Many African voices have reacted to French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks at the end of the G20 summit in Germany. According to him, Africa is facing « a civilisational challenge » and its women, who still have « seven to eight children », are jeopardising the future of the continent by undermining all development efforts. The Africans who wrote op-eds to express their exasperation were right. It is not because we are poor and weak that we should accept being lectured, or even insulted, by every French president who comes to power.
Read also: In Hamburg, a G20 less ambitious than hoped for Africa But, by allowing ourselves to be distracted by a hazardous communication, we run the risk of missing the essential issue: the abandonment of the field of ideas and action in key areas for the future of Francophone Africa, in particular to France and its partners in the European Union Invited on 2 July to Bamako for a summit of the G5 Sahel, a new organisation bringing together Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, President Macron announced not only France’s financial and logistical support for the future joint G5 Sahel force, but also the advent of an Alliance for the Sahel. This initiative was launched at the Franco-German Council of Ministers on 13 July, signalling an increasingly strong partnership between Paris and Berlin on African issues. Massive » immigration and « Islamist terrorism » The political objectives of the Europeans are clear: to contain and prevent « massive » African immigration to Europe and to reduce the spread of « Islamist terrorism ».
These two vital threats would be fuelled by the tens of millions of young Africans without jobs or prospects in their countries of origin. It is because there are already so many of them and they are set to grow exponentially that African demography has become a major concern for Europe. Read also: In the Sahel, Macron and Merkel want to make something new out of something old The economic objectives of European states and companies are, as always, less assumed. Yet there is nothing wrong with recognising what everyone knows: the « development » of poor countries also means guaranteed markets for companies in rich countries and very useful negotiating margins to ensure supplies of raw materials under very advantageous conditions.
The extent of the Franco-European military and security presence in the Sahel, on the one hand, and the new Alliance for the Sahel, on the other, illustrate the deep disarray into which the vast West African region is sinking. The Sahel’s dual dependence on France and Europe for security and development funding reflects a more worrying trend: an unprecedented weakening of African regional organisations against the backdrop of a deep crisis of leadership and a lack of political vision at the level of the states in the region. If the French president dared to speak confidently about African fertility, it is because his diplomatic services, his military staff, his intelligence agencies, his large development agency, his research centres specialising in ‘development’ issues and his multinationals that make their biggest margins in Africa, are quite familiar with the realities and current dynamics of the continent. France has always been able to maintain its academic research and strategic anticipation on Africa.
Moreover, it has had the intelligence to no longer limit itself to its former colonies. Diagnosis of African problems The ‘lesson on the problems of Africa’ given by the French president in Hamburg was singularly lacking in historical depth, diplomatic reserve and a sense of respect, but his diagnosis of African problems was not totally erroneous. The challenges posed by criminal trafficking, terrorism, lack of prospects for young people, « complex political transitions » and « failed states » are real. The fact that many failed states have been created or largely maintained by France does not change the fact that they are primarily affecting the future of African populations. Read also: The demographic question, the sword of Damocles for African development African countries should never have allowed these fragilities to reach the current degree of seriousness. They should never have created the conditions for a return to the logic of ‘foreign aid’, paternalism and overly blatant dependence. If West Africa, and not only the Sahelian countries, is in this situation, it is essentially because it has allowed itself to be fragmented instead of consolidating its integration.
If West Africa has reached this point, it is because all of its potential leading countries have fallen into serious crises over the past twenty years. It is because Nigeria, a demographic and economic giant, has no longer played its role as a driving force for this space, occupied as it is by its multiple fissures, and handicapped by a series of presidential casting errors with tragic consequences. It is also because West Africa has not equipped itself with strategic research centres designed to inform decision-making by the senior leaders of states and regional organisations. Read also: « In the Sahel, our development aid policy has been completely misguided » Instead of moving forward in a process of rationalisation of regional organisations and political and economic fusion of the Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone spaces, the heads of state have instead multiplied initiatives in competing institutional frameworks.
Since 2012, the crisis in Mali has opened up the possibility of creating a new geopolitical entity: the Sahel, which now has its own organisation, the G5 Sahel. While no one questions the existence of specific challenges for the Sahel countries, it is certain that its problems could have been linked to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and that a framework for consultation between ECOWAS and non-member countries such as Mauritania, Chad and Cameroon could have been created. Nigeria’s difficulties, Ghana’s timidity, Côte d’Ivoire’s political and security fragility, and the other countries’ small economic size have offered the region on a silver platter to a lasting French and European influence of problematic proportions.
The future of the Sahel is Africa Accepting the gradual geopolitical detachment of the Sahel from the institutional West Africa embodied until now by ECOWAS could be a major strategic error. It would break the solidarity dynamic between coastal and landlocked countries and jeopardise the main building blocks of West African integration. The information available on the Alliance for the Sahel does not mention either ECOWAS or the African Union as the political frameworks of reference for dialogue between the Sahel countries and their international partners. Read also: « We want to show the people of the Sahel that public action is being taken on their behalf » French and European commitments in the Sahel countries since 2012 on the security front have probably done more good than harm.
The new perspectives outlined by the Sahel Alliance can contribute to progress in these countries. On condition that they do not freeze the profound transformations that must take place in political practices and the functioning of states. And on condition that they do not unravel the integration of the West African space. If millions of young people were to emigrate from the Sahel countries in a few years’ time in search of a better life, they would first head for other African countries, not Europe. The problems of the Sahel are those of West Africa and Africa. So are the riches and potentialities of the Sahel. The future of the Sahel does not lie in its recolonisation. Gilles Olakounlé Yabi, economist and political analyst, chairs the steering committee of WATHI (www.wathi.org), a West African citizens’ think tank.