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Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger alliance faces uphill task

December 5, 2023

Junta-led Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have ditched the G5 anti-jihadist force. Experts say their intended new confederation to tackle Islamist insurgents in the Sahel is bound to fail unless they mend ties with ECOWAS.

A Malian soldier
Mali has been battling an Islamist insurgency since 2012Image: Hans Lucas/IMAGO

All three countries, led by militaries that seized power from civilian leaders, officially withdrew from the G5 Sahel Joint Force, a body set up to fight Islamists in the Sahel region, on December 2.

The region has been characterized by extremism since 2014. Violence against civilians has triggered a humanitarian crisis, which has left more than 24 million people requiring assistance.

The G5 anti-jihadist force was created in 2014 in Nouakchott, Mauritania. It originally had Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Nigeras members.

Chad and Mauritania are still part of the G5 force, but the exit of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger has virtually collapsed the alliance. Burkina Faso and Niger, who joined Mali to exit the coalition, gave a damming assessment of the G5.

"The organization is failing to achieve its objectives. Worse, the legitimate ambitions of our countries of making the G5 Sahel a zone of security and development are hindered by institutional red tape from a previous era, which convinces us that our process of independence and dignity is not compatible with G5 participation in its current form," they said in a statement.

New federation between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger bound to fail

However, security expert Adib Saani told DW that forming a new security pact between the three countries doesn't stand a chance of success.

"It would be very difficult for the new confederation to achieve any results, owing to the fact that these countries are already reeling under pressure by terrorist groups," Saani said.

The so-called Alliance of Sahel States (AES) by the three countries was signed in September this year, but Saani said nothing suggests that the new alliance would have the capacity to offer much.

"In Mali, the government is fighting three fronts. In Niger, we have seen the number of attacks spiraling out of control since the withdrawal of the French contingent. Burkina Faso, which is the second most impacted country by terrorism according to the terrorism global index for last year, is also fighting to hold onto the comparatively little land that they have or remaining," Saani explained, adding that each of the three countries was busy carrying its own cross.

"I don't think there is going to be anything meaningful coming out of it as they [Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso] are all already overstretched."

Sahel - Inside the resistance

Anti-Western sentiments

The three countries have broken ties with their former colonial master, France, which had a significant role in the G5 Sahel group. 

"The G5 Sahel cannot serve foreign interests to the detriments of our people, and even less the dictates of any power in the name of a partnership that treats them like children, denying the sovereignty of our peoples," they said in their statement in a veiled reference to France.

Mutaru Mumuni Muktar, executive director of the West Africa Center for Counter Extremism, said he was not surprised by the posture and stance of the three junta-led nations.

"In all the three countries, there's a strong anti-French sentiment and this has been building on over time," Muktar told DW.

Niger has also ended its security agreements with Western nations and has increasingly turned to Russia.

Niger's foreign affairs ministry said in a memo that his country has decided to "withdraw the privileges and immunities granted" under the EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger.

That partnership was launched in February this year, months before the recent coup, but with the latest move, Niger said it "has no legal obligation" related to that partnership.

According to Muktar, mere resentment for France and the West won't make the three countries strong enough to fight the current insurgency.

"It makes sense [to form a new alliance] in terms of protection of their own regimes and as a deterrent for them to form this kind of alliance, but in terms of how effective this alliance could be against violence extremism remains to be seen." 

Why is the Sahel region so vulnerable to coups?

No capacity and infrastructure to fight jihadists in the three Sahel nations

Under the new charter, the three countries pledged to fight terrorism and organized crime.

However, Muktar said the three nations lacked the capacity and infrastructure to accomplish their mission. 
"They do not have enough funding," Muktar said, stressing that the three countries do not have a sustainable economic model to sustain their goal.

"They do not have enough goodwill from the local population and other actors locally to deal with that. And so I don't see how far this would go…in dealing with violent extremism."

The three nations remain suspended from the regional bloc ECOWAS and relations have deteriorated for months.

Saani said these countries should prioritize restoring relations with ECOWAS to access the needed global support to fight the prevailing insecurity.

"It [the insecurity in the Sahel] would only get worse; that is the bad news, and no amount of confederation can stop what is going on," Saani added.

Some 4.9 million people have already been displaced due to the current crisis. 

 Assimi Goita, Abdourahamane Tiani, Ibrahim Traore
From left to right: Malian leader Assimi Goita, Nigerien leader Abdourahamane Tiani, and Burkina Faso's Ibrahim TraoreImage: Francis Kokoroko/REUTERS; ORTN - Télé Sahel/AFP/Getty; Mikhail Metzel/TASS/picture alliance

Stopping the terrorists

The UN has stressed the urgent need to strengthen support and advance the fight against terrorism in the region.

The military coups haven't helped matters either, according to Bram Posthumus, a journalist who reports on Africa's Sahel region.

He told DW that since soldiers took over in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the security situation in those countries has worsened.

The coups "have given adversaries, the non-state armed groups the opportunity to increase their influence and their reach in the areas they control," Posthumus said.

Saani agreed that the current disjointed security strategies in the region are failing to combat the terrorists effectively.

"There is no denying the fact that we are failing in countering the threats and it is also important to understand that the terrorists are winning the war," he added.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu