Alberto Suárez Sutil
CENTCOM Team Lead at The Counterterrorism Group
n the 1980s, a British synth pop and new wave group called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) was formed. They are best known for the hit Enola Gay and their 1981 album Architecture and Morality. It appeared on television programmes in Spain, but either because of our lack of knowledge of English or the habit of translating any foreign word into Spanish, the group’s name was translated into a confused Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
A parallel can be drawn between our translation of the OMD group’s name and the gradual degradation that the Sahel, the much-vaunted “southern border” of Spain and the EU, is experiencing this month. Mali, the epicentre of instability in the region, is increasingly and more sharply manoeuvring against the West. Chad and Burkina Faso are experiencing a rise in anti-French sentiment, at a time when Barkhane and Takuba are relocating to both countries, which in the medium to long term may mean that both missions will experience the same situation in both countries as they did in Mali. Finally, the term Darkness does justice not only to the gloomy scenario that hangs over the region, but also to the scant coverage in the Spanish press of a region that, let us not forget, is close to us and where we have troops deployed.
The month began with evidence of the poor relationship between Paris and Bamako
On 2 May, Mali’s ruling military junta denounced the defence agreements with France, which governed French military presence and aid in the country. The Malian military justified its decision by citing violations of its sovereignty by French troops. However, those following the situation understood that this excuse concealed tensions between the two sides over the junta’s decision to extend the democratic “transition” to four years and postpone elections scheduled for February 2023, and the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries. Wagner is seen in opposite ways by Paris and Bamako; while for the former he represents a threat to the region’s security because of his brutality and for being the Kremlin’s pawns, for Mali, Wagner achieves what neither France nor the UN or the EU have been able to do in nine years: dealing with the terrorist threat swiftly and brutally without concern for human rights and civilian casualties, which is probably more in line with how the Malian army deals with the terrorist threat than with how the West does, the Moura massacre in March this year, committed by the Malian army and Wagner Group mercenaries, being a case in point.
Ten days later, the Malian junta announced that it had prevented a coup attempt by “anti-progressive officers and non-commissioned officers”, supported by a Western country. This failed coup certainly undermined Bamako’s shaky confidence that it could count on the West and its regional allies in the G5 Sahel to deal with the terrorist threat. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain what happened on 16 May. On that day Mali announced that it was leaving the G5 Sahel, a regional forum formed by Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Mali to coordinate the fight against terrorism. Bamako’s excuse was that the other countries had denied it the rotating presidency of the group, which should have begun on 15 February. The other members argued that they did not respect Mali’s will because of the political situation in Mali, ignoring the fact that Chad and Burkina Faso are also ruled by military juntas. The G5 Sahel’s refusal, its Western ‘allies”’ hesitations on how to deal with jihadism and the harsh international, regional and continental reaction to the junta, translated into harsh economic sanctions and the ground and diplomatic isolation of Mali, most likely explain its decision to confront the jihadist threat with the help of the Wagner group’s mercenaries.
These gestures further destabilise a region where terrorism is only one of the many plagues plaguing the area. Droughts threaten to create new famines in a region accustomed to such tragedies, events that are certain to result in waves of refugees and migrants who are certain to make their way to Spain, specifically the Canary Islands. The data suggest that this is already happening. So far this year, from 1 January to 15 May, 7,619 migrants have arrived on the Canary coasts, of which 995 arrived in the first 15 days of May, 52% more than in May 2021. If Wagner fails to contain the jihadist threat (and by extension the Malian army), it is very likely that a scenario like the one experienced a decade ago, the origin of the current conflict, will be repeated. In 2012, jihadist groups from Algeria and Libya took over a separatist Tuareg insurgency in northern Mali, reaching the gates of Bamako by the end of that year. They almost took the whole country had it not been for the French intervention in 2013. Ten years later we may find ourselves with a scenario like the one in Afghanistan last summer. Who knows when Bamako will fall to the jihadists? It could be in one, two, six months or a year.
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