Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Sahel Crises

In a briefing released  Jun. 10, Amnesty International painted a picture of rife insecurity in the Sahel, with a civilian population “trapped between attacks by armed groups and ongoing military operations”. The combination of rife insecurity, food insecurity and more than 7.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance has left the Sahel a region in crisis, with the global coronavirus pandemic expected to exacerbate the situation.

The briefing, titled ‘They Executed Some and Brought the Rest with Them: Civilian Lives at risk in the Sahel’, details the grave reality in the region, especially across Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, including “at least 57 cases of extrajudicial executions or unlawful killings, and at least 142 cases of enforced disappearances” that have allegedly been committed by soldiers between February and April.

The organisation stated that in Mali and Burkina Faso the deliberate killing of unarmed citizens by security forces could be counted as war crimes.

  • The Western Sahel has been in the grip of a security crisis since 2012, when Tuareg rebels in Mali grouped together in an attempt to administer a new northern state called Azawad. 
  • The attempt failed, after intervention from French troops in 2013. However, local groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State continue to spread violence across the region.
  • A multinational military force from the G5 Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger has attempted to control the violence since 2017.
  • France has retained a military presence in the region.
In a recent United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) high-level talk about the region where Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the current situation in the Sahel region was “in every sense of the word a crisis”.

Rajasingham noted that between 2019 and now, the region experienced an exponential rise in its need for humanitarian assistance: with 7.5 million people in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali requiring assistance — up from 6.1 million just a year ago. 

He added that issues such as food insecurity and displacement of people were adding to this need, and that 5.5 million out of 12 million people in the larger Sahel are “just a step away” from “emergency levels of food insecurity”. 

“These are the highest levels of food insecurity we have witnessed in this region in a decade,” he said. “The socio-economic fallout from COVID-19 is likely to double these numbers.”

According to Ousmane Diallo, a Sahel researcher at Amnesty International, the COVID-19 pandemic “is not the defining feature in the region due to its emergence but it constitutes another challenge that different governments must contend with”.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and Vice Chair of U.N. Sustainable Development Group said; “Before the onset of COVID-19, the central Sahel region was trapped by protracted conflict, violent extremism, competition over accessible lands and water and the [dangers of] climate change with temperatures rising at one and a half times faster than the global average.”

According to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, violent activity involving militant Islamist groups in the Sahel has doubled every year since 2015. 

The academic institution noted that since 2013, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have doubled their military budgets, amounting to a total of some $600 million.

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