West African countries and those from the Sahel region in particular are facing many challenges affecting their stability and prosperity. Conflicts, such as in Mali, terrorist attacks as the ones experienced in Nigeria, and general unstable security and political environments have, in recent years, become serious obstacles on t West Africa’s path towards sustainable development and peace.
Terror attacks in the Sahel alone have reportedly increased five-fold since 2016. In addition to civilian casualties, attacks on military personnel in the Sahelian states and those of the international forces in the region, have risen.
The 2019 Global Terrorism Index lists countries like Mali and Niger among the top 10 states affected by terrorism in Africa. During the last quarter of 2019, nearly 200 soldiers, including 100 Nigeriens and over 90 Malians, were killed by extremists.
On November 26, 2019, France, which is said to have about 4500 soldiers engaged in the Sahel region, lost 13 in Mali during a counter-terrorism operation.
Detrimental to the countries of the region, the current state of violence and insecurity and instability has affected other parts of Africa.
Thus, President Muhammadu Buhari has, rightly, called on the countries in the West African sub-region and those in the Sahel, rocked by security challenges, to team up to confront the menace.
The President spoke in Abuja when he received the new Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mr Mahamat Saleh Annadif, a Chadian.
Stressing the need for the countries to work concertedly, the President said: “You are our neighbour. You have vast experience on matters affecting the Sahel, having served for five years in Mali. I hope you will get the countries to work together to confront the issues affecting them.”
Describing the problems as “enormous,” the President said that Boko Haram has exacted heavy tolls in terms of lives and resources in Nigeria and some neighbouring countries, while Mali has a large swathe of its territory occupied by militants.
“I hope under the auspices of UNOWAS, you will help get the problems sorted out,” the President hoped while arguing that most of the crisis situations in the areas have to do with the instability in Libya.
While the President has pledged the assistance of Nigeria to the Special Representative so that he could succeed in his assignment, it should be noted that, largely, at the core of the crisis within Africa’s war-affected countries and regions is the desire to acquire power and secure resources for one group of elite or one ethno-national group at the expense of others.
The activities of elite and politicians, expressed through violent means, have undermined the social fabric of societies in West Africa, the Sahel region and entire Africa.
In fact, the effects of conflicts in terms of refugee flows into neighbouring countries and the emergence of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have demonstrated that no African country is an island unto itself. Refugee camps in the Mano River Union region of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have served as a source of instability for countries in the region.
In all of these cases, violence has led to the breakdown of societies. Human lives have been lost. Infrastructure has been destroyed, education and health services have suffered, and the environment has been damaged.
The ties that link people together have been broken, social solidarity has collapsed and political tension has been generated. In addition, socio-economic development has also been severely retarded as a result of the carnage and destruction caused by conflicts.
Unfortunately or otherwise, if we are looking for reasons why these conflicts have plagued the African continent, we do not need to look any further than the leadership of these countries. Competing self-interested politicians and elite has made the use of divisions and legacies of colonialism and the illegitimate nature of the post-colonial African state to exacerbate tension and fuel conflict.
Historically, slavery and colonialism destroyed the base upon which Africans could define themselves. Colonialism destroyed or profoundly corrupted the cultural sense of self in Africa. It fostered a sense of separation from one’s culture. It promoted the doctrine that the European culture and way of life were superior to the African.
The effect of this was to begin the process of dismantling the cultural norms and values which informed African society and thus it begun imploding the social solidarity which existed in most regions prior to colonialism.
The process of modernisation led to the emergence of nation states heavily centralised in the capital city. The populations in the rural areas became marginalised and excluded from benefiting from the wealth and resources of the countries that they live in.
Over-centralised post-colonial nation states have not put in place social security systems. The African post-colonial nation states have not had a good record of promoting social harmony and establishing networks to provide services that people need to survive. When people are deprived of access to resources and education, poverty is widespread. Poverty increases tension within society, generates mistrust, and fosters crime, which further weakens the social fabric of the society.
All of the wars which have plagued and continue to affect West African and Sahel are eating up resources which could rather be utilised to build schools, clinics and infrastructure for development. It is, therefore, clear that the link between peace and development cannot be denied.
However, it is not all bad news for West Africa. In fact, there are many reasons good enough to please our hearts. We have witnessed relative peace, development and economic growth in Nigeria from 2015. In Niger, there is relative peace, but its citizens are becoming impatient with waiting for peace dividends to begin to transform their lives.
It is in this context, therefore, that leaders in West African and, indeed, Africa as a whole, need to work more towards the notion of positive peace that promotes reconciliation and coexistence on the basis of human rights, social, economic and political justice.
Struggling with effects of COVID-19
President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, in Abuja called for international efforts to tackle the health and economic menaces of COVID-19.
The President spoke at a ceremony organised to receive Letters of Credence from Ambassadors of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr Yanko Yordanou, Peoples Republic of China, Mr Cui Jianchun, High Commissioner of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Mr Muhammad Tayyab Azan, Ambassadors of Republic of Turkey, Mr Hidayet Bayraktar and Ukraine, Valerii Kirdoda, at the State House.
Stressing that all nations face similar health and economic problems and, sometimes, the insecurity that emanates from the pandemic, the President appealed for “cooperation and collaboration to enhance our collective interests.”
According to the President, the unprecedented crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused far more serious setbacks to the nation’s quests for sustainable development, making the need for international cooperation and collaboration imperative.
After all, it goes without saying that no country is immune from the devastating effects of the pandemic when lives and livelihoods are concerned.
However, in order to counter the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Africa needs robust policy responses from every country on the continent, paired with strong support from Africa’s development partners.
In the short term, African countries should prioritise healthcare spending for the provision of essential vaccine and drugs.
Targeted cash transfers and subsidies for vulnerable households, subsidies and tax relief for businesses should be high on the agenda. Central banks must inject liquidity into the economy, turning to unconventional policy tools such as quantitative easing if necessary.
In the longer term, countries should seize the imperative of building resilience to future crises. As good times return and economies get back on track, it should become a priority to build domestic and external buffers against any potential shocks.
More money should be earmarked for scientific, economic and social research. Countries should pursue global and continental partnerships to prepare for eventualities. Private sector growth and revamping education and labour markets for the future of work are also important in this regard.
No doubt, the challenges brought about by the pandemic, as the President observed, warrants the coming together of the international community to work in concert with each other to identify appropriate ways and manners to globally resolve them.