Pr. Marc Lavergne, Senior Fellow Researcher (Emeritus) on MENA & Horn of Africa at the French National Center for Scientific Research (French).
The recent summoning by President Macron of the Sahelian leaders has been met with sharp popular criticism in France’s former colonies. The French president bluntly accused his African colleagues of lack of determination in the common fight against Daesh and its local epigones. But their offended reaction, although they are indeed for most of them devoted to French interests, – and therefore lacking internal legitimacy -, has joined the anger of the population against the inefficiency of the French army deployed in the Sahel for the past five years. These 4500 men are obviously to little to control a desert space wider than the whole of Europe ; they are therefore failing to chase the rebel armed groups, and even to protect the population from terrorist groups, as well as from increasing violent rifts between herders and farmers.
France has tried to train and motivate local armies, but with little success ; the issue is not so much about ability or armament than about motivation. Sahelian Africa more and more appears as failed states, and European countries are not enthusiastic in joining France in this peculiar “fight against terrorism”, likely considering that the issue is just the result of French post-colonial behaviour, since iindependance was granted to these countries back in 1960.
It is perhaps hard to admit, but the main cause of this collapse of Sahelian States lies in the fall and killing, on Nicolas Sarkozy’s initiative, of Mouammar al Kadhafi : the Libyan dictator was spending a good part of his oil wealth to support the national budgets south of the Sahara, while the Libyan economy was giving jobs to thousands of the youth of neighbouring countries. But it is little doubt that he was equally supporting the French president’s electoral campaigns… France, despite its abundant official aid for development, has done little, if any, effort to tackle the main challenges of these states : while desertification and climate change are easy to blame, little if any effort at all was put on education and health outside main cities. With a population doubling every 20 years, the focus should urgently be put on girl’s education and forbidding of early weddings,..as well as training youth for the jobs needed by an increasingly urban population. This would both solve the problem of employment of youth increasingly joining armed groups and traffickers, and that of massive and desperate outmigration towards Europe.