ANALYSIS-Africa's Sahel scrambles to avert slide "into hell"
Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:25pm GMT
* Africa's fragile Sahel uneasy at West's Libya role
* Regional support hampered by Algeria-Morocco rivalry
* Chad general warns of "a descent into hell"
By William Maclean
MARRAKECH, Morocco, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Regional rivalries and doubts about
Western intervention are hampering efforts by Africa's fragile Sahara-Sahel
zone to prevent remote desert areas destabilised by Libya's war from
becoming safe havens for al Qaeda and international criminals.
Some of the world's poorest countries such as Mali, Niger and Mauritania are
scrambling to secure international expertise to shore up crumbling state
authority in the face of an influx of weapons and fighters from Libya's
Counter-terrorism experts are concerned that al Qaeda gangs, enriched by
ransoms paid for Western hostages, are exploiting growing lawlessness to
push their influence southwards, possibly into OPEC power Nigeria, Africa's
most populous nation.
Chadian General Adoum Ngare Hassan told a security conference in Morocco at
the weekend that if Maghreb states span out of control their neighbours
could face "a descent into hell".
The general, responsible for protecting Chad's borders with Niger, Libya and
Sudan, suggested the West bore much of the responsibility for regional
disarray through its support for the revolt in Libya, a country now risking
While there is agreement in the international community on the urgent need
to help Sahelian states with security, in practice it is proving very hard,
analysts and diplomats say.
The principal reason is a long-standing rift between Arab Maghreb neighbours
Algeria and Morocco, a fact that frustrates many in the region because by
common consent these two countries are best qualified to help their weaker
Both countries are heavyweight intelligence and military powers, but they
are also rivals, and an impasse in relations means they do not operate the
sort of joint security cooperation in their Saharan backyard that could
really make a difference.
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Jean-Francois Daguzan of
France's Foundation for Strategic Research told Reuters: "If there is no
Algerian-Moroccan agreement on the security of the Sahel, there cannot be
true security, simply because the terrorists will use this fundamental
fault. It's a major problem."
"THREAT OF CHAOS"
As a result Sahelian states may have to rely increasingly on Europe and the
United States for counter-terrorism support, an uneasy prospect for
countries combatting al Qaeda militants who seek to portray regional
governments as stooges of the West.
But there is disquiet too, about the West's muscular role in Libya, and some
delegates said the issue of how much Western help the Sahel should accept
was a delicate one.
Some countries blame the West for the chaotic end to Muammar Gaddafi's long
rule, arguing the disarray handed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb the chance
to obtain arms looted on its behalf from Libya, a feat the group has openly,
and proudly, disclosed.
There is resentment that British and French action removed a generous, if
fickle, donor to many African states and ended Libya's welcome for hundreds
of thousands of Sahelian workers whose remittances were an economic
Chadian General Hassan, whose country is a former Gaddafi ally now
struggling with the return of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing
Libya's turmoil, suggested that if the uprisings in north Africa span out of
control it would have a devastating impact on other parts of Africa.
Such a loss of control would "promote a descent into hell with incalculable
consequences as much for itself (the Maghreb) as for neighbours near and
The West now had a duty to provide training and logistical support to
African government forces who knew the terrain.
"It's high time the rich nations of Europe and America decided to help
Africa squarely in this critical, phase where (African) armed forces, even
if united, cannot tackle small groups of extremely mobile and elusive armed
It was also in the West's own interest to step up support.
"If terrorists of all sorts don't manage to pass through the defensive
meshes of the West, the porous frontiers of African states will provide them
a choice of opportunities."
His remarks reflected private sentiment among some delegates but others
cautioned a call for Western technical support should not be misinterpreted
as tolerance for Western meddling.
The ideal solution was for Algeria and Morocco to solve their main row -
over the future of the disputed territory of Western Sahara -- and help the
region fight al Qaeda, some said.
Modibo Goita, a professor at the Peacekeeping School in Bamako, Mali, said
Algeria and Morocco had to find a way to cooperate to better confront "the
threat of chaos emerging from their southern flank. Otherwise, they both
must prepare to encounter unavoidable foreign intervention".
Algeria and Morocco both deploy intelligence services in the Sahara's
semi-arid southern fringe where al Qaeda seeks a safe haven along the lines
of Yemen and Somalia.
But they are competitors more than collaborators, diplomats say. Lack of
trust narrows the flows of information that are vital to disrupting an
upsurge in smuggling and hostage-taking believed to be funding militants and
racketeers with links to criminal syndicates in West Africa, Europe and
Daouda Diallo Boubacar, a security researcher from Niger, suggested
increasing Western security ties would be imprudent.
"THREAT OF CHAOS"
"The best way of making the region unmanageable is to accept intervention in
the region. A solution must pass through the Maghreb and the Sahel," he
Until regional intelligence was improved, delegates said, it would be hard
to obtain timely and credible information about AQIM and its alliances to
political or criminal networks, such as its reputed link to Nigeria's
shadowy Boko Haram militants.
"AQIM is the ideal scarecrow for mafia networks and interests of regional
policy to confuse the issue and advance their pawns at will," said Jacques
Hogard, a former French military officer who runs an intelligence
Delegates said another big vulnerability exploited by AQIM, and anyone with
an interest in the region's disorder, was the region's poverty. One senior
Sahelian security officer said AQIM had bought the complicity or silence of
border guards, who normally might earn $500 a year, for $2,000 to $3,000 a
Another problem was what one delegate called a perennial problem of police
brutality, a factor behind European and U.S. calls for improvements in rule
of law and judicial performance.
But even progress on those issues was dependent on better coordination, for
example boosting economic cooperation and a sharing of best police practice,
A U.S. officer, who declined to be identified as he was not meant to talk to
media, said the region suffered "insufficient cooperation and resources, a
suspicion of motivations, and sometimes a purposeful misinterpretation of
Another Western official bemoaned "an utter lack of security architecture."
"WE COULD SEE U.S. DRONES"
James Hentz, professor of international studies at the Virginia Military
Institute, said that if the region continued to struggle against AQIM, it
was possible that in time "we could see U.S. drones in operation in the
region, with the request or permission of the sovereign states involved, as
we've seen them used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia".
In May, Mali announced that it, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria would set up
within 18 months, a joint force of up to 75,000 soldiers to secure their
region, based at joint command centre established in 2010 in Tamanrasset, in
But Morocco is not part of this venture, and information about progress in
assembling the force has been sparse.
France, which has 1,500 nationals in Niger and a further 8,500 in Mali and
Mauritania, warned this month that nowhere in its three ex-colonies could
now be considered safe following a series of kidnappings of its nationals by
gunmen working for al Qaeda, and advised French travellers to avoid the
Two separate attempts by French forces to rescue nationals from AQIM's grip
have ended in failure. And Western delegates said that ideally they wanted
any action on the ground in the region to be by African states.
Outsiders must not be "intrusive", French Defence Ministry deputy head of
strategic affairs General Jean Marc Duquesne told Reuters, adding "What is
really important is cooperation."
"It's really a question of south-south relationships, and we have to be
careful, countries, like ours, not to be intrusive about this. We must be
ready to help them, we must be ready to hear them, but we must be very
careful how to act with them."
(Editing by Diana Abdallah)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Mon Jan 23 2012 - 18:21:41 EST