Hell has no fury like the African Sahel, by Osmund Agbo

The Malian crisis is such a mess that has spread to the rest of the neighboring countries and today the result is a alphabet soup of terrorist groups and bandits, each fighting for domination of the Sahel. The UN has reported that the conflict has left more than five million children in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Sahel, which is the Arabic word for coast or shore, is the region of Africa between the Sahara Desert to the north and the tropical savannah to the south, and covers an area of ​​approximately 3,053,200 square kilometers. If the region was to be a country, it would have to be the fourth in the world. The semi-arid climate of the Sahel is dry, hot, sunny and windy, similar to that of the Sahara desert to the north, although less extreme. This means that the region experiences a short rainy season, with a very low amount of annual rainfall, followed by a very long dry season.

For hundreds of years, the Sahel region has experienced droughts. The effect of climate change, coupled with anthropogenic factors such as overgrazing and overpopulation of marginal lands, has caused increasing desertification, with associated large-scale food shortages leading to clashes between pastoralists and farmers. It is one of the main factors contributing to the violence and instability in the region, which terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have seized upon to recruit jihadists. Nowhere in the Sahel is this problem more widespread than in Mali.

In the 13th century, the legendary city of Timbuktu was an important trading center for the Malian Empire and it was the first entity to resemble modern Mali. It was a rich civilization with many resources and trade routes. Some of the goods traded included ivory, salt, slaves and especially gold. Mali was so rich in gold that at the time it accounted for half of all gold in the world. Resources were produced in the south and then transported from the north to the rest of the world, mainly by the Tuaregs. The Tuaregs are a large confederation of predominantly nomadic pastoralists who inhabit a vast area stretching from Libya to Algeria, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. A small group is also found in northern Nigeria.

This golden age ended when Europeans came and established a sea trade route. The French took over in 1893 and it was easier to transport goods by sea and therefore the trans-Saharan routes were abandoned. Northern Mali, with a large Tuareg population, lost its income and since then the economy has never recovered. The wealth gap between northern and southern Mali has widened and the pangs of poverty have become unbearable.

In the province of Mopti in central Mali, on the other hand, the intractable conflict between the agrarian communities (the Dogon and the Bambara) and the Fulani pastoralists (the Peuls) over access to land and water, is has been exacerbated since 2015. The United Nations responded by sending a contingent of peacekeepers to the region. Also, the G5 Sahel, a military force from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger …

Upon independence in 1960, the Tourareg ethnic group rebelled against the government of Mali, demanding that a separate homeland be known as the State of Azawad. They were unsuccessful in this quest, but without being discouraged, a group that called themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) carried out continuous efforts and tried again in 1990 and 2007. It was, however, only in 2012, with the help of arms obtained from Libya, that they became a serious force, threatening the peace of the entire country and the sub-region. During the Libyan uprising, many Tuaregs fought alongside Gaddafi, who made many juicy promises to them. With Gaddafi’s death this obviously did not materialize, but when they left Tripoli they took caches of sophisticated weapons with them, which they used to unleash a new wave of insurgency against him. government of Bamako.

This time, the Islamists have joined their efforts. Initially, the Tuaregs welcomed them, mistakenly believing that the first came only to free them. It soon became apparent to them that this was not the case. While the Tuaregs wanted a secular government with democratic ideals, the Islamists want a government that governs by sharia. The Tuaregs later decided they wanted autonomy and not separation from Mali and then joined forces with the government army to fight the Islamists. By this time, France, the former colonial power of Mali, had sent troops and chaos ensued, with too many fighting factions. France has serious interests in the region, as most of the uranium used to fuel its nuclear power plants comes from its two former colonies of Niger and Mali.

In the province of Mopti in central Mali, on the other hand, the intractable conflict between the agrarian communities (the Dogon and the Bambara) and the Fulani pastoralists (the Peuls) over access to land and water, is has been exacerbated since 2015. The United Nations responded by sending a contingent of peacekeepers to the region. In addition, the G5 Sahel, a military force from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger was formed with the support of France. Despite the 14,000 UN contingents and French troops, the situation is going from bad to worse.

The Malian crisis is such a mess that has spread to the rest of the neighboring countries and today the result is a alphabet soup of terrorist groups and bandits, each fighting for domination of the Sahel. The UN has reported that the conflict has left more than five million children in need of humanitarian assistance.

The question remains: where is Nigeria in all of this? There is no doubt that the crisis in the Sahel and the disaster we had to face in the Lake Chad basin, the fighting against Boko Haram and terrorist bandits, is a great continuum, yet the “giant of Africa »Has no seat on the table. where his fate is decided. The question is: when will Africa grow up to take ownership of its problems?

Much of the problem is that the UN peacekeepers have made a show of force but their mandate does not allow them to track down and eliminate the armed groups. There is also the accusation that, just like in the case of Libya, many foreign powers are only there to protect their own economic and political interests and nothing else. They were accused of deploying budgeted resources to comfort foreign troops, instead of assisting in the war effort. Frustrated, Mali now wants to bring in the Wagner group, a group of mercenary fighters backed by the Kremlin. This latest attempt sparked a war of words with the French government, fiercely opposed to the idea of ​​an underground Russian incursion.

The question remains: where is Nigeria in all of this? There is no doubt that the crisis in the Sahel and the disaster we had to face in the Lake Chad basin, the fighting against Boko Haram and terrorist bandits, is a great continuum, yet the “giant of Africa »Has no seat on the table. where his fate is decided. The question is: when will Africa grow up to take ownership of its problems, instead of going cap in hand each time, imploring the help of a few “benevolent” uncles, in the most appalling demonstration of naivety? Of course, we know that most foreign actors in many cases have purely sinister motivations or, at best, are motivated by selfish interests. But the truth remains that blaming Africa’s woes on others is a fad that has lasted too long. If you can’t pull yourself together, rest assured that someone will eat your lunch.

Prominent scholars and public intellectuals inside and outside the continent have built quite a career listening to us how West Africa has underdeveloped – which is true to a large extent. But isn’t that like berating Amazon for WalMart’s dwindling market share or for causing a retail apocalypse that has led stores like Sears, Blockbuster, Radio Shack to close their doors? This is what the competition is supposed to do. No rational human will help you rise above them, so that you can challenge their authority, take preeminence and dominate it over them. Besides offering a history lesson, how has the narrative of victimization helped change the African narrative for good? The cold truth is that Africa and indeed the entire black race must do the hard work and the bulk of the work required to rise above the ashes and take their place of choice among the committee of nations. This is what China, India and other civilizations have done. This is what Africa must do.

The Sahel was once home to the great Malian Empire which produced the legendary Mansa Musa, who is reputed to be the richest man in history. The historic city of Timbuktu is known as the seat of a great civilization and known worldwide as a center of international trade. The Sahel, before the recent crises, drew tourists to annual art and music festivals and even hosted motorsport gatherings. So you ask, when will those days be back and I’m not even referring to the return of the great kingdom. Guess we might have to wait, until the cows get home.

Osmond Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of the African Center for Transparency and the organizer of the Save Nigeria project. E-mail: [email protected]

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