The G5 Sahel summit next Sunday in Bamako is likely to serve as a turning point in the years-long struggle for security, in a region where the threat of terrorism has only appeared to deepen and armed ethnic and jihadist groups remain firmly entrenched. The G5 nations – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – will be joined by French President Emmanuel Macron, who plans to attend. It will be the second such visit for Macron, who visited Mali in May immediately after his election win.
This time, though, the G5 will be focused on moving forward following a United Nations Security Council “welcome” of the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S) on June 21. The UNSC resolution gives the go-ahead for a counterterrorism effort of up to 10,000 military and law enforcement personnel drawn from the G5 nations, while also placing responsibility for resources and funding squarely on the regional G5 body.
Who will pay for the effort, and how, is a core concern for both the implementation and efficacy of the FC-G5S. The creation of the joint force is supported by France and extends its commitment to security in the Sahel; the resolution itself was introduced by the French, who welcomed even the tepid approval of UNSC that followed extended negotiations made necessary to ease the objections of the United States.
“Through this resolution, the Security Council expresses its wholehearted support for an African initiative on combating terrorism and calls on the entire international community to lend its support,” said French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in his statement. “Peace and security are a major priority for France, which is engaged alongside its African partners in the fight against terrorism, notably through Operation Barkhane.” About 4,000 French military personnel currently serve in the G5 Sahel nations, where the country has maintained a presence engaged in anti-insurgent efforts since January 2013.
Who’s paying for a G5 Sahel Force, and will it work?
The African Union (AU) backed the FC-G5S in April, and AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat was quick to praise the UNSC decision while thanking the European Union for its €50 million financial commitment to the force. Yet the overall budget is an estimated USD$600 million, the U.S. has made clear it objects to funding another UN mission, and already Chad – home to the Barkhane headquarters at N’Djamena – has signaled that it may withdraw troops by next year if the resources aren’t there.
“One cannot have forces in the G5 Sahel and at the same time in another mission on the same theater,” warned President of Chad Idriss Deby, president of the key Western ally, in an RFI-TV5-Le Monde joint interview on Sunday, referring to the 1,400 Chadian soldiers serving with the UN’s MINUSMA force.
“We have reached the limit of our limits,” Deby said. “We cannot continue to be everywhere, in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali and monitor 1200 kilometers of border with Libya. All this costs too much and if nothing is done, Chad will unfortunately be obliged to withdraw.”
Deby’s remarks, whether intentionally alarming or not, do illustrate both the funding question and the formidable challenge of establishing the FC-G5S. The force is to coordinate with MINUSMA, France’s own units, European Union training missions, Mali’s own forces, and any overlap with AU roles. For example, the joint Liptako-Gourma operations, launched in regions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger where security has deteriorated, are likely to be absorbed into the FC-G5S, but no one’s sure what that will look like.
They’re also unsure if it will work. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, CEO at the International Crisis Group, wrote in an open letter to the UNSC in April warning that adding a new force “risks aggravating what amounts to a security traffic jam.” Adding to the complexity are growing concerns over the historical role of UN peacekeeping forces, which has shifted in Mali because of the unabated terrorism threat, and aid organizations unprepared and unequipped for insurgents who no longer recognize their role as noncombatants.
A fragmented Mali with no room for more risk
Yet it is the ever-shifting goals and allegiances of the armed militant and jihadist groups themselves that have made implementation of the peace agreements so elusive, and the conflict and its consequences impossible to control.
Each day appears to illustrate the futility of eradicating the threat of al-Qaeda linked jihadists, tenacious Tuareg rebels, their aligned-or-not counterparts from multiple ethnic tribal groups, and drug and human traffickers who maintain similar allegiances or none at all. While there are optimistic views on the 2015 Mali peace accord – with analysts noting that some initial interim authorities and joint patrols began earlier this year – warnings of its fragmentation and potential failure cannot be overstated.
Meanwhile, the attacks continue: In June that included fatalities at a Bamako resort, a MINUSMA base in Kidal and a Malian Armed Forces base in the Gao region. The volatility underscores the need for considerable costs to be borne, and why the stakes for Europe and the West remain high enough for the international community to accept some responsibility for them.
Deby’s view that the West’s role in North Africa helped to create the security crisis, and that wealthier nations must contribute more to securing peace in the Sahel, may be calculated but it’s also correct. On the other hand the FC-G5S is a solution that creates new problems, in a scenario where there’s no more room to gamble on the risks.
That’s not just true for the region, but for European security and France in particular. Macron’s attendance at the G5 Summit will reinforce the nation’s considerable investment in stabilizing the region, advancing the Mali peace accord and arguing the case for the G5 Sahel Force. Yet who’s paying for it all – and what shape that investment takes, and what value it delivers to its many stakeholders – remains to be seen.
Image: Forces Francaises/Operation Barkhane