French troops withdrawal: Red flag for Nigeria, others
By Akpo Ometan
The forthcoming withdrawal of French troops currently battling Islamist insurgents across vast swathes of West and Central Africa constitutes a red flag for Nigeria and other nations in the affected regions of Africa, analysts are saying.
This is coming on the heels of Thursday’s Press Conference where French President Emmanuel Macron announced an imminent drawing down on troops in the ongoing insurgency containment exercise, code-named Operation Barkhane.
According to him, the full details of the draw down package were still being worked out and would be released later in the month. He also hinted that going forward, the rest of French involvement in containing the growing activities of insurgents in the area would be accommodated under a broad international arrangement. Some analysts think that this is indicative of a greater role for the United Nations in the area.
Till date, France has defence pacts with many of the countries in West and Central Africa and it is on account of those agreements that it has for several years now been engaged in efforts aimed at containing the spread of insurgency in the areas.
From Burkina Faso to Mali to Niger and Chad, the French have for long maintained an ubiquitous presence in the regions. However, notwithstanding the heavy involvement of Paris, the insurgents have continued to take territories and expand their reach.
Macron himself fingers poor governance in the region as a major factor in the continuing inability of the established state institutions in the regions to domestically establish firmer control and wade off the terrorists. While analysts agree with him on this score, they also point to the fact that some of the obnoxious economic burdens placed upon the countries under the extant La Francophonie treaties also significantly constrain them in terms of how much resources are available to them after servicing their questionable financial and economic obligations to France. They also point to French support for propping up dictators in the region which undermine popular involvement of the people in upholding their states.
Another factor contributing to the spread of the insurgency, analysts say, is the routing of Islamic State in the Middle East which had encouraged their consequent flight from that region and relocation to Africa. This ‘flight to softer areas sequence’ is a pattern that usually takes place from time to time.
For example, while speaking on Arise Television recently, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria conceded that a lot of the banditry, kidnapping and criminality that has presently engulfed literally all parts of Nigeria may be directly connected to his administration’s fight against Boko Haram insurgents in the North East of the country which has, as he put it, had the unintended consequence of having the insurgents fan out all across the country.
For Nigeria, which is merely separated from the crisis hotbed in Mali by its closest neighbour, Niger – which is equally not at peace – the Islamists crisis is also being compounded by the fact that elements from the Islamic State, namely the Islamic State in West Africa Provinces, ISWAP, have continued to push to consolidate their hold on about all of the Islamist factions in the country. More recently for example, they reportedly took out the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Abubakar Shekau. And with Boko Haram and ISWAP also being fingered as being linked to some of the banditry and kidnapping operations in other parts of the country, it is clearly a moot point to say that Nigerians and indeed other Africans should not be bothered about the potential impact of the French troops withdrawal exercise.
Domestically, a lot of the debate in Nigeria now is centred around loosening the security infrastructure, and notably that of the police, in such a way as to encourage greater local involvement and participation in taking on the insurgent elements. However, the Buhari administration has continued to show an open preference for continuing to maintain the current centrallised system. This is one of the thorny points that an ongoing constitutional amendment process that is underway in Africa’s most populous nation, is expected to take on in the next few days.
Is it also an appropriate time to revive discussions about a more functional and viable African High Command? We wait.
French President, Emmanuel Macron