This month, France appeared to accept that it would need to keep thousands of troops in Africa’s Sahel region for an indefinite period because of the ongoing instability and preponderance of Islamist militants.
Speaking to lawmakers, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault sought to reassure regional allies that Paris would not abandon them despite pressure on its military, which has not only seen it increase its operating in the Middle East, but also on home soli in the wake of a series of Islamist attacks in 2015 and this year. Speaking at a parliamentary debate on his country’s overseas operations, Ayrault disclosed that “France remains committed as long as the jihadist threat continues to weigh on the future of these countries,” adding, “what message would we be sending if we envisaged a reduction of our effort? We do not have the right to abandon our African brothers at the exact moment when they need us the most to consolidate the fragile balances.”
After deploying troops to Mali, France has since spread some 4,000 soldiers across the West African region in a bid to hunt down Islamists. United Nations peacekeepers have also been deployed to ensure Mali’s stability however the UN’s forces have lacked equipment and resources making a political settlement between Tuaregs and the Malian government increasingly fragile and paving the way for Islamists and traffickers to exploit a void in the northern region of the country. According to Ayrault, “we know it will be long and difficult (because) the national reconciliation process is taking time to come into effect, securing the north is slow and terrorist groups continue to destabilize the region by carrying out attacks on Mali’s borders at the entrances to other countries like Niger and Ivory Coast.”
At the end of this month, France will seek to discuss Mali when it hosts a ministerial meeting on UN peacekeeping operations in French-speaking countries to see how to increase and improve their efficiency.
The region, which spans from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, is host to a number of jihadist groups and is seen as being vulnerable to further attacks after strikes on soft targets in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast earlier this year. The region’s security concerns have further been highlighted by a recent spike in violence in northern Mali, where France intervened three years ago in a bid to drive out al-Qaeda-linked militants who took control of a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako. More recently, insecurity in northern Mali seems too have spread in the region, particularly into neighbouring Niger where a string of incidents this month, including the kidnapping of a US NGO worker, has prompted officials across the region to enhance security measures.
On 31 October, France formally ended Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic, almost three years after the military mission was launched in December 2013 in a bid to quell inter-ethnic unrest in the country.
The operation initially ran alongside an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, which was known as MISCA and which later morphed into the UN’s MINUSCA force, which aimed to help restore stability in the capital city Bangui. The mission has however, for the most part, failed to end violence elsewhere in the country, as clashes have continued to erupt in recent weeks and tensions remain high.
At its height, France had more than 2,500 troops from various French units that took part in the mission. In June 2016, France indicated that it had reduced its force in the CAR to 350 soldiers, who would serve as tactical reserve force for the UN peacekeepers, effectively announcing the end of its military mission there. The number of soldiers is due to fall below 300 by early next year with the remaining troops deployed as part of a European military training mission, to support UN drone operations or as a rapid reaction unit supporting the national army.
France’s withdrawal has effectively left security largely in the hands of MINUSCA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, however in recent weeks, criticism of the force has increased, with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough in order to protect them. The National Assembly president, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, has expressed concern that the French troops’ departure would exacerbate a deteriorating security climate.
About 3,500 French troops are currently stationed in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane in order to fight militancy in West Africa and the Sahel region.
Overview of Operation Sangaris
- 5 December 2013 – Widespread clashes erupted in Bangui, leaving hundreds dead in the streets.
- Christian milita groups, known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) attacked a number of areas in the capital city, targeting Muslims and triggering revenge attacks by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebel alliance. Seleka fighters has already targeted the majority Christian population, a key reason as to why the anti-Balaka group emerged. Attacks by both sides, mostly targeting civilians, plunged the CAR into a humanitarian, political and security crisis.
- Several hours after the violence broke out, a French operation force began deploying across the country as part of a UN-mandated effort to quell the deadly wave of sectarian violence. The operation was named “Sangaris” after a small red butterfly that is common the region.
- At the time, French President Francois Hollande disclosed that the troops would remain in the country “as long as necessary,” noting however that the operation was “not designed to last.” Paris, which had already deployed troops to Mali in January of that year in order to battle jihadist groups, watched the situation in the CAR continue to deteriorate following the overthrow in March of Francois Bozize by Seleka rebels who were led by Michel Djotodia.
- An initial force of about 1,200 French marines, paratroopers and engineering units was official deployed to back up the AU’s MISCA force, however they quickly found themselves on the Front line. Their mandate was to “disarm all milita and other armed group s that have terrorized the population” and the fist objective was to secure the capital city and tis 4.5 million inhabitants.
- Between February to September 2014 – Combat troops also secured a road link from Bangui to neighbouring Cameroon.
- September 2014 – Un soldiers from MINUSCA took over the MISCA troops.
- 14 February 2016 – Faustin-Archange Touadera is elected president, effectively capping a chaotic political transition. Three months later, President Hollande visited Bangui, declaring that stability “has been restored.” Elsewhere in the country however armed groups continued to plague the population. Former Seleka units remain active and a total disarmament of militia groups appears to be unlikely.
