Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel: Where Piracy, Terrorism, and Organized Crime Meet

There is a tendency to believe that proximity is a key determinant of whether events that take place within a state and/or geographic area will have an impact on the day-to-day functioning of a neighboring state and even on the same geographic area. Based on this logic, a state perceived as distant is believed to have no influence in a neighboring area, either because of its geographic location, lack of knowledge about its past or present, let along knowing that it even exists.

In a globalized and interconnected world of today, it is not possible to remain isolated from events happening in other places, affecting different areas, whether political, economic, legislative or social. In the case of unlawful acts, although some types of crimes are committed (and not properly opposed) at the national level, it is possible that these and/or their consequences cross borders and affect other nations and/or geographical areas by affecting the lives of individuals and groups, as well as the economy, security and politics. In this sense, some criminal phenomena are more striking than others, as in the case of terrorism (so far only in the Sahel); and its consequences may be much more obvious, in comparison with other phenomena, such as organized crime (still Sahel) or piracy (now growing alarmingly in the Gulf of Guinea).

However, these criminal phenomena impact on a scale that exceeds the regional scope and in different ways, and they impact the political, economic, and security relations of areas geographically far removed from both the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea.

The Gulf of Guinea: New Epicenter of Maritime Piracy after the Indian Ocean

The Gulf of Guinea is a maritime region of the Atlantic Ocean that includes approximately 6,000 km of it costs; and, as part of West and Central Africa, two sub-regions meet there—there is the northern region, which includes Senegal, Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and the southern one with Angola, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome and Príncipe, Democratic Republic of the Congo (even if for a very short coastline). Among these nations are some of the leading producers of hydrocarbons (this immense space has large reserves of crude oil and natural gas currently exploited and planned-to-be exploited), along with other mineral, agricultural and fishing reserves.

All these resources are exported by sea and are relatively close to Western markets, and they contribute to energy security for the Gulf of Guinea—a very topical issue, given the situation between Russia and Ukraine, and its consequences for Europe, for those countries that import hydrocarbons, as those of the EU. In this way, and due to the geographical position of these countries, the Gulf of Guinea acquires special significance when used as possible transit area for maritime traffic between America and sub-Saharan Africa with Europe.

Thus, it is a hub for the entry of energy supplies to Europe, as well as for other resources of the area, such as iron, gold, diamonds, peaches, agricultural products and fruit, among others. However, its energy potential in particular, and its economic potential in general, is reduced, since the Gulf of Guinea is considered a highly insecure and unstable area.

As often happens, maritime security and stability problems originate and/or contribute to problems on the ground—and all the states mentioned have serious problems, ranging from weakening or the disappearance of centralized power, corruption, the spread of violence—all of which bring instability several countries. In other words, governance is very weak and many states can be considered as being nearly bankrupt. The reasons for this are many.

First, theer are internal ethnic-religious divisions, artificial borders and the phenomenon of the irredentists/separatists (a legacy of both colonialism and the re-formulating of former German colonies after WWI as in Togo and Cameroon), and the harmful effects of a post-colonial robbery, in which leadership, enslaved to economic and external political powers (especially France and the UK), exploits local resources and upsets assets and balances, such as agriculture, which provided self-subsistence (for example, with the super-production of coffee and cocoa).

The showcase of this is Nigeria, where this situation has created an explosive mix that has led, among other things, to a significant development of crime, especially maritime crime, manifested through illicit piracy, trade and fishing. This situation threatens the stability and fluidity of maritime trade—it is estimated that up to 90% of world trade is transported by sea—generating serious consequences for sea routes which are greatly impacted because of criminal acts, leading to insecurity, higher costs for maritime transport (starting with insurance and freight), and putting lives at risk, thus leading to severe economic and material damage.

This is especially true in the Gulf of Guinea, where there are around 1500 fishing boats, oil tankers and merchant ships that navigate its waters on a daily basis. The threat was accentuated after COVID-19, which saw limited public resources allocated to maritime safety, along with the reduction of world trade, and thus of economic growth, with the consequent increase in poverty and unemployment. In connection with this, there was an extension of piracy, right up to the Ivory Coast and south of Gabon, in that piracy became a source of an alternative income and livelihood for the population. However, this scenario got worse when later, in 2020, the price of oil collapsed, which (among other reasons) led to limited maritime safety and a greater demand for necessary resources by the population. This left oil tankers vulnerable to increased piracy.

In 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau, the Gulf of Guinea saw 84 attacks against ships, with 135 seafarers kidnapped for ransom. The Gulf of Guinea recorded an increase of nearly 50 percent of ransom kidnappings between 2018 and 2019, and around 10 percent between 2019 and 2020. The region now accounts for just over 95 percent of all kidnappings for ransom at sea.

However, official data for 2021 offers a contradictory picture, with 132 incidents, 115 of them approaches, 11 attack attempts, 5 sustained attacks and one case of a vessel hijacked. These are the lowest figures recorded for piracy and armed robbery since the year 1994, and show a decrease in maritime piracy offenses in this sector. This is the result of greater cooperation from regional authorities and a greater presence of international warships, precisely because of the importance of the resources involved and the geographic location.

This apparent contradiction may be due to the so-called “dark figures”—those criminal acts that are not officially notified, and therefore do not appear in institutional statistics and should therefore be interpreted with caution, as it is estimated that up to half of the cases are not reported and, therefore, unknown. Among the reasons that lead to this lack of reporting include the costs that a delay in an investigation can entail for companies whose goods are transported on the ship, or bad publicity for the shipping company, and for the port where the attack took place, or for the ship itself on a global scale. Therefore, and despite the potential inaccuracy of the data in itself, the Gulf of Guinea is a very important center of maritime piracy.

Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

To profit economically, maritime piracy has developed an entrepreneurial profile—the illegal oil market: The oil industry is the mainstay of the Gulf area’s economy—and thus there is also the existence of a large black market for crude oil—that is oil stolen from ships, which requires a network of sophisticated organized crime that makes oil piracy profitable. Also, the pirates profit from other revenue related to the hijacking of ships, such as the ransom-money for the captured crew.

Effects of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea for Europe

Indeed, the evolution and rise of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a concern for Europe, as many shipping and fishing companies operate in the region. Piracy also leads to the increase in the cost of maritime transport insurance, which means higher costs for companies, and thuis higher costs for the consumer of those goods.

For these reasons, Spain deployed ocean-going patrol boats in the region in 2010, in support of the 2009-2012 Africa Plan, in an attempt to help the countries of the area to exercise sovereignty and influence in their maritime spaces, as well as offering safety in these spaces. This was done by way of surveillance activities, operations, exchanges of information and bilateral activities, or at the request of the countries in the region, the purpose of which was to increase these nations’ maritime capacity.

In addition, efforts are being made to improve maritime and military capabilities of the police forces of the Gulf of Guinea countries; insecurity generated by piracy not only affects the maritime environment, but also facilitates the access of illicit products through sealed containers in legitimate shipments, thanks to bribery or coercions. This allows the entry of people, weapons and drugs, among others things, which benefit not only organized crime but also localized terrorist groups in the Sahel.

The European, US and International Response

To cope with growing instability and to protect its interests, the EU has launched a complex approach, dedicated to the Gulf of Guinea, since 2014, to support the objectives of the so-called “Yaoundé Architecture,” the intra-regional commitment between ECOWAS, ECCAS and GGC, signed at the Yaoundé Heads of State Summit in June 2013, to counter maritime crime in its broadest sense (proving that despite the difficulties, several states of the region are aware of the risks of destabilization and reputational damage).

[ECOWAS—The Economic Community of West African States was established on May 28, 1975, by the Treaty of Lagos, with its stated mission to promote economic integration across the region. A revised version of the treaty was agreed and signed on July 24, 1993 in Cotonou, to include Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea (membership suspended due to a coup in the country), Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali (membership suspended due to a coup in the country), Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso (membership suspended due to a coup in the country), Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Togo.]

[ECCAS—The Economic Community of Central African States is an international organization established October 18, 1983 for the economic, social and cultural development of Africa, with a view to the creation of regional structures that can gradually lead to a Common Market. Member states of the organization are: Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Chad, Sao Tome and Principe.]

[GGC—The Gulf of Guinea Commission was established by the Treaty signed in Libreville, Gabon, on July 3, 2001, comprising Angola, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe. GGC shall constitute a framework of consultation among the countries of the Gulf of Guinea for cooperation and development, as well as for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts that may arise from the delimitation of borders and the economic and commercial exploitation of natural resources within the territorial boundaries, particularly in the overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of the participating states. It constitutes a permanent institutional framework for cooperation amongst the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea in order to defend their common interest and promote peace and socio-economic development based on the bases of dialogue, consensus and friendship. GGC started operations in March 2007, with the establishment of its Executive Secretariat in Luanda, Angola. Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo joined GGC in 2008.]

The “Code of conduct relating to the repression of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illegal maritime activity in West and Central Africa,” also known as” Yaoundé Architecture,” has as its objective the promotion of regional maritime cooperation and a stable maritime environment that can contribute to regional prosperity. The signatory states have established regional centers for sharing and coordinating information. These include the Interregional Coordination Center (ICC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon; the Regional Center for West African Maritime Security (CRSMAO) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and the Center Central African Maritime Security Regional (CRESMAC) in Pointe Noire, Congo, where experts and military and civilian personnel from both participating European nations, the EU and the local authorities cooperate.

Following the definition of the action plan, Brussels has defined a strategy for the region, aimed at supporting regional efforts to address the many challenges of maritime security and transnational organized crime, substantially increasing the capabilities of the local forces and collaborating closely with regional organizations and international institutions, such as IMB, Interpol and UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Program.

[IMB—The International Maritime Bureau is a specialized department of the International Chamber of Commerce, established in 1981, and its responsibilities lie in fighting crimes related to maritime trade and transportation, particularly piracy and commercial fraud, and in protecting the crews of ocean-going vessels. It publishes a weekly piracy report and maintains a 24-hour piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. IMB is part of ICC Commercial Crime Services bodies like the Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau, the Financial Investigation Bureau, FraudNet. IMB has observer status with Interpol and a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Customs Organization.]

As for the option of a stabilizing European naval presence, similar, if possible, to the operation “Atalanta” and the establishment of specific training and support missions for local forces, like EUCAP Somalia—it seems unrealistic, at least at the moment, due to the necessity of concentrating the Euro (Atlantic) naval forces in other areas, and for a general pause for reflection on future of these activities.

[EUCAP Somalia, the Maritime Capabilities Support Mission in Somalia is a European Union civilian mission. Originally established in 201 and called EUCAP Nestor, in tribute to the Greek hero of the Trojan War, the mission changed its name in 2016 to EUCAP Somalia to illustrate a refocusing of the mandate on Somalia.]

Furthermore it must be remembered that France, which has a strong tradition of presence in the region, has set up a training center for the region’s navies (which are nothing more than coast0guards) in Equatorial Guinea, while Spain has deployed ocean-going patrol boats in the region in 2010, in support of the 2009-2012 Africa Plan, as part of an assistance program to the countries of the area to exercise sovereignty and influence in their maritime spaces.

As well, in a broader perspective of the G7, a “steering group” was set up, the G7 ++ FOGG (Friends of the Gulf of Guinea), which carries out an important role in advancing the maritime security agenda in the region by bringing together coastal states, private actors and regional and international stakeholders in its efforts to promote greater international cooperation.

[The G7++ Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (FOGG) is a multilateral maritime security group that supports the implementation of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct for regional maritime security, established in 2013 during the UK Chairmanship of G7 and include Germany, Canada, USA, Italy, Japan, UK, and France), the G7++ FoGG include Belgium, Brazil (observer), South Korea, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, EU, UNODC and Interpol.]

The Sahel as a Center of Operations for Criminal Organizations

The Sahel is a strip of land located south of the Sahara Desert, and which includes the borders between twelve countries, extending from west to east of the continent, about 5,500 kilometers long and with an average width of 400 kilometers. It is characterized by being a large transition space in which community and tribal structures have prevailed over time, with the constant search for resources and for the development of its activities; in essence in the primary sector which tend to be linked to different ethnic groups.

For this reason, it is the climate, as well as its accidents, that dictate the pace of life of its inhabitants. However, the constant increase in the population and the struggle for its resources—rather scarce— generate disputes that quickly lead to ethnic conflicts.

To all this must be added the movements of caravans and businesses that circulate along the same routes, as they have done for thousands of years, and which have created a network of communication in Africa. This network has managed to transcend the continent to connect with Europe and thus obtain advantages, both for trade and for the possibilities of mobility it offers to the population. Therefore, the Sahel is a center of very important interconnections that unite peoples, countries and continents through their ancient routes.

However, this very network in the vast territories that make up the Sahel has been exploited by new non-state and transnational structures which, in the face of border permeability—the lack of effective border control by national authorities that facilitate complete freedom of movement— groups have established dynamics of social relations based on illicit trade and trafficking, thus facilitating the establishment of criminal and terrorist groups in the region. These groups then took advantage of the great political instability and distrust in the system. Given the limited resources of the state for its defense and the great breadth of its territories and the growth of the culture of impunity, the capacity for action for these nations has greatly diminished, and this has contributed in strengthening the dominance of criminal organizations among the population.

In this way, the Sahel, which has long been a trade and mobility route, today is a favorable space, due to these circumstances, for organized crime and terrorism which have firmly established their strongholds and centers of operations in these regions, by subduing the local population. This is how violent armed groups have increased their actions in the Sahel region, expanding their activities and creating major destabilization and impacting development and security, with alarming effects. In short, the region is a paradise for criminal activity.

Coexistence of Terrorism and Organized Crime in the Sahel

The fact that terrorism and organized crime form alliances is well known, given their freedom and ability to act, in that both have established dynamics characterized by adaptation to circumstances and the local population, acquiring a leading role as the new “power manager,” and thus creating a new political context and a new dynamics of socioeconomic. This is how the formation of alliances gives continuity to business and allows for the survival of organized crime and terrorism, for it is the lack of control, governance and the instability of the territory which allows for high degrees of mobility and impunity.

In any case, for their survival, these groups need an ever-increasing flow of human, financial and material resources. For this reason, the recruitment of new followers or criminals is crucial. In fact, on many occasions, they are more trained and better equipped than the armed forces and security organs of the area. However, to get of these resources, requires the control of the ancient routes of the Sahel, which initially were used by nomads, who controlled who crossed the Sahara desert and tolled the merchants who passed through them. Today they are used by several criminal networks, be they organized crime or terrorists, for the control of the territory and the development of illicit trade in the region, including drug trafficking, tobacco, weapons, food, fuel and humans, among others.

Therefore, the Sahel is a transitional space, and its roads, once used by caravans, are now the thoroughfares of criminal networks, resulting in new and greater sources of crime synergies that cross borders, including continental ones.

Effects of Violent Armed Groups in the Sahel for Europe

As with the Gulf of Guinea, it has become clear that the Sahel is at the center of terrorist threats, illicit trafficking and ethnic /religious /tribal conflicts.

The EU has a special interest in the Sahel, most particularly Spain, given its geographical proximity, and its two enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla (on the African mainland) and the Canary archipelago. Thus, Spain feels itself particularly exposed to outcomes related to the instability of West Africa and the Sahel. So it is not surprising that the Sahel region is of prime interest for Brussels (and Madrid), with a focus on military assistance and training missions on the continent.

