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Challenges and opportunities for the G5 Sahel force
7 July 2017

On 2 July 2017 leaders of the G5 Sahel, which consists of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, officially launched the new G5 Sahel force, in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron. This followed a meeting in February 2017 in which the G5 Sahel heads of state announced that a new force would be set up to fight terrorism in the sub-region. This announcement followed the creation of the Liptako Gourma securitisation force by Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in late January to combat instability in this border region. This force has now been integrated into the G5 Sahel Joint Force (Force conjointe du G5 Sahel, or FC-G5S).

The FC-G5S’s concept of operations was endorsed by the Peace and Security Council (PSC) during its 679th meeting on 13 April. The mandate of the FC-G5S, as defined by the PSC, is to:

  • Combat terrorism and drug trafficking
  •  Contribute to the restoration of state authority and the return of displaced persons and refugees
  • Facilitate humanitarian operations and the delivery of aid to affected populations, as far as possible
  • Contribute to the implementation of development strategies in the G5 Sahel region

The FC-G5S is to be composed of 5 000 troops, mainly military, from member states. They will be deployed along the Mali–Mauritania border; the Liptako Gourma, which is the cross-border region between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger; and the Niger–Chad border.

UNSC resolution fails to provide financial support to the force

The PSC asked the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to approve the deployment of the FC-G5S, and to identify the modalities of financial and logistical support. France, the architect of the resolution, wanted the UNSC’s endorsement under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which would have allowed such support to the FC-G5S.

France, the architect of the resolution, wanted the UNSC’s endorsement under Chapter VII of the UN Charter
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In the end, however, the UNSC only ‘welcomed’ the deployment of the FC-G5S instead of explicitly approving it. Moreover, the council also recalled that it was the responsibility of the G5 Sahel states ‘to provide [the force with] the adequate resources’, while encouraging ‘further support from bilateral and multilateral partners’.

While the European Union (EU) has announced that it will allocate 50 million euros to the force, the Sahel G5 will have to find additional support outside the UN, as the preliminary budget for one year is around 423 million euros. The Security Council Report reported that the United States and the United Kingdom had opposed a resolution that would have obliged the UN to financially support the operation. Apparently, the fact that the FC-G5S consists of troops that will intervene in their own territories did not fit the legal framework for peacekeeping operations.

Funding and collective commitment the main endogenous challenges

The FC-G5S illustrates the collective ambition of its members to address the growing insecurity in the Sahel despite the presence of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and France’s Operation Barkhane, which is deployed across the G5 states. These forces have been hampered by an inadequate mandate to fight terrorism and limited capabilities in an extensive area with little state control, respectively. The new force, by focusing on terrorism and transnational crime in the border regions, is supposed to fill these gaps.

These forces have been hampered by an inadequate mandate to fight terrorism and limited capabilities
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There is also an acknowledgement of the need for a comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism and transnational crime. In April, for example, Mali, Niger and Chad signed an agreement on judicial cooperation to fight terrorism and cross-border crime, including drug trafficking.

Apart from the financial challenges, the main endogenous challenge is the structure of the force. Will it be just a coalition of battalions with national commands, or an integrated one?  The first option will raise challenges in terms of both cohesiveness and coordination. This model, which has been used by the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), has caused a recurrent problem of command and control. Such an issue could have significant consequences in an area of intervention across five countries that is difficult to access. The effectiveness of the structure is also determined by the design of the area of operation. Will the right of pursuit and the force’s movements be without restriction, across all three borders?

Solving these issues depends on the degree of commitment of the G5 Sahel states. As there is little prospect of financial support from the UN, some states may re-consider their involvement in the force. Chad’s President Idriss Déby recently warned that his country could not afford having troops in MINUSMA, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram and now the FC-G5S. Terrorism also does not affect Chad and Mauritania to the same extent as Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. It remains to be seen if they will maintain the same level of commitment with less external support. Chad, for example, is facing an economic downturn resulting from the drop in oil prices.

There is little prospect of financial support from the UN
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State authority vs. state legitimacy

The other issue is the correlation (or lack thereof) between the nature of the force and the characteristics of the instability in that region. Since last year, Liptako Gourma, the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, has experienced an increase in insecurity, with attacks against the security forces, border posts and local leaders. Several groups are operating in this area. Along the Niger–Mali border the threat consists mainly of Ansar Dine and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, while Hamadou Kouffa’s Katiba Macina and Malam Ibrahim Dicko’s Ansaru Islam are active along the Mali–Burkina Faso border.

However, the presence of these groups does not explain the growing insecurity in this region. Instability is the result of a sedimentation of problems, of which violent extremism is only the most recent layer. An important issue here is the challenges to the legitimacy of the state, owing to the blunders of the security forces and the perceived corruption of government agents, which contrasts with the poor delivery of basic services. There is also often-violent competition between pastoralists and crop growers, with resulting inter-community confrontations.

It is unlikely that a strictly military approach will be enough to address the instability in the region
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It is therefore unlikely that a strictly military approach will be enough to address the instability in the region. While restoring state authority is part of the force’s mandate, it is unclear what it can do to restore the legitimacy of states condemned by the local population. While funding is a challenge to the operationalisation of the force, there is a risk that the civilian component – notably community outreach – will be neglected in favour of the military component.

Lessons for the African architecture for peace and security

From a structural perspective, the creation of the FC-G5S illustrates the shifting dynamics within the architecture of peace and security in Africa. In this new configuration, regional mechanisms – not necessarily those officially recognised by the AU – are taking over the management of unstable situations and only request the PSC’s political endorsement. Both the PSC and the AU have limited control over such operations.

Besides the FC-G5S, there is also the MNJTF in the Lake Chad Basin and the Regional Protection Force (RPF) in South Sudan, proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), then endorsed by the PSC before being authorised by the UN Security Council in the framework of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In this configuration, the PSC is merely used for political endorsement in order to ensure that these regional forces are eligible for external funding from, for example, the EU African Peace Facility.

The PSC tried to remedy this situation in its statement on the FC-G5S by requesting that references to the PSC Protocol, the AU Strategy for the Sahel Region and the Nouakchott Process be introduced. However, it is unlikely that these additions will be enough to assert the AU’s authority over this mission, since the region had vanished from the PSC’s agenda for most of 2016. This was despite the deterioration of the situation and the presence (if limited capacity) of the AU Mission in Sahel, chaired by former Burundian president Pierre Buyoya.

The establishment of the force reopens the debate on the format of African peace support operations
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The AU may have to re-assert its authority over regional operations by acting as the financial intermediary between regional economic communities and external donors. However, the challenges it encountered in transferring EU support to the MNTJF have reduced this probability.

As the African Standby Force is yet to be fully operationalised, the establishment of the FC-G5S also reopens the debate on the format of African peace support operations. The FC-G5S, the MNTJF and UNMISS’s RPF in South Sudan resemble ‘coalitions of the willing’ similar to the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), but with the regional feature of the African Standby Force’s brigades. The deployment of the FC-G5S should lead to internal reflection on the much-need adjustment of the AU Peace and Security Architecture to these new developments, in order to assert the political relevance of both the PSC and the AU in similar situations in the future. 

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