Niger: the trap

(To Walter Raleigh)
15/01/18

Africa returns once again to the attention of Italian politics; whether it is a welcome return or not will be the time to tell us with his merciless gallantry. The Niger, new love of love and of necessity, it brings the African continent to the center of the internal political debate by binding (more or less consciously) its existence as an international political subject to the evolution of the phenomenon of illegal immigration. Understanding Africa as a mere appendage migrantifera of the Mediterranean, however, gives the exact perception of poverty vision about to Italian geopolitics, or the incapacity to elaborate paying strategies that are not fatally and inevitably defeated by a policy lacking in prospects.

Heirs (politicians) of the executive renegades Depretis, the Italic governments, even if exalting imperial triumphs and mortifying debellationes, have often given the impression of dressing with better luck the clothes of spectators certainly well-known but deprived of the necessary vigor that has allowed both the past construction of the Anglo-French colonial empires, and the current maintenance of precise and fruitful areas of influence capable to guarantee the indispensable imperial prerogatives.

La shyness in foreign policy it is not granted, it inevitably leaves the post to a different kind of war: the surrender, the defeat due to the loss of understanding of reasons and above all of national interests. What is left here, right now, after the difficult closure of a controversial colonial era, is the control of migratory flows that, moreover, force us to turn our attention to West Africa, traditionally Francophone, and where the conciliation of the cisalpine and transalpine interests appears particularly difficult.

Africa is certainly a risk, a mine ready to explode in the hands of a government without a strong electoral mandate; it is a geographic political entity made of extreme complexity towards which Italy has been able to transmit only reconverted and short-lived social models allowing, inter alia, both the infrastructural and mercantile penetration of the Chinese Middle Kingdom - which requires first - is the French colonial perpetuation that, while taking care of all its interests, does not have any qualms in requesting foreign support. Surely this is not an ideally acceptable model but, moreover, is it possible to recall dictators who have been dismissed with development aid? Is it acceptable to grease the head of African leaders with the sacred oil of democracy only by virtue of an apparent empathy? Italy, at this moment, with regard to the African side, is represented only by a few laudable entrepreneurial exceptions which, however, can not be exhaustive interpreters of national interests.

Africa is therefore a perennial "electoral" emergency, often faced in places that are not even institutionally consonant; for Italy Africa is still politically a year zero, and it is from there that one should quickly begin to weave the diplomatic canvas again. The Italian strategic priorities reside in Libya and its hinterland, which can not ignore the recurrent crises affecting the Sahel, involved in terrorism, drug trafficking, and uncontrolled migratory movements that undermine the foundations of the states in that area.

The geopolitical dynamics now see a renewed and strong French presence, with its conceptual division of the Continent into Useful Afrique ed useless, depending on whether they are extensions or cities of a commercial or coastal nature or areas only designed to ensure territorial continuity between their possessions and extensions never disputed by other European colonial entities.

Emmanuel Macron, no later than a few months ago, harangued French troops deployed in Mali, calling them the bastion and sentries against the overflow of terrorism and fanaticism; in this way it has given geopolitical continuity to the intentions of the predecessor Hollande that, with the Operation Barkhane, made the presence of the French gendarme in Africa semipermally from the 2014. This reiterated the clear political gaullist policy of transalpine politics, also aided by the US posture that, while committed to fighting terrorism since the Bush presidency, has always favored the Gallic option on the African continent as a useful tool for the reaffirmation of an ever dormant policy of power.

The intervention in the Sahel, in short, serves to redefine the balance of power within the EU, preserving its natural role as guarantor power to France, with Spain and Italy remaining at a respectful distance as interested observers, leave the proscenium to Germany by Angela Merkel, unexpected competitor of the height French hegemonic. However, despite the efforts made, the situation in the area is clearly more unstable, and in this context even the major international actors show their inability to exercise effective control; the UN mission Minusma is proving to be one of the most dangerous in the history of the organization and perilously able to leave both France and Germany as competitors on nothing.

So we now arrive at the Italian intervention, so vibrantly requested at the Celle Saint Claud summit meeting by President Macron. Waiting for the guidelines for our participation to be defined, we begin to examine their salient features. First of all, the financial exposure, which does not seem to be of little importance (423 Mln. Of euro in total), will presumably impose the reduction of the quota in Iraq; in addition, the presence of additional European contingents will allow France to lighten the operations' staff Barkhane reducing the strong national commitment while keeping intact the command of the activities in its former colonies.