- Since July 2014, the force has been under growing pressure following the emergence of allegations of child rape by French soldiers deployed in the CAR. French prosecutors opened an investigation, however the allegations did not become public until April 2015. Since then, other reports have emerged about troops’ alleged involvement in sexual attacks and giving children food and sometimes small amounts of money for sexual services. Currently, the Sangaris force is subject to three investigations into separate allegations of sexual abuse of children in the CAR. In June 2016, Paris prosecutors also opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that French troops beat up, or stood by while others beat up two people in the CAR.
- France has intervened military in the CAR a number of times. The CAR, which is a former French colony, won independence in 1960.
This moth, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly unanimously appointed former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the ninth secretary-general of the would body for a five-year term that will begin on 1 January 2017.
Guterres, 57, will replace Ban Ki-moon, 72, of South Korea. Ban will step down at the end of 2016 after having served two five-year terms. Guterres was Portugal’s prime minister from 1995 until 2002 and UN High Commissioner for Refuges from 2005 until 2015. On 13 October, he pledged to act as an “honest broker” and stated that he would take a humble approach in trying to deal with global issues, in which human dignity will be at the core of his work. Speaking to the General Assembly, Guterres stated, “diversity can bring us together, not drive us apart…We must make sure that we are able to break this alliance between all those terrorist groups or violent extremists on one side and the expressions of populism and xenophobia on the other side,” adding, “these two reinforce each other, and we must be able to fight both of them with determination.”
At the start of this month, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously recommended that the General Assembly appoint Guterres, who beat our twelve other candidates, seven of whom were women, amidst a push for the first woman to be elected.
Diplomats are now watching to see who Guterres will appoint to senior UN positions, amidst speculation by diplomats and UN officials that China would like one its nationals to head peacekeeping and that Russia is keen to lead political affairs. Currently, a French man runs peacekeeping, an American man leads political affairs and a British man is in charge of humanitarian affairs.
The World Health Organization reported late last month that the ongoing yellow fever outbreak in Africa is serious but that it does not warrant being declared an international health emergency.
Since it was first identified in Angola in December 2015, yellow fever has spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is believed to have sickened more than 6,300 people and killed about 400, despite millions of doses of vaccine having been sent repeatedly to Angola. In August, some 7.7 million people were vaccinated in a major campaign that was launched in the “high risk” DRC capital Kinshasa, along with 1.5 million in other parts of the country. In Angola, 2.4 million people have been vaccinated, making 11.6 million in all.
The campaigns have depleted the global stockpile of 6 million yellow fever vaccine doses twice this year already, which according to the WHO is unprecedented. The vaccine shortage has now become so acute that officials have begun diluting the vaccine by 80 percent in a bid to stretch the supply. The four major manufacturers who supply the global stockpile have worked around the clock in order to replenish the stockpile.
Last month, the UN health agency convened an emergency committee of experts to consider the outbreak’s status, stating afterwards that the increase of the mosquito-spread haemorrhagic fever appears to have slowed. The WHO further reported that since 12 July there have been no new infections reported in what is an “extremely positive” trend. The upcoming rainy season has raised fears of further spread of the worst outbreak in decades. It also noted that intense population movements across the border to neighbouring Republic of Congo pose a risk of further spread, adding that the Brazzaville government should consider a “pre-emptive vaccination campaign in high-risk areas,” noting that the virus was moving towards Central and Eastern Africa.
On Friday, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar warned the United Nations that the failure to fully implement a nationwide peace accord was helping al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS)-affiliated groups spread their influence in the West African country.
Speaking at a high-level meeting on Mali at the annual UN General Assembly, President Keita stated, “we have to admit that several factors are contradicting our will and effort,” adding, “in particularly the extension of terrorism and banditry and security of neighbouring countries because of the desire of terrorist groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and Islamic State seeking to expand.” The president further disclosed that Islamists were using the slow implementation of peace accords in order to “manipulate” and “destroy” links between different ethnic groups in Mali. One incident, a clash in the north that erupted earlier this week between pro-government Gatia milita and the Tuareg separatist Coordination of Azawad movements, has highlighted the fragility of the UN-backed deal, which was singed last year between the Malian government and northern armed groups. That agreement is meant to end a cycle of uprisings. Also speaking at the meeting was Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, whose country is leading mediation efforts in Mali. Lamamra disclosed, “we must redouble our efforts,” adding, It’s terrible that signatories of the accord are involved in the fratricidal killings.” Meanwhile French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose country has thousands of troops deployed across West Africa in a bid to hunt down militants, disclosed that the security situation was “in general satisfying despite asymmetric attacks.”
UN peacekeepers are deployed across northern Mali with the aim of stabilizing the vast region, which was occupied by separatist Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist militants in 2012, before France intervened the following years. Tit-for-tat violence between rival armed groups however has distracted the West African nation from fighting Islamist militants. Furthermore, the country has become the deadliest place for UN peacekeepers to serve. On Thursday, the international mediation team, which includes the UN, Europeans Union (EU), African Union (AU) and regional bloc ECOWAS, disclosed that it believed the situation could not continue without compromising the agreement. The international mediation team also threatened international sanctions on those responsible for blocking the deal’s implementation.