African leaders on Monday used a regional forum to underline the need for the continent to assure its own security after years of Western interventions, while also calling for international funding to support the anti-terror fight.
The annual Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security this year brings together the presidents of Mali, Rwanda and host Senegal along with military officials and experts to discuss Africa’s serious challenges in the sector.
In an opening address, Senegal’s President Macky Sall said a “military response must be comprehensive, and one of solidarity, to leave terrorist groups no place to hide.
“The risk today is seeing terrorists defeated elsewhere seeking fallback zones in Africa,” Sall added.
The vast Sahel region, stretching from Senegal to Sudan, has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists overran northern Mali in 2012 and Boko Haram rose up in northern Nigeria.
Beyond the Sahel, the Shabaab, a militant group aligned with Al-Qaeda, regularly carries out suicide bombings in its bid to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed government, while civil conflicts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan blight the continent.
Sall pointed to the Western intervention in Libya as an example of why African populations had to be involved in decisions on rooting out terror groups, as the north African nation’s instability has fuelled conflict elsewhere.
“We must beware of preconceived solutions formulated without Africans,” Sall said. “The consequences of these interventions, which we are living in the Sahel, are often worse than what they were supposed to rectify.”
– Sahal force funding –
The forum follows the recent launch of the G5 Sahel force, an anti-jihadist military initiative working across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to counter the significant threat Al-Qaeda-linked groups pose in the region and to stop the Islamic State group from gaining a foothold.
The world’s newest joint international force, the five-nation G5 Sahel plans to number up to 5,000 military, police and civilian troops by March 2018.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly described the G5 force as “a success”, though Moussa Faki Mahamat, head of the African Union Commission, said United Nations support was of “the greatest importance” for that initiative, and for another regional deployment in the Lake Chad region against Boko Haram.
France wanted the force to have full UN logistical and financial backing, but the United States argued against the idea, partly on cost grounds.
The Dakar Forum is a French-backed initiative, and the European nation retains a heavy military presence across the Sahel.
Mahamat, Sall and Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita all emphasised that the G5 Sahel force required significant funding from the international community, as current pledges stand at 108 million euros ($126 million) while up to 423 million euros may be required in the first year of its existence.
Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President who will chair the African Union from 2018, said African nations “have only ourselves to blame” if the international community alone decided on the continent’s security needs.