Counterinsurgency governance in the Sahel

Par Bruno Charbonneau
Bulletin du Centre FrancoPaix en résolution des conflits et missions de paix | Vol. 5 no 1

  • In the Sahel, 2019 became the deadliest and most violent period that the region has faced since the start of the Malian crisis in 2012.
  • France has been the target of mediatized critiques, notably by organized groups from Mali, which led President Emmanuel Macron to summon his G5 Sahel counterparts to a Summit held at Pau on 13 January 2020.
  • This obstinate counter-terrorism policy in Mali and the Sahel has long shown its limits, and it could be argued that it has only worsened the situation.
  • The problem is not to propose political solutions per se, as if they are distinct from military strategy, but to understand that political solution as it is imple- mented and deployed, and which comes to express itself through diverse counterinsurgency practices in the Sahel.
  • International military engagement in the Sahel is based on counterinsurgency thinking largely inspired from French military experiences in Africa, in particular during the colonial era.
  • To win hearts and minds is to conceive of populations as much as a vulnerable social body, at risk and to be protected, as it is a body from which risks, dangers and threats emerge.
  • Thus, military operations should not be viewed as technical activities distinct from the political sphere, which (according to theory) facilitates the development of a space and time for political action. Rather, military strategy must be considered in its action and its political consequences, at least if one hopes to understand its failures and its limits in Mali and the Sahel.
  • The “Global Approach” as practiced in Mali facilitates the construction and consolidation of local and regional political orders of violence. While such political orders are always in construction and are locally contested, their existence is certainly in contradiction to the stated objectives of restoring the authority of the Malian state, maintaining its territorial integrity, and the political work of facilitating national reconciliation.

Janvier 2020
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