By Aditya Vashisht
On 18th August 2021, when news platforms around the world were being inundated by the developments from Kabul, a terrorist attack in northern Burkina Faso had killed 80 people. On 9th August 2021, when India was in a state of ecstasy over the return of its medal winning Olympic athletes, jihadists in northern Mali had been responsible for the death of 51 people. On 4th August, 2021, when many among the world were remembering the horrifying blast of Lebanon, 30 people lost their lives in an attack near the Niger border of Burkina Faso.
These are a minute proportion of the terrorist attacks which are exacerbating the woes of the West African landmass and are brewing a tea which emits the odour of another Syria. West Africa is seeing a dramatic surge in terrorism in recent years and the point which is highly capable of tipping us is that there is no end to it, at least for the moment. Many are concerned at present about the instability in Afghanistan and its potential to become a breeding ground for terrorists, whereas this same proportion of the human population is overlooking the aspect that some of the feared terrorist groups actually control a territory which covers thousands of miles, or to put it into geographical terms, from the Libyan borders of the north to Nigeria in the south.
A panel of experts constituted by the United Nations in a report submitted to the UN Security Council in July 2021 has explicitly stated that affiliates of the Islamic State and al-Qaida, through their virtually ceaseless operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, have had a strong increment in their capacity for fundraising as well as in arms procuring, which also include drones. There have been reports that in some regions of Mali, agreements have been concluded between the local authorities and the affiliates of these groups in which the latter have promised to reduce their violent activities in lieu of being allowed to preach and an assurance regarding the wearing of veils by women. This is an example of rapprochement which is being subjected by some to an outright condemnation in case of Afghanistan. For the worse, it has a turned a reality, the factors responsible being poor governance, corruption, ethnic partiality and not so strong international intervention.
While many who are interested in international affairs are awed by activities of the Stars and Stripes, the presence of U.S. troops in this region isn’t having an effect which can be considered synonymous to the rapid thrust which was manifested in the now defunct ‘war on terror’. France, by virtue of being the former colonial power in the region which is also responsible for making it a big player, has taken a lead in the deployment of its army which is participating and making efforts to help its former colonies. But that help isn’t having a favourable reception.
Allegations of civilian causalities in its military operations have marred the intentions which shrouds continued French presence in West Africa, an example being that of an air strike which killed 19 civilians attending a wedding in Malian village ( April 2021). France is being viewed negatively by the fact that it is being seen playing a part in the maintenance of the rule of leaders who are not much popular in their country. In February 2019, reports came out of French forces attacking soldiers who were opposed to the late Chadian president, Idriss Déby, who, in order to mention justly, took power by force in 1990 with French support. This is a manifestation of the period when objectives in military intervention go awry and in turn, become detrimental to the interests of the intervening power. Thus it isn’t incidental when a Cameroonian musician remarked that the presence of the French is an insult.
A change of tone isn’t helping when at one point France lends a concerned gesture and on the other, French president Emmanuel Macron is seen asking G5 Sahel leaders in an exasperated tone “do you want us here?” The United Nations has a 13000 strong peacekeeping force in Mali and the EU has granted development funds in billions, but there still seems a void which is being exacerbated by lack of attention towards West Africa. This again suffices the scenario that a single country isn’t capable of solving every problem in a multipolar world, be it in Afghanistan or in Burkina Faso.
For India, this situation isn’t pleasant in any terms. Our engagement, when it comes to Africa as a whole, has been more tilted towards the countries in the eastern and southern portion of the continent, owing to geographical proximity as well as a connection through the large Indian diaspora in this region. But it is West Africa which has the largest number of countries, not to mention that many among them are being witness to a rise in population. To add more, nearly all of them are Francophone, an exception being Nigeria and Ghana but, who have also stared adopting the French language. According to the Organisation international de francophone, it has been aptly estimated that there will be approximately 700 million French speakers by 30 years from now, more than 60% being from West Africa.
Thus the weight of the Francophone world will be hard to ignore if India wants to be a ‘vishva-guru’. Steps should be taken to ensure that our vision, especially in terms of foreign policy should include the African aspect too. It just doesn’t seem normal for a nation where anti-terrorism plays a major part in its politics, but a majority of its citizens are incapable of seeing beyond Kandahar or worse, till Karachi. This is just not viable for a country which aspires to be a superpower.
Rest assured, an increased coverage and concern for the prevailing situation in West Africa (where Islamic State and al-Qaida have been known to engage in joint operations) should be ensured from all angels as possible. Otherwise we may see that the fangs of instability, violence, radicalism and terrorism aren’t emanating from the Middle East, but are rather, entrenched in Sub-Saharan Africa.
(Author is student and blogger based in Lucknow. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])