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AU summit overshadowed by ‘security failings’ in Sahel after attacks

AU summit overshadowed by ‘security failings’ in Sahel after attacks

NOUAKCHOTT: French President Emmanuel Macron joined African leaders gathered in the Mauritanian capital on Monday for the final day of a summit overshadowed by security issues after Islamist militant hammered two fragile Sahel states in successive attacks.
Macron landed Monday afternoon for an exceptional appearance at an African Union (AU) summit. He is expected to discuss hurdles facing a five-nation French-backed anti-terror unit, the “G5 Sahel” force.
“Our thoughts are with our Malian friends after tragic and cowardly attacks,” Macron said. “Several French soldiers were injured and are being evacuated. The first victims are Malian civilians.”
As the summit opened on Sunday, a bomb aimed at French soldiers in Mali’s troubled north killed four civilians and injured over 20 people. Four soldiers were among the wounded.
In Niger, Boko Haram insurgents targeted a military position in the southeast, killing 10 soldiers — a reminder of the peril that Nigeria’s notorious jihadists pose to neighboring countries.
On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the headquarters of the G5 Sahel in central Mali, fueling concerns about its ability to tackle jihadist groups roaming the region.
It was the first attack on the headquarters of the five-nation force, set up with French backing in 2017 to fight jihadist insurgents and criminal groups in the vast and unstable Sahel region.
The G5 Sahel leaders — from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — met Sunday to prepare for talks with Macron.
“We won’t let Mali fall apart, we will assume our responsibilities,” Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told France 24 on Monday.
Apparently linking insecurity in the Sahel to the migrant crisis shaking European politics, he warned: “If the Sahel falls to terrorist threats, the shores of the Mediterranean will be overwhelmed.”
Separately, the summit also decided to create a body, based in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, to help coordinate national policies on migration.
“These attacks should strengthen our determination to fight terrorism to ensure our populations’ security,” Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, told AFP on the sidelines of the summit.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, hosting the gathering of more than 40 heads of state and government, said Friday’s bombing “hit (at) the heart” of security in the Sahel and lashed out at a lack of international help.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, have claimed both Friday’s attack on the G5 Sahel base and Sunday’s on French troops.
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from the five nations but has faced funding problems and lack of equipment.
It is intended to operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Aziz said the G5 was a “sovereign initiative” of Sahel states that face not only security problems but drought, poverty, unemployment and trafficking.
The string of attacks in the vast Sahel region hijacked a summit agenda meant to focus on free trade, funding and corruption.
Currently, African countries only conduct about 16 percent of their business with each other, the smallest amount of intra-regional trade compared to Latin America, Asia, North America and Europe.
In March, 44 nations signed a pact in March to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) — billed as the world’s largest in terms of participating countries.
Five new countries signed the agreement on Sunday: Burundi, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone and South Africa, one of the continent’s economic heavyweights and notable CFTA absentee until then.
The fruit of two years of negotiations, the CFTA is one of the AU’s flagship projects for greater African integration.
If all 55 AU members eventually sign up, it will create a bloc with a cumulative GDP of $2.5 trillion (two trillion euros) and cover a market of 1.2 billion people.

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