Stake experts released the first edition of The African Geopolitical ATLAS, on 28 April 2020. This 222 pages-long bilingual (English/French) book consists of 84 geographical and thematic maps on continental, regional, and national issues faced by the continent over the 2018-2019 two years span. Pauline Le Roux is a French political analyst who contributed with the first introductory chapter entitled: “Continental geopolitical context, tensions from inside and outside”. She shares her views on the project with FOX News Point.
Your introductory chapter analyses the “tensions from inside and outside” facing the African continent. What are the major sources of those tensions?
As the title of the chapter suggests, the tensions governing the African continent are of different nature: the ones emanating “from inside” and the ones coming “from outside”. In the first category, I would include the structural causes of fragility shared by several African countries such as the persistence of poverty, the lack of basic public services, a high birth rate combined to rapid and uncontrolled urbanization. Weak or ineffective governance patterns, including corruption, also prevent populations from fully enjoying their political and social rights.
In this context, armed groups, including militant Islamist groups, exploit these weaknesses and frustrations, in an attempt to stand as a credible alternative to failing states apparatus. For a large part, these issues are structural and require the implementation of long-term responses by governments. The devastating impact of climate change, which is overstretching natural resources and often exacerbating preexisting ethnic tensions, can match both categories since consequences largely come from other countries’ action than African countries.
On the other hand, the tensions “from the outside” can be related to the current state of the world geopolitics. In a world based on the market economy, all states and organizations promote their own interests. With its young population and immense natural resources, Africa represents a continent of opportunity for many countries. African governments are aware of the strategic nature of this move and most of them have seized opportunities to develop their economy and take advantage of this attention. For the last decade, Africa has become a place where great powers compete with each other and seek to develop their traditional interests (economic, military), but also to spread their influence through other means (using mass media, expanding cultural, religious and academic exchanges, etc.).
Terrorism issues have increased in several regions over the past decade, with some regions like the Sahel experiencing this threat for the first time in their recent history. How do you think policymakers are adapting to, and coping with this in the Sahel in particular?
Indeed, terrorism has risen sharply in Africa over the past decade. In 2019, terrorist groups in Africa set a record pace of activity with 3,471 reported violent events linked to these groups in the past year. This reflects a doubling of militant Islamist group activity in Africa from 2013. Policymakers have well understood that only a multi-dimensional approach – which means, integrating all dimensions of the crisis – have a chance to effectively address the situation in the Sahel in the long-term. As much as the military cannot be the only response to a lasting crisis, people need security to go to work, go to school, access public services and express democratically.
In the Sahel, governments have taken steps to address the situation by creating the G5 Sahel, an inter-governmental partnership among Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to foster economic cooperation and security in the Sahel region. In 2017, they launched the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which gained traction over the last year and is now showing its capacity to effectively conduct operations against terrorist groups, especially in the three-border area. Efforts are ongoing regarding the return of state presence, humanitarian relief and assistance, as well as in terms of professionalization of defence and security forces and effective support of the command chain, an essential part of the effort. Such a combined response is critical to avoid only addressing the symptoms of the crisis, but challenging its roots.
How do you think Africa as a continent can best benefit from the increasing interest of both historical and new international partners?
The international community has taken the measure of how important the stabilization of the African continent is for world stability. In our interconnected planet, no country or region can pretend to be immune against sudden events that can provoke millions of refugees and displaced people – and we know that population movements will keep increasing in the years to come. We also know how easy it can be for extremist groups to exploit any state weaknesses, try to fill the gaps and set up new strongholds wherever they find a space and remain unchallenged.
Consequently, we noticed in the last decade an increasing mobilization effort of international partners in favour of security and stabilization in Africa. Today, Africa still hosts 8 peace operations deployed by the United Nations; the European Union (EU) runs several defence and security missions across the continent (EUTM and EUCAP missions), and the EU has invested major efforts to support African countries (it has for instance dedicated 4,5 billion euros between 2014 and 2020 solely to the Sahel region). The United States, but also China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, and South Korea have stepped into the effort and offered bilateral assistance and defence cooperation to many African countries. It will be interesting to see if these efforts focus on deepening the coordination and the effectiveness of this massive aid so that it can effectively reach the populations in need.
Besides the security aspects, I think that African countries have much to gain by diversifying the areas for cooperation. They should probably take advantage of the multiple cooperation offers in all domains to pick the ones that suit best their own interests, such as promote green and renewable technologies, defend their local industries and food productions, and support their energy independence.
What, in your opinion, are the key challenges facing Africa in this new decade?
Because of their potentially immense consequences in the midterm and in the long-term, I think that the lasting impact of climate change and the combination of growing inequalities and demographic bulge are two of the biggest challenges facing Africa. These are enormous challenges but they can be addressed and it is possible to mitigate their impact and to foster sustainable growth, but it requires strong measures. It means encouraging an economy creating attractive job opportunities to young generations (and for instance, to stop focusing on the extraction of fossil energy), working to reduce economic and social inequalities, including gender inequality, and protecting the natural resources in Africa. This will only happen though, on the condition that democratic dialogues channels between governments and populations are established and strengthened. Peoples need to have hope and feel that their representatives listen to their concerns and make the best choices for the future of their countries. Without that, one can fear that energies will not focus on how to tackle these challenges but will more likely revert to violent ways of expression, potentially giving ways to news conflicts.