For organized crime, the connections with terrorism represent new opportunities for illicit trade, from which it makes huge economic profits—generally, through extortion—which not only implies profit, but also expansion of their criminal or terrorist activities. At the same time, this promotes increased political and social corruption, further weakening the state supports of nations increasingly unable to face this landscape or take advantage of it.

Thus, the collaboration between different criminal networks and terrorism not only weakens states, but rather, it creates “failed states,” causing fractures in the governance that are then exploited by these networks, creating environments conducive to achieving the fulfillment of their objectives, and further nurturing activities necessary for their survival and growth.

The weaker the state, the greater the ability of these networks to develop their businesses and to go unpunished and to expand even further. In fact, these growth opportunities materialized in the Gulf of Guinea—among other regions—where organized crime has long found profitability in the smuggling of fuel and financing of pirate groups. At the same time, terrorist groups (Daesh and Al Qaeda territorial branches ) have succeeded in expanding south from the Sahel, through actions carried out last year in Benin, Ivory Coast, Congo and DRC—countries belonging to the Gulf of Guinea, and thus establishing the first alliances with violent Islamist groups that already existed in the territory, such as the ADF (Allied Democratic Force) or Ansar Al Sunna. This has allowed for an increase in their influence in these territories, and in finding new areas from which to recruit more members, stockpile weapons and gain financing.

Furthermore, the possibilities offered by the geographical position of the Gulf of Guinea, with its access to the sea, allows them to establish alliances with other criminal groups present in the area, such as those involved in smuggling, piracy or organized crime. And being close to the sea allows them to continue developing a form of terrorism—maritime—which in itself is not new, but which offers other benefits to terrorist organizations, because of the vulnerabilities of the maritime traffic itself, such as the increased use of containers in the trade—which can be used by terrorist groups for the transport of weapons and people. As a result, the range and presence of terrorist groups increases costs, while organized crime and piracy continue to engage in illegal trade.

Such criminal phenomena complement each other, as long as their interests coincide, even if their goals are not the same. Indeed organized crime and piracy seek profit, while the jihadist terrorists seek to establish an Islamic state, although this is not it is an impediment in establishing alliances whenever they need them, even with entities that they do not agree with in their values, but which can be exploited in order to achieve their jihadist strategic objectives, such as with drugs which weaken the social structures of the Western world.

Conclusions

The development, evolution and continuous adaptation of these groups means that criminal and terrorist alliances will continue to grow, devastating the societies of the region. Furthermore, and contrary to what it may seem, these criminal phenomena take place in spaces closer than it may seem, since the proximity of Europe to the African continent is evident. But the network of age-old routes that connect the Sahel and Europe is still active and increasing in use. Thus the events taking place in the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel influence European policies, politics, security and commerce, among many other sectors.

Consequently, it seems obvious that all of this region is increasingly becoming an Eden for pirates, terrorists and groups of organized crime. But what is an Eden for these “evil” groups, becomes hell for “good groups,” both in Africa and, through their connections, in Europe. Therefore, it is necessary to continue to monitor and to act positively in this area.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


Colonialism and Bruce Gilley: Electric Kool-Aid Acid of the Moral Imagination

1.

When Queen Elizabeth II died the poorest people in the United Kingdom crawled out of their hovels in their dirty rags to join in solidarity with all those poor people who were still suffering from the yoke of colonialism in the undeveloped world. As one, they cheered that the source of all their suffering was finally gone—now, at long last, they could all live the free and prosperous lives that the Queen of the British Empire had denied them. YIPPEE… Oh, sorry, that did not happen.

If the lines of millions mourning her passing are anything to go by, there were plenty of outpourings of grief from her subjects, not to mention her own family who, for all the tabloid guff, are people. The grief of the living in their mourning is something that is a reminder of the fleeting nature of life on earth and what awaits us all. Irrespective of whether one is for or against the monarchy, it was a somber occasion, signaling the passing of an age as much as a sovereign, as much as a person.

Some people, though, are incapable of mustering even a modicum of decency in the face of death—they are the ones that generally show as little respect for the living as for the dead, though they often yell and scream as if they were the carriers of humanity’s better self, which is the picture that they have of themselves. And while there is a good case to be made that the monarchy as an institution in Great Britain may not last much longer, now that one of the most popular and dutiful of monarchs has died, the fact is that the Queen always displayed far more compassion, and respect for her subjects and their institutions than the members of that class that has successfully seized upon the moral imagination of the present, which it uses to denounce any relics of the past as well as anyone else that may obstruct the imperial ambitions of its authority. What they call diversity is merely division.

The Queen was indisputably vastly wealthy, but her life was one which few of us would like to lead. It required the kind of curbing of appetites and desires that few of us, and few in her family, were capable of—of devoting herself to a life-time, in which decorum and duty overrode everything else. This was authority and duty in the old style. She may not have been so flash on Derrida or Foucault, but her bearing and intelligence and character were all tailored to the position for which she had been groomed and which she carried out with grace.

Grace is not a word that comes to mind when I think of the new pro-globalists moralists that run the show now, in every Western land. They see the world as a great big trough which they will lead others to, provided they, in their role as liberators and representators of the oppressed, have their fill first. Anyone who thinks that their ideas are just verbal squish covering up their own sense of self-importance and ambitions to rule the earth alongside the globalist corporations and technocrats will need to be destroyed. Tyrants, as Plato rightly observed, are bred in the chaos of ultra-democratic aspirations and the accompanying social breakdown those aspirations create.

Just as their view of the present involves preferring abstractions (you know the ones, equality/equity/diversity/inclusivity/ emancipation, etc.), which have not been adequately tested in the reality of history, to see if they are of any more value than providing some kind of status of moral authority to the ones who use them—it takes these same abstractions into the past, and in finding that these abstractions were not there in any meaningful way is able to condemn the past as one of sheer oppression. Of course, the past they select to condemn is very selective: for the same class loves to create fantastical stories about premodern or non-Christian societies, as if they were just wondrous paradises of tolerance, diversity, equity and inclusion—from the world’s first and greatest democracy in Aboriginal Australia, where they would meet in their town-halls to make sure all was fair and square, to the wonderful multiculturalism of the Ottoman empire, with its pride parades.

It was primarily the members of this class of fabulists, who now control the Western education system and media outlets, who were predominantly using the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s death to bang on about the genocidal history of the British empire and the role of the monarchy in general, and Elizabeth in particular. I do think the treatment of the native Americans in the USA in the nineteenth century might be described as genocidal; it was certainly absolutely shocking, but that was not the fault of the British empire, any more than the gulags were the fault of the Romanovs. But it did not matter to those tweeting their spittle about the Queen’s death that since the handing over of Hong Kong to the CCP in 1997 (something deeply regretted by the many Hong Kong locals I met in my eight or so years living there), Great Britain no longer has any colonies, while when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952 there were still over 70 colonies. Not that decolonization was an act triggered by the crown for, as everybody but those doing their celebration of spitting and drooling, seem to know, the British monarch while a de jure Head of State/constitutional monarch is de facto a ceremonial figure, symbolizing the nation’s unity—which to be sure is no easy feat in the divided area of the United Kingdom. In any case, her position requires her not intervening in political decisions that are the province of the parliament and courts. Thus, it was when there was a constitutional crisis in Australia back in the 1970s, and the deposed Prime Minister sought for her to intervene, she stayed right out of it.

In the United States, one of the first out of the blocks to drool and punch the air in celebration was the Nigerian born Associate Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University, Uju Anya. She tweeted, “That wretched woman and her bloodthirsty throne have fucked generations of my ancestors on both sides of the family, and she supervised a government that sponsored the genocide my parents and siblings survived. May she die in agony.” The fact that, a few days after tweeting this bile, some 4000 other “scholars” publicly endorsed her (there must be far more by now), just goes to show what tax-payers and students are getting for their money.

From what I can gather, the slender threads of reality that Anya has woven into her fabric of verbal vomit and idiocy are that the British government supplied arms to the Nigerian government in their war against the secessionist attempt by the military governor of Nigeria’s Eastern Region, Lieutenant Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, in what turned into a horrific civil war. A mountain of literature exists on the war, though anyone who wants fair and brief appraisals of what occurred might read pages 199-205 (2011 edition) of Martin Meredith’s magisterial, The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence, or Margery Perham’s even-handed and first-hand account, “Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War” in International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944), vol. 46, No. 2 (Apr., 1970)., pp. 231-246.

In a manner befitting the moralizing, fabulizing, historically revisionist class of which she is a member, Anya fails to address the most basic of facts about her own country’s history: the French and Russians were also providing arms to the belligerents; that is belligerents on all sides were killing each other and seeking weapons from anyone willing to supply the same to them; the secession attempt by Ojukwu was a resource grab without any legitimacy that would have had disastrous results for Nigerians outside Biafra; Ojukwu’s propaganda game was as dangerous as it was vile as it was disastrous in its contribution to the mass starvation of the Biafran people that remains one of the most shocking famines in relatively recent historical memory. The chain of events which sparked the war and famine was ignited by Igbo military officers who assassinated key figures in the First Nigerian Republic. Finally, and to quote Perham, “the federal constitution of the three provinces, taken over by the Nigerians in October 1960 was largely the product of the Nigerians themselves, built up in intensive discussions and conferences, and attended by all the political leaders over a period beginning in the forties, and ending with the final conference of 1958. The basic differences between the main parts of Nigeria were not evaded: they were endlessly argued, but not even a dozen years of discussion and political advance, following half a century together under the canopy of British rule, could square the obstinate circlers within which deep and ancient tribalisms were enclosed.”

But who needs real political facts when you can become a mega-star in todays’ academic world with a tweet, so long as the tweet amplifies an ostensibly morally certain consensus, whilst confirming the moral superiority of all those, who also don’t need to actually know anything to know what they know, viz. that empires and colonialism are very, very bad? And no good person could ever be a beneficiary of empire—somehow, magically, the Nigerian born Anya, along with God knows how many of the other 4000 scholars, lives in the USA, reaping the benefits of office and wealth that come from what colonizers and their techniques and technologies of world-making have created.

This “logic” is the logic of the silly, who think that they can just arbitrarily go back into bits and pieces of history to select a point from which they can blame the people they don’t like—this time British imperialists. Sorry, but no people anywhere have been where they are forever. Which is partly to say the world is not a moral fabrication of bits and pieces all fitted together into a nice Disney movie about all the inclusion and diversity there would have been had it not been for… the British, the Germans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Gauls, the Celts, the Abassids, the Persians.

Really folks! The world we inhabit is what people in their conflict, scarcity, cruelty, suffering, and everything else that has been done in the past have made. We are all respondents to a reality that precedes us and that we then work upon. Here, the moralists puff themselves up and splutter some kind of nonsense that has to do with their indignation that some people have killed more or suffered more…blah blah…than others. Let’s just say, we can’t undo the past, and pretending that we do by having reparations, etc. is just one more fantastical bit of fanaticism that is only a new way of creating work for a bureaucracy and moralizing class seeking ever more dependents.

In the case of reparations, they will mean nothing two generations down the track—but understanding that means thinking about economic behaviour, and human motivation and institutions, and the kind of thing that requires that rarest of things in today’s Tik Tok academic world—thoughtfulness.

This virtue stuff exhibited by people who are paid to denounce unequal things that obstruct universal emancipation is today’s electric Kool-Aid Acid of the moral imagination. Let’s face it, everyone has to earn a buck, and there is no easier way to do so today than by running around tweeting, screaming, teaching, or writing great big refereed academic tomes from illustrious brand name presses or densely footnoted articles in “prestigious journals” denouncing people who just won’t take out that part of their brain that enables them to see that all that stands between them and emancipation (which means—as far as I can see—having lots of sex and having lots of stuff) is their being subject to racist, sexist, colonialist blah blah blah ideas that scholars like Anya and her 4,000 mates (probably far more by now) think are “facts.”

So, I really can’t blame Anya; or, to pluck another from the media wing of the cathedral of woke idiocy, Tirhakah Love, a “senior newsletter writer for New York Magazine, who wrote, “For 96 years. That colonizer has been sucking up the Earth’s (sic.) resources,” and “You can’t be a literal oppressor and not expect the people you’ve oppressed not to rejoice on news of your death” for seizing the career opportunities made available to them by a ruling class whose rule is predicated upon destroying the shared norms, institutions and cultural achievements of the West in the name of the moral progress they embody, and the great future they believe they will bring into being—on the basis of which we can see already that would be a world of ever greater spiraling inflation, ethnic/tribal violence resulting from opening up “citizenship” to anyone who wants to live anywhere irrespective of criminal background, or commitment to any traditions of their new homeland; far more urban, racially based riots and burning of businesses, including black ones (to make way for gentrification); far greater crime (from burglary, shoplifting to murder), adorning inner city areas with tents for the ever-increasing number of homeless junkies; the redeployment of police resources away from crime prevention and into community development activities, such as flying pride flags and dancing in parades when they are not arresting racists, and homo-transphobes; schools in which critical race theory (whites are all the same—unless they teach critical race theory—and all bad), and the joys of the multiverse of sex and the importance of sexual rights, like the rights to change your sex as soon as you can speak are the main curricula; ever more spaces for public denunciations and ever more censorship; sacking of all who won’t do whatever the right-thinking authorities say they must do, say, or think; increasing the number of abortions up to and in the aftermath of an unwanted birth; ever more military interventions funded by you in the West for people outside the West to die in in far off lands that will save this great world from its nefarious enemies—and lots more butcher’s paper and crayons for “life-long” learning because learning to live in this shit will require that one remains a compliant imbecile during the entirety of one’s life-time.

2.

Bruce Gilley is a Professor of Political Science at Portland University—at least he was still there last time I looked, though it seems his existence is an affront to all the other good and virtuous professors who work there and who are doing their damnedest to push him into unemployment (the idea that professors could in any way be more virtuous than other people, and hence be tasked with instructing them in how to be better people, is something that, in a world less insane, would be worked into one of the more incredulous episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Bruce Gilley was once a highly respected scholar—with a dizzying number of academic prizes behind him—who once published books with such illustrious academic presses as the University Of California, and Columbia and Cambridge University. He burnt his bridges within the academic world with his essay “The Case for Colonialism.” The paper originally appeared in Third World Quarterly in 2017, having passed the blind refereeing process—a process that might give the delusion that the refereeing process in the Humanities and Social Sciences ensures academic quality and integrity—it doesn’t. But in any case those denouncing Gilley only care about referees who agree with them; and in the case of this essay, a petition of “thousands of scholars” and the resignation, in protest, of nearly half the editorial board of the journal, plus death threats being sent to the editor of the journal ensured it being “withdrawn” and given a new home.

Since the denunciations and attacks, Professor Gilley has written two books, both with Regnery Press—one can safely assume a university press will no longer touch anything he writes. His previous book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’s Epic Defense of the British Empire, before getting into print, underwent a similar saga. It was first going to be published by Lexington Books (an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield), where Gilley was also going to oversee, as the Series Editor, “Problems of Anti-Colonialism,” which would bring out books that sought “to reignite debate through a critical examination of the anti-colonial, decolonizing, and post-colonial projects.”

Then, the cancel crowd stepped in, started a petition on change.org: “Against Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics.” Many indignant “scholars” eagerly added their signatures. There was a counter-petition, which got nearly 5000 signatures, to try to save the series. But true-to-form, Rowman & Littlefield buckled and cancelled the series.

