Sahel becoming less safe and coastal states under threat – Africom

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The Sahel has become less safe due to the expanded number of terror groups in the region, with instability on the cusp of affecting coastal West Africa, according to US Africa Command (Africom) Commander General Michael Langley.

Langley was speaking during a digital press briefing late last month following the 2024 Africa Chiefs of Defence Conference in Botswana.

“I say the Sahel has become less safe.  One, because of the expanded numbers across a number of factions or violent extremist organisations, whether we’re talking about JNIM or ISIS-Sahel or ISIS-West Africa, Boko Haram – is still there. So it is – very, very much has increased across the region…and now it’s at the cusp of affecting Coastal West Africa,” he said.

“Violent extremist organisations, they thrive in areas of instability – and instability such as governments, weak governance that is – that lay themselves vulnerable for ungoverned populations, regions, across and into Coastal West Africa, a number of regions across their northern borders that are susceptible for the influence of violent extremist organizations.

“So the bottom-line answer is it is less safe, but our way forward is to engage with these countries, identify what their needs are in which they will lead an enduring solution, and in most cases it will be a whole-of-government approach on their end as well.

“And so that’s where our 3D construct within Africom comes into play, because we have those shared…objectives, shared challenges, but also the throughput of how we address an enduring solution through a whole-of-government approach. And we have a lot of activities and investments that have been effective in the past and I’m sure they will be effective in the future, based on the lead of our African partners,” Langley stated.

According to the latest Global Peace Index 2024, which ranks 163 states and territories according to their level of peacefulness, Sub-Saharan Africa is the second least peaceful region of the world behind the Middle East and North Africa, with three of the ten least peaceful countries in the world found south of the Sahara.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces several security crises, most notably the increase in political unrest and terrorism in the Central Sahel region. Burkina Faso has the highest terrorism impact of any country in the world, and five of the ten countries with the highest terrorism impact are in sub-Saharan Africa, the report found.

There were deteriorations in peacefulness in sub-Saharan Africa across all three GPI domains, with the largest occurring on the Ongoing Conflict domain, the report published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) explained. Conflicts in the region continued to spill across national borders, reflected by a deterioration on the external conflicts fought indicator. In the past five years, 36 of the 44 countries in the region have had some level of involvement in at least one external conflict.

South Sudan is the least peaceful country in the region, despite a small improvement in peacefulness over the past year. The number of deaths from internal conflict fell by 73%, from 723 deaths in 2022 to 199 in 2023. Although the country recorded improvements on both the Militarisation and Ongoing Conflict domains, the security situation remains fraught. The ongoing crisis in Sudan has also significantly impacted South Sudan, complicating the return of refugees and potentially impacting South Sudan’s economy by disrupting oil exports.