid workers there). Ankara had issued an almost identical statements after the other recent coups, in Burkina Faso in September 2022 and in Gabon in August 2023.

Hyping the attention received from Russia and Turkey is politically advantageous for the juntas, as it allows them to claim that they are not without alternatives while breaking with France. French President Emmanuel Macron openly pointed out Moscow and Ankara of seeking to exciting and exploiting the anti-French sentiment in Africa. “There is a strategy at work, sometimes led by African leaders, but especially by foreign powers such as Russia or Turkey who play on post-colonial resentment,” he already said in a 2020 interview to the Paris-based weekly ‘Jeune Afrique’. “We must not be naive on this subject: many of those who speak, who make videos, who are present in the French-speaking media are funded by Russia or Turkey.”

With the military governments in Mali and Burkina Faso, Russia got the opportunity to expand the presence of the Wagner Group, the Moscow-funded private military company, (even now the fate of these contractors appears uncertain in the whole contingent, giving that for example, all of them were withdrew from Libya). For Turkey, the primary objective is to strengthen military ties through training programs and arms sales, including the named and very coveted combat drones. Turkish military sales to Africa rose to $288 million in 2021 from $83 million the previous year. Turkey now lists 14 clients on the continent: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia and Uganda.

Erdogan expressed his readiness to boost military cooperation with Mali in September 2021 during a phone call with Assimi Goita, head of the junta government (since then, Mali has received several Bayraktar TB2 drones). But Turkey expanded dramatically the diplomatic fingerprint in the continent, opening embassies (today are 43, and there are plans to open new diplomatic facility in Bissau, while the member states of the African Union are 54 and Turkey is the fourth most represented country in the continent after the US, China and France), consulates, development aid offices (22) and expanding trade (more than 100 US$ Billions last year). Turkey had opened its embassy in Bamako in 2010, with Erdogan making his first presidential visit in 2018. There are of course up and downs; while in Mali, the Turkish presence is only in sending drones, in Somalia, where Ankara has a military base in Mogadishu, Turksom, where since autumn 2017 Turkish 300 CO and NCOs, train Somali soldiers (till now 10.000 completed their training programme).

Modern Turkey’s current engagement with Africa officially started in 2005 after Turkey declared 2005 “the year of Africa” and adopted a new policy of “opening up to Africa.” Since then, it was seeing Turkey’s diplomatic venture in the continent because, according to the Turkish foreign ministry, relations with Africa constitute one of the key foreign policy objectives and opening new diplomatic missions enhances Turkey’s relations with the continent.

Also, Turkey was granted observer status by the AU in 2005 and later became a strategic partner in 2008 with its first Turkey-Africa summit in Istanbul in the same year. Focal points in the Istanbul summit were a “common future,” “cooperation” and “solidarity” between the participating parties. Moreover, both Turkey and African partners have agreed to implement a concrete programme of action based on equality, mutual respect and reciprocal benefits. The second summit between Turkey and African states was held in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo, in 2014 in accordance with the Istanbul Declaration’s follow-up mechanism, which demarcated that summits are to be held every three years and ministerial review conferences every three years. In Malabo, the Joint Implementation Plan for the period of 2015-2019 was accepted by the participants.

Nevertheless, Turkey’s Africa policy is not limited to periodical summits. Official visits to African countries play an important role in developing Turkey’s cooperation with Africa too. In this regard, Turkish President Erdoğan has visited 30 different African countries, including war-torn Somalia, a couple of times in the last 15 years. This is usually considered a record for a non-African leader. After a two-year interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, he started his Africa tour once again from Angola, Togo and Nigeria in October 2021 and make another tour in 2022, visiting DRC (where it was signed a pact of military cooperation and assistance) and Senegal.