Eventually, Gilley found a far better home for his work—Regnery Publishing, which has also published his most recent book, In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West. This book does an excellent job of showing the ideological idiocy of those who are entrusted with teaching history to the youth of today, and who preside over the institutions which are preservers and now complete fabricators of a historical memory; that is to act as a foundation for future building.

Professor Gilley does not need my help in the shootout with the academy, as he takes down one “scholar” after another for preferring their ideological concoctions to the facts of the matter. But it is worth drawing attention to a few points that undermine not simply the ideological nonsense or inconvenient facts that derail the academic consensus which Gilley takes on with verve and astuteness, but both the role that the academy has adopted in ostensibly learning from the evils of the past to build a better future, and the mind-set that so commonly succumbs to preferring ideological simplicities and grand sounding nostrums to the far more complicated explorations which yield equivocations and hesitations in judgments about people who have had to deal with vastly different circumstances than those of our professional idea-makers, brokers, and overseers—as well as conclusions which one might not particularly be appreciated for reaching. That is, the study of real history requires being prepared to consider questions that transport one outside of a consensus that has been cemented because it was not driven by facts, historical or otherwise, nor by a well-considered and well-orchestrated series of questions, but by a priori “morally” and politically derived commitments which close off all manner of questions and hence understandings about reality.

History was among the more belated of the Humanities to fall into the kind of ethico-politics that took over Literary Studies for at least a generation.

In any case, working in the profession of “ideas” today involves little by way of having any virtue other than repeating and making inferences based upon certain moral consensuses and topics. One becomes a member of the profession of ideas by virtue of teaching and writing—the one exception in the doing is that increasingly universities have accepted the pedagogical value of political activism, if it is of the sort that conforms to the ethico-political ideas that have been accepted as true by those who write and teach on, and administer, the ideas which are to be socially instantiated. There are, to be sure, things one must not say (words or phrases one must not use) or do (at least to certain people with certain identities); but in the main not saying or doing those things is not remotely difficult, especially when the rewards are there for the taking, if one just goes along with things.

Just as character is a matter of irrelevance in today’s ideational configuration of identity, bestowing the right to a position, as a representative of one’s favoured disempowered group, being committed to a group narrational identity, has professional currency. Being an identity is to today’s mindset; what intelligence and character used to be. Neither of the latter are particular important anymore, as intelligence is dumbed down to the level of the school child, and character dissolved into an identity feature.

Today, our morally-fuelled anti-colonialists are condemning something that is now totally safe to condemn because it is no longer a reality that has any other part to play in their world than a moral occasion for their career advancement as talking moral heads. Being a part of today’s educated/ educational “leadership” brings with it all manner of predispositions and circumstances, and they are not ones that have anything remotely to do with what people who signed onto the foreign service or civil service in the age of colonialism, or even the academy some sixty or so years back, had to do.

People of different ages are pushed and pulled by different influences and priorities—and in so far as most young people are swept into whatever activities are part of the streams of opportunity, approval, ambition and mimetic desire that defines them, the difference between the youth who were caught up in the colonial enterprise, the revolutionary enterprises in Russia or China, or liberal progressive Wokeness today is not so much in their emotional enthusiasm and certainty, but the specific enterprise that has been socially and pedagogically concocted by the preceding generation and the opportunities that they grasp.

One can definitely identify which elites and which nations fare better by their doing; but so much of the doing is based upon what was made by previous generations, and who did what with the opportunities they had, as well as how much overreach and wastage occurred. Yes, I do think the elite generation of the West are more imbecilic and less charitable and capable of understanding the world and the circumstances that have made it and what is required to sustain a civilization than the elite that spawned colonialism. All groups have their blind-spots, and pathologies (here I am an unreconstructible Aristotelian) and the elites of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century are not beyond criticism—no group is, because no group and no one can see exactly what they are doing, nor have all the information that would help their doing—but to dismiss them all as racists and plunderers is to be shockingly ignorant about their intelligence, moral sensibilities and motivations.

In any case, the various reasons that were involved in decolonization, including their excessive cost, an increasing lack of support on the home front, and the aspirations of an indigenous elite and rebels calling and /or fighting for national independence, were not events that had anything to do with the academics of today who contemplate colonialism as a moral problem with a very simple answer—it’s really bad.

Our time is not one in which colonialism offers any kind of desideratum at a personal, social or political level. Which is also to say the academic who writes critically about colonialism today is doing about as much to stop colonialism occurring now as their writings have to do with preventing a reconnaissance mission on Venus.

Of those teaching in universities who have fought for wars of independence who are still alive and who might hold a job in a university or in the media, the kind of questions raised by Gilley then come into play, viz. did things fare better once there was “liberation?” The answer to that will depend upon many things—who the colonizers were and what they did, and what transpired afterward.

Having taught in Darwin (Australia), I met a number of people who had fought against the Indonesians to create an independent East Timor/Timor-Leste. The results in Timor-Leste are mixed, though it is very poor; and while there are issues of corruption, it is stable. For their part, the Indonesians were, to put it mildly, not loved by the locals. The fact that the Indonesians occupied it after they had liberated themselves from the Dutch only goes to show that yesterday’s colonized can readily become tomorrow’s colonizer.

The question of how a country fares after colonialism is a serious one, and in some places the results have been horrific. It was the existence of such cases, of which there are many, with Cambodia winning the prize in that department, closely followed by a number of African nations like Uganda and Congo, that makes an article, such as Gilley’s case for re-colonialism, worth considering. But it is a far better career move to hate on Gilley by people who would rather ignore any facts which might complicate the founding passage of post-colonial scripture that the ‘white-colonialist devil’ is the demiurge responsible for all the post-colonial violence that occurs, and the formerly colonized are either angels of light and liberation, or zombies created by their white masters.

Gilley’s article is short enough for me not to have to repeat its contents. I will simply say that Gilley was trying to make serious recommendations about how recolonizing might be a better option in some places than continuing in the same way. That is the kind of idealism/thinking by design that I genuinely eschew, but as a thought experiment it deserved better than the accolades of denunciation it garnered. And had his critics taken their heads out of the sack of Kool Aid Acid, they might have realized that Gilley does not argue for reconquering territory, but for investment with legal/sovereign strings attached being undertaken in areas desperately in need of economic and social development.

My problem with this is that just as the anti-colonialists in Africa were often educated in the West, where ideas about how great communism and such-like started to abound and were commonplace in the 1960s, now what the Western mind offers would be even worse. The re-colonizers would be operating with their ESG and their DEI commitments and targets—they would be saddled with green energy goals, which would make sure they stay poor, and be expected to buy electric cars, otherwise keep on walking; their kids would be schooled in critical race theory, so they could blame everything that goes wrong on white people, and gender-sexual anatomy fluidity to break up the traditional family and anything else that the elite running corporations have seized on to incorporate into the great new world.

The new mental imperialism promises nothing but the endless division and persecution of anyone out of step with the ideology that ensconces Western liberal progressivism as the global norm. The clientelist assumptions and strategies which make of our professional ideas-people the emancipators of all and sundry who are not white, wealthy, cisgender men, who don’t support the globalist political left/progressive technocratic view of life being transposable to any circumstance, including that of people who live in former colonies, who only have to sit down and read their various primers on Fanon, or study post-colonial fiction and poetry, etc., along with Judith Butler to see how they can fix up their world, and get to the same standard as, say, a San Francisco tent for the homeless with free crack.

3.

Much of what Gilley says in his article has been said by others, his “mistake” was to say it straight and assemble it into a formulation that exposes the thoughtlessness of the modern ideological consensus about colonialism. More broadly, though, the thoughtlessness that Gilley is dealing with is not just about colonialism, it is about how the world has come to be the world that is. Colonialism is certainly one part of that, and it is what concerns Gilley.

But if we take a step back from colonialism (and it is this that also distinguished, as Gilley notes, the “pro-colonialist” Marx from the “anti-colonialist” Lenin), two further considerations about the world are particularly pertinent, if we want to free our minds from the enchainment of stupidity that is presented as some kind of moral progress which is due to the purity of thought and being of our contemporary pontificating paragons. The first is where violence and war fit generally into the schema of human things. The second is technology (including the division of labour it requires—one of Marx’s better thoughts was to see the interconnection the division of labour, i.e., classes and technology; and like all Marx’s better thought, Marxists have abandoned it), and administrative technique.

With respect to the first, warfare is a perennial feature of human existence. The reasons for any given war may vary, but to blame war itself on one particular group is ridiculous. In the context of colonialism, warfare was pertinent to colonialism at every level of its development—from the wars that were commonly occurring between rival groups that colonialists were frequently able to use to their strategic advantage, to the wars between and against colonial powers that led to the demise of empires and their colonies.

That wars would continue after colonialism would only surprise those who think that merely deeming war a bad or an immoral thing might somehow play a role in preventing it. But while I find pacificism to be a response to war akin to when my cat thinks that if he cannot see me, I cannot see him—so he hides under a stool with his back to the wall and tale sticking out right under my nose—I find even more abominable the moral cherry-picking that poorly informed academics make about which violent conflicts they choose to take a stand on, without concerning themselves too much with all the forces and flows that go into it—thus, in general, their tacit support for the NATO proxy war in Ukraine.

A general, and hence, to be sure, not overly helpful formulation about why wars occur is that competing interests, predicated upon ways of being in the world and making the world, go to war when they see no other way to get what they want—in the past, more often than not, that was acquiring or protecting scarce resources, including labour power. Modern commerce does not necessarily prevent war because some resources are such that access may be unreliable or so tenuous that conquest is the more certain way to acquire them. But international trade is often the more secure way to acquire wealth. Of course, the moral imagination of the modern academic is not slow to critique capitalism. But as with violence and war, it cherry-picks which kind of capitalists are bad and who it serves (finance capital/big tech/big pharma are now its major “masters”)—it also comes up with fudge-words when confronted with the truth that socialism was no less murderous—and generally resulted in even more poverty—than capitalism, though state apparatuses and the elites who run them do make a very big difference as to whether capitalism can be even mildly benign.

Just as there is no genuine design solution to the problem of competing interests and life-ways, there is no simple design system that can eliminate war or class differences—though one thing that might ameliorate some of our problems is that groups have more thoughtful and well informed sources of information and representation, so they might be able to broker their differences from positions of strength (which in turn requires discipline in what is done with resources, how they are channelled in terms of strategic priorities, and who is fit and able in applying them).

But sadly, we have handed over the minds of our public and private institutions to a class of people, in the main, with ambition and enterprise existing in inverse relationship to the ability to think through alternative scenarios and consequences.

Irrespective of how one “parses” the moral behaviour and qualities of any group in conflict with another, and while just war theory may have an illustrious history, it has become a standard go-to position of idea professionals, whose sense of justice can be traced back to their own magnanimity—the fuse of most wars is woven out of various complex threads that go a long way back and have their own “reasons,” which is why a new party of force may take advantage of older animosities between groups to leverage its new authority.

Imperialism and the establishment of colonies are ancient ways of doing power that involve war; and any suggestion, whether tacit or outright, that suggests that there was something uniquely immoral about British imperialism or modern European colonialism is a fantasy.

The question of what benefits or costs were associated with any given empire or colonialisation project can only be answered by sitting down and doing the calculating. At some point, one might find that certain behaviours fit into some kind of moral calculus—such as Spaniards ending human sacrifice in the Aztec empire, or the British prohibiting the practice of widow-burning (sati) in India; or one might count the number and scale of massacres and ethnic and religious rivalries and wars committed during the reign of a colonizing power with those that occur previous to or after their reign. In the latter case, no matter how heated someone wants to get about the violence of the British in India, none in their right mind could think that the scale ever remotely approximated the scale of violence of the Partition (1947), or the subsequent war of Bangladesh.

In any case, and in any given colonial or imperial venture, there will be all manner of pluses and minuses that could be calculated, and there will be some beneficiaries and some losers. The point here, though, is that any fool can say that any imperial or colonial endeavour of yesterday is immoral—but the reasons for the endeavour were as much the reasons of yesterday as were the morals of those who undertook them. We might well be thankful that we do not live in such times with such choices or moral consensuses—all well and good, but so what? A strictly moral account of any given society is always going to turn out negative—life is frequently one tragic set of choices after another—which in part is why our educated elite can keep getting away with the nonsense of the air in their heads and the smoke of their words seeming more beguiling to youth and know-nothings who believe that all we have to do is “reimagine” the world to get the world we want—one of endless stuff and sexual pleasure—yippee!

While Gilley, citing pertinent writings and speeches from Bismarck, makes a case for Germany’s colonial enterprise being largely driven by extra-commercial incentives, in the main I think it difficult to un-entwine benign moral intentions of those with authority from opportunity for cads and bounders that may exist in the new colonies—though, my point is equally that wherever you go and whenever you went there was always some lot extracting stuff from and being cruel to another lot. Concomitantly, anti-colonialist forces often had to be as ferocious and cruel against those who did not find the new aspiring hegemonic elite to be serving their interests, as they were against the colonialists whose resources and power they wished to capture.

If the point I have just made emphasizes the eternal return of violence/ war/ opportunity/ authority, the second point, I think extremely important, is the unique nature of the technological and technocratic levels of advancement that occurred in the West, leading up to and culminating in the industrial revolution.

There are many aspects that we can consider to be definitive in the formation of the modern, but the industrial revolution makes any nation, in the position to take advantage of it, far more powerful than any peoples who are required to succumb to its authority. But, as Carroll Quigley convincingly argues in Tragedy and Hope, the industrial revolution is but one in a sequence of revolutions that occurred in the West; and the uniqueness of the West’s potency—as well as the problems it generates for itself and elsewhere—is intrinsically bound up with the sequences of its revolutions.

Here there can in my mind be no doubt that the world wars are the West’s creation, and I strongly recommend the little known book by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out Of Revolution: An Autobiography of Western Man, which provides an account of the flow and circulatory nature of the revolutionary events which formed the peoples of Western Europe into the powers that would find themselves in the Great War and its aftermath.

But when the West is transported into other regions, such as its colonies, the powers that have been its revolutionary offspring come in a very different sequence and with varying accompanying problems.

I do not want to go into the different sequence of structural developments of revolutionary processes feeding into different and staggered modernities, but I do want to highlight the point that whether it was grace, genes, or the luck of the historical draw, or something else again that led to the modern West, once there was a modern West, and once there were modern weapons, and an industrial revolution, then class conflicts in non-Western countries played out along lines which have everything to do with resource-opportunities and competition and wilful determination by groups ready to use their arms to engage in the age-old act of resource extraction, from those who grow food to those whose labour can be put to use for them to expand the possessions and services at their disposal. One can morally condemn this all one wants, but it is a universal phenomenon that only passes by the intellect of people whose understanding of premodern life comes from Rousseau and Disney.

That is, once modern weaponry and machinery and the various goods they produce, from cars to tanks, designer clothes and luxury homes, smart drugs and high-class whores (let’s face it, the appetites of gangsters are as basic as they are commonplace among the extremely wealthy), exist, along with a group who are willing to do anything to get them, there will be an “enslaved” or violently brutalized class. That there will be tribal-elements involved in the social bonding is also pretty well inevitable (the Mafia and dynasties follow a similar logic).

