Despite the determined efforts by West African leaders to intervene militarily to end the insurgency in Northern Mali, experts are worried that it may take more than military action to guarantee security.These fears were expressed on Wednesday in Abuja at the Abuja Debate organized by Fredrich-Ebert Stiftung ,FES at Transcorp Hilton.The episode ,the third in the series was titled:The Sahel in Upheaval:Long-term Perspectives on Security in North and West Africa.
It could be gleaned from the panelists and the discussants that good as military intervention may seem, more fundamental steps are required to guarantee security in the Sahel.The paradox of the Mali conundrum came into bold relief, as it was noted that until this crisis blew open, Mali was thought to be one of the most stable countries in the sub-region. This latest flare- up in deed has been viewed as a fallout of bottled up problems which resulted from a much deeper malaise ,that apparently cuts across several countries in the region.
The tone for the discussion yesterday was set by Thomas Mattig, resident representative, FES Nigeria when he said, “With the current upheavals in the Sahel zone,an impending ECOWAS military intervention in Mali and fears about an Islamist hotbed in the region,we sometimes lose sight of long –term perspectives. We tend not to ask why this region is troubled by military coups which,in other parts of Africa ,have become a thing of the past.We tend not to ask why the level of corruption and repression is so high and what can be done against it.”
Mattig added ,”Our goal tonight is tonight (Wednesday night) is to take care of that :To discuss the long- term perspectives for the region and beyond the most immediate questions.To try and understand the slow, underlining tectonic shifts that are occurring rather than just react to the short term Tsunamis that strike this restive region. Only this will enable us to develop appropriate policies and find lasting solutions instead of quick fixes”
The FES representative also told the audience that the organization was also holding a related dialogue at the National Defence College, Abuja. “We want to both share with you and enrich the results of the ongoing ‘Abuja Dialogue’ that we are currently at the National Defence College here in Abuja .The dialogue ,which brings together participants from nine countries to draw out possible future scenarios for the regions will close tomorrow(today, Thursday).The recommendations will be discussed ,validated and used for advocacy in 2013,” Mattig said.
Among the panelists at the Abuja Debate were Dr Kwesi Aning, Ms Berangere Rouppert, Dr Maru Mehari and Hon.Osei – Mensah, while Professor Sesay Amadu of Obafemi Awolowo University,Ile Ife served as the moderator in what turned out to be a very insightful night.Dr Kwesi noted that the crisis in Mali is a product of a long series of challenges.He said the Mali situation is a constellation of forces, a confluence of criminal influence and gangster jihadists now interfacing with big business.Though the military intervention may be good, he expressed worries over several challenges including what the likely mandate of ECOWAS force would be.Is it a stabilizing force?And really does Mali have a standing army for ECOWAS troops to relate with? Kwesi asked.
Dr Maru harped on the nature of contemporary states in Africa as part of the issues.Some states have been undermined and delegitimized.He noted that rather than states serving as protectors of the people most states are stronger on as police state apparatus while they are very weak in the area of protection of society and legitimate exercise of power.Such weak states do not deliver on legitimate power .In consequence, failure in delivery of service, ungoverned areas are left in its trail. He also noted that capacity for states to deliver services should be the main focus.A point he highlighted when he said failure of political institutions have helped to compound the conundrum.There is also the question of the vulnerability of the people.Maru said “violent activism will be there unless we deny it the breeding grounds”.Africa’s army of unemployed and unemployable youth also deserve attention, he said.On the Mali , Maru noted much to the delight of the audience that the intervention must have and exit strategy so that there would be no more extension of mandate or so.
Ms Ruopert spoke on the aspect of external interests in the region.She noted the growing interest of China,Italy,India and South Korea there.Also she said the US interest in the region grew after the cold war for several reasons.The US has been forging partnership to address development and security challenge and to check jihadists.They have been working to weaken terror groups and attack the root cause of radicalism.
The EU she said is interested in the region for geographic and economic reasons and even emotional attachment as well as energy considerations.With the Russian gas crisis, the need to find alternatives became evident and EU’s solar energy plans also make the sahel (with its sun) important to Europe as well .She noted that Europe has faced some challenges in its response to the crisis in the area, citing a meeting with a EU official by four sahelian ministers.When the EU official suggested the need to assist the sahel misters with training for judges ,they rejected it saying that was not the priority as they(sahelians) preferred arms. Much as Europe may be willing to provide capacity building assistance, is the sahelian region ready to accept? She asked. Commenting on the issue of external partners,Dr Kwesi wondered whether the foreign partners were even willing to listen to the sahelian leaders. Professor Sesay said some may even question the motives of some partnerships.
Hon,Osei Mensah remarked that in the Sahelian crisis, Europe no doubt has very serious interests but ‘sometimes the interventions we see do not benefit us..Motives are under cover and at the end of the day we only scratch the surface of the problems’ . He added that if the partnerships could be done jointly a strategy to arrest problems could be found .If the root causes of the problems are not tackled, they could resurface , he noted as he emphasized the need for collaborative efforts with interested partners.
Speaking on the challenges facing the region, Ose-Mensah said the democratic governance problems led to the crisis.Most democracies in the region are young and fragile having just come from several years of military interventions.He recalled that until this crisis,’Mali was considered one of the stable,hardly did we know it was most fragile’.Therefore, he suggested that there was the need to look at the type of governance system.You will realize that in the region, the executive arm of government has dominant role over the judiciary and the executive.
On the ECOWAS intervention plan, he noted that there was a clear cut road map for the mission which would culminate in democratic government.In the arrangement that will follow, efforts will be made to bring on board and unite all the security forces in Mali.He also pointed out that the problem in Northern Mali has its historical antecedents as the Tuaregs had in the past attempted to create their state.So while going to intervene,there was the need to look at the fundamental problem.
During the discussion some expressed doubts about the possibility of military intervention solving the problem in Mali.There was also the issue of failure of governments to honour agreements reached with groups which have led to vicious cycle of insurgency in the region.In Mali , one of the discussants asked which mproblem is ECOWAS going to tackle as there has been the twin challenge of Azawad republic in the north and the menace posed by the jihadists as well. A combustible mix in deed said to have been compounded by the seeming ethnicisation of the crisis.Also the attention of all and sundry was drawn to the fact that Mauritania,,Burkina Faso,Niger,Algeria and Libya have specific interests in the Malian and Sahelian crises.Their positions on the issues need to be understood properly to guarantee success.
It was in indeed another rich and rewarding debate about the unfolding crisis.And it is hoped the stakeholders will draw from the suggestions proffered.