North Africa and Sahel under tension

North Africa and Sahel are under tension due to the political situation but also because they are on the agenda of the Islamic state and Al Qaeda who both look to extend their control over this region.

The Algerian uncertainties

Image of a protest in Algeria [Kazi UK/Twitter]

Algeria is in a very difficult social and economic situation, compounded by uncertainties surrounding the question of the succession of President Bouteflika.

As the third largest oil producer in Africa, the country is currently heavily affected by the decline in oil prices, which is sinking a cash-based economy that accounts for 96% of commercial revenues.

The social bomb has not yet exploded, it is only because the State subsidises the consumption of “disadvantaged classes” to the level of $ 60 billion a year

More severe than this cyclical downturn, the depletion of the oil reserves poses very serious threats to the future because, according to experts, in two decades Algeria will no longer have any oil to export. And yet, the country dedicates one third of its hydrocarbon revenues to import basic foodstuffs.

If the social bomb has not yet exploded, it is only because the State subsidises the consumption of “disadvantaged classes” to the level of $ 60 billion a year.

Furthermore, 20% of the GDP devoted to support housing, families, pensions and health needs to be added to this colossal sum. Subsidies granted by the State to imported food and energy products account for 30% of national GDP.

Politically, the issue of the presidential succession paralyzes the country and the entourage of President Bouteflicka has undertaken to purge the army and the security forces of those who did not pledge allegiance to him.

Morocco and its ambivalences

Political Demonstration in Morocco (Reuters)

Paradoxically, Morocco is the only Muslim state ruled by Islamists. After the elections of 2011, the legislative elections of October 2016 have indeed seen a new victory for the PJD (Party of Justice and Development) whose line is close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course, this is not a landslide since this party only controls one third of the seats in parliament, but because the Moroccan constitution provides that the winning party to the elections forms the government, Morocco will continue to be governed by an Islamist party.

These Islamists who have long fought the monarchy in the name of the universal caliphate seem to have finally rallied to the king “commander of the believers” (Amir Al Mouminine).

The essential question is therefore that of their degree of sincerity, key to the stability of the Kingdom, a pivotal country for regional balances.

The multi-faceted clashes in the Sahel

Political Demonstration in Mali (AP)

In Mali, Niger, south Libya, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, jihadism grafts itself on a double opposition, north-south between nomads and sedentary and north-north between Arabs, Tuaregs and Toubous. This last opposition does not concern space, pastures or water points as in the past, but traffics (gasoline, arms, drugs, migrants or refugees …).

To this cultural, political and economic cleavage, is added another, internal to the south, which opposes traditional Islam and Wahhabism.

In addition to the jihadist who feeds on the “wahhabisation” of society, Mali is going through two ethnic wars, one between Tuaregs, the other between Bambara-Dogon and Peul.

The first tears apart the Tuareg community. It opposes the nobles” Ifora who are the core of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) to their former Imghad tributaries, the GATIA (Groupe d’Auto-défense Touareg Omghad et alliés, or Tuareg self-defence group and allies), led by Colonel Ag Gamou.

After the north that escaped the Malian state, it is the centre of the country which is now in quasi-secession

Divided into multiple currents and dissents, the MNLA Tuaregs at the end of 2016, were almost besieged in Kidal their last bastion, by GATIA armed and supported by Bamako. The anarchy that flows from this situation naturally benefits jihadists.

After the north that escaped the Malian state, it is the centre of the country, the old historical Macina, which is now in quasi-secession. This huge area, flooded part of the year, is coveted by Dongon, Songhay or Bambara farmers, as well as by the Peul breeders, a population in which the FLM (Macina Liberation Front) was created, and which joins the jihadists on occasion.

Distraught and having lost control of the North and the Centre of the country, the Malian state is trying to outsource the issue to local ethnic militias, as in the North with Colonel Ag Gamou and its Imghad Tuaregs against the Ifora Tuaregs of the MNLA.

The Weakness of Niger

Djerma-Songhay People

Niger is tri-polar: the West is inhabited by the Djerma-Songhay (about 22% of the total population), the Centre by the Hausa (55%), the Tuareg inhabit the North (10% of the country’s population), while the Kanouri constitute about 5% of the population. The northern part of the country, towards the Libyan border, is the territorial extension of the three populations that clash in southern Libya, namely the Arabs, the Tuaregs and the Toubous. This soft underbelly is placed under the supervision of the French forces.

With Chad, Niger is the keystone of the stability of the entire Sahelian region. Located at the trafficking crossroads between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, at the junction of the terrorist hotbeds of the Saharan-Sahelian region (AQIM, MUJAO), of Nigeria (Boko Haram) and of those of Libya (Daesh ), the country is now threatened by a Toubou movement, the MJRN (Movement for Justice and Rehabilitation of Niger).

As the Toubous of Niger live in the East of the country, their entry into war would risk destabilising the entire region and weakening the French system articulated around the base of Madama. The Toubous and the Tuaregs are also competing for the control of the traffics and the exploitation of the Djado gold.

Depending on who will win in Libya, new junctions could be established. It is therefore critical to monitor the evolution of Saharan-Sahelian jihadism, the danger being that the fragmentation of ethno-traffickers encourages terrorist subcontracting, especially in southern Niger.

The Chadian region threatened by Boko Haram

Kanuri People – Chad

Boko Haram controls not only part of northern Nigeria, but also operates in Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Initially, its strategy was to exacerbate the divide between North and South of Nigeria in order to impose the creation of an independent theocratic North-eastern state. Following a break between the Hausas and the Kanuris, the latter forming the ethnic base of the movement, Boko Haram’s strategy changed. Its objective being the decay of the peri-Chadic region.

If this cross-border strategy was to succeed, the risk would be to see those of the Chadian Arabs who oppose President Déby join the movement, thus weakening Chad, a pivotal country of regional stability.

Severe blows against Boko Haram by the armies of Chad and Cameroon.

In the far north of Muslim Cameroon, we are witnessing an opposition between the dominant Peul Islam and Kirdi Islam, which is close to Wahhabism. A real shock between the religion of the conquering ethnic groups and that of the conquered ethnic groups. For the latter, conversion to Wahhabism and to the use of the Arabic language are the means of their historical revenge against the Peuls. They can thus consider themselves closer to the true Islam, the one of the Peuls being polluted by local animist influences.

The situation is taking a revolutionary turn, especially since Boko Haram operates in the region and that within the background is the Cameroon presidential election in of 2018.  Now President Paul Biya has been in office since 1982.

Once again, we are still measuring the consequences of the Western intervention in Libya and the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in 2011. The shock wave spread first onto the Sahara, then onto the Sahel, and then again onto many countries of Central Africa.

A region that has long been fragile and is likely to be totally destabilised for a long time.

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