- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says chaos in Africa’s Sahel leaves the area vulnerable to terrorism.
- Von der Leyen says the situation in the Sahel directly impacts Europe’s security and prosperity.
- The Sahel region has experienced eight coups across six nations, from Guinea to Sudan, in the last three years.
The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pointed an accusing finger at Russia for orchestrating the roiling chaos gripping Africa’s Sahel region.
In her annual speech to the European Parliament in Brussels today, she noted that military coups currently plaguing Africa’s Sahel region have been a destabilizing factor, increasing the zone’s vulnerability to terrorism.
Von der Leyen made it clear that the European Union must significantly enhance its engagement with African countries, as the situation in the Sahel directly impacts Europe’s security and prosperity.
“We need to show the same unity of purpose towards Africa as we have shown for Ukraine. We need to focus on cooperation with legitimate governments and regional organizations,” she declared.
Africa’s Sahel region troubling record of coups
Over the past three years, the Sahel region has witnessed an alarming surge in coups. In total, it has experienced eight coups across six nations, from Guinea to Sudan.
This unsettling trend has left both African policymakers and international actors such as the European Union deeply frustrated, as they grapple with how to respond effectively. The consequences of these coups are far-reaching, as they have uprooted over four million people, exacerbating the already record-high global human migration levels.
As Africa’s population continues to grow, coupled with worsening climate conditions, the Sahel crisis could lead to the displacement of millions more.
One of the most striking examples of this coup wave unfolded in Burkina Faso in 2022. It began when a 41-year-old lieutenant colonel led an attack on Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, blaming him for jihadist insurgencies.
However, the junta’s grip on power was short-lived. They swiftly lost ground to rebel forces, leading to a second coup led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, 34. Burkina Faso has a history of corrupt and repressive army rule, yet it also boasts one of the Sahel’s most vibrant pro-democracy grassroots movements.
Boko Haram in the Sahel region
In July, a coup occurred in Niger, where the country’s presidential guard overthrew and detained President Mohamed Bazoum. The turmoil in Niger represents a significant setback for the US, France, and other Western nations who have been engaged in a yearslong effort to combat extremist groups like Boko Haram in the Sahel region.
Niger has played a crucial role in this fight, as its strategic location has made it a key ally in efforts to counter the spread of extremism across West Africa.
The situation in Niger potentially offers Russia an opportunity to expand its influence in the Sahel region. Russia has been forging ties with military juntas in West Africa, primarily through its Wagner Group.
Russia’s growing presence in Africa’s Sahel region
By aligning with these regimes, Russia has been able to gain a foothold in the region and advance its geopolitical interests. The turmoil in Niger may create a vacuum of power and influence that Russia could seek to exploit, further complicating the already intricate web of international interests in the Sahel.
Chad experienced its own coup in 2021, following the death of President Idriss Déby, who had ruled for 30 years and aligned with international counterterrorism efforts. The coup was orchestrated by Déby’s son, Lieutenant General Mahamat Déby, who, at the age of 37, mirrored his father’s ascent to power in 1990. A “national dialogue” conference in 2022 was set up by the ruling military council to guide a transition to democracy.
In 2021, Guinea went through its latest three coups with the final led by Mamady Doumbouya, who is trained in the US and France. This coup was seen as an extension of democratic erosion caused by rampant government corruption during President Alpha Condé’s 11-year rule.
Gabon, like many countries, grapples with the need for democratic transparency and accountability to navigate its path toward stability and progress. In late August, Gabon, plunged into chaos as a coup led by soldiers in the country’s presidential guard, notably Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema. The coup unfolded against the backdrop of a long-standing issue of corruption within the ruling Bongo family and contentious election results that declared another victory for the incumbent, 64-year-old Ali Bongo.
Further, Mali’s turbulent history includes five coups since its independence in 1960. Two of the coups occurred within nine months in 2020 and 2021. Insurgencies involving ethnic Tuareg, jihadist groups, and criminal organisations have plagued Mali since 2012.
Mali, Sudan military rule crisis
In 2020, a 40-year-old Colonel Assimi Goïta, trained by US, French, and German forces, ousted the elected president. France’s subsequent withdrawal from Mali prompted the junta to topple its own appointed civilian president and seek support from Russia’s Wagner Group, resulting in severe human rights abuses.
Sudan, on the other hand, experienced mass protests in 2019 that led to the ousting of General Omar al-Bashir. Two years later, the civilians who were moving toward an elected democracy were overthrown, too.
In April 2023, fighting started between rival armed factions in Khartoum, raising concerns about a return to full-scale civil war. The conflict primarily revolves around a power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, respectively. These groups vie for control of the state and its resources, adding yet another layer of complexity to the Sahel’s crisis landscape.
The latest call by European Union President Ursula von der Leyen for the EU to enhance relations with Africa comes at a time when the bloc’s major infrastructure investments in the global south are encountering delays.
Von der Leyen second term in EU helm
With von der Leyen expected to seek a second term at the helm of the EU executive after the election next year, her call for unity and proactive engagement in Africa underscores the critical importance of addressing the Sahel crisis to safeguard both European and African interests.
As President von der Leyen delivered her speech, observers speculated on what her potential second mandate might entail. Responding to these expectations, she alluded to a package of legislation unveiled earlier.
This legislative package included proposals such as the Net-Zero Industry Act and the Critical Raw Materials Act, both of which played pivotal roles in advancing the European Green Deal’s objectives.
As Europe embarks on the next phase of this transformative initiative, the focus remains firmly on supporting European industry as it adapts to a sustainable, green future.
The proposed legislative measures serve as tangible steps toward achieving the ambitious goals of carbon neutrality and resource sustainability, signaling the EU’s plan to address the pressing challenges of our time.