“The Emirates: a lever for Paris in the Sahel?” – the platform by Jérôme Pigné

This emerges from the terrorism index, which is published by theInstitute for Economy and Peace as of March 2022, sub-Saharan Africa was home to 48% of the world’s terrorism victims in 2021, and the Sahel is home to the fastest growing terrorist groups, most notably Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen (JNIM).

Therefore, at the time of the withdrawal of the Barkhane and Takuba operations, the redefinition of the actors of influence in the Sahel is a security issue of paramount importance. France, which is trying to play a difficult stabilizing role, has forged a strategic partnership with the United Arab Emirates there in recent months.

The Emirati monarchy’s growing action with the G5 Sahel is a strong indicator of its gradual interest in the region. In a particularly volatile and uncertain regional and international context, the Emirates have made countering terrorism and violent extremism a priority of their security and foreign policies. Beyond their historic relationship with the continent, the Emirates have been developing an African policy for nearly two decades.

Multisectoral strategy. The monarchy has become a new player in the continent’s geopolitical landscape, basing its legitimacy on a multisectoral strategy similar to that pursued by France for years (economic investment, civil society development, humanitarian aid, military partnerships and security). In addition to the fight against terrorism, the Emirates are particularly involved in the fight against political Islam.

Since the inauguration of Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the operationalization of the G5 Sahel Joint Force has been a declared priority for the French President. He can then count on the political and financial support of the Emirates, which quickly pledge thirty million euros to the sub-regional organization. In November 2018, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan paid an official visit to Paris to strengthen the partnership with Paris. In July 2019, the authorities of the two countries will meet again to discuss the African continent and the Sahel in particular.

At a time when French security policy in the Sahel is being redefined, Paris must breathe new life into partnerships and influence. Paris and Brussels fear the consequences of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen on the African continent and can then turn to the Emirati power for significant support.

In this context, the Emirates are a strategic partner in countering any form of threat related to violent extremism and Islamist terrorism. Beyond the Emirates’ security commitments, the monarchy invests in the area of ​​humanitarian emergencies, which remains a major challenge for the countries of the Sahelo-Saharan Strip. Through several UAE investment funds and companies, the country also emphasizes economic cooperation and development projects in Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

strategic partnership. In 2018, DP World, a subsidiary of Dubai World, announced it had invested fifty million dollars in infrastructure in Mali. Abu Dhabi is also present in Senegal (especially in the airport area) as well as in other countries such as Guinea. In Mauritania, Abu Dhabi has forged a strategic partnership with military institutions. The G5 Sahel Defense College in Nouakchott, one of the flagship projects and a success of the G5 Sahel, was funded by the Emirati monarchy, for which training local armies is a priority. We note here once again the alignment with the French strategy.

The geographical location of the city of Dubai and the dynamism of the Emirates airline are significant advantages for the country. Through the telecom and energy sectors, the Emirates have become a leading investor on the African continent. For all these reasons, the country has become a “regional actor” (IFRI, 2021) in the Sahel, whose destabilization worries the country’s highest authorities. This new uninhibited force plays on multiple fronts and with multiple strings in the bow.

As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the Emirates have used additional political and diplomatic means since January 2022. While the traditional players in diplomacy in the Sahel appear to be losing momentum, Abu Dhabi could play an increasing role with the states of the region and become a key asset for France, Europe and the US United Nations.In any case, this is the direction the UAE leadership is giving its action in Africa, determined to ensure its pragmatic diplomacy shines outside its traditional spheres. The partnership between France and the Emirates therefore extends beyond our borders into an unstable region where joining forces seems logical and desirable.

Doctor Jérôme Pigné is President and co-founder of the Network for Strategic Reflection on Security in the Sahel (2r3s).

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