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Africa: coups, insecurity and declining Western influence in the Sahel

Africa: coups, insecurity and declining Western influence in the Sahel

In the Sahel, the expansion of military regimes and increasing instability are drastically reducing the influence of Western countries. In Africa, military coups have taken place in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Guinea, and Sudan since 2020, and in Niger and Gabon in 2023. The conditions for military coups are conducive to dysfunctional democracies, weak institutions, frustration with the poor governance of long-standing leaders, prevailing poverty, corruption, and insecurity. International and regional institutional responses (e.g. economic sanctions) make life harder for ordinary people but have no deterrent effect, while the success and impunity of military coups inspire the military in other African countries. There is a tendency for coup plotters to claim to be taking power on a temporary basis in the interests of the state and its people. However, they often later renege on agreements to return to the constitutional order. As military regimes struggle to hold on to power, the prospects for democracy become even more distant.

Growing instability and hostile sentiments reduce the West’s ability to influence the security situation in the region. The military juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have taken advantage of the antiFrench sentiment, which has grown in public opinion in recent years, and have also forced the withdrawal of French and international forces. In 2023, the West had to come to terms with the loss of Niger as a former security partner and a reduced capacity to conduct counter-terrorism operations in the region. The West’s footprint in the region has been reduced by the decision of these African states to expand cooperation with Russia.

The development of terrorist hotbeds and armed conflicts increases overall insecurity and the risks to Europe of increased terrorism and migration. The widespread presence of radical groups in Mali, Niger, and especially Burkina Faso poses a risk of terrorist attacks in neighbouring countries. After the withdrawal of a decade-long UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, the Malian army is being assisted by mercenaries of the Russian PMC Wagner to take control of northern towns. The breakdown of the peace agreement with local Tuareg groups in northern Mali risks a renewed armed conflict. This would increase instability in the region and provide an opportunity for radical Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to gain further ground.

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