This situation, to repeat, is not the result of colonialism as such but of modernity. And modernity brings with it a reality in which the choices are as inevitable as they are terrible: join it or don’t join it. Any group that opts out of joining makes itself vulnerable to any group with weapons who wants to encroach upon its territory, its resources, its labour, and its women. Further, the longer the delay in joining it, the more difficult it will be to adapt to what to a traditional life-way is a massive juggernaut of technologies and techniques exploding its fabric.

This is why the greatest enemies of the traditional life of the most vulnerable of social groups on the planet, the indigenous peoples who had not formed cities and/or larger units of social organization, were not missionaries or colonizers of the nineteenth century but the progressives of today who purport to ally themselves with anyone against Western supremacy, but who are, in fact, anti-traditionalists, Western supremacists, who have ditched anything that grounded the West in those pathways of life shared by all peoples.

Irrespective of the time of “joining” with a life-way of a superior power, and irrespective if the joining is one of choice or conquest, any group that joins in the process of modernization will find that it has to compromise/adapt its traditions and behaviours to the juggernaut. Seen thus it is hard to see how colonialism itself can be blamed for the choice. It isn’t responsible for that choice. Though our ideocrats tend to think that every problem is merely a matter of educating moral reprobates, which seems to be working out swell in US inner cities, where all manner of crimes go unpunished, and levels of violence and criminality are plummeting—NOT. Why not, though, try exporting a batch of critical race theory books to those areas where post-colonial gangsters and dictators—sorry victims of colonialism—now extort and kill others so they can wake up and see the light and go back to college, perhaps even one in the USA, and learn how to teach critical race theory and so be part of the great love fest that the new moral leaders of the West are creating.

German postcard (1899). “Hurrah! Samoa is ours!”

But let’s get back to reality—colonialism might better induct the colonized into the means and manners required to live with the machinery and technology, and administrative and various systems that are being introduced into this world that cannot escape modernity—to repeat, because if it is not introduced by the colonizers, it will definitely be introduced by those “industrious” enough to get hold of the equipment and weapons that they can put to use. This is where Bruce Gilley raises important arguments, and why the reaction to him only illustrates what a mind dump the academy is, as it disseminates fantasies, moral and not so moral, about the world and its history so that it can enable a technocratic infantile future, as bereft of knowledge and wisdom, as it will be bereft of real love, and creative and cooperative endeavours.

I have already made the points that I wish to emphasise about modern colonialism needing to be interpreted against the constant of human conflict nd the tragic choice placed before any premodern people. I do think that life is ever one in which we are born into the sins and transgressions of our fathers; which is to say, I think Greeks and Christian were essentially correct and in agreement about the kinds of limits we confront, and that the modern elite aspires to throw away those limits and does so by substituting fantasies about the past as well as the future to beguile us into their nightmare.

But there can be no doubt that the modern opens up previously undreamt-of technologies and techniques which are amazing, and which enable the possibility of greater comfort and opportunities to do things for those that can get access to them. Thus, it is inevitably the case that any people who are conquered by a technologically superior people, if not completely turned into slaves, will benefit from the materials now available to them. We might call this the Monty Python/ Life of Brian argument for colonialism. To put it briefly: What have European colonizers ever done for the World? Answer: they brought with them the modern techniques and technologies of wealth creation. And the absence of those techniques and technologies is lower life expectancy and, in terms of sheer numbers, less wealth and less social choices.

Of course, in any society not everyone is or was a beneficiary of new social or technological innovations, and in every society the number of poor is significant—and prior to the industrial revolution poverty was far greater, and far more people were far more vulnerable to unfortunate climate conditions. And let us be real, at a time when there is so much panic about climate change, the fact is that any future famine, as with a number of past ones, will be far more likely due to political conditions than climate alone. At a time when the Malthusians run amok and aspire to dictate how the world should be depopulated, there is less global poverty and food shortage than ever; and where it does occur, politics and corruption rather than climate or population are the primary causes.

4.

The points I have made above are general, but if I were to recommend one book that any reader wanting to consider a test case, which refutes so much of the moralising that is done about colonialism should read it would be Gilley’s In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West. The Postil has already published a short extract from it; but that extract did not indicate the extent to which Gilley exposes and successfully critiques the thoughtless claims that academics have made about German colonialism—or, in his (un-minced) words, “the drivel that passes for academic history” about German colonial history.

Early in the work, Gilley makes three points about colonialism in general, which are worth repeating and the antithesis of the kinds of facts that get in the way of a good moral fantasy. I will quote them:

Islands offer an almost perfect natural experiment in colonialism’s economic effects because their discovery by Europeans was sufficiently random. As a result, they should not have been affected by the ‘pull’ factors that made some places easier to colonize than others. In a 2009 study of the effects of colonialism on the income levels of people on eighty-one islands, two Dartmouth College economists found ‘a robust positive relationship between colonial tenure and modern outcomes.’ Bermuda and Guam are better off than Papua New Guinea and Fiji because they were colonized for longer. That helps explain why the biggest countries with limited or no formal colonial periods (especially China, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Thailand, and Nepal) or whose colonial experiences ended before the modern colonial era (Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti) are hardly compelling as evidence that not being colonized was a boon.”

And,

Colonialism also enhanced later political freedoms. To be colonized in the nineteenth–twentieth-century era was to have much better prospects for democratic government, according to a statistical study of 143 colonial episodes by the Swedish economist Ola Olsson in 2009.

And,

These twin legacies of economic development and political liberalism brought with them a host of social and cultural benefits—improved public health, the formation of education systems, the articulation and documentation of cultural diversity, the rights of women and minorities, and much else. It is no wonder, then, that colonized peoples by and large supported colonial rule. They migrated closer to more intensive areas of colonialism, paid taxes and reported crimes to colonial authorities, fought for colonial armies, administered colonial policies, and celebrated their status as colonial subjects. Without the willing collaboration of large parts of the population, colonialism would have been impossible.

With respect to the motives and the legacy of German colonialism, Gilley makes the argument that it was not primarily a plundering undertaking, in which blacks were to be treated as sub-humans and whites could treat them however they wanted—Gilley provides a number of examples of whites behaving badly in the German colonies and being punished for doing so. To frame it thus is not only to replace fact with fantasy but it is to ignore not only the statements of the colonizers themselves, but more important the voices of the colonized—Gilley provides numerous citations—who found that German colonial rule had bought greater peace and prosperity to them, thanks to placating tribal rivalries and long held animosities (Chapter 3 provides an analysis of the Herero and Nama peoples, and the imaginative claims that Herero-Nama wars were created by the Germans, or even more fantastically that they were gestures of anti-colonialism!). The major motivation, argues Gilley, is that colonialism was perceived as the accompanying condition of nation-building and being taken seriously as a major European power. The point is an interesting and important one, and it illustrates the vast gulf that separates the mindset of the generation that now dominates in the universities from that of a previous generation caught up in a completely different set of priorities of world-making.

Gilley provides numerous examples of what the German colonialists built, and again I will cite a few of his cases.

Having first established peace in East Africa, the Germans proceeded to establish prosperity. A 1,250-kilometer railway was built linking Lake Tanganyika to Dar es Salaam. To this day, the railway remains the lifeblood of Tanzania’s economy and of Zambia’s trans-shipment traffic. The German colonial railway was not just economically beneficial. It also led to the documenting of the region’s geography, vegetation, minerals, and peoples—much of which was carried out by the German-English railway engineer Clement Gillman as he surveyed the new line.

And,

For the green conscious, it is especially noteworthy that German colonialism discovered the knowledge and crafted the regulations that protected the great forests and fauna of today’s Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.

And,

Without doubt, Germany’s greatest humanitarian contribution to Africa during its colonial period was the discovery of a cure for sleeping sickness. In terms of lives saved, Germany’s colonial achievement could stand on this ground alone. Sleeping sickness originated in nomadic cattle-herding populations in Africa whose movements had spread the disease for hundreds of years before the colonial era. The increase in intensive farming under colonialism accelerated its spread, an inevitable result of policies to increase food supply and modernize agriculture. The disease was ravenous. The British calculated that an outbreak in 1901–07 killed between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand people in British Uganda, and two million people succumbed in all of East Africa in 1903 alone.

Nineteenth century colonialism is, as Gilley rightly notes, part of a genuinely civilizing approach to world-making. While that approach had both liberal and traditional European (conservative) accompaniments, it was also to be found in the communists Marx and Engels; and while the German socialists opposed how colonialism was being administered, they were, again as noted by Gilley, not unsupportive of colonial rule.

While the success of the modern, as these examples indicate, can be seen in terms of technical and technological advances, its diabolical underside is disclosed by the ideological concoctions that were to be transposed globally with far more devastating effects than colonialism itself. And if the first part of Gilley’s book might be an eyeopener for those who have not wanted to seriously think about what benefits accompanied colonialism, which is to say, those who have not thought out of the now fashionable moral academic box, the second part of the book makes the important point that both the Nazi and the communist projects were able to fuel anti-colonialist sentiments among various members of the aspirant elites in colonized country for their own geopolitical benefit and to the greater detriment of the societies in which these ideologically “educated” elites took power.

Need I say that any elite members wishing to gain power through national independence had no need to worry about the boring give-and-take and talk-fest that is endemic to democracies. Far easier to push through one’s will and that of one’s loyal support group or tribe and end up with—bloody chaos.

In an age where the holocaust is the diabolical terminus of history and anything and anyone from St. John to Luther to the family has been held up by some scholar or philosopher to be responsible, it is not surprising that colonialism would also be held responsible for the holocaust. But in spite of it now being commonplace among German academics to claim that there is line of continuity between German colonialism and the Nazis, the Nazis themselves from Hitler down wanted no truck with the colonialists and, in the main, few of the colonialists wanted what the Nazis wanted. In case anyone had not noticed, the Nazis were not in the civilizing business. Their fusion of nationalism and socialism, along with their antisemitism, and cult of the leader, was also embraced, along with open admiration for Hitler himself, by numerous anti-colonial leaders, most famously Nehru, Nasser, Amin and the Palestinian cleric Amin al-Husseini.

In the main, while academics don’t like the Nazis (unless they are Ukrainian ones who kill Russians and draw up hit lists of people to be liquidated for speaking out against them), they generally do like communists – in their upside-down world, communist rebels are freedom fighters. That communism is a Western ideological import that has not only exacerbated group and class conflicts but has been the means for justifying and entrenching “third world” elites with no idea how to better enhance economic conditions of people other than seizing land and property and pointing guns at people who must do what they are told.

The story of former colonies becoming entangled in the cross-fire of the Cold War like that of ambitious elites who used independence to secure their own power and wealth, along with those groups who give them their allegiances, is a horror story that belongs to the post-colonial age; but it is not the kind of story that neatly folds into a curricula or mind-set, where the answers to the cause of all things bad are white supremacism, i.e., European colonialists.

In a world as complicated as ours, the failure of the West to have an educated elite that are incapable of understanding the world before it, and the past behind it, is devastating. We are now living in that devastation; and although I detest those whose moral imaginations have been formed by sticking their heads in the bucket of Electric-Kool Aid Acid that now passes for an education, I have to concede that previous better-educated generations failed to see the consequences of their actions, and we are now living within those consequences.

Post script. Readers of a certain age will probably have recognised that I have borrowed the phrase “The Electric Kool-Aid” from Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Test, a book about Timothy Leary and his Merry Pranksters bussing across the US and their other shenanagins. This was in the days before college kids demanded safe spaces and fentanyl had become the drug of social breakdown. Wolfe was one of the founders of what was hailed as the new journalism in the early 1970s. Our world looks life the morning after what may have started as a party of sex and drugs and rock n roll and has turned into a nightmare of loneliness and totalitarianism.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen booksHe also doubles up as a singer songwriter. His latest album can be found here.


Featured: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the “Lion of Africa,” a poster by Grotemeyer, dated 1918. The caption reads: “Kolonial-Krieger-Spende,” or “Colonial Soldiers Fund.” Signature of von Lettow-Vorbeck at the bottom.

The Search for Lost Consensus

Between the second half of July and the beginning of August over thirty people died (among them two Moroccan soldiers and two Indian policemen) during very violent riots that opposed civilians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the “blue helmets” of MONUSCO (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilization au Congo). Local civilians asked UN troops to leave the country and attacked several installations of the mission. The violence and the extent of the incidents, however, let to the suspicion that it was much more than spontaneous and uncoordinated initiatives. These incidents highlight the profound crises of consensus and legitimacy of these operations.

MONUSCO has the weak consensus of the government to operate, but has failed to build legitimacy and consensus among ordinary people, those most affected by an internal and international conflict that began with the end of the Marshal/President Joseph-Désiré Mobutu’s regime in 1997 and has not yet been resolved.

The government of Kinshasa asked the UN to withdraw the mission back in 2010; and the UN has started to reduce it slowly, beginning in 2020, with a plan that should proceed with caution, given the unstable situation in the east of the immense country, the high number of military personnel involved, and the enormous logistical-operational installations and burden.

The protesters, meanwhile, claimed (and still affirm) that they wanted the UN to leave because it failed to protect civilians and ensure peace. As evidence of a situation that became very tense after the incidents, a UN military unit, confronted by a peaceful protest demonstration by civilians, opened fire on them, killing two and injuring over a dozen. This rather serious fact has embarrassed New York and has brought further pressure to bear on the request of the government of Kinshasa to speed up the end of the mission.

In reality, MONUSCO, heir to MONUC (deployed since 1999), is an entity in continuous evolution, having changed, often drastically, its mandate over the years, but always with the same objective—that of cooperating with the local government, contributing to the protection of the civilian population, protecting refugees from the violence of armed groups from the east, disarming the latter (through a special entity of the mission, the Force Intervention Brigade, established in 2017, albeit after much hesitation), and improving internal political dialogue. Many promises, and very few results.

President Felix Tshisekedi, elected in 2019, has an ambiguous attitude towards MONUSCO. His armed and security forces are unable to face external and internal threats in the east, so he needs the “blue helmets” but wants to reduce their presence to the minimum necessary. And he has major problems of legitimacy inside the country, which makes dialogue with the UN even more difficult, which is not willing to appear even indirectly supporting ambiguous internal (and electoral) policies.

At the beginning of August, the Security Council met for consultations after the incidents and the Undersecretary General for Peace Operations, the French diplomat Jean-Pierre Lacroix, informed the Council about his visit to Kinshasa on 28-29 July, where he met with senior Congolese officials and UN personnel in the country. The meeting, sought by India, was held amidst heightened tensions between the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, accused by Kinshasa of hostile activities in the eastern region of Kivu through both the infiltration of regular military forces and the support for local armed groups, obscure entities such as M23 and ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) involved in the exploitation of rare earths, diamonds and more, in which the eastern region is very rich.

But the relationship between the UN and the host states is also flawed elsewhere. In Mali, the government’s consensus for MINUSMA (Integrated Multidimensional Stabilization Mission) is equally weak. The government of Bamako delayed authorization for the rotation of troops of the mission for a whole month and only authorized it in the middle of August, with the widely expected result of accelerating the return of the other contingents of “blue helmets,” such as now the Germans. Bamako also expelled the mission’s deputy spokesperson (the government of Kinshasa did the same, immediately after the incidents in the DRC).

From 2020 on, the mission (which was activated in 2013), following a coup d’état, has been sailing in dire waters and is increasingly badly tolerated by the military junta (which is growing closer to Moscow). It has thus managed to speed up the departure of the French troops of the “Berkhane” operation, those of the European multinational mission “Takuba,” and those of the EU training mission, EUTM-Mali. The recent debate at the UN Security Council on the MINUSMA renewal mandate initially stalled on freedom of movement in the country and on how to manage the reported increase in alleged human rights violations by the Malian armed forces and the presence of contractors, such as Russians from Wagner.

