Africa in crisis
Almost all the current conflicts in Africa are concentrated in the region north of the equator1, and more particularly in the immense Sahara-Sahel region that stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea across more than ten countries.
This corridor linking the two oceans is the area between the Mediterranean and Black Africa where north meets south, but above all it marks a real racial divide, with grazing lands to the north and farming areas to the south. The Sahel crosses ten states in which a “white” north is artificially brought together with a black south.
Formerly the point of arrival and departure for trans-Saharan trade, and these days for all kinds of trafficking, the Sahel, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, is ablaze with long-standing and resurgent conflicts.
The two major causes of this region’s conflicts are:
1. Artificial borders forcing the peoples of the north and south, between whom there are major disputes, to live together;
2. Universal suffrage based on the principle of “one man one vote”, the ethno-mathematical result of which is to automatically give the power to the numerically strongest group, in this instance the southerners.
These crisis-generating factors are present in the entire Sahel region, from Mali to Niger and from Chad to Nigeria. In Mali recently, Islamist fundamentalism has opportunistically latched on to northern political aspirations. The north-south conflict is therefore indeed the key to an understanding of the region’s problems.
The areas of the Sahel that are currently the most under threat are the Mali-Niger region, Nigeria and Chad, but we must also take a short look at the current burning conflict in Central Africa and consider its relationship with the other zones.
Operation Serval, whose main result has been to permit southern Mali to recommence colonising the north, has done nothing to eradicate any of the root causes of the recent conflict. The non-settlement of the Tuareg question only puts off the problem whilst aggravating it. Indeed, nothing has been decided about the necessary administrative reorganisation of Mali, now that the French army has retaken the towns of the north.
The problem is as follows: Bamako wishes to re-assert its authority over the north, but cannot do so without the French army, and the Tuareg who started the war are demanding extensive autonomy and are refusing the deployment of the southern army in the region of Kidal.
As long as the Tuareg issue remains unresolved one major pitfall must be avoided. Those who a matter of weeks ago denied the Tuareg problem are now according disproportionate importance to it in territorial terms. Indeed, the Tuareg do not occupy the whole of the Malian Sahara, but only a part of it, the west of Azawad being an Arab or Arabised zone. Azawad has three main population groups within each of which there are numerous sub-divisions:
- the Tuareg who are Berbers occupy the north-eastern part of the region;
- the Moors – Arabised Berbers or descendants of the Arab Hilalian tribes (Beni Hilal) – live in the western part, forming an ethnic and political continuum with the tribes of Mauritania;
- the Songhai, Peul and some Tuareg live in the Niger River region.
The question of Nigeria
The vast region covered by Nigeria-Niger-Cameroon has become a veritable Sahelistan spilling over from Nigeria into Niger, Cameroon and a small part of Chad, via the Hasa/Fulani/Kanuri-populated areas. These over-populated regions provide a breeding-ground for all kinds of negative forces: to the north, Libya is unable to control its south, to the east is the ongoing hotspot of Darfur and to the south, Nigeria is engaged in an ethnicreligious civil war.
The whole of the north of Nigeria is ruled by Sharia law. This region’s geographic, anthropological, ethnic, historic and religious realities thus make it fertile ground for the Islamists of the fundamentalist movement Boko Haram that has exercised a reign of terror in the north of Nigeria since the end of the first decade of the 21st century and whose influence extends beyond the borders of Nigeria.
The Nigerian authorities, which for a while seemed at a loss in the face of the Jihadists, are now waging a real war that is perceived by the north as an attack by the Christian south. Thus three Nigerian States (Borno, Yoba and Adamawa) sharing borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon are at war. They have declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew from dusk to dawn. Since 16 May 2013, the Federal Army has been engaged in an offensive against the Boko Haram combatants who have whole areas under their control. The Federal Army has been unable to regain control of them.
Boko Haram broadly exploits the political frustration of the northern élites, who do not want to see the country run by a Christian from the south in the person of President Goodluck Jonathan: a reversal these past few years of the balance of power between the north and south.
Previously the northerners controlled the administration and army, which meant that they held the power and could use the country’s oil revenues to their own advantage. Today, with southerners at the head of the country, the northerners have been politically sidelined: they have even lost control of the army. The Muslim fundamentalists who control the north of Nigeria are trying to exacerbate the rift between the north and south in order to impose independence for the north, which would then become a theocratic state in the tradition of the 19th century emirates, with all the geopolitical consequences that this would entail for the region.
Can the Chadian bastion resist?
In Chad we find the same regional ethnic-geographic divisions, with the Islamised desert region of the north pitted against a Christian or animist agricultural south. On top of that there is a simmering conflict within the north.
Chad, plagued by ongoing, latent and potential conflicts, faces four major challenges whose outcome will be decisive for the stability of the region as a whole: President Idriss Déby Itno’s succession and the unresolved crisis in Darfur; the Toubou-Zaghawa rivalry and the Sudanese government crisis.
The solution can only be a political one
This goes for the whole Sahel region – no military solution is possible unless there is genuine cooperation with the armed forces of the neighbouring countries in which fundamentalists find ethnic continuity and seek refuge when they come under threat. Yet any attempts at coordination in this area run up against political and logistic problems that are well nigh insurmountable under the current circumstances.
The only possible solution is a political one; it presupposes a readiness to recognise ethnic and territorial realities and to abandon the diktat of democracy imposed by the West. Indeed, nowhere in Africa have ethnic divides been bridged by elections, for these in reality are nothing but live-scale ethnic opinion polls that only confirm the ethno-mathematical picture.
Nowhere in the region has the north-south problem been resolved; that being so, the root causes of the conflicts in the Sahel are likely to persist for a long time to come.
Central African Republic (CAR) – risk of genocide
(ed/AK) In 2013 the latent crisis in the Central African Republic again erupted into violence between Muslim Seleka rebels and the Christian population.
In August 2013, with the country’s government powerless to keep law and order, especially in the capital, Bangui, France urged the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) to step up their efforts to put a stop to the ongoing human rights violations. But with the AU peacekeeping mission unable to restore security, French President François Hollande decided to change his position of disengagement and to strengthen the French troop presence in CAR: he increased it by almost 1000 soldiers upon receiving the UN Security Council’s authorisation on 5 December 2013. French soldiers immediately began to patrol in Bangui and were able to prevent a slaughter. In February 2014 the EU Council decided to send its own crisis-management forces to the CAR (see also p. 51). Since then Europe has been struggling to bridge the troop and equipment gap in order to put together a sufficient force to fulfil its promise of a military operation to restore security in the country.
 With the exception of the Kivu region, which straddles the equator.