EU Africa strategy threatens hard turn as bloc looks to contain Sahel conflict

THE European Union has historically favoured a soft power approach when responding to crisis in Africa.

The violent Islamist insurgency in the Sahel, has seen many nations – most recently Britain – intervene militarily.

Redaction Politics has reported on how these actions have been criticised for failing to tackle the roots of the conflict – namely energy and food insecurity.


The European Commission set out the basis for a new strategy with Africa this week with a traditional focus on climate change, development and migration.

Speaking at the ‘Strategy with Africa’ launch, High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said: “A part of Europe’s future is at stake in Africa. To face our common challenges, we need a strong Africa, and Africa needs a strong Europe.

Flickr-Rock Cohen

“There is everything to gain from reinforcing our already very strong partnership in areas such as peace and stability, poverty and inequalities, terrorism and extremism.

“Both our continents need each other to strengthen themselves, to strengthen each other, and to achieve a common ambition: a better world based on a rules-based international order.”

Renewed rhetoric from Brussels on ‘strength’ in the face of terrorism and extremism, has seen observers caution the a desire to see the bloc become a security community, one willing to use military intervention to project power.

Counter-terrorism expert Dr Isaac Kfir told Redaction Politics: “The EU strategy appears reliant on soft power, development and humanitarian support.

“The EU’s interest in the Sahel also stems from a desire to stop or slow the irregular migration to the EU.

“The Sahel is part of the western route to Europe, which begins mainly in Nigeria and goes through Mali and Libya.

“Because the EU is a key proponent of human security – freedom from want and freedom from fear, it holds that creating political, social and economic security would discourage people from making the hazardous trip to Europe,” he told Redaction Politics

The Lake Chad Basin initiative which focuses on reclaiming the lake and encouraging fishing is one example of the humanitarian and development programs that the EU is running in the region.

In November the European Commission adopted five new programmes worth over €141 million.

This included two programmes- totalling €75 million – which sort to shore up stability and youth participation in the G5 Sahel countries.

Despite this investment there is still signs Brussels may yet be moved to explore a more bellicose approach to the conflict raging in West Africa.

“You should also look at the EU’s engagement in the Sahel through the EU’s desire to become a security community,

“(European Commission President) Von Der Leyden and her foreign minister (Josep Borell) have described the new commission as a geo-strategic commission, and have talked about a new conception of power, ” added Dr Kafir.

Speaking last month in Ethiopia, Borell called for a “less angelic” response to meet violent crises across Africa, including the deep-rooted Islamist insurgency plaguing the Sahel.

In his speech the former Spanish foreign minister bluntly called for arms to be supplied to the EU’s African partners.

“We need guns, we need arms, we need military capacities and that is what we are going to help provide to our African friends because their security is our security,” euobserver quote him as saying.

Borrell also made a series of statements about the intentions of the EU’s military wing, including using the funds from a new €10.5bn “off budget” slush fund to buy and provide weapons.

In response to questions asked by reporters concerning conflict on the war-torn continent, Borrell said: “Let us be less angelical and put a foot on the ground.

“We are fighting a war, and when you face a war, you need to do war.”

“And security requires strength and strength requires arms.”

This marks a dramatic departure for a bloc who’s past partnerships with Africa have been markedly pacifist in their approach.

Such partnerships focused on delivering security and peace, both of which are seen as vital in making sure the current conflicts in places like the Sahel don’t spiral out of control.


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