Despite some modest military gains by the governments in the past few months, the political instability in many West African nations, especially in Burkina Faso and Mali, could risk all of that and plunge the entire region into chaos. The members of the G5 Sahel are holding a summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott this week to discuss the situation.
French President, Emmanuel Macron, will also attend the summit to discuss the ongoing campaign against violent jihadists in the Sahel, his office confirmed. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will likewise participate.
The G5 countries (Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Mali) are battling an increasingly violent jihadist insurgency that has displaced millions and caused thousands of deaths.
The military forces of the G5 work with and are part of the 5,100-man French-led coalition that has been battling the jihadists as part of Operation Barkhane since 2013. The French-led coalition has increased operations along the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger which both jihadists from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have been using as a sanctuary.
The French have also created a Special Operations Task Force -Takuba. The 500-man special operations task force trains, advises, assists, and accompanies local forces in their fight against terrorist affiliates in the region.
Takuba is comprised of units from France, Estonia, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, the U.K., and Sweden. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce this week, during the summit, that Italy will also send troops to the Takuba task force.
A month ago, French commandos killed the head of AQMI Abdelmalek Droukdal in an operation in the mountainous region along the borders of northern Mali and Algeria.
Yet, while the regional security situation has slightly improved, the political situation has made the overall picture “extremely fragile” according to French Defense Minister, Florence Parly.
Those feelings were reiterated by other officials of the French government. “All the progress that’s been made is fragile and can be put into question if the political momentum does not follow,” an unnamed French official said about the upcoming meeting.
“We see that in the Burkina and Mali context… So, what’s at stake is to put in guarantees so that these electoral contexts don’t weaken the gains that have been achieved.”
Speaking to the above, in Mali, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who was elected to a second term in 2018, is facing increasing criticism and widespread protests led by conservative imam Mahmoud Dicko. The massive protests of recent weeks are due to Mali’s corruption, a worsening economy, the crippling coronavirus, and a teachers’ strike. Political tensions have also arisen from a disputed legislative election in March.
Additionally, Burkina Faso will hold both presidential and legislative elections in November where incumbent President Marc Roch Kabore is expected to seek a second term against opponents challenging his leadership in failing to successfully defeat the insurgency.
Both countries are facing increasing attacks and their shared border has been a continuous hotspot of violence.