Turkey’s history in the continent goes back to the 16th Century when the Ottomans first arrived in North Africa. Later, Ottoman territory expanded across the shores of the Red and Mediterranean seas and towards the Sahel region. The Ottomans remained a ruling power in Africa for four centuries and established five separate administrations in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Eritrea. However, in 1912, Ottoman forces retreated from Libya, the last stronghold in the continent, expelled by the Italian colonialist push. Although it is quite rich, the Ottomans’ historical legacy in the continent still remains unexplored by academics. In addition, during the Republican era, Turkey focus shifted to the West.

While Turkey carries some Ottoman baggage in North and East Africa, Russia has no colonial past in the region, which gives it an edge in terms of perception and now Putin emphasize it as tool for his assault to global power. In addition, bilateral ties fostered during the Cold War make things easier for Moscow than Turkey, which remain a member of NATO and could awake some suspicions. Whereas Turkey (along with Russia) was seen as a rival of France in Mali, the main rivalry in both Burkina Faso and Niger appears to pit France against Russia.

Niger, giving her geographical position as hub linking western and eastern Africa, carries more importance for Turkey’s opening to Africa than Mali. Turkey has signed 29 agreements with Niger since opening an embassy in Niamey in 2012. Erdogan paid a visit in 2013, and the following year, President Mahamadou Issoufou traveled to Ankara. In 2021, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay attended the inauguration ceremony of Bazoum, who then traveled to Turkey for a diplomatic forum in 2022, where he met with Erdogan. Many other Nigerien senior officials and ministers have visited Turkey as well since 2021. Bilateral trade stood at $134 million last year, up from $46 million in 2012, and an agreement on military training cooperation was among the deals that (the then) FM Cavusoglu signed when he visited Niger in July 2020. After a phone call with Bazoum in November 2021, Erdogan said that Turkey would help boost Niger’s defense capabilities by supplying it with TB2 drones, armored vehicles and Hurkus light trainer and combat aircraft, in the frame of rearmament policy inaugurated by that country to face the Islamist terrorist pressure. At least six TB2s have been delivered to Niger since then, but claims of plans for a Turkish military base in Niger have not been confirmed.

The junta in Niger withdrew the country’s ambassadors from France, Nigeria, Togo and the United States, but revoked military deals with only France. It is unlikely to halt defense cooperation with Turkey. Reluctant to explicitly condemn the coup and be hostile against an intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ankara look to protect her interests and enlarging it furtherly in the sub region of Sahel, expel France and limit the influences of US, Russia and China.

As above said, Niger is in a critical geographical point and in a peculiar momentum and the persistent instability of Nyamey, despite the ongoing normalization with US (which recently de facto accepted the quasi legitimacy of the military junta) may represent a risk for the subregional and continental ambitions and plans of Ankara.

The low intensity conflict in Niger (as well for Chad) could be sealed with the one which affect the instability of South-West Libya and Western Fezzan. After years of heavy, but ineffectual, civil war, the country is still split in two (officially, while in reality there are at least 5 entities/areas under different power and/or influence). Ankara want to defend the position acquired with the Tripoli-based institutions (also based on the fact that Turkish military appeared to be the key element of the struggle against of the general Afthar-led forces offensive, which, by the way, were supported by hundreds of Russian military contractors and thousands of mercenaries from Niger, Chad, Sudan). Turkey might be in tactical convergence with Russia, but she damaged by the Russian factor elsewhere in Africa as it is in Libya. Turkey wants to keep the agreements on defense, maritime delineation and energy exploration with the Tripoli-based government, with the political aim to marginalize Italy and (again) France from Libya.

The changing political landscape in Africa may offer Turkey opportunities to expand its areas of influence, but any prospect of gaining new footholds on the continent, such as its permanent base in Somalia or its de facto base in Libya, appears unlikely at present.

But as mentioned above, under a general view, Erdogan in its look to dismantle the legacy of Ataturk, may be in unconsciously, he walks in the path of political doctrine of the last period of Ottoman Empire.

