OPN Niger Coup
Supporters of the Nigerien defence and security forces gather during a demonstration outside the national assembly in Niamey on July 27, 2023 Image Credit: AFP

As soon as French forces began evacuating from various West African countries, terrorism and violence returned simultaneously, with a vengeance, to the region.

The way that the story is often relayed by the media is that there is a direct connection between the growing number of attacks on the militaries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and France’s military withdrawal.

Such analyses can be convenient but are often confusing. We are witnessing widening instability in the region not only as an outcome of the violence by various militant groups, but also regional rebels, like the Tuareg’s Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA).

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Unprecedented number of refugees

In a recent development, CMA’s spokesperson, Mohamed Elmaouloud Ramadane, declared that rebels seized another military base belonging to the Malian army in the northern parts of the country.

It is important to note that following the Nato war on Libya in 2011, the whole region was flush with arms.

Since the end of the war, Libya’s own civil war continued unabated, and the country was practically divided between two governments and other regions of influence.

The northern borders of Libya became porous, leading to an unprecedented number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross to Europe for safety and mere survival.

But Libya’s other borders became equally accessible: some people seeking safety, others arriving as potential migrants to Europe, and many others smuggling drugs, humans and arms.

Libya's internal conflict has raged on, with the nation effectively split between two rival governments and various spheres of influence Image Credit: AFP

The business of geopoliticians

Arms proliferation from Libya, resulting from Nato’s war, became a major source of violence in various parts of the Middle East and Africa. Much of that arsenal made its way to Sudan and Mali, fuelling new conflicts, or exacerbating old ones.

If we were to draw a line connecting the flow of arms from Nato countries to Libya, to Niger, to Mali, to Sudan, to Sinai, among other regions, one would quickly grasp the intrinsic relationship between war in one region, and conflict in another.

It is the law of unintended, though sometimes intended, consequences.

The conclusion is obvious: if a state instigates or feeds war somewhere, the outcome will almost always result in a blowback that could prove disastrous to that very state in the long term.

Such analyses should not only be the business of geopoliticians, the same way that intellect and philosophy should not be confined to the select few.

Public philosophers and intellectuals liberate ideas from being abstract notions, and help engage society in matters that are concerned with war and peace, with social justice, with the collective fight for equality.

Of course, there are those who use such status and access to do the exact opposite, thus promoting war, justifying intervention and even rationalising hate and violence against refugees.

In that same spirit, some ‘public geopoliticians’, if one is allowed to coin the term, are often institutional men, who use their public platforms to score political points on behalf of governments or other official entities.

In the case of West Africa, they are quick to conclude that the growing terrorism is a direct outcome of French military withdrawal, thus promoting the notion that without Western protection, Africa can never achieve stability.

Burkina Faso
Earlier this year in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, a man navigates through blazing barricades on central avenues. These demonstrators, advocating for the army's role, protested against President Marc Christian Kabore Image Credit: AFP

A state of flux

Even a pandemic, like COVID 19, was spun into some kind of geopolitical logic and, ultimately, conspiracy theories, blaming specific governments for spreading disease to sow chaos.

The world is in a state of flux, and all major events, in one way or another, are connected. The invasion of Iraq was as directly linked to the war in Syria, as the war in Libya was linked to the subsequent coup and war in Mali.

We must understand international conflicts for us to trace and better understand the logic that links us to one another, regardless of where we are in the world.

A major gain from that understanding is that it makes us more informed, thus immune to political manipulations and conspiracy theories.

Having a grasp of the dynamics behind international conflicts helps us appreciate how our own collective security is, at some level, linked to the safety and the prosperity of others.

In other words, ending war anywhere is not a moral calling per se, but critical to achieving peace, everywhere, including in our own societies.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor. He is the author of six books.