The risk of seeing the Italian contingent relegated to a gregarious role, but not for this less risky, is more than founded, and just for and in support of that power - France - which continues to be the worst Italian rival in Libya. Moreover, the basic ambiguity that - rhetorically - wants the operation carried out under the banner of the peace so much electorally desired. In the Nigerine region concerned, illicit trafficking is in fact managed by the jihadist organizations and therefore represent the two sides of the same coin which, beyond the statements of principle, do not mean how they would be defeated if not with arms.

It was affirmed, after the denied recollections of May 2017, that the mission will have the necessary training characteristics to make the Nigerian departments able to face both the trafficking of migrants and terrorism; It is not clear then why not to deploy the national contingent at Niamey Airport, where the French, German and US bases are already operating, which operates however completely autonomously, assigning instead the very onerous patrol of the border between Niger and Libya along 600 km of territory crossed by tracks that can only be controlled by presiding over the former outpost of the Madama Foreign Legion.

The deployment of our units at the base of Madama will result in the inevitable and very high logistical costs due to the need to send supports, troops and supplies in significant quantities and, above all, by air. Moreover, the patrolling of the area - albeit desert - will inevitably lead to operations of contrast both to jihadists and to traffickers who, for obvious reasons, can not disregard combat. How can the presence of soldiers be interpreted? Infidels in the area?

The necessary autonomy to the contingent can only be assured with operational and logistic support that will require at least 1.000 units with a cost higher than 150 millions of euro a year; to all this must be added the obvious consideration that concerns the possibility, for the rebel forces, to simply circumvent the Italian control device with appropriate overruns in Algeria to access Libya from the south.

To stop the illegal migration flows, perhaps there is no need to deploy a further overseas contingent, but it would be enough to hand over to the Libyan coast guard (already supported by Italy) the illegal immigrants rescued in the Mediterranean. It is still unclear whether the operation will be a multinational version of the French operation Barkhane, that is, conducted with independent rules of engagement, but what is certain is that it will require a commitment of transport logistics very remarkable, given the extreme European shortage of strategic air transport.

The deployment of troops on the field will certainly increase the targets available to the jihadist forces, also in light of the fact that it is still unclear which and how many States will authorize the use of their military in combat actions. If it is true that the Sahel will constitute a test for the military capabilities of the European defense, it is equally true that the emergence of comparisons of interests and hegemonies will be inevitable.

The French will therefore continue to play at home; the substantial military presence in the region, the experience gained and the presence of bases in all strategic areas confirm the certainty that the stick of the command will remain in transalpine hands. Undoubtedly, the Italian mission, in the light of the above considerations, indicates our new weakness and a French success.

Does our task therefore make sense? Is it strategically worthwhile to deploy one of our contingents so numerous and equipped but in conditions of subordination to the interested French ally? The mission in Niger will allow France to reduce costs and commitment without affecting its leadership, and therefore it does not make any sense to risk men and means, whereas Italian and European military ships will continue to disembark illegal immigrants from Libyan coasts in our ports.

Does it mean to expose oneself to an ally who has interests in the area which, although relevant, have not prevented him from inheriting Italian business in Libya? To this day in Niger there are German troops who, joining the French, legitimize the inter-state agreement between France and Germany; all this while Italy goes against Isis and the traffickers of men in a general rehearsal of the African intersection in the European destiny or, to put it with an expression dear to the minister Minniti, in the historical moment of moving the European borders in Africa. What is slowly emerging is that it is not just a humanitarian task, but a clear exercise of French hegemonic power.

The questions (and doubts) are many, especially if you manage to get out of the usual rhetoric: what are the roles, responsibilities, commitments and rights in the distribution of benefits, if there ever were any? Of unclear targets would inevitably lead to repercussions also in the Mediterranean, especially if we had to take into account the Nigerian presence of Boko Haram and the fact that the Libyan border, willy-nilly, is our business.

The mission, in the publicized intentions, will have to stabilize the Sahel or, better, the françafrique despite the low national consideration for foreign policy and its military aspects. What is certain, and it should be noted, is that in any case Italy will move its men and its means to lighten the tasks and responsibilities of those who, in that area, purposely contributing to its destabilization, have undermined our national interests. continuing to consider us competitors of lower rank.

(photo: Présidence de la République française / US DoD / US Army / Ministère des Armées / EUNVFOR MED)