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Prospects and Challenges for Peacekeeping in Africa Amidst Rising Security Threats

2024-05-16 09:57

Fuat Emir Şefkatli

#HornOfAfrica , #Militias , #Sahel , #Africa , #Terrorism , #PeaceOperations , #SecurityThreats , #Instability , #Peacekeeping , #RegionalConflict,

Prospects and Challenges for Peacekeeping in Africa Amidst Rising Security Threats

"Peace operations in Africa face significant challenges from terrorist organizations and militias, risking increased instability in Sahel and Horn of Africa"

Colonial-era boundaries, climate change, ethnic conflicts, and governance crisis between central and local authorities emerge as fundamental factors explaining the threats posed by terrorist organizations, militias, and local gangs in Africa. Civil wars and insurrections represent the manifestations of these threats, crystallizing the existing challenges within the continent’s political, military, and socio-political frameworks.

 

Recent years have witnessed significant political instability in the Sahel region (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger) and the Horn of Africa (Sudan, Somalia). It mostly stems from the increasing influence and territorial control of terrorist organizations and militias in regions where state and military structures are weak. Examples can be expanded as the control of significant territories in Sudan by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Al-Shabaab's economic equivalence to state revenues in Somalia, and the presence of ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups as "proto-states" in various parts of Mali. The expansion of such groups poses potential threats to the stability of more developed and "secure" countries across the continent.

 

Furthermore, the establishment of new 'ungoverned spaces' by diverse non-state armed actors facilitates their transition into more adaptable organizational structures, enhancing their capability in planning, organization, and recruitment. This adaptability provides a strategic foundation for potential terrorist attacks against Western targets, central to the ideology of groups opposed to the West. Many scholars and counter-terrorism experts contend that terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have redirected their focus from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to Sub-Saharan Africa due to significant losses in leadership and constrained access to financial resources. Given these dynamics, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa are regions that warrant scrutiny in the early months of 2024.

 

Somalia: Challenges in Combating Al-Shabaab in a New Era

Recent trends indicate a gradual cessation of military engagements by key international actors such as the UN, the EU, and the U.S. in various regions, including Somalia. It is anticipated that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), whose mandate expires in October 2024, will not be renewed. This development follows statements from the Somali government expressing a desire to independently address national security challenges post-UNSOM. The termination of UNSOM's mandate, which has been providing advisory services to the approximately 14,000-strong African Union Peacekeeping Force, will transfer the ultimate task and responsibility of counterterrorism responsibilities to the Somali military.

 

According to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), there has been a marked increase in 2024 in attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabaab and ISIS-affiliated groups, compared to the corresponding period in 2023. Despite this uptick, the Somali Armed Forces continues to face significant operational and strategic disadvantages in its ongoing conflict with Al-Shabaab. Notably, Al-Shabaab has expanded its base of support and militant capabilities over the last five years. At the same time, it enhanced its access to sophisticated weaponry and increasing its economic resources.

 

The role of UNSOM in Somalia has primarily focused on supporting peacebuilding initiatives, aimed at fostering stability and reconciliation. However, the projected withdrawal of UNSOM could potentially heighten the Somali government's reliance on U.S. military support in combating Al-Shabaab. The U.S. has been actively involved in undermining Al-Shabaab through training initiatives with the Danab Elite Commando Unit and targeted drone strikes. Nonetheless, the efficacy of the aggressive strategies employed by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), particularly those centered on elimination, in influencing Al-Shabaab’s resilience and adaptability, continues to be a subject of debate within security and policy circles.

 

Mali: Termination of EU Training Missions and Potential Security Risks

In the Sahel, a domino effect of military coups has spread across nearly all regional countries. The military regimes that have come to power, initially antagonistic towards France and subsequently the U.S., have moved towards regional power consolidation. It has paved the way not only for declining military support but also for political and economic sanctions.

 

The European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) decided to terminate its military training mission upon the expiration of its mandate, citing the "evolving political and security atmosphere". For about 11 years, EUTM Mali has operated in coordination with the Malian Army and the G5 Sahel Joint Force and contributed to the development of local forces in combating radical terrorist organizations such as Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). The mission has been conducted by approximately 700 soldiers from 20 EU member states.

 

Recently, during attacks in April by insurgent Tuareg armed groups, ten personnel from the CMFPR militia, which supports the Malian army, were killed. The Tuareg, who took control of Kidal in November 2023, along with JNIM and ISGS intensifying their attacks around Gao and the capital Bamako, are significantly challenging the capacity and capabilities of the Malian army. In response, the Malian military regime is increasing its pressure for the withdrawal of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) from the country. It is speculated that the role of security provider, vacated by Western peacekeeping forces, is largely being handed over to the Wagner Group or the newly established ‘African Legion’. Given the disproportionate interventions against civilians and past experiences on the continent, the extent to which these paramilitary structures can respond to the current unstable environment remains another subject of debate.

 

Niger: The U.S. Withdrawal Process and Regional Threats Following France

Mirroring the EU’s military drawdown, the Pentagon announced this week its decision to fully withdraw its 1,000 combat troops from Niger. This decision came in response to the Nigerien military regime's announcement in April about terminating its military cooperation with Washington, which prompted the U.S. to initiate discussions on a phased withdrawal plan. 

 

The Agadez base in Niger, recognized as Africa’s largest drone hub, has been instrumental in supporting AFRICOM’s counter-terrorism efforts across the continent. Although U.S. officials have yet to release an official timeline for the troop withdrawal, indications suggest that the process could extend over at least one year.

 

This strategic pullback is likely to complicate the Joe Biden administration's ongoing efforts to counteract the increasing Russian influence in West Africa. Furthermore, the cessation of U.S. support in Niger, a country navigating through a period of political and military fragility, is poised to amplify security threats stemming from neighboring countries. Following the military coup in July 2023, the Nigerien army's focus on central power to prevent a potential countercoup has led to the neglect of border security and the containment of rural violence. Consequently, this shift has precipitated a notable diminishment of military oversight, further compounded by the expanded privileges and collaborations afforded to Russian private military companies (PMCs), which have significantly eroded the military's operational control.

 

Finally, according to the 2023 Global Peace Index, which ranks 163 countries, the situations in Somalia (156th), Mali (153rd), and Niger (138th) underscore the potential inadequacy of local mechanisms in these countries to effectively address current threats. Despite contentious debates over their success or failure, the presence of international peacekeeping and peacebuilding actors helps maintain conflicts at a manageable level, preserves the balance of power among factions, and keeps authoritarian regimes under relative oversight. The suspension or termination of peace operations in the future could negatively impact the fragile security environment, potentially giving more room for terrorist organizations to operate.

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