Africa Destined to Bleed Yet More! Any Remedy?
March 13, 2013
...but I tell you...out of this Nettle, Danger, we pluck this flower, Safety.
The African continent, characterized by its geopolitical and geo-economics significance, does not escape observers’
focus with its 54 nations, having cumulative fifth world largest economy, next to US, China, Japan and India. While ten
of the fastest developing economies are located in Africa, the continent is, nevertheless, plagued by multiple paradoxes
of threatening consequences. The state upheavals, insurgency, chronic human rights violations, child wars, dripping
poverty, drug trafficking, ethnic and ideological massacres eclipse its peace and stability potentials. “... way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst”, said Thomas Hardy. In modern era, perhaps it fits well on Sahel Region. Human dignity to the African masses stands
denied, a few islands of exception notwithstanding.
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Sahel Region lies between the latitudes 120 N and 200 N. The two latitudes run through parts of, from the east,
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. Possibly the recent
flurry of worries would stand substantiated a bit more if we turn the pages of history for a while. Some old sources
depict Sahel region historically a grey zone where peace and stability struggled to survive gaspingly between competing
empires. In globalized world politics, the region has become more relevant because of its emergence as a menacing hotbed
of organised crimes sprouting from its abject poverty. The scenario directly threatens the prosperous regions of
Europe/Eurasian continents through a short hop across the Mediterranean. Like Cicero, early Roman Republic, expressing
its anguish against high-sea pirates; can we label these crime perpetrators as enemies of human race? Such consensus
would be easy to achieve only if international community musters collective will to render collective response to the
The implicit and explicit narrative to counter brief but deadly inventory of threats directed against the African masses
as well as Mediterranean shores would be phase two of the response. The catastrophe, in fact, has already festered
within Sahel Region as phase one of the existential threats. Hence, assessing the task and pre-empting the challenges
would certainly be prudent strategy than waiting for knock by the monster. The print and electronic media has seen
particular hype in delineating the threat trajectory, emanating from Sahel region. Prevailing destabilizing environments
surface in nutshell as the bed-rock of the menace. Sahel region has remained marred by the extensive governance deficit
that exacerbated the miseries of masses over decades. Prolonged absence of writ of states prompted the clans to coalesce
inwardly to seek added security and settle scores with their foes. The tendency led to formation of organized armed
militias to redress their genuine or perceived grievances. Warlords flourished, at times out-weighing military
capabilities of the so called legitimate native regimes.
The region has also become heaven for the drug traffickers who operate with impunity through Colombian-Sahelian-Eurasian
cartels’ alliance. Illicit money enables terror gangs to flourish. Large segments of public, caught in the cross fire,
attempts to flee massacre and poverty. It results in ‘boat-loads’ of irregular immigrants on European shores with
dubious, if not criminal dossiers. Energy reserves and precious metals sites are subject of severe contention from
within and without. While Africa moans, theatre of war without boundaries has also emerged in this region. Market states
of consents are also grappling with transnational actors, inclined to wreak havoc as the Sahelian arena presents a
perfect breeding ground for militants. There will be no clear victors and hence no conventional victory parades but the
one staying the course would be winner, argued Philip Bobbitt. The region, in the wake of recent conflicts in Central
Asia, Middle East and North Africa, is likely to draw more debate than ever. The fact that it is in the cusp of crises
would be hard to deny. Elaborate strategies, modes and magnitudes to rescue it from the kind of a tragedy emerge as
daunting questions. Here the issue has been approached from Atlantic alliance perspective.
Inspirations and Inhibitions
US, Europe fraternity have its military capability harnessed by NATO that performed operational task in Afghanistan in
unison. US also has its dedicated forces ‘command’ for Africa as well. Though there is no dearth of military muscle, US
and Europe have to be on the same page while keeping UN on board. Concurrently, understanding among P-5 would be a
geopolitical prerequisite to help Sahel region manage its threats. Model interventions on humanitarian ground in Libya
and recent French military’s venture into Mali did draw some critique by the quarters that had reasons to sound their
dissent. The divergent approaches manifested themselves all too glaring in the context of Syrian crisis. In
predominantly Muslim world, spanning over Sahel from 20-90 percent of various countries’ population, Islamic Maghreb and
adjoining Middle East, some views, even shared by certain Western think tanks, are emerging to the contrary. The talk of
creating a threat-bogey by the powers that are inclined to trample Africa through resource wars is becoming
conspicuously shrilling. The patterns of recent conflicts have rendered the opponents strong arguments that (according
to them) overblown crises are in fact the pretext to grab African assets. At the same time, they argue that under the
hoax of Al-Qaeda and a contrived war on terror, another predominantly Muslim region would be targeted for achieving the
ends that have no relevance to the pretexts. US, in effort to enforce its values, has drawn considerable volley of flak.
