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Coups d’état and Political Instability in the Sahel: Implications for the Fight against Terrorism and Violent Extremism (April 2022)

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Summary

Africa’s Western Sahel region faces multiple political, social, economic and security challenges, which are exacerbated by terrorism, violent extremism, communal violence and banditry. While the African Union Commission (AUC) and its partners are working together to address these challenges with innovative approaches, a resurgence of coups d’état has increased the region’s fragility and threatened the democratic foundation of affected states.
There are growing concerns that terrorist groups could exploit these political uncertainties to entrench their position and expand their activities to other parts of West Africa – and beyond.

Against this backdrop, this policy paper explores how these recent coups d’états and the associated political instability may impact on the fight against terrorism and violent extremism in the Western Sahel.

The paper also provides policy options to promote a more robust response to the evolving politico-security situation.
Analysis of the unfolding situation points to a potential leadership crisis in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

This is due to various factors, including the demise of the former President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, who was considered a stabilising force in the region. This leadership crisis could further weaken the capacity of states, and military capabilities in particular. Currently, this is weakening momentum and optimism in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism – which is also due to a perceived loss of control in the face of multidimensional challenges.To turn the tide, this policy paper recommends that international and regional pressure on the various military juntas to cede power must be carefully implemented to prevent further suffering among affected populations; as this may increase sympathy for terrorist and violent extremist groups. While returning to democratic rule is important, the international response must be coordinated with determination, caution and discretion. Flexibility, pragmatism and skilled diplomacy are needed to avoid exacerbating the precarious security situation.

Ensuring future stability will require the African Union (AU) to mobilise international support to reshuffle and strengthen the implementation of signed peace agreements, and to enhance the socio-economic resilience of Western Sahel countries. In this way, the root causes of instability can be addressed – including poor governance, corruption, underdevelopment, youth unemployment, political exclusion and marginalisation.