Securing West Africa

Last month, the United States announced significant new commitments to security and humanitarian aid in coastal West Africa and the Sahel, a region immediately south of the Sahara. Deepening U.S. involvement in this part of the world is meant to be responsive to several challenges: a sharp rise in jihadist violence and terrorism; the expansion of strategic competition with China and Russia in the region; dwindling resources and capacity; and increasingly tenuous governmental stability.

These issues are intimately linked. For instance: the military juntas governing Mali and Burkina Faso, which both came to power within the last two years in the latest of multiple military coups in both countries, struggle to maintain control over their own countries’ territories. Both have expelled thousands of French troops intended to maintain security and, in Mali’s case, hired the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group instead. Burkina Faso is in talks with Wagner for a similar deployment. The connections between insecurity, instability, and malign foreign influence are tragic and easy to draw.

Western states understand that they must move quickly, as jihadist groups are beginning to establish themselves in coastal West African states such as Nigeria, Togo, and Benin. As the violence grows more ferocious and begins to move closer to regional economic leaders such as Ghana, states in West Africa and the Sahel must be cooperative and resilient enough to prevent a more profound breakdown in regional stability.

The U.S. response focuses on building capacity for these states and improving their ability to work effectively and as a group against security threats, as well as shoring up their resistance to malign foreign influence. Last month, the U.S. pledged $100 million over 10 years to coastal Africa for security, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised almost $150 million in humanitarian assistance to the Sahel. These measures are intended to draw the region closer together, especially in cooperation with U.S.-aligned states like Niger, the greatest recipient of U.S. military aid in West Africa and an active force in the campaign against al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Islamic State.

Questions and Background

  • What is the role of the United States in West Africa? 
  • Is enough being done to maintain security in the region, and to keep it resilient from the influence of strategic competitors? 
  • Is it sufficient to contain the violence in the region, or should U.S. policymakers attempt to lead against insecurity in the Sahel? 
  • What is the role of France and other European states in assisting the U.S. (or vice versa) in West Africa?

For 30 Years Every Chinese Foreign Minister Visits Africa First
Ambassador Mark Green. Wilson Center. March 28, 2023.

False Choices: U.S. Policy Toward Coastal West Africa and the Sahel
Judd Devermont. Center for Strategic and International Studies. June 24, 2021. 

U.S. Embassies in Africa are Chronically Short-Staffed
Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon. Foreign Policy. July 22, 2022. 

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