US to Aid Coastal West Africa to Prevent Violence from Sahel

Sat Apr 08 2023
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WASHINGTON: The United States (US) is preparing long-term assistance for Ivory Coast, Benin, and Togo to prevent the spillover of jihadist violence from the Sahel region.

Officials have expressed concerns about violence in the Sahel spilling into coastal West Africa, with the Western support being critical to halting Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.

The mercenary group has made major inroads in violence-torn Sahel countries, including by allying with Mali’s military junta.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Ghana last month and promised $100 million over 10 years to reinforce resilience in coastal West Africa as part of an increasing US push in Africa.

US State Department officials are also looking at additional funding, including from the counter-terrorism budget.

President Joe Biden’s administration has identified coastal West Africa as a priority for the coming decade in its new global strategy to prevent conflict and promote stability.

The report, released in March, stated that the Sahel to the immediate north has experienced more terrorist attacks than any other region and that it is critical to “prevent violent conflicts from emerging or further spreading regionwide.”

While coastal cities connected to other parts of the world through seaports have been mainly unscathed, violence has been rising in areas bordering Mali and Burkina Faso.

The deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of West Africa, Michael Heath, stated that “it’s a significant and burgeoning threat,” and the capabilities of the governments in place have never faced a threat like this before.

US accuses Russia of spreading disinformation in West Africa

Heath recently returned from a trip to the region with other State Department officials to assess needs. The officials have not yet seen a ground presence in the three countries of the Wagner Group, which has been accused of human rights abuses in many countries, including Ukraine, where the unit has played a key role in the invasion.

However, US officials accuse Russia of stepping up disinformation in French-speaking Africa, seeing a ripe audience due to post-colonial resentments.

US officials maintained that coastal West Africa would not be seeing violence without spillover from the north; however, that instability can also be attributed to local elements and competition for resources as climate change aggravates scarcities.

Assistance will focus on addressing economic gaps that would help extremists recruit. One key area of focus is helping West African governments build their legal systems so they can distinguish between legitimate refugees fleeing the Sahel and security threats.

US officials believe that a management system is needed where families and economies are not shut off while addressing the security problem.

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