The “blue helmets” in Mali today operate in a political context for which their mandate is not suitable, with a diminishing benefit for the civilian population and with great risk for themselves: for eight consecutive years, MINUSMA was the most lethal in the world among UN operations in terms of those fallen in its military ranks.

Protests in the DRC underline how the consensus of the populations, and not just the state, is central to the effective work of UN peacekeeping operations, while the turmoil over the terms of MINUSMA’s deployment highlights how political issues, the inappropriate and the contextualized exercise of force, remain at the center of the debate on how to conceive and conduct peace operations.

If the member states (which ones? And on this question, a serious debate should take place) of the United Nations want multidimensional peacekeeping operations to survive, they should authorize peace operations that create consensus and support for peace and for their presence and objectives at multiple levels—including the state and its populations—along with the drafting of mandates that are anchored in meaningful and context-sensitive political processes which target diplomatic and humanitarian goals. United Nations peace operations are the most important contemporary tool for multilateral conflict management around the world and have historically distinguished themselves from other types of military interventions by adhering to three fundamental principles: the consensus of the parties; impartiality and the limited (and appropriate) use of force.

MONUSCO and MINUSMA, as well as MINUSCA, the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), are large-scale peace operations, with stabilization mandates. These three missions involve the bulk of the “blue helmets” deployed around the world, but are also at the center of growing internal and external pressures that make their end, or in the best of cases, their resettlement, uncertain. Unlike the old missions that focused on maintaining peace agreements between warring parties, MONUSCO, MINUSMA and MINUSCA are all tasked with helping the state government deal with violent internal challenges and assert their leadership, reflecting the dramatic change in the nature of the conflicts that have emerged since the end of the Cold War, where the predominant conflicts are intra-state ones to the detriment, up to now, of inter-state ones.

In these missions, the UN is explicitly intervening on the side of the state, and the peacekeepers have been accused of using force in defense of state authority, which sometime lacks legitimacy. But peace operations that undertake offensive military action (applying Chapter VII of the UN Charter) defy the principles of impartiality and the limited use of force, leaving only consensus to distinguish UN operations from other types of military interventions. Consequently, consent matters a great deal.

Traditionally, consensus is based on the approval of the host government, even when the state itself that is rescued by UN action is a notorious violator of the human (but also economic and social) rights of its population.

While MONUSCO today still operates with the consent of the Kinshasa government, it is clear that the civilian population is not very favorable to the presence of “blue helmets;” and this especially in the seething eastern region, where enormous natural wealth and interests of neighboring countries make the area explosive. The mission failed to address the security problems of civilian populations in the east; and for decades, thousands of soldiers have been rotated from half the world—but nothing has changed on the ground.

Furthermore, the behavior of international soldiers towards the civilian population that they should protect from violence is so deplorable that they open deep wounds due to serious and prolonged abuses, which can be easily exploited by those who want to target an exasperated population against the UN.

As a general aspiration, UN interventions are undertaken in the service of people, not just states. In one interpretation, a whole body of international obligations stems from the UN Charter’s initial declaration that peoples, not states, make a pact to save subsequent generations from the scourge of war. In this interpretation, the UN mandate is not simply about defending state sovereignty and the preferences of member states, but about the security, dignity and protection of people—ideas that are reflected in the mandate to protect civilians, that each multidimensional mission has authorized since 1999, and received by the Security Council.

Local activists and scholars have argued that peace takes root only when international actors invest in local communities and when political solutions that center the concerns of the local population have a way to develop. Missions focused on state security rather than people’s will and security explicitly make peacekeepers another potential source of instability in areas already fraught with threats to ordinary people. This more securitized and coercive version of peace operations runs counter to the United Nations’ vision of peacekeeping and peacebuilding that emphasizes the “primacy of politics.”

The Missions in Mali, DRC and CAR, on the other hand, act with the explicit consent of the host state in order to support and extend the power of the nation, often working alongside state forces, to counter the groups that it has identified as rebels.

In Mali, MINUSMA’s sustainability was in question long before the military coups—as the UN Secretary-General’s 2018 report noted, an independent analysis from that year concluded that the mission “was faced with a dilemma between the need to reform and reconstitute the Malian defense and security forces and at the same time support the existing forces in dealing with the current situation of stability,” and that only a “clear regional political framework” would make the mission’s objectives achievable. And now, the cannot move freely; cannot investigate alleged violations of human rights; can rotate troops only after a month of suspension. Finally, while there is an underlying political process on paper, in practice it is empty.

Furthermore, the instability of regional security arrangements raises further questions about the mission’s ability to implement its mandate. MINUSMA depended heavily on French, European, and African counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, which had formed a unique architecture of external forces with over 21,000 troops deployed across the region. This architecture is in flux, having proved ineffective and largely unpopular (it must be admitted that the narrative of some media on the welcome given by local populations to international forces, wherever they are deployed, is a legend fueled by the needs of internal politics of many states that participate in those operations to make them acceptable to their public opinions, especially in case of a politically controversial operation and in case of sustained human losses).

Furthermore, the same states that formally invite the UN to deploy, very often have no other choice in order to avoid internal collapse; and many governments do not look favorably on foreign military circulating freely in their own territory.

Mali is not the first host state to be so openly hostile to the peacekeepers. Perhaps the best-known example is the United Nations operation in Sudan in the early 2000s, carried out without the consent of Khartoum’s government, which did everything to sabotage its work and freedom of movement. But MINUSMA’s mandate to stabilize Mali makes the situation unusual: the “blue helmets” are in the field to help the Malian government fight jihadists and terrorists, while they are accepted with increasing difficulty by the same government they are supposed to be helping (and this ill-will towards the “blue helmets” is present both in DRC and CAR, at government level and in local public opinion). The political context has changed to such a radical extent that MINUSMA may no longer be in a position to operate in its current form and mandate.

Renegotiations of this year’s mandate at the United Nations Security Council also proved very difficult. The transitional government and Russian mercenaries were accused of being involved in atrocities against civilians and Russia initially opposed the draft resolution to address the violations of human rights and local restrictions on MINUSMA movements; and an attenuated solution was reached to avoid Moscow’s veto, which would have meant the total end of the mission; and, thus, the lesser evil was chosen.

UNSC, now more and more internally polarized, tends to simply renew the mandates and repeat the language and terms of commitment, when possible, instead of having to completely renegotiate the terms of an intervention; and this approach favors solutions of downside compromise. In the case of Mali, DRC and CAR, this approach places peacekeepers in an increasingly hostile environment, with little noticeable benefit, while leaving the door open to their near demise or (costly) irrelevance.

For these three missions, two potential options are open: either to be re-authorized as a more effective mission and with clear mandates, enforceable and clearly negotiated with host nations; or to terminate them. A third option is to prioritize the protection of civilians and document human rights violations, tasks that would require the consent which governments are clearly reluctant to give.

In more general terms, the protests in the DRC raise questions about the current nature and prospects of peace operations. They cannot do their jobs when the local population does not want them there; and UN operations without the consent of the local people are mere exercises to defend state sovereignty, not attempts to build lasting peace (and which therefore leave as soon as possible). And operating in dangerous circumstances without the consent of the host state or the ability to protect people from state violence or a clear peace to be maintained, as they are doing in Mali, DRC and CAR, risks further damaging the position of the UN and its residual prestige.

Building consensus at multiple levels is the key to the lasting success of UN peacekeeping operations and is the cornerstone for finding lasting political solutions to conflicts. The UN has tools and techniques to promote local peacebuilding efforts; and focusing these tools and techniques to build consensus for UN presence in local communities should be a key part of any mission. And, where host state consent is not possible, humanitarian, and diplomatic goals—not security goals—should be the central axis of UN efforts in a conflict. Otherwise, UN peacekeeping operations risk being left in a quagmire between divergent and unattainable goals, such as protecting people and solving security problems.

But if the UN is in the process of losing consensus in Africa, the USA, one of the most important states with the organization (and one of several) is actively looking for it, although the results are not very convincing. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on tour in Africa, with the announcement of the Biden administration’s policy towards the continent as a highlight of the visit. The new strategy was launched during the South African leg of the tour that also took Blinken to DRC and Rwanda, from August 7-12.

In Blinken’s country-specific discussions in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda are not to be defined as irrelevant, but as part of the US global strategy to contain Russian and Chinese pressure, and consolidate the anti-Moscow and Beijing approach in every sphere, including that of the United Nations, considered by Washington as basic and legitimizing.

However, it is the announcement of this new policy for the entire continent which is the most significant development, with far-reaching ramifications in the immediate, medium, and long term. It is the tradition of most American administrations to set up political and economic projects and initiatives for Africa, whether they are well-structured and articulated or simply ad hoc and disordered. The importance of these policies is that they shape relationships through trade and investment, political and diplomatic engagements, assistance through various humanitarian agencies and initiatives, and military relations.

According to an improper narrative, Donald Trump’s administration (2016-2020) would have made Africa disappear from its global political agenda. To be fair, the Trump administration hadn’t completely neglected Africa. One of the highlights of the Trump administration’s engagement with Africa was the 2018 launch of Prosper Africa, an inter-agency entity that provides a coordination mechanism for trade and investment programs. That Prosper Africa continues to exist during the Biden era, so ideologically polarized against the Trump one, shows that something good for Africa also came from the Trump administration.

However, the Trump administration did not engineer a global strategy, aside from casual statements by officials at the time—such as former National Councilor John Bolton—and often based on the United States’ exclusive need to stand up to China and Russia on the continent. But essentially there is a lack of a constant approach, replaced by moments of interest and phases of stagnation.

The latest US global strategy towards Africa was formulated ten years ago by the Barrack Obama administration. That policy prioritized strengthening democratic institutions; stimulating economic growth, trade, and investment; promoting peace and security; and, promoting opportunities and development through initiatives in the fields of health, food safety, climate change. While these issues remain relevant to Africa-US relations in 2022, political, economic, security and geopolitical circumstances have changed exponentially in the United States, Africa and around the world.

During the first months of Biden’s presidency, there was optimism in Africa about better relations with the then new administration. Some of the optimisms have been bolstered by the appointment of personalities believed to be in tune with African causes and interests, starting with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations.

While analysts, scholars and strategists await formal politics, there are first indications on the key aspects, which recall what was proposed by Washington on the occasion of the Pan-American Summit in Los Angeles and Biden’s trip to Korea and Japan: democracy, good governance and respect for human rights, security support (through AFRICOM). But on the economic front, the policy should include “economic prosperity,” and to be inclusive; and it should consider not only the interests of American companies, which made offers to the Indo-Pacific and Latin America rather weak.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).

A Difficult Restart for a Failed State

On May 3, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the UN Security Council, the US State Department and the European High Representative Josep Borrell issued harsh statements condemning an attack by the Islamist Al-Shabab militias on an advanced base in Elbaraf, in the Middle Shabelle region, held by Burundian troops, of ATMIS, the recently activated stabilization operation of the African Union, established at the end of the mandate of AMISOM.

There are conflicting reports of the attack. Officially, there were about ten killed among the “green helmets.” Other sources report instead of almost two hundred killed and that the base was briefly occupied by Islamist militiamen, who after having sacked and burned it, abandoned the position.
The gravity of the incident was however confirmed by the fact that the President of the Commission of the African Union (former Chadian foreign minister Mussa Faki) also broke silence by condemning the incident. Although AMISOM (like ATMIS) is, albeit in a politically ambiguous way, an articulation of the Union, a declaration from Addis Ababa reveals the gravity of the moment (especially considering that the regional organization has always been very sparing regarding public statements about Somalia, which is considered the most difficult area for the organization).

The attack on the base, in central Somalia, part of the Al-Shabab, was a grave signal to the AU, but also to the UN (whose Security Council Resolution 2628 of 31 March 2022 sanctioned the end of AMISOM and the activation of ATMIS), and to the EU, which has several operations on site, such as EUTM-Somalia (which has been operating since 2010 and in which military instructors from Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Romania, UK and Serbia take part), the EU CAP-Somalia (which has been operating since 2013), and the EUNAVFOR “Atalanta” (activated in 2008). It also means that the change of name means nothing and the Islamicists will continue to strike.

ATMIS (African [Union] Transition Mission in Somalia) replaced AMISOM (African [Union] Mission in Somalia) on 1 April, in line with a decision by the AU Peace and Security Council. The new mission has the mandate to support the Somali government in the implementation of the Transition Plan and in the transfer of greater responsibilities to the Somali armed forces and police. The activation of ATMIS was scheduled for December 2021 but disagreements with the Somali authorities delayed it and an agreement was finally reached on what appears to be more only a change of name and an extension of the existing mandate. ATMIS will operate until the end of 2024, after which all responsibilities will be transferred to the Somali security forces.

The ATMIS “capacity” of approximately 18,000 soldiers, 1,000 policemen (from Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda, Sierra Leone) and a hundred civilian staffers (all diplomats seconded from their respective nations and based in Nairobi) seems a mirror of its predecessor, as well as a large part of its mandate. The work of AMISOM, which began in March 2007, was focused on degrading the military capacity of Al-Shabab and strengthening the capacity of the Somali army and police, so that the mission could eventually withdraw as soon as possible. This happened only in part; the pan-African forces engaged in violent clashes with the Islamist militias, suffering heavy losses (some sources refer to up to 3,000 KIA), and even carried out an amphibious assault in 2012 in Chisimaio.

The mandate of the “green helmets” has been renewed several times and came to a difficult end in 2021. However, the exit did not happen, as the security threats that necessitated the arrival of pan-African soldiers continue to exist and Somalia continues to face three emergencies: security, governance, and development. These emergencies continue to grip the country and AMISOM, which was supposed to be the first response to security challenges, and the start of a positive loop, in which governance and development would lead the country out of the condition of a failed state (in existence since the fall of the never sufficiently deprecated regime of Siad Barre, which laid the foundations of the current instability). There has only been control of the situation, but no reversing of the negative trend.
To determine the future of AMISOM, the AU and the UN conducted independent assessments last year and various options were proposed. An agreement was required on the mandate, composition, size, strategic and specific objectives of a new mission and the tasks of the military, civilian and police components. These processes have made the relations between the international community and the Somali authorities very tense, which although divided over everything, were unanimous in the very strong opposition to any possible reduction of forces and substantial modification of the mandate of AMISOM due to the slow process of integration between the national armed and security forces and those of the autonomous regions of Puntland and Jubaland.

Such was the hostility that last November the deputy head of the mission, the Ugandan diplomat Simon Mulongo was expelled, and a week after the start of ATMIS (!). The same was done with the Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia (SRCC), the Mozambican diplomat Francisco Madeira.

Now the mission is guided by an acting head, and Addis Ababa is negotiating with Mogadishu for another head of mission; and clearly the problem is not in the choice of the person but what the mission should do. This shows how for ATMIS the scenario is difficult and all uphill even without Al-Shabab. Somalia’s government wants ATMIS to focus on implementing the Transition Plan, developed in 2018, to transfer security responsibilities from AMISOM to the country’s security forces, but with substantial cash flows to equip and train them. It has recently been revised and will be implemented (hopefully) over the next three years. The AU and the UN agreed to this approach. Bankole Adeoye, the Nigerian diplomat who is the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs and Head of the Peace and Security Council, said the stabilization and construction goals of the Somali state and the activation of ATMIS will be fully in line with the Transition Plan.

The AU Peace and Security Council outlined a mandate for the new mission which included reducing the military capabilities of Al-Shabab and other terrorist groups, providing security, building the capabilities of security forces, justice and local authorities and support for peace and reconciliation. But as well, the mandate of AMISOM was the same and was aligned with the Transition Plan, so there was nothing new in ATMIS in this regard, compared to the previous one.

The biggest change is perhaps that the emphasis on the idea of a “transition” is most strongly rooted in the logic of the new mission, which has a four-step timeline for working with the Somali government to implement the Transition Plan. In addition, some minor adjustments should also occur, such as realignment of ATMIS facilities relative to those of AMISOM and greater command and control authority under the mission force commander; but these are limited overall. In terms of operational changes, ATMIS will differ from AMISOM in increasing mobility, lethality, and efficiency in every sector of the mission, with the main goal of rapidly degrading the capabilities of Al-Shabab and other extremist militant groups.

This capacity should increase soon, after it was dramatically reduced when the US forces present in Somalia were withdrawn in a controversial decision by President Trump in December 2020. Just after the election of the new President of Somalia, the Pentagon notified the return of a substantial presence. This presence, with special forces operators and drone units, and after the withdrawal was re-deployed in Djibouti, will increase the capabilities of the pan-African troops.

Regardless of the May 2 attack, Al-Shabab continues to exert strong pressure on international and Somali forces and the group still controls vast territories of central and southern Somalia. It carries out deadly raids in the Somali capital itself and has substantial financial resources (according to a research institute based in Mogadishu, in 2021 it has collected about $180 Million in revenue [taxes and customs] and has spent 24 million dollars on weapons). In recent months, many attacks have been reported, aggravated by social strikes and riots in Mogadishu and Beledweyne which caused over 53 deaths.

As mentioned, the presence of the “green helmets” was envisaged as an element of activation of a process of national unification, albeit in a federal context. Thus, prioritizing the political deadlock would help resolve the country’s security challenges; but the replacement of AMISOM with ATMIS comes at a critical time. Political tensions in the country still threaten the modest progress made over the years. The divisions among the Somali elites over the distribution of power and resources are at the heart of all problems. Two peaceful transitions of power occurred in 2012 and 2017, but the third faltered due to disputes over election management. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” in power since 2017, remained in office after his term expired in February 2021 and he was re-elected on 15 May, ending, at least formally, the institutional stalemate and re-activating a more serene dialogue also with the international community.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble (the defeated competitor of “Farmaajo” in the presidential run) has been tasked with reforming the electoral process. But progress has been slow, despite the tireless mediation work of UNPOS (UN Political Office for Somalia). The country’s future is unpredictable, with the political impasse sometimes leading to armed clashes and persistent external interference, such as by Turkey, Qatar and the UAE, which have their own agendas (and substantial military presences on the ground) and which do not necessarily coincide with the plans of the UN and the EU. (But then the UK also has its own bilateral training mission of the Somali armed forces, the “Tangham” operation, with about sixty instructors; and Italy, the former colonial power, has a similar one, MIADIT-Somalia, which is focused on training the Somali and Djibouti police forces and which works closely with EUCAP- Somalia).

In terms of the wider regional dynamics, how the new government will position itself in the neighbourhood will have implications in terms of realignment of regional politics and may affect the project of a tripartite alliance of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The outcome of the election will also affect Somalia’s relations with Gulf countries. Qatar is said to have supported Farmaajo’s re-election, whereas the UAE has maintained ties with Roble and some of the federal member states.
ATMIS will also suffer the same financial problems as AMISOM. The United Nations has provided logistical support to the mission, and will continue to do so with the UNSOS (UN Support Office for Somalia). The new (or old) AU presence in Somalia will impact also in the format and mandate of UNSOS, which will get a “technical” extension mandate in the month of May from the Security Council in the perspective of a strategic assessment of the mission and a possible re-tailoring.

The EU, it is supposed, will continue to pay the salaries of ATMIS military and police personnel, as it had done for AMISOM. But the EU has progressively reduced its support in recent years (also to protest the internal policies of some countries participating in AMISOM, especially in the areas of political and civil liberties), and its intentions for ATMIS are not yet clear, even if the EU Delegation in Somalia assured that the organization is ready to contribute and ensure predictability of funding as long as the configuration plan is realistic, pragmatic and focused.

Thus, it appears that ATMIS will not differ substantially from AMISOM in its ultimate purposes. It will mainly be a continuation of the current military support which, although essential for the security of the country, will not be new.

As political deadlock is at the heart of Somalia’s social and security problems. Resolving these should be the priority; and the recent election of a new President is not a guarantee for such a resolution, given the controversial and conflictive political life of the country. If it is to differ from AMISOM, the mandate of ATMIS and the reconfiguration of international and local forces should include a solid political commitment to support reconciliation between the country’s divided political groups and better political cooperation between the UN and AU (and EU). Otherwise, the exercise of simply renaming the mission without addressing the institutional and political problems in the first place that afflict the country and that keep it anchored to the condition of a “failed state,” will not help much to change.
Analyzing the recent developments in Somalia and the Horn of Africa, a region of increasing importance, naturally leads to a broadening of view, considering, or at least trying to consider, the possible future regional and sub-regional repercussions of the war in Ukraine. Russia’s relations with Africa are under heavy pressure in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine and amidst the articulate reactions from the continent’s states to the new war in Europe.

In recent years, Moscow has strengthened ties with countries across the continent, especially those plagued by internal violence and which are also disillusioned with Western powers. Russia remains a leading arms supplier and Russian private military contractors continue to expand their presence, most recently in Mali, Central Africa, Cameroon, and Sudan (not counting the political-diplomatic forays into Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad). Whether Russia is pursuing a broader strategy, or simply engaging in tactical power plays, focused to disturb the role and presence of Western powers in Africa, remains a matter of debate. Russia has long sought a naval base on the Red Sea and holds its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to influence the Continent.

Africa’s response to the Ukrainian crisis has been far from united. During the historic session of the UN General Assembly in early March, the emerging rifts were clearly shown: only about half of African states supported the resolution’s denunciation of Russian aggression; one, the only one of the Continent and furthermore belonging to the Horn of Africa, Eritrea, has opposed. While some countries have strongly condemned the invasion as a flagrant violation of crucial norms, others have been more hesitant, often emphasizing the West’s inconsistent commitment to these same principles in other situations, and the West’s murky and contradictory statements and actions.

It is a fact that in the African Continent, and in the very sensitive region of the Horn of Africa and its surrounding areas (the Suez Canal/Red Sea/Bab-el-Mandeb Strait axis), the situation remains open to interference, if not directly Russian, possibly by other players (such as Iran, present in Yemen), with further upheavals in an already fragile region.


Enrico Magnani, PhD, is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


Featured image: mural by Nujuum Hashi Ahmed, 2020.

The Sahel: Setbacks and Insecurity

While all the world is focused on the Russian-Ukrainian war in Ukraine and terrible consequences, calling attention to other regional conflicts might seem diversionary, or even offensive. But the world is a complex and cruel landscape, involving international dynamics and various interest groups which affect the lives of people.

Thus, it is useful to look at the Southern “near abroad” of EU and NATO blocks, where dynamics risk to impact (seriously), with implications for the security of Western states, including military threats, migrations routes, and the energy landscape.

Nine years after the French intervention in Mali, violent extremism continues to spread in the Sahel, showing remarkable resilience, despite efforts to prevent and combat radicalism by local governments and international actors. Jihadism, which seemed to be limited to northern Mali a few years ago, now extends to 75% of its territory, in addition to affecting Burkina Faso and Niger, with an increase, in the Sahel as a whole, of 70% in the number of jihadist actions; and with Burkina Faso in the focus for now, with dangerous and worrying intrusion into Western Guinea Gulf subregion states.

The complicated situation in which the Sahel finds itself, at a time when Operation “Barkhane” is being called to come to an end in 2022, in favour of a new, more modest military deployment, has brough into play various questions about the future of security in the region, where there are emerging more and more problems challenging the confrontation between the Euro-Atlantic economic and security architectures and Russia in primis (and China in the shadows).

Further, to complicate the matter, analysis, approaches, and management, as a caveat, when mentioning the Euro-Atlantic economic and security architectures, there are various imprecisions, given the divergent agendas and erratic priorities of some partners of these coalitions, like Turkey, or strong national interests, like France (reinforced by an exclusive colonial dominance, established in the region in the second half of the 19th century and which ended in the 1960s; and it should be remembered that since those years, French forces have carried out in Africa at least 50 operations, without considering the secret ones, as secrets, are not recorded).

The Current Stage

What will be the consequences of the end of Operation “Barkhane” on regional security? To what extent can regional governments and, more specifically the juntas that govern Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea (and in a limited extent, also Chad) respond to the articulated security challenges? What alternatives or possible solutions meet the growing regional deterioration, at a time when new external stakeholders, such as Russia, are now on the scene, formally and informally (using the infamous contractors of the Wagner group)?

Nine years after the French intervention in Mali, violent extremism continues to spread in the Sahel, showing remarkable resilience, despite prevention and counter-radicalism efforts by local governments and international actors. The weakening of jihadist groups, following the French intervention in January 2013, proved to be short-lived and the survivors of Operation “Serval,” to which “Barkhane” is the successor, have shown a great ability to recover and adapt quickly to the changing security environment.

In Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger alone, more than 6,200 French military personnel were killed in action. Since 2013, the Sahel is the region where terrorist groups have grown the most, with the Islamic State now replacing the Taliban as the world’s deadliest group and Burkina Faso as the main locus.

Of course, the galaxy of terrorists’ groups is a complex landscape, because of the persistent merging and splitting among its members, as well as allegiance to tribal, ethnic, ideological, and personal elements—all of which makes such groups extremely difficult to track and to identify individuals and trends. As a result, strategical and operational lines, approaches and targets also become difficult to ascertain.

During the early days of Operation “Barkhane” (which began in 2014, and which weakened the presence of French forces in other Francopohone states in the region), jihadist groups, mainly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), managed to survive, thanks to their “low profile” strategy, through which they concealed themselves among the population, thus eliminating the need for operational structures (“katibas”) that would be too large and therefore easily detected and destroyed by an opposing force which had air assets.

In this way, AQIM, supported by the Malian jihadists group, Ansar Dine, gradually reorganised itself to operate throughout Mali, and even extended its actions to Burkina Faso and Niger. Thus, from 40 attacks recorded in 2014, Mali experienced 98 the following year, and 157 in 2016, becoming progressively more complex as armed groups began to operate south of Niger, as evidenced by the spectacular attacks on the Radisson hotel in Bamako (20 November 2015), Ouagadougou (15 January 2016) and Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire (13 March 2016), all involving Western citizens as targets.

The katibas that moved around AQIM were soon joined by Amadou Kouffa’s jihadist group, Macina Liberation Front (FLM), a group that abruptly emerged in January 2015, with the aim of expanding jihad to southern Mali (and restoring the empire of Macina, which existed from 1818 to 1862). This group, which recruits among the Fulani populations of Mali, trapped between the Tuareg and Malian farmers in the south who reproach them for their pastoralist traditions, demonstrated its operational capacity by taking control, albeit temporarily, of the town of Fakola in the SW of Mali in June 2015.

In March 2017, all Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist groups reunited in a tactical alliance, self-labelled, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which in turn was the result of the artificial merger of historical terrorist groups Ansar Dine, AQIM, the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and Al Mourabitoun (a jihadist group created in August 2013 and whose leader, the Algerian Mojtar Belmojtar became notorious in January 2013 with his attack on the Tiguentourine/In Amenas gas facility in Algeria). The new JNIM leader became Iyad ag-Ghali, the head of Ansar Dine, who led the 1990 rebellion of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA) against the Malian government and who is known in the West as an intermediary in the liberation of European citizens in the first decade of the century.

The aim of this merger, despite heavy personal rivalries, was to increase the synergy of their actions, by sharing networks, experiences, and results, but also by following al-Qaeda’s strategy, they distanced themselves from the other branch of international jihadism represented by the Islamic State (a.k.a. Daesh), which was then emerging strongly in the Sahel. JNIM used the strategy of presenting itself as a reasonable actor, a promoter of Islamic governance and capable of issuing apologetic statements when civilians were killed, rather than the bloodthirsty terrorists that Daesh fighters were being labelled as. This group emerged as a Sahelian brand of Daesh in the Middle East, adopting the name, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS) and established itself in the “Three Borders” region (between Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso), in an area particularly neglected by the Niamey, Bamako, and Ouagadougou governance.

The IS-GS took the oath of allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, under the Sahrawi, Adnan Abu Walid al-Saharawi, former spokesman of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA, or MUJAO in French) and former “emir” of Al-Mourabitoun in Mali.

The IS-GS became particularly prominent in sub-Saharan Africa and was characterised by following the most intransigent and ultraviolent tenets of jihadism, becoming the preferred target of Western forces and local states troops. Its fighters were largely from the MUJWA/MUJAO, established in 2011 by the Mauritanian Hamada Ould Kheira, who had left AQIM because of the group’s internal ethnic-tribal antagonism, under the control of Algerian Islamist terrorist chiefs, such as Droukdel and Belmokhtar, while the fighters were mostly black Africans recruited from among the Fulani, Daoussahaks and Gao Moors (all from Mali).

From its stronghold of Ménaka, and strengthened by its local roots and its egalitarian discourse, the MUJWA/MUJAO became known for its campaign of kidnappings and suicide bombings modelled on al-Qaeda. However, MUJWA/MUJAO was faced with a strong internal struggle, with mutual accusations by Algeria and Morocco, which blamed its historical rival to be supporting the group and undermining the regional security to win advantage for their respective regional leadership ambitions.

Of particular interest is also the relationship between IS-GS and the other Islamic State (IS) franchise operating in the Lake Chad region, under the name, Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP). This group emerged in 2016 as a splinter group of the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, the most active and lethal group in West Africa, which, by 2019, had killed more than 35,000 people, and originated more than two million of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and connected the Sahel area with the Islamist insurgency in Chad, northern Cameroon, Niger, and NW Nigeria.

Established in 2002, in the Nigerian state of Borno, and led since 2009 by Abu Bakr Shekau, after the death in police custody of founder Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram was characterised by indiscriminate attacks on civilians and spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

In 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and the group changed its name to ISWAP. Dut due to his extreme brutality, IS decided to remove him in 2016, appointing Al Barnawi, the founder’s eldest son and until then the group’s spokesman, as his successor; thus, creating two factions: Boko Haram and ISWAP.

Both groups pursued the same aim of creating a Salafist-jihadist caliphate in the Shari’a-ruled Boko Haram’s actions, as opposed to ISWAP’s greater concern of gaining the acceptance of the local population. Their phoenix-like operational trend tells a similar story for both, their greatest strength being their ability to use areas with weak state presence to retreat into and regroup, while using a variety of tactics to maintain the flow of resources that have made them deadly and resilient jihadist groups.

However, Shekau’s death in June 2021, and after the rival splinter group stormed his Sambisa Forest fiefdom, has weakened Boko Haram and facilitated the integration of many of its members into ISWAP.

