Africa in Perspective - Spotlight on West Africa

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In this Africa in Perspective webinar, panellists will discuss how to overcome the regional fragility and violence caused by weak state capacity, inter-group inequality and the legacies of historic conflict in West Africa.

The event considers measures to tackle the root causes of economic underdevelopment, climate change, insecurity and the ongoing violent conflicts between the state and non-state actors.  Particular attention will be given to initiatives to advance good governance as a means to consolidate democracy and secure sustainable regional peace.

Over the last few years, West Africa has seen a rise in violent extremism, increased levels of popular dissatisfaction as a result of bad governance, the negative impact of climate change, an increase in transnational organised crime, and shifts in the patterns of localised conflicts between communities. Of greatest concern is the rise in terrorist activity emanating from the Sahel, Sahara and the Great Lakes, involving groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), Ansa Din and al-Qaida.

While a variety of approaches have been adopted to counter the rising insecurity, including peacebuilding, counter-terrorism, training local armies and development initiatives, progress across the region has been insufficient.  Violent instability is now spreading and threatening coastal West Africa. Even with the formation by west African states of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) aimed at confronting Boko Haram, and the French-led operations Barkhane in Mali and the newly established operation Takuba to tackle violence across the tri-border regions (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso), regional governments and international stakeholders are facing significant levels of violence and instability.

With the regional spread of violent extremism, many of the important democratic advances made in West Africa since the 1990s are now imperilled.  In August 2020 Mali experienced a military coup – the second in eight years.   While the action by the Mali military was condemned by the international community, it was celebrated by many in Mali.  The military have promised stability following years of violence due to Mali’s struggle with Islamist insurgency, and after months of political turmoil over contested legislative elections. 

The developments in Mali highlight a growing trend across the region. With governments and international actors apparently unable to stem rising violence, elections are becoming increasingly contentious with politicians using all means, including unfair tactics, to try to seize power.  There is a risk that this situation is creating the conditions for a return to the military coups of the 1970s and 1980s. With upcoming elections in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Niger there is a concern that regional tensions and instability will be exacerbated.

The event is moderated by  Dr Andrew E. Yaw Tchie, Senior Research Fellow and Obasanjo Fellow, RUSI


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