Oceans of anger

(To Gino Lanzara)
28/12/19

The Sahel occupies an immense strip of territory, a transition zone between desert, savannah, equatorial forests and sea, and which affects, from west to east, more than 10 states, an area geographically not well distinct but which cuts across the continent from the Atlantic to the Horn of Africa; it is an area which, despite globalization, has highlighted the importance of the temporal factor over the spatial one; if time is flying fast in the West, Japan and China, the same cannot be said for those areas where geoeconomics has forced man to adopt different environmental and political-social dynamics strategies.

If the African dimensions were focused for a moment, the Sahara could be represented as an ocean of sand spanning over 8 million km2, from the north western Atlantic coasts to the Red Sea, with the Sahelian border which, dividing the desert from the rest of the Continent, separates the white Africa of the Maghreb from sub-Saharan black Africa, Muslim North Africa from the western Christian coasts; be careful though: an ocean, not one empty box. Here no hegemon has had an easy life; the sandy sea was not the Mediterranean Union Πόντος (Ponto), but an obstacle that prevented the development of political institutions capable of controlling territories that have preserved fluidity, porosity and slowed down dynamics but capable of creating syncretisms in a context of fragmented border demarcations, for many purely formal, and which allow freedom of action to the jihadist onset; a sea in constant movement and with constants of geopolitical crises determined by the hospitality of the area. The Saharan space was thus divided into state entities in which ethnic religious plurality became the norm, with an imbalance of power that rewards the Maghreb states leaving the Sahelian ones with congenital and structural weaknesses, and where the concept of sovereignty, collided with the tribal one is part of pure theory; the interdependencies between the Saharan banks have led us to look at the desert as a hinge, where local powers should be identified both on the basis of material capacities and thanks to the posture assumed in the management of security dynamics.

The Sahel has always been a conflicting theater; just look at Sudan from 1955 to 2005: religious and social dynamics in a varied ethnic context, application of the Shari'ah, fragmentation and tensions within Sudanese Islam itself, a complexity that given the la to other conflicts, first of all to the separatist one of Dārfūr, and to the instabilities of Chad.

Sahara is essentially Muslim, starting from northern Berber, which has regionalized Islam with a heterogeneous flexibility opposed to Salafism, intolerant of centralized powers, and with a particular moderation in some Sahelian states, opposed to the orthodox Qaidist insurgency; on 11 September, it smuggled contraband, drug trafficking, terrorism, ethnic conflicts, according to interpretative keys that led the West to the perception of immanent risk, which cannot be simplistically limited to a migratory phenomenon dependent, among other things, on fluctuations of the hydrocarbon market.

The strong economic incentives connected to the export of gas and oil have made the North African countries, dependent on imports, very strong poles of attraction for the Sahelian ones affected by famines.

The contrast to jihadism has determined a new scale of geopolitical values, attributing particular value to countries such as Algeria, and highlighting both the Sahelian socio-economic deficits and the short-sightedness of a Europe forced to pay the price of its uncertainties.

The Sahel is socially poor but very rich in resources and in recent years, although it can enjoy greater climatic stability, it still has regional economies that are not self-sufficient in food, which continue to rely on the supports of cooperation, with an endemic and deficient resource management, and with an insufficient technological evolution that has moved the conflictual axis towards the more advanced countries. Water is an even more precious commodity here than elsewhere, yet the exploitation of water resources has mainly concerned the extraction of uranium, to which France is strongly concerned with Areva, followed by oil, a strategic resource under the particular attention of the USA which, despite not having deployed a particular military apparatus, built a drone platform in Agadez, and gold, with a vein that goes from Mauritania to Sudan, and which feeds jihadist groups.

The whole area offers the vision of an imposing strategic impact, where also other actors1 they interact decreasing the transalpine economic exclusivity. In short, an ocean of sand so slow, but animated by a violent social and jihadist anger inflamed by the winds of the east, which brought the Sahel back to a central geopolitical position.

Jihad and Strategies

Both the fall of the Gaddafi regime, that saw Africa as a geopolitical area of ​​influence useful for getting out of international isolation thanks to oil resources, both the destabilization of Mali and the fall of Daesh with theannihilation of al Baghdadi, have determined a further connection between the Saharan and the Mediterranean with a new phase of jihadist development, encouraging migratory flows, already driven by Nigerian unemployment for the reduction of uranium mining activity, and so far tolerated by local authorities who considered them legitimate and economically advantageous until, placed in front of theultimatum European that flashed huge funds for cooperation, have been forced to criminalize them.

The jihadist phenomenon, in this context, has found fertile ground, and has expanded its roots; social discontent, economic vulnerabilities e Salafism which aims at social and cultural bases, contributed to the inclusion of the insurgent groups in the Sahelian scenario2, as the only alternative to central authorities. The scheme is the one already seen in Siraq: a system of welfare to replace the government one3, and a political legitimacy due to the ability to assume an interlocutory role towards discriminated ethnic groups with a dynamic of divide et impera, a complex of factors which highlighted the difficulties encountered by France with the Transaction Barkhane and by the UN with the G5 Special Force, however, penalized by insufficient logistics.

Gaddafi's departure from the scene has had an economic impact, due to the loss of financial flows from sovereign wealth funds, and to the impossibility of the use of force by the executive, which has made it impossible both to control the frontiers especially in the Fezzan (traditionally ungovernable area) and the Tuareg population, the last to defect by the Libyan loyalist forces, and close to a coalition with radical extremism groups.