In terms of the relationship between ISWAP and IS-GS, the two jihadist groups are geographically independent, although IS-GS is technically considered a sub-group of ISWAP, according to the Islamic State’s architecture. ISWAP is particularly active in the Lake Chad Basin region, where it has intensified attacks against security forces since mid-2018, and mainly in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon; while IS-GS is more confined to the Liptako Gourma region, with operations in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Another differential aspect of Sahelian jihadism concerns the relationship between JNIM as an Al Qaeda affiliate and IS-GS as an Islamic State affiliate. For several years there existed, in contrast to affiliates in other regions of the world where they operate, a kind of tacit agreement of non-belligerence, and even cooperation between the two in joint raids against shared enemies; this is what came to be known as the “Sahelian anomaly.”

This made it easier for jihadism to expand its range of action in other Sahelian and West African countries since 2017, taking advantage of porous borders were, rural, poor societies, marginalised by their states, lived.
However, in 2019, this pact was broken, and tensions between JNIM and IS-GS became violent in the “Three Borders” area of the Liptako region. The causes of this rupture must be attributed to several factors; the main one being the ideological hardening of the IS-GS, resulting in its integration into the more radical ISWAP, and the consequent pressure to confront JNIM. To this should be added the tensions that have arisen between the two groups, driven by the growing operational ambitions of the IS-GS, which competes for fighters and resources in the Sahel.

The jihadist threat now look to Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Senegal; and although ISIS has been weakened in Mali, through military action by France and its partners and has lost its leader, Adman abu Walis al-Sahrawi, in a spectacular action in September 2021, it continues to seek a foothold in Western Niger and Burkina Faso, even if that means linking up with Boko Haram in Nigeria. The JNIM, whose hatred emir Droukdel was also killed in June 2020 in Southern Algeria, is reportedly trying to strengthen itself in the Azawad region by taking advantage of the lack of reaction from Algeria and in central Mali, where it is forced to coexist with nationalist groups in the Azawad.

To complete the picture of armed (and institutional) threats in the Sahel, there is also the existence of the separatist groups in northern Mali, signatories to the 2015 Algiers agreements (many other such agreements were signed as well before, but without any real impact on the tribalism-separatistm trends of the region), agreements that were supposed to guarantee peace and reconciliation.

These armed groups have formed a kind of parallel army in the Kidal region, dominated by the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which is an alliance of rebel groups, created in Mali, in October 2014, with the aim setting up a new Touareg-dominated state, named “Azawad,” which would include the northern area of Mali, SE Algeria, West Niger, and SW Libya).

These groups came together in September 2021 to form the “Permanent Strategic Framework” (CSP), which is dominated by Tuareg and Arab nomads, and where Mali’s ajority communities (all Black Africans, like Songhaïs, Peuls, Bellahs) are poorly represented.

Foreign and Regional Military Assets and Actions

As far as Western and Sahelian government military forces are concerned, it is undeniable to admit that, from a tactical point of view, important successes have been achieved in recent years. Operations against armed terrorist groups during 2020 and 2021 have resulted in the targeted elimination of some of the most important jihadist leaders, including Abdelmalek Droukdel (head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM), Bah Ag Moussa (one of the leaders of JNIM), Abu Walid al-Saharoui (head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, IS-GS), or Abu al-Maghrebi (religious leader of JNIM).

These favourable results on the ground have not, however, prevented the spread of jihadist violence to southern Mali and Burkina Faso and to western Niger, and even attacks in Burkina Faso’s border areas, with countries in the Gulf of Guinea. This was the main reason for the double military coup in Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, and the coup d’état in Burkina Faso in January 2022.

The deterioration of the situation led French President Emmanuel Macron to decide, after much incertitude and contradictory statements, in early June 2021, to suspend joint operations between French and Malian forces, while assuring that France would remain militarily engaged in the Sahel, but within the framework of an “international alliance associating the states of the region,” a new mission whose precise outline is not clarified.

In fact, this is not a new decision. At the Pau Summit in January 2020, which brought together the G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) countries and France, Paris had already expressed its desire to reduce its presence in the Sahel and reiterated the need for African countries to take responsibility for the security of their citizens.

Among the reasons for France’s stance were the frustration over the lack of military and political achievements, the human and financial costs of “Barkhane” and the substantial lack of support from the domestic public opinion, distracted by national economic and social emergencies. However, it was the second coup d’état on 26 May 2021 which ousted interim President Bah Ndaw and made Mali’s hitherto vice-president Assimi Goita as the transitional President, which precipitated the decision to withdraw from Mali, even if not fully completed in the spring of 2022.

The new Malian junta, in a context of growing popular hostility towards the French presence in Mali—the greatest expression of which was the expulsion of the French ambassador in January 2022—demanded the departure of all French and European forces, and the handover of the “Barkhane” bases to the soldiers of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Malian army, but also to the Russian private security operators (or mercenaries) of the Wagner group who, in early January 2022, settled at the main military base of the operation, in Timbuktu.

Consequently, the French “redeployment” of forces was an implicit recognition that its counterinsurgency strategy was not working (despite a consistent, prolonged but very discrete support from USA), and that the natural consequence was to reduce the number of troops in the “Barkhane” force by half, in a process that was to be completed by the middle of 2023. The military force would thus be reduced from 5,100 to 2,500 French soldiers redeployed outside Mali, mainly in the “Three borders” area in Niger’s territory, and its mission would be exclusively anti-terrorist, aimed at curbing the expansion of jihadist groups towards the south, a trend that has been increasing recently.

This operational redefinition of the framework for French military action implied—along with a commitment to continue fighting terrorism—a significant reduction of its conventional, elite and SOF (Special Operation Forces) units in favour of a greater increase in SF (special forces), as well as a major reliance on air and space assets (fighter, helicopters, UAVs, ISTAR, satellites) to the detriment of ground capabilities, as “force multiplier.”

The increased use of UAVs since late 2019, combined with SF, would support this troop reduction strategy, as they are more effective at eliminating adversaries than ground forces. As a result, UAVs now account for 40% of air strikes, with the result of operations in the area multiplying.

The reduction of French troops in the Sahel will necessarily affect other French operation in the region, namely, Operation “Sabre,” which has been active since 2009. With its operational base in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Task Force (TF) “Sabre” is composed of 400 French SF troops and has been primarily responsible for the elimination of most high-value targets (HVTs), such as jihadist leaders.

In the new context of French redeployment, France’s organisational and operational autonomy vis-à-vis “Barkhane” risks being affected by the end of this operation. In fact, TF “Sabre” could lose some of its assets if “Barkhane” disappears, to the benefit of the increased power of the new “Takuba” force that, although European, bases its structure to a large extent on the French SF that have defined the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) and operational procedures.

Activated in July 2020 to make up for the shortcomings of the EU’s training mission in Mali (EUTM)—given the impossibility for military trainers of the mission to accompany Malian soldiers during their operations—the “Takuba” force was planned to reach 2,000 combatants, from several European countries, and to take part in counter-insurgency actions, replacing “Operation Barkhane.”

As for “Takuba,” it is important to specify its institutional framework, which in a way, has impacted on its operational capabilities. “Takuba” is activated outside of the EU official defense and security architecture, led by EEAS framework, and it is closer to the scheme of the “coalition of the willing,” which led the establishment of the multinational naval force which operates in the Persian-Arab Gulf, the EMASOH (European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz).

This choice, strongly pushed by France, aimed at having more agile and lethal capabilities of the forces deployed, which by the way, never reached the planned level. Their deployment is an implicit recognition of the inability of French forces to control the vast territory of the Sahel, except temporarily and in specific areas, and of the weakness of local armed forces, especially in Mali. Thus, the constituent purpose of Task Force “Takuba” is to integrate local forces with European SF teams, thereby creating a critical mass of assets capable of defeating any opposing group and better protecting the population. This would obviously not solve the structural problems of local armies, but it would allow them to be more effective on the ground and to quickly do more. And in counter-insurgency warfare, the principle is that hitting the enemy is good, but controlling the terrain is better, with the combination of the two effects producing the best results. This principle works well in theory, but it remains to be seen whether it could yield strategic results in the Sahel scenario.

Moreover, TF “Takuba” is suffering from serious structural problems, stemming from its slow deployment, and the reluctance of some states to participate in it, despite the strong pressure by Paris on its partners. For example, the Danish component was withdrawn from Mali when it arrived, on the grounds of bureaucratic shortcomings, the small number of its components, which did not exceed 800 troops, half of them French, and the fact that they cannot operate in Mali, where the centre the insurgency is located.

Also, it should be remembered that Sweden, few days after the notification from the Bamako authorities to expel the Danes, to avoid a similar humiliating situation which was likely approaching, withdrew its own contingent.

Finally, the “Takuba” concept suffered from the perceptions of many of its potential contributors, reluctant to risk their precious assets of SF, on behalf of France and its benefits, which is not generous in opening economic spaces in what Paris considers an exclusive domain.

As far as training missions are concerned, they remain today the EU’s main and most substantial contribution to security in the Sahel. Although the will of Europe is to strengthen its means and capabilities, to support the security forces of the countries in the region, an objective it considers crucial in increasing the protection of local populations and bringing about stability of the region, its survival will depend, in any case, on whether the necessary conditions are met, as recognised in the EU-AU joint declaration of 17 February 2022, in the side-lines of the 6th EU-AU Summit in Brussels.

These conditions include a strict separation between its activities and those of the Russian group Wagner, which is increasingly active in the Sahel, and a guarantee that EU-trained Malian soldiers will not subsequently join units operating under Wagner’s orders. Despite the lack of consensus on the future of EU operations in Mali, with several member states in favour of suspending the mission, and while others are reluctant to do so, the European Council decided on 12 April of this year to close and withdraw it (EUTM-Mali was activated on February 2013), formalizing and finalizing a long-standing crisis between Brussels (and Paris) and Bamako.

It should be said that despite an important growing in staffing (more than 600 personnel between trainers and support staff), resources, and assets, the EUTM-Mali suffered several problems due to, among others, the existence of non-coordinated training paths between the national teams of trainers. It is useful to be reminded that the other EU-led presence in Mali, EUCAP-Sahel Mali is in limbo; but given the persistent hostility of the Bamako military junta, it will be withdrawing as well.

The other two forces on the ground will not produce tangible results in improving the stability situation, due to a lack of equipment, poor financial means, and poor transnational coordination. The G5 Sahel Joint Force—created in 2017 and officially composed of 5,000 men drawn from the elite units of the armed forces of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—is conditioned by the need for greater regional cooperation to prevent each of them pursuing their national interests above all else. Moreover, reliance on the support of other military structures, such as the “Barkhane” force for training and MINUSMA for operational support, does not facilitate operational performance, either.

The G5 Sahel Joint Force was established following the activation, in 2014 of the G5 Sahel, a sub-regional organisation set up to deal with conflict management in the Sahel, when it seemed unlikely. Some analysts were already describing a “security traffic jam” in the region.

This concept emerged when Chad offered, but out of the G5 framework, additional forces, and AU a multinational brigade; the Chadian troops, briefly deployed in the “Three Borders Area” were called back due to the institutional crisis following the death of the President Deby, who fell fighting Islamist elements in his country (and who was replaced by his son); the AU brigade of 3,000 troops, despite being officially announced, was never deployed.

There is a wide range of stakeholders involved in conflict-management in the Sahel; but this multiple presence is based on uncertain approaches and weak actors, especially at the local level, where the G5 Member States may be easy labelled as “failed states” for their economic and social performances.

The multinational force of the G5, in theory formed by the elite elements of their respective armed forces, never reached an effective operational level, not even the ancillary roles of relieving the French forces of “Barkhane” and garrison duties of main urban areas and major communication axes.

Thus despite, an important flux of assets and finance (however not well coordinated) from donor countries, the local actors remain intrinsically weak, as noted by the strong report of a UN Security Council delegation visit in the region, in October 2021.

In the case of MINUSMA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) in Mali—present in Mali since 2013—its work is hampered by the fact that its mandate is limited to the territory of Mali. With France’s withdrawal, the UN Security Council has announced an increase in personnel from 13,000 troops and 1,700 police officers to 17,300 to fill the territorial gaps created by the “Barkhane” withdrawal and to prevent security vacuums. But this risks falling, once again, in the typical mistake of UN-led peacekeeping missions, because of “Mission creep:/”Mandate creep.”

Further, the capability of MINUSMA is affected by divergent views of the Western major players in the area, France, and US, thus keeping the operation in a conceptual vacuum which does not help in formulating a proper approach, but only a limited confrontation to the Islamist insurgency.

The reduction/withdrawal of “Barkhane” worsened the burden on the Mission, and the future remains uncertain, without the permanence of MINUSMA, at least in the medium term.

However, as with the G5 Sahel Joint Force, MINUSMA suffers from lack of material, financial and intelligence capabilities; and the fact that its mission is exclusively to support the authorities and not fight counterinsurgency, make it difficult for it to replace the role of the French. Further, the mission’s effectiveness is threatened by the reduction and/or withdrawal of contingents from Western countries, leaving an additional burden on the poorly trained and equipped Third World country troops, who represent the bulk of the mission.

To better understand the current military (and political) stalemate which affects Mali and the region (and to be fair, it is not new), it is useful remember that in parallel deployment of “Serval,” the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) deployed, with the support of a NATO air bridge, the AFISMA (the African-led International Support Mission to Mali) sent to support Bamako against Islamist rebels in Northern Mali.
The mission was authorized with UN Security Council Resolution 2085, passed on 20 December 2012, which “authorizes the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali for an initial period of one year,” and which reached a peak of 8.000 troops (these troops, when MINUSMA was activated, were ‘re-hatted’ to blue berets).

On the other hand, there are regional armies and self-defence forces that have spontaneously emerged from within the civilian population because of the deteriorating security situation. Their performance falls far short of internationally accepted standards. And the Malian army’s overreaction against Fulani tribe civilians, accused of harbouring both JNIM and IS-GS militants, is having the opposite effect of increasing local recruitment and this has driven many in the population to seek protection from the jihadists. Indiscriminate attacks against the local population by government-affiliated forces, according to MINUSMA, has resulted in more civilian casualties than actual jihadist casualties by 2020.

In other cases, it is local communities that have set up rural self-defence militias, with the consent of the state, who then violently impose their own law. This situation has also spread to Niger, a large and poor country, currently threatened on five of its seven borders, by major jihadist groups. Niger is considered the best French alternative for deployment after the expulsion of its forces from Mali.

The “Alien”

As mentioned above, another actor that has emerged strongly in the security arena in recent years is Russia, which is increasingly active across Africa. But how has Moscow managed to push the French out of several countries that Paris lazily assumed were “acquis?”

A Wagner group financier, and the spearhead of Russian influence on the continent, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who made his fortune in the restaurant business, is one of the most important oligarchs within Putin’s entourage. Since hosting the first Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 (the next one is planned in November 2022) in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin has been striving to make his country play a leading role in Africa, extending geopolitical competition, as in the Cold War era.

In the Sahel, as before in Syria, Central African Republic and Libya, Russia has taken advantage of the insecurity and the vacuum created by the announcement of the departure of French forces from Mali, and is seeking to replace Paris’ influence there, and extend it in the region through regular and irregular means. To this end, its strategy, which began in December 2021, has relied on disinformation by facilitating the activities of the private military company (PMC) Wagner, linked to the Kremlin through the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Security Service (FSB), and by capitalising on a growing anti-French sentiment spreading across the region.

