With renewed interest in uprooting French rule, Russia finally began its forays into the Sahel region, an elongated landlocked territory located between North Africa (Maghreb) and the West African region, and also extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. While it remains largely underdeveloped and more of the population is impoverished, terrorist organizations including Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operate and have contributed to the frequent violence, extremism and instability in this vast region.
Usually called the G5 Sahel, it is made up of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. In addition to instability, these countries are plagued by various socio-economic problems mainly due to the governance system and poor sustainable development policies. In addition, there are violations of rights and cultural practices that affect development.
In July 2020, the United States raised concerns over the growing number of allegations of human rights violations and abuses by state security forces across the Sahel. The United States’ response came after Human Rights Watch released documents on the matter in early July. France, a former colonial power, still tries to dominate the region. France has announced the withdrawal of military force, brutally ending its terrorist operations and thus creating a huge vacuum.
Out of fear and concern about the new rise in terrorism, the Sahel-5 are turning to Russia. Last year, after the August 18 political change in Mali, a former French colony with a fractured economy and fertile ground for Islamic jihadist armed groups, Russia offered considerable assistance. By showing its support for the military government of Mali, Russia has totally ignored or violated the protocols for implementing the “Silence the Arms” agenda in West Africa, a flagship program of the Agenda 2063 of the United Nations. African Union. Now Russia is capitalizing on this loophole, as a new conduit, to enter the Sahel.
Russia has aligned the foreign ministers of these Sahel countries, the most recent being the Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Chadians Abroad of the Republic of Chad, Cherif Zene Mahamat, visiting working from December 6 to 8. Previously, the Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs visited in November. The two meetings discussed in more detail the consolidation of military assistance to combat growing terrorism, and reviewed efforts to strengthen political dialogue and promote certain types of trade and economic ties. economy in the region.
At the beginning of November, the president of the Commission of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Sergey Lavrov agreed on the conditions of aid in the Sahel. Lavrov called this in the opening remarks “military and technical cooperation” with Faki Mahamat – “a worthy representative in this high post of pan-regional importance.”
On December 7, Lavrov had a diplomatic meeting with Chadian Cherif Mahamat. “We discussed African affairs at length: the difficult situation in the Saharo-Sahelian zone which was destabilized after NATO’s aggressive attack on Libya. This was followed by an influx of terrorists, smugglers and volumes of illegal weapons from north to south Africa. These criminals were particularly attracted to this region and the Lake Chad region, ”Lavrov said at the press conference after the closed-door meeting.
In the process, it is necessary to mobilize all available resources of Africans themselves and of the international community to fight against terrorist groups. Nonetheless, it is also necessary for Russia’s efforts to maintain the joint forces of the Sahel Five, Lavrov said. He further assured “we will continue to support him by providing him with weapons and equipment and by training personnel, including peacekeepers, because it is very important to help end this evil and to destroy it. ‘other challenges and threats, including drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime. . “
According to several accounts and reports, Russia has agreed to push Wagner’s mercenaries throughout the Sahara-Sahel, including the G5 Sahel group of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which s ‘is focused on the fight against terrorism. Many experts claim that Russia has set out to combat France’s neocolonial tendencies and has also pledged to join what is often referred to as a “rush for resources” in Africa. In his remarks, Lavrov explicitly points to the creation of favorable conditions for the implementation of Russian projects in Chad, including in the field of energy and the extraction of mineral resources.
Following the stories, Russia has now embarked on the fight against “neo-colonialism” which it sees as a stumbling block on the way to reclaiming some of the multifaceted influence of the era. Soviet in Africa. Russia has sought to convince Africans in recent years of the likely dangers of neocolonial tendencies perpetrated by former colonial countries and of the scramble for resources on the continent. But all of these warnings could largely fall on deaf ears as African leaders choose development partners with funds to invest in the economy.
That however, there are striking indications that Russia is expanding its geography of diplomacy covering poor African countries and particularly fragile states that need Russian military assistance. Chad, Mali and Niger, for example, have appeared on its radar, Russia sees some potential in it – as a possible gateway to the Sahel in Africa.
The Russian Foreign Ministry explained in a statement published on its website that Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries was mainly aimed at settling regional conflicts and preventing the spread of terrorist threats and combating terrorism. growing on the continent. It should be noted here that Russia, in its Africa strategy, is also reportedly considering building military bases on the continent.
In recent years, strengthening military-technical cooperation has been part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Russia has signed a bilateral almost military-technical cooperation agreement with many African countries. Researchers say he plans to build military bases as this article has explicitly reported, among others.
Research professor Irina Filatova of the Moscow Graduate School of Economics explains in an e-mail discussion that “Russia’s influence in the Sahel has increased just as French influence and aid has declined. particularly in the military field. It is up to African countries to choose their friends, but it would be better to deal directly with the government, than with (the mercenaries of the Russian group) Wagner, whose link with the government was hardly recognized.
In very specific cases, she suggested unreservedly: “If they wanted the Russians to come and fight the Islamist groups, it would be much better to ask the government to send regular troops. Wagner’s vigilantes are not accountable to anyone, and the Russian government can refuse to take responsibility for anything they do if something goes wrong. “
According to many experts and researchers, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – thousands are estimated – would jeopardize other external commitments in the fight against terrorism, and would limit development aid from international organizations.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has often spoken out against such collaboration, the use of Russian mercenaries in Africa. Instead, he suggested that the continued creation and deployment of the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the United Nations Integrated Strategy (UNIS) for the Sahel could bring tangible progress. The countries of the region are particularly encouraged to adopt, with the support of international partners, the measures necessary to fully implement the development support plan for the region.
The Sahel-Sahara, a vast semi-arid region of Africa separating the Sahara desert to the north and the tropical savannas to the south, is as much a land of opportunities as of challenges. Although it has abundant human and natural resources, offering enormous potential for rapid growth, there are deeply rooted challenges – environmental, political and security – that can affect the prosperity and peace of the Sahel.
For this reason, the United Nations has developed a unique support plan targeting 10 countries to step up efforts to accelerate prosperity and lasting peace in the region. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The creation and deployment of the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the United Nations Integrated Strategy (UNIS) for the Sahel could bring tangible progress.
It is best to consider national and regional institutions, bilateral and multilateral organizations, the private sector and civil society organizations to work towards the operationalization and implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on the issue. Sahel aimed at achieving regional peace, and further accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).