With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, playing on the contradictions of powers to protect its interests, it was the central doctrine of the international policy of the Sublime Porte and particularly of Sultan Abdulhamid II.

The bet quickly became untenable and led the Empire to numerous setbacks. The construction of the Republic in 1923 must initially be understood as an attempt to break with this strategic framework.

Turkey of Erdogan has been able to reconnect with a certain influence and advance its pawns, it is, systematically, by benefiting from the contradictions of world powers, seeking first to exploit all the interstices from which it could benefit.

The opening of two military bases abroad, one in Doha (formally opened in 2015, even training programme existed since 2022), the other in Somalia, was firstly the result of local conflicts and the disengagement of Western states having a preponderance history in these regions. The dynamism of its defense industry, materialized by the production of drones or the delivery of a drone carrier for the national navy, directly contributes to Turkey’s interventionism in numerous conflicts.

But here again, it benefits from international contradictions and confrontations, like the support of Azerbaijan, against Armenia, getting advantage of Russia’s strategic refocusing in Ukraine (and consequent quagmire).

Likewise, recent years have seen Turkish companies enter new markets. Still using the African parameters, in 2022 there were 225 of them operating on the African continent, particularly in the construction, textile and infrastructure sectors, compared to only three in 2005. Turkey has notably benefited from the challenge to the monopoly of the former colonial powers initiated by other actors and in particular China.

Above all, in the last period, diplomatic balancing has become a trademark and a means of affirmation for the Turkish president, oscillating between Moscow and Washington, asserting his place in NATO, slowing the adhesion of Sweden (blackmailing Washington in order to get spare parts for the F-16’s fleet, practically grounded) the Atlantic Alliance, and applying for membership within the Bejing tool of SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), or playing a pivotal role between Russia and Ukraine.

Ankara’s diplomacy aims to obtain, piecemeal, as many concessions as possible from appropriate allies. It thus allows Russia to circumvent international sanctions, to benefit from massive imports of energy products.

However, Turkey’s current policy thus risks transforming strategic opportunism into critical vulnerability, but there are, as above mentioned, elements of fragility. Turkish foreign trade is already experiencing a record deficit due to the exponential growth of Russian hydrocarbon imports. The country has lost its food sovereignty, and entire sections of its economy are directly backed by foreign financing, particularly from the Gulf states. The development of its defense industrial base, despite some important achievements, like an indisputable experience on the drone sectors, still suffers from critical dependencies for fundamental parts, such as engine construction, which obstructs the path to real strategic autonomy.

To encourage foreign investment and strategic rapprochements, a large part of the country’s state property productive assets has been privatized and dependence on food and energy imports fuels inflationary loops (and the new finance minister signalled to further privatize important sectors, but his problem is to privilege domestic buyers and avoid foreign influences and the potential domestic buyers have limited finances).

Finally, building the country’s power to mirror the game of the great international powers weighs heavily on Turkish society. Faced with the loss of sovereignty, this strategy fuels a nationalism encouraged by political power. To reassure partners about the reliability and stability of the country, this path encourages a tenuous, and often brutal, supervision of the population which participates, moreover, in the growing questioning of secularism.

The imposition of religion in the political field and in all dimensions of society cannot mask the growing secularization of the Turkish population, and particularly its youth. The need for the AKP to increasingly resort to religious themes in its mode of governance constitutes, ultimately, both an admission of weakness and a signal sent to the outside world. It helps to channel its youth and impose its political agenda, but at the same time reinforce the secularism in social and geographical areas. It also supports Turkey’s strategic realignment, both economic and diplomatic, giving guarantees to the States of the Gulf, North Africa, Central Asia and the Balkans which now constitute strategic partners that Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to use as support (especially the ones, like in the Gulf, which have a financial leverage) to help the recovery of the national economy and lower the prices (it should be recalled that the ‘Erdoganomic’, or lower prices, was a key element of the electoral successes of AKP).

How much longer will this strategic opportunism allow Recep Tayyip Erdogan to remain in power in the face of a shrinking social base? This is an essential question for the Republic of Turkey, on his centenary.


Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a retired UN official and expert in military history and international politico-military affairs.


Subtracting the Sahara

It is no surprise to see a party of the Spanish left betraying the Saharawi people. Moreover, they seem to sacrifice their own principles in favor of a PSOE completely devoted to the narco-dictatorship of Mohamed VI and his expansionist aspirations.

The affinity of the Spanish left with the Saharawi cause has been a constant in their electoral programs and public statements. However, the repeated betrayals to this cause have sown doubts. It all began with a young Felipe Gonzalez, who in 1976 promised, on a trip to the Saharawi refugee camps, to accompany the Saharawi people in their just struggle until the final victory. However, when he came to power, Gonzalez strengthened his alliance with the Moroccan monarch, forgetting the already punished Saharawi people.

The left has united and regrouped under various acronyms, from “Izquierda Unida” to Podemos, now Unidas Podemos, and recently SUMAR. It seems that the Spanish left only knows how to move and survive between the hopeful novelty and the supposed definitive alliance that promises much but falls, devoured by its own failure, being reborn again under new acronyms and promises.

This is how we Saharawis have been for more than 40 years, listening to false promises, receiving “solidarity” politicians in our refugee camps and falling again and again into the same mistake by believing those who disappoint us. I have to make it clear that we do not expect anything from the Spanish right wing, which is neither here nor expecte;, they never promised nor were there. Those who championed the Saharawi cause were the leftist political parties in Spain, which have always disappointed and disillusioned. From Gonzalez, through Zapatero, who was the president who sold the most weapons to Morocco, weapons then used against the Saharawi people, to Sanchez who was the most indecent president to publicly recognize that Western Sahara should be an “autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty,” supporting a fierce illegal occupation and violating the international legality that calls for a referendum of independence in Western Sahara. This position contradicts the will of the majority of Spaniards who support the Saharawi cause and tramples on the aspirations of the Saharawi people who have been resisting for more than 50 years for their independence.

Looking at the parties to the left of the PSOE, we Saharawis may have to settle for a tweet or, hopefully, a statement in the press in support of the “just struggle of the Saharawi people.” But beyond this media gesture, there will be no clear initiatives or actions, and it is time that we recognize and accept it. We are only an electoral slogan, a badge to wear on our chest to look really “leftist” in some demonstration or public act, but beyond that, we are nothing. Morocco will always be the friend, the ally and the chosen one.

The party led by Yolanda Diaz, SUMAR, promised to reverse the decision taken by Pedro Sanchez and return Spain to its “neutral” position on the Western Sahara issue. However, in the recent government agreement signed between the PSOE and SUMAR, the Saharawi question is nowhere to be found. SUMAR had to choose between the just Saharawi cause or the illegal occupation of Mohamed VI. It had to choose between fidelity to its promises or ambiguity out of self-interest. In both cases, I choose the second option.

Meanwhile, the Saharawi people continue to believe in the Spanish “new left” that always finds a way to be reborn under new acronyms, new colors and new promises that, of course, will never be fulfilled.

Finally, we recall that the Saharawi people do not ask for solidarity or alms, they simply ask that Spain fulfills its legal duty as a colonial power in Western Sahara; but this request becomes a demand, especially to those who have championed our struggle and have promised to carry out the long-awaited decolonization, and then betray us in the most shameful ways. At this point, I recommend to my fellow Saharawis to change the demand for a simple request: that the Spanish left stop trafficking in our pain and using our cause as a bargaining chip.


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.


Martians!

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.


One Map and Two Betrayals

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.


Africa: New Powers and a New Scramble?

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.

Saudi Arabia

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.

Qatar

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.


Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a retired UN official and expert in military history and international politico-military affairs.


A Complex “Near Abroad”

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 New Champion in the Fight Against Illegal Immigration

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.