Security in West Africa: Sitting on tenterhooks

West Africa on wooden map

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International Security Journal hears from Buduka Addey Johnson, Managing Director/CEO, EPSS Private Security Services Ltd.

Security trends in West Africa

When Bruce Schneier said: “Security is not a product, but a process,” he might be responding to a subliminal perception about the imperative of peace at the heels of threats and insecurity ravaging Africa and the West Africa sub region in particular.

No doubt, his perception about stimulating a process that will propel peace has become germane, considering the sundry security challenges plaguing the continent today.

For the record, and for the avoidance of any ambiguity, a cursory look at the constituents of West Africa, comprising Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and South of Sahara, will situate this discourse in a proper context.

It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the South by the Gulf of Guinea and in the North by the Sahara and Sahel.

Her vegetation is punctuated by rainforest, Savannah and the dry Sahara Desert. Its vast borders and interlocking routes create accessibilities in human migration, passage of goods and services and allow for smuggling of illegal petroleum products, kidnapping, hostage taking and of course, the infamous proliferation of small arms.

Yet, there is a disturbing lax security architecture by various West African law enforcement and security agencies, with the attendant spate of insecurity in the region.

These prevailing security trends in the region, with particular focus on its implications on political instability in countries such as Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Guinea, call for a periscope.

Without any gainsaying, therefore, a closer look at the impact of the withdrawal of the UN peacekeepers from Mali and the role of the Wagner Group towards understanding these dynamics is essential for devising effective strategies to promote peace, stability and resilience in West Africa.

Extremist groups such as Boko Haram, AQIM and ISGS have significantly impacted West Africa’s security landscape.

Shocking statistics from the Global Terrorism Index 2021 reveal a staggering 43% increase in terrorism-related deaths. Beyond causing violence and instability, these groups hamper development and investment.

To counter these threats, regional cooperation, intelligence sharing and implementing comprehensive counter-terrorism strategies have become imperative.

Countries such as Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Guinea have experienced significant bouts of political instability, leading to far-reaching implications for security.

Ethnic tensions occasioned by elections, weak governance structures and coup attempts have also created an environment conducive to violence, insurgency and criminal activities.

Also, political instability undermines state authority, weakens security forces and exacerbates the overall security landscape in the region.

Worse still, the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Mali has raised concerns about potential security vacuums and the country’s ability to address ongoing security challenges.

Mali has been a focal point for regional terrorism, with extremist groups operating in the country. Therefore, the departure of the UN peacekeepers demands a robust response from the Malian government, including strengthening national security forces, promoting cooperation and implementing comprehensive counter-terrorism strategies.

The involvement of the Wagner Group has further complicated the security dynamics in the region. The group’s activities and influence have been observed in Mali, Burkina Faso and other countries.

Its presence raises concerns about potential geopolitical competition, the erosion of state sovereignty and the impact on local security forces.

Addressing the role of the Wagner Group requires regional collaboration, enhanced intelligence sharing and coordinated efforts to maintain stability and address security threats.

More so, the region grapples with transborder migration and human trafficking, fuelled by economic disparities, political instability and conflicts.

Startling figures from the International Organization for Migration reveal that over 70,000 migrants arrived in Europe from West Africa in 2020, with many falling prey to human trafficking networks.

Robust border security, enhanced regional cooperation and addressing the root causes of migration are critical to combating these multifaceted challenges.

Climate change and resource scarcity further exacerbate security risks in West Africa. Environmental degradation, water scarcity and competition over limited resources contribute to conflicts and instability.

An urgent need

Alarming projections from the United Nations Development Programme suggest that climate change could displace up to 86 million people in West Africa by 2050.

This has underscored the urgent need for climate resilience measures and sustainable resource management. West Africa stands at a critical juncture in its pursuit of peace and stability.

The security trends unfolding in the region demand immediate attention and decisive action. By prioritising good governance, collaboration and comprehensive strategies, West African nations can navigate through these challenges and create a safer and more prosperous future for citizens.

It is through collective determination and coordinated efforts that West Africa can overcome its security challenges and build a resilient and stable region.

As opined by Bahá’u’lláh: “The wellbeing of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

Africa, and, indeed, the world must unite against everything that threatens global peace. Peace and security remain a sine qua non.

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