The world has returned to the climax of world Cold War – Ukraine and the Sahel region seem to be the operational theatre of the absurdity. Though it is a complex and sloppy terrain, only wise leaders can decipher the reasoning of Sun Tzu that “he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight…victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Four fundamental truths are clear for consideration – any military intervention in any of the countries under military control within the Sahel is a direct invitation for war; a war within the Sahel is not by any design likely to get to the mainland of the supporting western countries or Eastern Europe Russia; if a physical war is eventually fought, it is another source to grow the GDP of these foreign countries who supply military weapons used for the war, as it is certain we are not going to produce our weapons for war; and as for the countries within the Sahel, lives will be lost and the development of the region will again be prolonged for nearly a century.
Situated with tremendous potential for rapid growth, Sahel, the vast semi-arid region of Africa separating the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannahs to the south, is as much a land of opportunities as it is of challenges. Notwithstanding its abundant human and natural resources, the Sahel is faced with deep-rooted challenges that are not limited to environmental, political, security, and may affect the potential prosperity and peace of the region – impaired revolution. Out of the ten countries within the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, four are under military rule. The wave of military coups in the region started in Mali in August 2020, Chad in 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022 and Niger as the latest in July 2023.
In all histories of war around the world, man often fails to estimate the human casualties of military actions. The weird assumption of political and military leaders is that military actions often brings a closure to complex social crisis – on the contrary, almost all wars eventually end with negotiations, compromise, reconciliation and suspicious peace. For those that do not understand the complexity of foreign power play in this Sahel crisis, it is easier to blame or support either of the parties, in the real sense, it is a difficult task for the ECOWAS Chairman, fortunately for him, Nigeria is under constitutional democracy and the National Assembly has exercised its constitutional power to approve or reject military action in a way that saves the President from a possible of military intervention. If I were President Tinubu, I would have first played the Big Brother role, deploying diplomacy to break the unseen hands of foreign power blocs, before exerting force where and when it is extremely necessary.
Africa, particularly West African countries are already almost irretrievably at the tail end of global development, this needless regional crisis, will only worsen the development and security quagmire of the region. By the time the Russian-Ukraine war is over, it is certain that Ukraine will rebuild itself better and faster than any country in the Sahel will achieve any of its developmental goals since independence. We have complex existential challenges that require deliberate commitment to development rather than deliberate commitment to crisis, violence and war. If the Sahel goes to war, it will take us more than a century to recover from the devastating effect that we would experience through the war.
Countries in the Sahel should focus more on actualizing the UN Support Plan for the Sahel which seeks to mobilize public resources and triggering private investments in the ten countries in support of ongoing efforts and initiatives by governments, international and regional organizations, and other partners. The focus will be on the six focal priority areas of cross-border cooperation, prevention and sustaining peace, inclusive growth, limited action, renewable energy, and women and youth empowerment. Such commitment is not about the revolutionary speeches of President Ibrahim Traore of Burkina Faso, African leaders, since independence are known for cheap and smooth talks without enduring development results; this is not about changing foreign alliances either, it’s about deliberate development and the productive value of our trade; it is about collaborative commitments to how democracies can deliver enduring development dividends for the people. If we want to go to war, we must build our own weapons of war, fight on our own terms and win for the interests of our people. No responsible leaders fight with war machines built by his or her enemy.
We need peace in the Sahel but as Spinoza opined in 1670, “peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” West African countries must practice its own Protocols on democracy and governance to deliver development of it aspire for peace. Again, peace can never be achieved by changing foreign allegiance only, it will be situated by deliberately developing their countries. As required by the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, political actors and leaders in Africa must consciously observes the principles of good governance, respect rule of law and popular participation and ensure that the rights of citizens are protected. The truth is that Africa can only come of age when African leaders are truly committed to the African people, no matter the system of government we operate.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.