West Africa: Sahel and the Accra Initiative

The Accra Initiative was born out of seven West African countries desire to pool together their resources to deal with emerging threats: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Togo. Nigeria associated itself with it at the concerned Heads of State and Governments summit held in the Ghanaian capital on 22 November 2022. Member countries wanted to move quickly into action. To be effective, they need to fulfill a number of conditions: forging a common strategic vision; mobilizing, as soon as possible, the means of their ambitions; opening up to other countries in the sub-region; and establishing partnerships all over.

West African countries are generally suffering from the spread of terrorism. In 2012, the Malian central state nearly fell into the hands of various terrorist movements, after the overthrow of then-president Amadou Toumani Touré. Burkina Faso suffered its first terrorist salvoes on January 16, 2016. The Ivory Coast experienced its first terrorist attack, that of the seaside town of Grand-Bassam, on March 13, 2016. Togo suffered its first strike, the night of November 9 to 10, 2021, in the locality of Sanloaga, in the north of the country, on its border with Burkina Faso. Benin received a warning shot on May 1, 2019, with the kidnapping of two French tourists. Then, on December 2, 2021, during the night, two soldiers of Benin Armed Forces (FAB) were killed by terrorists, in the locality of Porga, near the border with Burkina Faso. The German Konrad Adenauer Foundation conducted a study entitled: ” The Jihadist Threat in Northern Ghana and Togo “. According to its conclusions, published on April 06, 2022, there are probably positioned armed jihadist groups in northern Ghana. More than 200 young Ghanaians are believed to be active into groups such as Ansar al-Islam, present in Burkina Faso and Mali and that of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM). Nigeria has been facing the insurgency of the Boko Haram sect since 2009. Other armed groups operate there too.

Strategic vision: one common enemy.

Mali is the epicenter of terrorism in the Sahel, in the sense that a ” jihadist international ” has gradually established itself there. Armed groups sometimes unite and sometimes fight each other on its territory. Schematically, two branches can be observed. Close to Al Qaeda, the Group Support for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) is an alliance of several armed Islamist movements in the Sahel. The Malian Iyad Ag Ghali is its leader. In the wake of this movement, Ansaroul Islam, created in 2016 by Ibrahim Jafar Dicko, who died in 2017, is present in Burkina Faso.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) was led by a former member of the Polisario Front, Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui. The latter was also one of the executives of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) which crossed swords with the French operation Serval, in 2013. He was killed by the Barkhane force, on August 17, 2021 in Mali. In the same vein, evolves the Katiba Macina Group directed by Amadou Koufa, who intends to mobilize, on his own, mostly his ethnic brothers, from the center of Mali, in order to support Islam, in the following countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte-d’ Ivory, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. To this list can now be added Benin and Togo.

Mobilizing appropriate resources.

States have an interest in recognizing that insecurity is a concern to all ECOWAS member states and Chad, whose soldiers have been present in Mali since 2013, during the deployment of Serval the French operation. Confronted to this octopus, constantly projecting its tentacles, the Heads of States and Governments have decided to set up a joint anti-terrorist force of 10,000 men with a budget of 550 million US dollars, or 275 billion FCFA. There are doubts about the ability of the Member States to mobilize such resources by themselves. Indeed, ECOWAS is struggling to gather financial and logistical resources to activate its Standby Force (FAC).

Just for the deployment of its troops in theaters of operations, the organization has often made calls on foreign powers – EU and USA – for lack of the necessary financial resources. Another bad omen came recently to reinforce this skepticism: the building of the future official headquarters of ECOWAS, at a cost of 31.6 million dollars, will be entirely provided by China according to the terms of the agreement signed on March 16, 2018 between the two parties in Abuja. Construction work began on December 04, 2022, and will take three years. The 15 member countries have hardly been able to raise this amount. The example comes from above: the African Union headquarters, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had also been a gift from the same China, in 2012. In both cases, the condition was to intensify its economic cooperation with the two African entities. Beijing also draws diplomatic benefits, since on May 24, 2018, Burkina Faso announced the severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The argument is that China wishes to forge a better partnership in order to consolidate its socio-economic development and facilitate regional and sub-regional projects. The potential donors of the Accra Initiative, in addition to its member’s states, are those who expressed an interest in it, on the occasion of the eponymous summit, on November 24, 2022: the European Council, the UN, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

There are opportunities.

Alongside this serious or disabling constraint, opportunities for agreement do exist. The States of the sub-region recognize that insecurity concerns all ECOWAS member countries and Chad, whose soldiers have been present in Mali since 2013, with the deployment of the French operation Serval. They consider this issue as a priority, because without security there is no development. This is how Niger, for example, devotes up to 17% of its budgetary resources to security, against 10% planned, since 2011. Thus, so much less for the basic social sectors. The will to pool together their human resources – human, armaments logistics and financial – to face the terrorist hydra, is easy to demonstrate among the West African leaders.

The Senegalese army is strengthening its presence in the east of the country, near the Malian border, anticipating the jihadist threat, by building two military camps in Koungheul, in the Kaffrine region, and in Goudiry, in Tambacounda. The first, located 618 kilometers east of Dakar was inaugurated on December 27, 2022 by the President Macky Sall. That is one way to help Mali contain terrorists, by protecting oneself. In 2021, a United Nations report alerted Senegal to the possible presence of GSIM elements in Kaffrine, precisely. For its part, Ivory Coast has undertaken to strengthen its fight against terrorism. In August 2021, President Alassane Dramane Ouattara, strongly encouraged by France, created, by a decree not made public, the Anti-Terrorist Operational Intelligence Center (CROAT), placed under the dual supervision of the Presidency of the Republic, to which both the National Security Council (CNS) and the Ministry of Defense already report. The Center comprises five departments, which range from intelligence collection and analysis, to technological support, international cooperation and operations. These extend possibly to actions outside Ivorian territory.

Wagner: the bone of contention.

Beyond the challenge of resource mobilization, obstacles to cooperation between all ECOWAS member states dot the operationalization of the Accra Initiative. The presence of the Russian paramilitary company Wagner in Mali has produced tensions with other West African countries, except Burkina Faso and Guinea-Conakry. The presumption of recent collaboration between Wagner and Burkina Faso also causes misunderstandings between that country and its neighbors Ghana and Niger, in particular. To the accusations of Ghana relating to this security idyll, Burkina reacted vigorously, recalling its ambassador to Accra and then summoning that of Ghana to Ouagadougou for an clarification. On December 21, 2022, a high-level Ghanaian mission visited Burkina Faso for a direct explanation. The Burkina Faso ambassador in Accra has not yet returned to his post, it can be assumed that additional adjustments are needed before a complete normalization of the relationships between the two neighbors. Diplomatic tensions also persist between the Ivory Coast and Mali, due to the continued detention of the 46 Ivorian soldiers arrested at Bamako airport on July 10, 2022. In addition, the Malian junta is convinced that the President Alassane Dramane Ouattara influenced UEMOA and ECOWAS in taking sanctions against Mali after the second coup perpetrated by Colonel Assimi Goīta in nine months. The collaboration of Burkina Faso and Mali in this major project – the Accra Initiative – to fight against terrorism therefore promises to be difficult. Despite these pitfalls, the Initiative boat can already leave the port of Accra…

André Marie POUYA

Consultant, centre4s.org