A Course Correction for the Sahel Stabilisation Strategy

Since 2013, when France sent troops to stop a jihadist advance on Mali’s capital Bamako and kick militants out of the country’s north, outside powers have been working to stabilise the Sahel. Paris has led the strategy, which is multifaceted but heavy on military operations. For this mission, it has enlisted the aid of Germany and other European countries, as well as the United States, UN and European Union (EU), and the Sahelian states themselves. Seven years on, however, there is no convincing success story in the Sahel, but rather a steady deepening and expansion of its conflicts. Many of France’s partners, and even some within the French system itself, are increasingly sceptical about a stabilisation strategy that has burned through vast resources with meagre results. The coronavirus pandemic may compel Western states to reassess their budgetary priorities, possibly putting Sahel stabilisation programs on the chopping block. Building on Crisis Group’s 2017 report Finding the Right Role for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and on recent pieces on the conflict’s roots in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, this report analyses the French-led multilateral stabilisation project in the central Sahel in the shadow of COVID-19. It is based on interviews with dozens of African, French, other European and U.S. military officials and other policymakers involved in security and development initiatives in the region. It examines how the stabilisation strategy has floundered and suggests ways for France and its partners to rethink their approach.