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Afghanistan lessons: Military might won’t bring peace in Africa’s conflicts

Published on Tuesday, 31 August 2021

What lessons can be learned from Afghanistan for peacebuilding in Africa? It’s increasingly clear that an over-reliance on military force will not bring about lasting solutions to terrorism in the continent, say CMI’s Senior Advisors Georg Charpentier and Mahmoud Kane. There is an urgent need to invest in sustainable development, peace and dialogue to bring about change.

“A key lesson here is that a military approach alone to combat terrorism is insufficient. A lot more emphasis should be put on non-military means,” says CMI’s Senior Advisor Georg Charpentier. Photo: Olli Puumalainen.

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has sparked debate in Africa on how stability should be achieved in countries afflicted by conflict. The crisis in Afghanistan is unfolding at a time when the African continent is faced with a growing jihadist threat from the Sahel to Mozambique.

“A key lesson here is that a military approach alone to combat terrorism is insufficient. A lot more emphasis should be put on non-military means,” says CMI’s Senior Advisor Georg Charpentier.

“Billions and billions of dollars are spent in Africa by sending troops here and there without any meaningful results. These huge resources could be used otherwise”, adds CMI’s Senior Advisor Mahmoud Kane.

The vulnerability of the youth is exploited

Charpentier takes the example of the Sahel, caught up in growing violent extremism. Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes and tens of millions need humanitarian aid. The protracted violence poses a risk to the stability of the wider continent.

Charpentier explains that billions of euros are spent every year on countering the terrorist threat by military force in the Sahel. “That amount of money and that strength of the military effort has not been able to contain or even freeze the spread of terrorism.”

Instead of fighting terrorism militarily, both Charpentier and Kane emphasise the urgent need to address the root causes of violence in Africa’s fragile states. “This means that the governments of these countries should provide the minimum necessary for their populations.”

Due to the absence of state structures in the many of the crisis-affected areas of the Sahelian countries people are basically left own their own. The armed islamist groups have taken advantage of these governance gaps and people’s mistrust of central government, exploiting especially the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the youth.

“If young people are given education and jobs, they are not that easily recruited by extremist groups. We need to understand that these groups are very smart. Once they control an area, they are ready to do positive things for the local population, including youth, to gain their trust. The recruitment of youth to join jihadist groups is indeed the result of their dire situation with no future prospects,” Kane says.

Charpentier says there is a pressing need to replicate effective deradicalisation programmes that have been conducted in such countries as Mauritania and Morocco. The scope for engaging with armed islamist groups through political dialogue need to be explored too.

“This would be important to cool things down on the ground and to see how their grievances could be addressed,” says Kane.

“Since you can’t defeat people militarily, what other options do you have? You have to engage in dialogue.”

At the same time, military operations should focus on supporting and protecting the redeployment of state authorities throughout conflict-ridden countries to regain the confidence of the population.

There is an urgent need to address the root causes of violence in Africa’s fragile states. “The governments of these countries should provide the minimum necessary for their populations,” says CMI’s Senior Advisor Mahmoud Kane.

Sahel Alliance invests in sustainable development and peace

Both Kane and Charpentier think that the events in Afghanistan could create a new sense of urgency to tackle the root causes of violence in Africa. There are recent signs that things might be changing. Kane refers to the Sahel Initiative, where the countries of the region have, with international help, especially that of the EU, been investing in sustainable development and peace.

“If you really want address violent extremism, it’s about being serious of the governance of a country. Politicians must be held accountable, so that they do the right things. If they don’t, this phenomena will be recurrent. Even if you manage to sort it out by force, it will come back again if the governance has not changed dramatically,” says Kane.

“Leadership lies within the countries themselves. Only then can advances become sustainable,” Charpentier says.

CMI supports regional peacemaking initiatives to address root causes of violence via dialogue in the Lake Chad Basin region.

Antti Ämmälä/CMI