Despite the ongoing presence of French troops in the troubled Sahel region, violent attacks against civilians and security forces are still commonplace. So why isn’t the situation improving?
“So that’s when the conspiracy theories get going: Either they’re there because of the supposed mineral riches in the north of Mali, or they think it’s just a neocolonialist project to make sure that they remain part of France’s backyard,” he says.
Earlier this month, Macron responded to the rise in anti-French sentiment, urging G5 Sahel leaders to address the issue if they wanted France to continue its military operations against Islamist militants.
“I can’t have — and I don’t want to have — troops on the ground in the Sahel where there is ambiguity [on the part of local authorities] towards anti-French movements, and sometimes
[critical] comments made by politicians and ministers,” Macron told reporters during a press conference on December 4 during the NATO summit in London.”
A convocation or invitation?
Since his election in 2017, Macron has made it clear he wishes to increase France’s military involvement in the region. A total of 4,500 troops are currently stationed on the ground in Chad, Mali and Niger. His decision to invite G5 Sahel country leaders to discuss the security situation in the Sahel region was seen by some as a positive step towards easing tensions. But not everyone is convinced of Macron’s good intentions, Posthumus explains.
“The big debate has been: Did [Macron] invite these five presidents, or did he send a convocation? This sounds like semantics but it’s actually very important. Because if it is an invitation, [the talks will be] on the basis of equality. Otherwise, it seems as if these presidents were going to be lectured and harangued by Macron and that will make anti-French sentiment even worse because it will be seen as a public humiliation of five heads of state in the Sahel region.”
But amid the rising suspicions of France’s intentions in the Sahel and its treatment of G5 leaders, Posthumus says many of the region’s more vulnerable communities welcome any strong international presence.
“In areas where the state has been absent for a very long time, obviously anyone who comes in is welcome, if they say they can guarantee safety and security,” he says. “Although there is a body of opinion that thinks any foreign troop presence in a country is making the situation worse because it doesn’t repel extremists, it actually attracts them. The groups who are carrying out the attacks are getting more daring and not only taking on the soft civilian targets like they used to.”
Brazen Niger attack highlights absence of security
The latest jihadist attack on a Niger military camp in the western Tillaberi region — which has been described as the worst of its kind in Niger in living memory — came as a further blow to efforts to roll back the spread of jihadism in the Sahel.
According to the the Defense Ministry, the attack was carried out by “heavily armed terrorists estimated to number many hundreds.”
“It was a surprise attack and you know how [the jihadists] act,” Niger’s minister of defense, Issoufou Katambe, told DW. “We will take stock of the situation to find out exactly what happened before answering [more detailed] questions.”
When asked why the attack was not stopped in time — especially following reports that the jihadists
drove to the military base in a clearly visible, long convoy of vehicles — the minister responded briefly, saying authorities were still investigating the circumstances.
“I don’t think the jihadists knew our weaknesses…there were many of them, with tanks and lots of other materials. It was a surprise attack.”