Thursday

24th Sep 2020

Column

In the Sahel, France deserves the support of Europe

The coup in Mali, the second in eight years, again raises the question of where the region is headed and how European countries could contribute to stability in the region.

The disaster in the Sahel, the area south of the Sahara desert, is spreading further. Violence, poverty and drought have driven millions of people to flee. French attempts to cut off terrorist groups are not enough.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • France deserves support, Jonathan Holslag writes. Terrorism in the Sahel is a threat to all of Europe

When Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected president of Mali in 2013, there was a moment of hope that he would fight against corruption and mismanagement. Foreign aid agencies pledged tens of millions of dollars to support good governance in Mali.

But Keita turned out to be a disappointment. "He was a weak president, without the vision and energy to run the country," suggested a former French ambassador in the newspaper Le Monde.

Regardless of whether the president had the energy to rule, the question is whether he ever really had the power to rule.

Winning elections is a business; but when a large part of your country is in the grip of terrorist groups and even some 15,000 foreign soldiers fail to contain them, what can one expect from a president who barely has an army worthy of the name?

Not to mention the economic challenges.

Half of the Malian population is under the age of 18. About 90 percent of the working population depends on the informal sector. Gross domestic production per capita is below $1,000.

Donors are pumping money into Mali. Europe is trying to help Mali to make agriculture more competitive.

The fact remains, however, that this aid is dwarfing what donor countries earn from Mali through trade. The European trade surplus with Mali is about $1.2bn; the Chinese $300m.

Without economic stability, there is no political stability, and without political stability it remains difficult to prevent more young men from being caught by terrorists and other armed gangs.

In the report Journey to Extremism in Africa, the United Nations a few years ago already confirmed the link between factors such as unemployment and the willingness to fight: 'work' is the most frequently-mentioned reason for joining a terrorist group.

With tens of millions of poor in the Sahel, the potential recruitment pond for terrorists is even larger than in the Middle East.

After the coup in Mali, Paris is trying harder to convince other European countries to send troops. The French soldiers in and around Mali are on the gums.

China and Russia are strengthening their position. More and more you hear that the Sahel could become the "Afghanistan" of Europe: geopolitical quicksand.

Still, France deserves support. Terrorism in the Sahel is a threat to all of Europe. But in addition to the military approach, we should aim at a European level for a review of our development cooperation and economic relations.

We have to get rid of the pattern in which we pump development aid without giving entrepreneurs and small farmers a chance. Perhaps we should give African countries some protectionism, put a brake on our own exports in order to give space to agriculture and industry there.

Instead of only collecting unprocessed cotton in Mali, we could try to build a textile industry there. The military camps will certainly be needed for some time to come; but let's at least build a sizeable industrial zone next to it.

If Europe wants to have a chance to bring back some stability and keep some ground against other powers, it must learn to be a better partner. Doing what we are doing is not an option; neither is turning your back on the Sahel.

Author bio

Jonathan Holslag teaches international politics at the Free University of Brussels.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU-Sahel talks next week amid 'unprecedented attacks'

Officials from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are meeting EU foreign, defence, and development ministers next week in Brussels. The visit comes amid "unprecedented levels" of armed attacks, says the UN.

Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told the EU in Brussels that the lack of vision and planning following the Nato-led bombing campaign in Libya helped trigger the current migration and security crisis.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium: masks no longer mandatory from October
  2. Report: China built 380 Muslim internment camps
  3. Belgian government formation in final phase
  4. Lukashenko sworn in at secret ceremony
  5. Study: No-deal Brexit more costly than corona for UK
  6. Polish miners in underground protest against energy plan
  7. EU animal farming emits more CO2 than cars
  8. Navalny leaves Berlin hospital after poisoning attempt

How EU can help end Uighur forced labour

A recent report noted apparel and footwear as the leading exports from the Uighur region - with a combined value of $6.3bn [€5.3bn] representing over 35 percent of total exports.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU migration pact to deter asylum
  2. 'Era of EU naivety ends', MEP pledges on foreign meddling
  3. Anti-mask protesters pose challenge for EU authorities
  4. EU 'failed' to safeguard civic freedoms during pandemic
  5. The corruption fuelling the Bulgaria protests
  6. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  7. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  8. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us