G5 Sahel and EU worry about severe security deterioration

Soldier of the Malian armed forces during a joint patrol with the French soldiers of the operation "Barkhane", in October 2017, in Tassiga, in western Mali.
Soldier of the Malian armed forces during a joint patrol with the French soldiers of the operation "Barkhane", in October 2017, in Tassiga, in western Mali. Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

It is "A paradoxical situation", admits the High Representative Federica Mogherini: "The efforts of the European Union (EU) and the Member States in favor of the G5 Sahel countries are increasing, but the level of security is deteriorating. "What we need is an acceleration of the procedures, a concrete international mobilization, an international coalition against the terrorist threat, more efforts, if not ours will be reduced to nothing", echoed Tiébilé Dramé, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mali.

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Would disagreements have dominated the meeting that the foreign ministers of Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania held on Tuesday, May 14, in Brussels with their European counterparts? No, according to European diplomats and Mme Mogherini, even if "Hard messages" have passed. A destination, including, Malian leaders for their slow implementation of the peace plan signed in October 2018 between the state and armed groups. A text itself meant to relay the agreement reached in Algiers in 2015.

Weakness of regional armies

For the rest, both sides share a clear concern and believe that it is a race against time that is committed to try to secure the Sahel while the activities of jihadist groups are increasing. During their debates and while they had just respected a minute of silence in memory of the two French soldiers killed in Burkina Faso during the rescue operation of the abducted hostages in Benin, the participants learned that an armed group had killed four Catholics in northern Burkina Faso. This is the third deadly attack on places of worship and worshipers in this country in the space of a fortnight. On Sunday, a priest and five faithful were killed in a church.

In any case, many questions remain about the role of the G5 Joint Force, for which the EU has contributed € 147 million – which can only cover non-lethal material. To act in the border areas, the five countries set up their own regional security force, some 5,000 men under centralized command.

Joint Force operations were suspended after the attack on its headquarters in Sévaré on June 29, 2018, and resumed in January. Considered in part by French diplomats as an opportunity to put "Barkhane" in the background thanks to greater involvement of the region's armies, the G5 Sahel is still not fully operational, five years after the first mobilizations. It would be "80%", says one in Brussels.

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The main causes of the delay are the lack of funding, but also the weakness of a number of armies in the region. The G5 is actually the sum of these and, between countries, the levels are different. The two weakest links to date are Burkina Faso and Mali, the latter's army having never recovered from its debacle in the north of the country in 2012, when it was defeated by a coalition of independence activists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and jihadist groups. Since then, she has regained positions, but is regularly subjected to deadly attacks as in Dioura, March 17, where she lost 26 soldiers.

The Malian armed forces are also part of the problem when, in the center of the country, they are unable to prevent community killings like in Ogossagou on March 23, and are periodically accused of abuses. On the European side, in partnership with the UN, there is also a strong emphasis on the need for countries in the region to comply with human rights and international humanitarian law. " It's important to give confidence to the people », says Mme Mogherini. Since the beginning of the year, new defense ministers and new chiefs of staff have been appointed, both in Mali and in Burkina Faso.

Continue efforts

The latter is experiencing a violent deterioration in security because of jihadist contagion from Mali. The threat has "homogenized" in the north and then in the east of the country, but, according to several experts, it has been favored, in particular, by the abandonment of the security mesh and compromises, even compromises, which could exist under Blaise Compaore. As well as by the actions of the army in the fight against terrorism.

"The misfortunes of a country like Mali come from Libyasays the head of Malian diplomacy, Tiébilé Dramé. Europe needs to coordinate and act more to promote peace and stability. " Didier Reynders, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense, replies that it is also up to the countries concerned to control their borders and stop the traffic that abounds there. Europeans are also calling on their partners to disarm militias, reform security forces, end impunity, and redeploy public services in areas where they have disappeared.

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To this end, Europe, which has devoted 8 billion euros to the region for the period 2014-2020, is ready to continue its efforts, both financial and security, political or humanitarian. Today, confesses a Brussels diplomat, "The real question is whether our counter-terrorism cooperation strategy has a chance to succeed". In a relative discretion, he notes, the United States has been working for them for seventeen years (initially with the Pan-Sahel Initiative), but "They have already concluded that they failed, which worries them moderately, because the area remains peripheral to their interests". This is, of course, not the case for Europeans.

Cyril Bensimon and Jean-Pierre Stroobants (Brussels, European office)

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