Wars and coups have therefore led the Sahel, an area of ​​French influence, to become an area of ​​arms trade, a mercenary market, a return point for the foreign fighters, where the Middle Eastern conflict is moving with repercussions up to the Gulf of Guinea and the Horn of Africa.

La Françafrique, colonial empire extinct in 1960, but with an uninterrupted heritage that testifies to the French refusal to be one simple European regional power, relives with Barkhanemission that with its impact on the budget prevents other operations (Libya), and succeeded the operation Serval, deploy troops together with the multinational force G5 Sahel4, is based on a political assumption and gives ample opportunity for military movement, but triggering terrorist reactions such as those that affected both the French metropolitan territory and the Sahelian territory in Mali and Niger with asymmetrical guerrilla forms with uncontrollable mobility, and that are causing the Hexagon to consider aexit strategy also considering the data processed by the Washington study center, so that over the past eight years the threat of violent extremism in Africa has increased by 310%, with the increase in the number of African countries affected by sustained radical group activity Muslims who, from 5 in 2010 to 12 in 2017; France hopes that the G5 will in the meantime allow the withdrawal of the departments allocated in Mali since 2013, and that it will be possible to avoid falling into a spiral of Vietnamisation of an intervention in which the military dimension has crushed the political one over the years.

Since 2018 the conflicts have spread increasing the number of victims, and have shown that in the Sahel there are not only terrorists, but also armed groups fighting each other; the risk is therefore to have not only an evolving jihadist front, but also numerous micro-conflicts with the hybridization of the different types of violence, and giving the onset the possibility to count on a network of bases on African soil.

In this scenario, the Mediterranean assumes a further strategic value for France which, however, must take into account a significant Russian presence5, it turns out unfinished maritime power but with aims on shores that were of the prerogative Italian.

But what fault do we have?

May each country pursue its interest dovrebbe be normal: why shouldn't France do it? That the transalpines do not intend to renounce African resources seems evident that they are adopting a policy interesting it is equally.

The CFA franc belongs to two monetary unions: CEMAC6 and UEMOA7, which use two separate CFA francs but with the same acronym, which function in a similar way, and are anchored to the euro with the same exchange rate which should allow a defense against shock money and avoiding reliance on the US dollar or the Chinese renminbi. Recently the news of the next end of the CFA franc was relaunched starting from July 2020, replaced by the ECO, future exchange currency for Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, but not for Central African countries.

Undoubtedly France has enjoyed privileged relations with the countries of the area, but it is also true that the same countries have benefited from this relationship, entertained freely; on the one hand, the system made it possible to guarantee profits for large companies thanks to exchange rate stability, on the other hand, it was France governance African.

The CFA franc is a currency that facilitates trade and economic stability, and avoids inflationary risks guaranteed by the currency reserves managed by Paris, which has allowed African nations to exchange the franc for any other currency. The constraints have always existed: the obligation to deposit 50% of the monetary reserves with the French Treasury, which means that when a country with a CFA franc exports to a country other than France, and collects dollars or euros, it has the obligation to transfer 50% of the proceeds to the Bank of France; the obligation of the presence of French representatives with veto rights, both on the boards of directors and on the supervisory boards of financial institutions; the French pre-emption right in the purchase of any natural resource discovered in the former colonies, with a consequent control over raw materials of strategic value. For producer countries, the disadvantage consists, due to fixed exchange rates, in the rise in the cost of exports; however, it may be misleading to charge France some kind of taxation towards the former colonies by investing in government bonds to finance public expenditure, given that this is around € 10 billion or 0,5% of the government debt, and that every three years the Central Bank pays 0,75% interest to depositaries, a percentage higher than the market rate.

For France, not feel-good and undermined by Germany, Africa remains strategic, especially in function of the Chinese expansion, which does not impose political interference but economic dependencies, and competition from India, Brazil and Turkey, with an economic weight that has decreased by 11% in 2000 at around 5,5%. Net of official claims, there remain strong doubts about an unlikely French retreat, doubts supported by the lack of detail of the agreements related to the entry of the ECO and that they might provide for the conservation of imperial prerogatives.

Other concerns arise over the entry into force, given that constitutional and structural changes require longer times; it is not even clear whether the risk of budget austerity, cuts and orthodoxy due to nominal adjustments in the absence of solidarity funds, in the event of an unexpected increase in import costs.

Small panoramas

What answers to expect? Certainly not only political, if there is an unlikely unity of purpose, undermined by neo-Ottoman aggression, by now present on too many tables. The power gaps generated by the western chancelleries find it hard to fill up as the Libyan experience teaches, and given that the actors and interests at stake are manifold and divergent.

Italy. Our foreign policy continues to be stammering: the initiatives of the then Minister Minniti did not produce the expected effects, as did the subsequent political-economic sorties on the CFA franc, without a thematic study and restricted to the migration sphere.

As far as we are concerned, in large territories such as Nigerian, an intervention operating, could result in a debacle, similar to that which could emerge for France which, despite efforts, has not yet managed to stabilize the region.

1 Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, India, South Africa, Japan, Germany and China

2 Boko Haram affiliate of IS; Support group for Islam and Muslims, mainly obtained by the merger of al Qaida, Ansar al Din, Al Mourabitoun,

3 See the example of Hamas and Hezbollah

4 Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Mali

5 North African inteligence sources report mercenaries from the Wagner company

6 Economic and monetary community of Central Africa - Cameroon, Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Republic of the Congo

7 West African Economic and Monetary Union - Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo

Photo: Ministère de la Défense / US Marine Corps / presidency of the rabbit of ministers / web