Security situation in West Africa gives causes for concern, by Ali Djawad

The bloody attack in the Ansongo Circle, Mali, that took place on August 8 shocked the international community: shortly before nightfall armed men arrived on motorcycles and opened fire on civilians of the villages of Ouattagouna, Karou, Dirga, and Daoutegueft. According to the Malian Armed Forces’ Directorate of Information and Public Relations (Dirpa), at least 49 people were killed in the attack. 

Researcher Héni Nsaibia of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) comments on the situation: “A massacre of this magnitude perpetrated on civilians is unprecedented in the area, even though there are many acts of banditry in the Ansongo Cercle,”Acts of banditry, looping, robberies, and kidnappings are becoming more frequent in the region. On the other side of the border, Burkina Faso faced the country’s deadliest attack since the violence began in 2015. More than 160 civilians were brutally murdered on June 4-5 by the armed groups’ elements.

The major concern is the fact that the acting armed groups of the region are not discontinuous and chaotic anymore: major terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have established a foothold in West Africa and grow vast networks. The Ansongo Circle in Mali is the area known to be the scene of clashes between the Groupe de soutien à l’islam et aux musulmans (Gsim or Jnim), the Sahelian branch of al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).

The deterioration of the security situation in Libya, caused by the departure of the stabilizing elements in the person of the mercenary contingent, has led to the formation of a zone of instability in the south, where scattered bandit formations are beginning to join larger terrorist coalitions, also affecting the destabilization of the entire continent. Armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group are involved in the campaign to destabilize Mali and are attempting to broaden their circle of influence. Large terrorist organizations link a whole network of groups throughout Africa, and are able to provide a new level of both weapons and logistical and tactical support, that allows the terrorist to expand and conquer new areas.

The same groups operate in Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon. In 2014, Nigeria ranked second in the world (after Iraq) in terms of the number of people who died from terrorism (7512 people).  In the same year, the Nigerian group Boko Haram turned out to be the deadliest terrorist organization in the world (it had 6,644 people killed in terrorist attacks). 

The top ten countries in the world most exposed to the threat of terrorism from African countries, in addition to Nigeria, including Somalia (8th place) and Libya (9th place). In the second ten, there were also 7 African countries (Egypt, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon).Under the auspices of ISIS and Al Qaeda, they will try to gain access to a permanent source of financing for terrorist activities – natural resources, – a strategy that was once implemented in Syria. One of the likely candidates for being such a milch-cow is Equatorial Guinea. This country on the west coast of Central Africa, with an area of 28,000 square kilometers (11,000 sq mi), is a relatively small one, thus easy to control. The discovery of large oil reserves in 1996 and its subsequent exploitation contributed to a dramatic increase in government revenue. Since the mid-1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producers and the richest country in Africa.

The President of the Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been the country’s leader since August 1979. The concentration of power in one strong hand makes any state highly vulnerable as the death of its leader will inevitably trigger instability and possible violence. We have seen such scenarios unravel in Libya in 2011 with the death of Muammar Gaddafi and recently in Chad with the death of President Idriss Déby. Taking out the sole leader plunges the state into chaos opening gates to all kinds of competing armed groups who will try to fill the power vacuum.  

Equatorial Guinea, a country with huge oil reserves and an unstable security situation, is under an obvious threat. Due to poor relations with the UK and France (the closure of the embassy in London and Malabo, the trials against the Vice-President in France), Equatorial Guinea cannot count on the support of the West in the event of an escalation. In addition, Western structures may try to exert pressure through controlled armed groupsA security crisis of such a scale cannot form overnight, the process started a significant time ago and even back then it was obvious that the matter is of utter importance and the terrorist insurgency in West African must be nipped it in the bud. The response to the forming terrorist nest came from France, the former colonial power in the region.

The French military initially intervened in Mali in early 2013 as part of Operation Serval, which successfully regained the northern half of the country from Islamist groups. Operation Barkhane was intended to follow up to that success and has expanded the French military’s operations over a vast area of the Sahel region. The French were joined by the UN peacekeeping mission, however the security situation gradually continued to degenerate. The Western approach proved to be inefficient. 

While the security situation in Mali and neighboring countries keep degrading the French high officials announce the end of Barkhane’s mission and the suspension of humanitarian and military aid from Paris. The region is left completely vulnerable to the terrorist organizations which grow deeper into the fabric of the continent and progressively expand their influence.

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