Burkina Faso and Nigér have announced their withdrawal from the G5 Sahel force, a regional anti-jihadist coalition that was set up in 2014 with the support of France. The two countries have joined Mali, which also quit the G5 last year after a military coup, in forming a new alliance of Sahel states that aims to enhance their security and development.
The G5 Sahel force, which also includes Chad and Mauritania, has been struggling to contain the Islamist insurgency that has spread across the vast and arid region south of the Sahara. The force, which was supposed to have about 5,000 soldiers, has been hampered by lack of funding, equipment, coordination and political will.
The military leaders of Burkina Faso and Nigér, who both came to power through coups in 2022 and 2023 respectively, have accused the G5 Sahel of failing to make the region safer and of serving foreign interests, especially those of France, the former colonial power. France has deployed about 5,000 troops in the Sahel since 2013 as part of its Operation Barkhane, which aims to support the local forces in fighting the jihadists.
However, France has faced growing resentment and criticism from the Sahelian countries, who have demanded more autonomy and dignity in their security affairs. Burkina Faso and Nigér have ordered the French forces to leave their territories, following the example of Mali, which expelled the French troops in February 2021. France has also announced its intention to reduce its military presence in the region and to focus on a more international and multilateral approach.
In response to the crisis, the three coup-led countries of Burkina Faso, Nigér and Mali have formed their own mutual defense pact, called the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), which was signed in September 2021. The AES aims to foster closer economic and political ties among the members, as well as to provide mutual assistance in combating the jihadist threat. The AES has also expressed its willingness to cooperate with other regional and international partners, such as the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations and the European Union.
The creation of the AES and the withdrawal of Burkina Faso and Niger from the G5 Sahel force have raised questions about the future of the regional security architecture and the role of France and other external actors in the Sahel. Some analysts have warned that the fragmentation of the anti-jihadist coalition could undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of the fight against terrorism, and that the AES could face challenges in terms of resources, capacity and governance. Others have argued that the AES could offer an opportunity for a more inclusive and sustainable approach to the Sahel crisis, and that the G5 Sahel force could still play a complementary role in coordination with the AES and other partners.
The military regimes have also formed close ties against international pressure for a swift return to civilian rule, and to combat the long-running jihadist insurgencies raging in the three countries.
Only Chad and Mauritania now remain in the G5, whose military deployment is largely financed by the European Union.
The French deployment in the region goes back over a decade to 2013, when then president Francois Hollande sent troops into Mali to help fight a jihadist insurgency.
But the military successes have contrasted with political failure, as democracy regressed rather than developed in a region also plagued by a flood of disinformation that Paris blames on Russia.
France also began pulling its troops from Mali last year, ending what became known as the Barkhane mission.
On the ground, few joint G5 operations have actually been carried out and the security situation has continued to deteriorate.
Sahel trio seek confederation amid security and political challenges
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, three West African countries facing security and political crises, have expressed their intention to form a confederation as a step towards a future federation. The foreign ministers of the three countries, which are all ruled by military regimes after coups, made the recommendation on Friday (Dec. 01) after a two-day meeting in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The meeting was part of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), a new regional bloc that was established in September by the military leaders of the three countries. The AES aims to enhance the cooperation and integration of the Sahelian nations in the areas of diplomacy, defence and development, as well as to protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity from external threats.
According to a joint statement, the foreign ministers spoke of the “great potential for peace, stability, diplomatic strength and economic development that a strengthened political alliance offers”. They also said that the creation of a confederation would be submitted to their heads of state, who are due to meet in Bamako at an unspecified date.