On January French President announced a new Coalition for the Sahel, to tackle with the security and development challenges in the region. But public debate in some countries about why so many organisations and countries are engaging in the region and what they hope to achieve has been lacking.
On January 13th in Pau, French President Emmannuel Macron announced a new Coalition for the Sahel , which will rest on 4 pillars of action : counterterrorism, military capacity-building, redeployment of state authority and development. Macron believes that there is a need for a stronger coalition in order to tackle the many challenges in the region. This is due to two factors: a change in the security dimension since the first French intervention in Mali in 2013, as now the number of armed groups has increased and such groups have spread across the region. Secondly, local support for the French mission Barkhane is rapidly decreasing, pushing Paris to search for broader participation from EU member states. The United States in turn, appear to be reluctant to act more forcefully, as Chief of Staff Mark Milley declared in Brussels after the summit.
Pau was chosen as the location for the Summit because seven of the thirteen French soldiers killed in Mali in a helicopter accident on November 25th last year were based there. This choice is emblematic of Macron’s view of the situation: French lives are being sacrificed to protect the citizens of the Sahel, as he declared at the news conference. The helicopters were supporting a ground operation fighting insurgents near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger. In light of this shocking incident it is more important than ever that France – and other countries engaged in the Sahel – assess the effectiveness of their strategy in the region to avoid suffering other losses in vain.
The accident occurred while the helicopters were reinforcing ground troops pursuing insurgents in the Liptako region, near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger. French forces first intervened in early 2013 at the request of the Malian government when insurgent groups gained control over the northern part of Mali. In 2014, France changed the nature of their operations with the aim of working with local and regional allies to prevent these groups from regaining control.
However, in the past few years, instability has continued and even increased. Since January 2019, more than 1,500 civilians have been killed in Burkina Faso and Mal i, and more than one million people have been internally displaced across the Sahel – more than twice the number of persons displaced in 2018.
In response, the French government has continued calls for help from regional and international actors. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was also established in 2013 to support political processes in the country and carry out a number of security-related tasks.