As in the Central African Republic and Mozambique, Wagner has taken advantage of the Malian junta’s turn towards Russia to secure regime protection services and security for senior Malian officials against any coup attempt, while securing significant financial benefits through financial and mineral concessions.

It should be recalled that Mali since independence (1960), was never a docile member of the so-called “FranceAfrique” and had an historical proximity with Moscow (before as USSR and now with the Russian Federation).

However, it cannot be assumed that the use of Wagner guarantees success, considering what happened in Libya, where 1,200 Russian mercenaries failed to deliver victory to Field Marshal Haftar, in his offensive against Tripoli, in the spring of 2020. Moreover, if we take into account their poor operational results in carrying out similar missions—for example, in 2019, against the Islamist insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province—and add to this the high legal and humanitarian costs they impose, including serious allegations of human rights violations, it could be concluded that Wagner is more of a tool to increase Russian areas of influence on the continent than an element to increase security and regional stabilisation. In any case, its influence on the region’s political future will depend greatly on the outcome of the war in Ukraine, where Russia’s attention is currently focused.

To What End?

The major transformations in the security situation in the Sahel in recent times, with the announcement of the “end of Barkhane,” the emergence of a strong regional hostility towards French policy and the multiplication of ad hoc agreements with JNIM-affiliated jihadist groups in both Mali and Burkina Faso, seem to pave the way for the relaunching of a possible negotiation at a national level, initially in Mali, but which could be extended to other countries affected by the Islamist insurgency.

Eventual negotiations would be favoured by a regional context in which jihadist groups have been able to exploit local grievances and bad governance—using rhetoric based on anti-colonialism—to stir up local sentiments, presenting themselves as indispensable actors to expel foreign forces.

To this end, JNIM’s recent willingness to enter into negotiations with the Malian state authorities seems to indicate a certain strategic flexibility, albeit based on a non-negotiable extremist ideological position on jihad, whether global or local. No matter how many setbacks and delays they suffer and no matter which regime they face, their mission to turn the Sahel into an Islamic emirate remains a priority.

This negotiating position, whose interlocutor is the terrorist leader Iyad Ag Ghali, is supported by Algeria, which is concerned about the evolution of the political and security situation among its southern neighbours, especially in Mali, and which has always been wary of the Barkhane operation, an anti-terrorist action led by the former colonial power.

Moreover, the G5 Sahel initiative, still supported by France, is also viewed with some caution by Algiers, which would have preferred the management of the continent’s security issues through the African Union and regional and bilateral collaboration between states, such as the Joint Operational Military Staff Committee (CEMOC) launched in 2010 and based in Tamanrasset.

Algeria, whose counter-terrorism policy has traditionally oscillated between the carrot and the stick—a counter-terrorism policy based on conventional operations, but leaving open the possibility of jihadists surrendering in exchange for some form of amnesty—now favours strengthening the JNIM vis-à-vis the CMA, albeit conditional on any agreement having the approval of Algiers, which looks with suspicious the idea of “Azawad.”

However, reaching a possible agreement does not seem to be an easy task. It would also require the current JNIM fighters to lay down their arms, something that can only happen if they are offered significant rewards through an ambitious disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) process, funded by the international community (UN?). In this scenario, it is quite possible that the IS-GS, a group that categorically rejects any dialogue, would attract all those disgruntled people who, for ideological or personal-interest reasons, will not accept a negotiation process with the governments.

Future Outlooks for Security in the Sahel

The outlook for security in the Sahel remains uncertain in the short to medium term. Jihadist groups have been demonstrating great resilience in adapting quickly to the dynamics of operations on the ground, even when faced with tactical defeats. Every time an African government has declared that a group is “defeated,” the claim has been disproved shortly afterwards. Military efforts to defeat them on the battlefield, the preferred option for restoring security, have been disappointing. The military efforts of French and local forces, despite having taken out many of the jihadist leaders, as well as regional initiatives, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force, or military training provided by EUTM-Mali, have not yielded the expected results and, surprisingly, have failed to overcome local jihadist groups as reliable providers of security and services.

In this regard, experience over the years indicates that military strikes against jihadist organisations tend to displace them by forcing them to seek refuge, rather than eradicate them, so that once military pressure diminishes, they return stronger and expand further, unless the capabilities of the state, in which they have been operating, have substantially improved.

On the other hand, and regardless of the difference in approach or ideology, the new security reality in the Sahel is marked by the bitter rivalry between regional Islamic State and al-Qaeda franchises, exacerbated by pre-existing structural vulnerabilities, which have resulted in increased violence and conflict.

However, competition between the two branches of jihadism in the Sahel may be a favourable factor in the new context of French withdrawal and may contribute to the weakening of these groups and the depletion of their resources, effectively diluting the threat they pose.

But the opposite can also happen: direct competition for new recruits and the support of locals can lead to a “bidding up” process using increased levels of violence to demonstrate their commitment and relative power vis-à-vis the competing organisation. Such competition between jihadist groups can aggravate the insecurity situation by encouraging operational innovation, increasing recruitment and pushing civilians to choose sides, contributing to the prolongation of the conflict, as well as to the resilience and adaptability of competing groups. If this were to happen, it would further complicate the security landscape in an already fragile region.

Moreover, the change in the mechanism of Operation “Barkhane,” to delegate responsibility for counter-insurgency to local armies and “Takuba,” comes too late, and does so at a time when protests by local populations and the French authorities’ inability to communicate strategically are showing the limits of external military action.
It seems fundamental, therefore, in order to have a minimum guarantee of success, to achieve a greater “hybridisation” between international forces and local armies that avoids possible rejection, so that the former appear as a support element and not as those responsible for counter-insurgency action.

Finally, the progressive intromission of a new stakeholder (Russia) has changed the strategic view of the Western actors in the region, re-focusing their action to expelling Wagner from Mali so that Moscow does not gain influence in Burkina, Guinea, Niger and Chad.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


EU And AU: The Face Behind The Mask

Even if the difficult international scene (Ukrainian war and the persistence of COVID) seems to make us forget everything else, occurrences, such as the 6th EU/AU Summit, maintain their validity and even increase their value, especially for future prospects in the light of the afore mentioned crises.

This Summit has been described very superficially as one of the typical kermesses of the international community, where dozens of heads of state and government and senior leaders of international and regional organizations are in an infinite ballet of bilateral encounters (more or less confidencial), dinners, mass meetings, group photos. It has been all this (and it could not have been otherwise).

But the Summit has also been much more and is part of the various partnership conferences that many states and organizations have in place in their relation with the African continent, such as Australia (with the AAPF, Australia Africa Partnership Forum ), China (with FOCAC, Forum on China–Africa Cooperation); France, India, Iran, Russia, Japan (with TICAD, Tokyo International Conference on African Development), Russia, South Korea, Turkey, the USA (with AGOA, African Growth and Opportunity Act), Italy (with its ministerial conferences), Hungary, Germany, the OECD with the AFP (Africa Partnership Forum) and the EU.

These conferences and summits seem to be the modern re-edition of the “scramble for Africa” of the late 19th Century, when all the powers, large, mid, and small, competed to divide up colonies and protectorates and get their hands on local resources through partition conferences. A lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same. Modes have become less direct (apparently), but economic interests have grown and extended to sectors ignored until recently, starting with hunting for the mineral products necessary for new technologies, the grabbing of land for agricultural use, intensive fishing, mega infrastructures.

It is true that the decisions adopted in the final Brussels declaration of 18 February were numerous and contain some differences compared to previous summits (2000, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2017). There are 8 years left to realize this “vision for 2030.” Europe and Africa have decided to move towards a new “state of mind,” to which the incumbent President of the AU, the head of the state of Senegal, Macky Sall, returned at the closing ceremony: “We also need to create a new working climate, a climate that is more suited to the political will we want to give to this partnership. A new mood needs to be instilled in Euro-African relations. This is what I called, new relational software based on a true vision of partnership, for shared growth and prosperity,” he insisted.

The Summit’s final declaration underlines a common vision, and calls for a renewed partnership, based on “human bonds, respect for sovereignty, mutual responsibility and respect, shared values, equality between partners and mutual commitments.” An extensive program. And concretely, this is what the next few years of this partnership will be like:

150 Billion Euros For Africa Through The Global Gateway

This EU initiative launched in December 2021 aims to mobilize € 300 billion over the next 3 years, according to Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission; and it is the backbone, politically and financial speaking, of the Summit. 150 billion euros will be allocated to Africa for the African investment plan.

The Global Gateway is an alternative that Europe offers Africa to work on investments, at a time when Russia and China (with Belt and Road Initiative, BRI) are invading the continent. The EU intends to invest primarily in people and infrastructure. Announced at the opening of the Summit, the financial support of Europe through the Global Gateway was therefore confirmed. The significant amount of at least € 150 billion aims to encourage sustainable investments on a large scale.

“We have decided to mobilize around projects that correspond to African priorities, in order to support development, innovation, prosperity in the climate, digital and infrastructure sectors,” said the President of the European Council (and former Belgian Prime Minister), Charles Michel. He especially insisted on creating a follow-up mechanism to give substance to the intentions: “It has happened that in the past the intentions were strong, generous and extremely ambitious and the results did not always match our ambitions. There we will put in place a follow-up and monitoring mechanism.”

The EU wishes to become Africa’s main partner of reference for financing its infrastructure. Several projects have been identified, including a list of strategic corridors, a sector where EU has had strong experience, especially for railways. They could involve CamRail rehabilitation projects, the Damietta-El Mansoura-Tanta railway corridor or the Tanzania-Uganda, Ghana-Burkina Faso-Mali interconnections.

Six Hubs For RNA Vaccines

These hubs will be created in Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, the first countries to host an RNA messenger technology transfer. These will consist in the training of scientists and the production of vaccines against COVID-19, to then commercialize them in Africa and beyond the continent.

This technology transfer will mobilize 40 million Euros from the European consultancy side. “The remaining argument is related to intellectual property rights and even there the conclusions we have reached are encouraging and should allow us, in the coming months, by spring, to arrive at a dynamic compromise that will allow us to complete things”, assured Macky Sall, President of the AU.

A Green Partnership

The common vision adopted in Brussels is also ecological. Europe will support the climate resilience of African countries. This will be done through the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). The partnership will also be oriented towards the development of supply chains.

Similarly, the launch of a joint EU/AU action plan for the development of plant proteins in Africa will make it possible to make the economic component of the “Great Green Wall” operational, responding to a triple challenge of food and nutrition security on a continental scale and the development of sustainable agro-ecological practices.

“We have to support Africa in its agricultural model. Here I would like to recall the importance for us of the great green wall which is a Pan-African initiative that we reactivated in January 2021”, declared the French president. African and European leaders went further to reaffirm their commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement and the outcome of the conferences of the parties.

“We recognize that Africa’s energy transition is vital for its industrialization and for bridging the energy gap. We will support Africa in its transition to promote just and sustainable pathways to climate neutrality. We recognize the importance of using available natural resources as part of this energy transition process”, reads the final declaration of the Brussels Summit.

“We want green partnerships to flourish on the continent. The world needs Africa to fight climate change,” concluded Ursula von der Leyen. The aim of environmental rehabilitation of vast areas is focused to avoid those masses of population being forced to migrate because of unbearable living conditions.

New Approaches To Migration

The “delicate” (sic) issue of preventing irregular immigration is also being discussed, as well as the measures to be taken in the face of the smuggling of migrants. Priority was given to efforts for effective improvements in terms of return, readmission, and reintegration.

Asylum systems will be strengthened to provide adequate reception and protection for those entitled to them. But the leaders tried to focus on the root of the evil, with key measures to promote the empowerment of young people and women.

“We have taken steps to finance African training centers to allow training in trades that correspond to this economic development that I have spoken about,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who held the EU rotational Presidency.

Security And Stability: “Reversing The Approach”

The other big step forward of the EU/AU Summit is the paradigm shift on security and stability issues. Without renouncing the support of the European military forces, the leaders of the two continents are counting on the strengthening of capabilities and equipment to intensify the autonomous operations of African forces.

“Today there is an absolute need to look things in the face and act accordingly. African states are ready to mobilize men. We also have the AU reserve forces in our architecture, brigades by region (they were planned to be five, but it is missed target, so far). I think we have to reverse the approach,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, President of the AU Commission (former Chad FM), who also expressed his vision of financing peace at the end of the summit.

Europe too sees priority in this direction. French President Emmanuel Macron also took the opportunity to recall the directives by stating, “We have consolidated a partnership approach based on the requests and needs expressed by African countries”, before acknowledging African mobilization capacity within a regional framework. “We support the request of African states to the United Nations for new mechanisms that can be financed by the UN and that allow African armies to carry out stabilization operations in the fight against terrorism.”

Cooperation between the two continents will also be strengthened on other issues, such as fighting organized crime, maritime safety.

A Constellation Of Satellites To Connect The Two Continents

The latest decision was not actually taken in Brussels, but this Summit confirmed that it will benefit all of Africa. On Wednesday 16 February, during the Space Summit organized in Toulouse, France, the EU decided to launch a “megaconstellation” of 250 satellites. With an estimated budget of six billion euros, this constellation will provide a high-speed internet connection, even in the digital desert areas that currently struggle to access a traditional terrestrial network. However, these myriads of satellites will cover a low orbit area of about 500 kilometers above Europe and Africa.

Conclusion

This thorough examination shows that the Summit (and it usual list of nice words and good will) and its results have a strong political and strategic background on the part of Brussels, that of trying to free Africa from Chinese and Russian influence. In this strategy the events linked to the aggression of Moscow against the Ukraine, the ambiguous position of Beijing and a worrying number of African states that either abstained or did not participate in the UN General Assembly vote that condemned Russia, makes more urgent, for the Brussels perspective, the implementation of this plan.

The project was born as a response above all to the Summits that Moscow and Beijing have had in recent times (that of Sochi in 2019 and a second one scheduled for next November [sic]) and that of Dakar last November; those meetings also raised the alert for the acceleration that Russia (especially in Mali and Central Africa) and Beijing have given to their African policies (China would be interested in obtaining a new military base in an African country after the one in Djibouti, but one which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean; and it speaks insistently of Equatorial Guinea).

It is not known how African states will respond. The new international situation could be an excellent temptation to raise the price, not just financial, of their collaboration with Europe. Meanwhile, given the persistent difficulties in relations with the coup junta in Bamako, which is very close to Moscow, the EU has just announced that it will withdraw its training mission for the Malian armed forces, the EUTM-Mali.

It is useful to consider that in such a large project on the part of Europe there are also national priorities, especially on the French side which, given the tarnishing of the “Francafrique,” finds the EU plan particularly useful in trying to resume her influence in the continent.

What was lacking in the Summit, however, was the commitment by both (Brussels and Addis Ababa) to improve the governance of African countries, whose low (not to say non-existent, in too many contexts) quality is at the root of the difficulties facing the continent.

Another silence (at least public) on the European side was the mutations by force of the constitutional frameworks with coups d’état (Mali, Chad, Guinea, Burkina Faso) or referendums that remove limits to presidential mandates and allow ossification of the ruling classes and transformation of republics into de facto hereditary monarchies (as in the case of Chad, and the next one would be Uganda). These are not insignificant details that could make the whole European project unrealistic, inconclusive, and expensive.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


Featured image: “Africa,” an engraving by Nicolaas Berchem, published by Pieter Mortier, ca. 1690.