It faces such allegations as crystallizing and aggravating the ongoing (rich) North-South (poor) dilemma, reviving the
crusades and above all, attempting to maintain hegemonic imperium. Even some credible western sources share such fears.
Sahel region however, sinking in a quagmire, bears threat of impending human catastrophe in the fold. It calls for
liquidating the menace in a decisive manner for humanity sake, disregard to the obtaining geo-politics, for and against
arguments. Question is how to do it while eliminating the threat and at the same time, maintaining universal credibility
Response Blueprint, Preparatory Posture
Employing military methodology, precisely assess the depth and magnitude of threat. A threat-prong aims inwardly at
Sahelian states. International community, with larger input from trans-Atlantic alliance, should firm up Sahelian
institutions’ functional capacities. Place their militaries’ sanitisation and modernisation at top of the agenda.
Through extensive consultations, bring all Sahelian states and their immediate neighbours on board about inevitability
of mustering collective response to achieve sustainable peace. Trans-Atlantic community should resort to diplomatic
surge to seek concert within and of all other stake holders from UN platform. Strategic effort must be supported by
strategic consensus. Second threat-prong aims outwardly at Europe, particularly its coastal states, Balkans and those
located on southern and south-eastern periphery. They need to up the ante. Thwart arms, human smugglers and drug barons’
attempts of reaping illicit bonanza. Adopt passive measures like enforcing stringent laws, surveillance, sweep and
search at Greece, Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian border entry points to deter them.
Establish Sahelian Command Centre (SCC), manned by the constituent states military experts and UN observers’ team, to
transmit real time intelligence, afforded by NATO, US African Command or any of P-5, to the military commands of the
regional states. Enable them to locate, interdict and possibly destroy the carriers, collaborators or perpetrators of
multifaceted organised crimes. The preparatory effort should be sanctioned by UN for a decade but subject to evaluation
and performance audit every three years. When the Sahel situation stabilizes, extend SCC role to other African countries
like Nigeria and Algeria to enable their governments to restore their writs, encouraging them at the same time to
address their discordant root causes. Concurrently, prompt the states to achieve demonstrable bench marks on way to
democracy that draws succour from absolute justice, free of shackles of class, creed, culture and faiths. Similar to
provisions of accountability of crime against humanity, evolve a universal set up like ICJ, to deal with stinking
corrupt rulers (Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents) anywhere in the world who remain out of the fragile net of
respective states accountability apparatuses. UN charter should recognize corruption as a crime against humanity.
Execution Posture, Create and Deploy Military Punch
The preparatory phase is likely to come across some hiccups. SCC would also become effective gradually after
coordinating and planting its tentacles with militaries of the host states. In the meantime, militaries of the region
could be in reorganisation and restructuring phase. Hence pool up adequate military capability to assist SCC forthwith
until it is capable of embracing the entire mission of war against rogue gangs with the help of native militaries.
Constitute a division size force under UN banner, requisitioned from African as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian
countries having proven professional forces system. Designate it as UN Quick Reaction Force (UNQRF). Dominate at least
three hotspots by virtue of its tactical positioning to straddle the entire Sahel region. Each segment of UNQRF’s
conduct of war effort should mutually reinforce others in impact. Integral mobility would enable them to react fast and
maintain an edge over the militant gangs and smugglers. Decision, whether UNQRF would need any additional reserve
component, say of brigade size troops, should be made contingent upon the final assessment of the magnitude of threat.
Commanders’ preference should focus on the desirability of creating an integral composite reserve within each of three
battle groups of UNQRF to afford them response flexibility for unforeseen contingencies.
NATO and US African Command must not commit any ground troops. Instead tasks like reconnaissance, coastal surveillance,
locate and destroy missions by air combat patrols in support of UNQRF should be assigned to them. For timely response,
the region’s air bases and others on the periphery should facilitate air support missions. Invite other powers like
Russia, China, Egypt, Israel, India, Pakistan, Australia and Indonesia to share the burden of Atlantic alliance’s
material resources needed for sustained air operations. Command responsibility for the conduct of all air operations
must be vested in the component that dominates the entire range of operations. More likely it would be US African
Command. SCC and UNQRF would be responsible to UN for updating it through independent and exclusive periodic briefings.
It would take Herculean diplomatic effort to evolve consensus and execute the proposition but it would be economical,
legitimate, non-partisan, quelling the critics and having silver linings to meet the challenges of Sahel.
Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, holds PhD degree in International Relations and is author
of a book (email@example.com