African leaders on Monday used a regional forum to call for extra support as the continent moves to assure its own security after years of Western interventions.
The annual Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security this year brings together the presidents of Mali, Rwanda and hosts Senegal along with military officials and experts to discuss the continent’s serious challenges in the sector.
The vast Sahel region, stretching from Senegal to Sudan, has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists overran northern Mali in 2012 and Boko Haram rose up in northern Nigeria.
In an opening address, Senegal’s President Macky Sall told the forum a “military response must be comprehensive, and one of solidarity, to leave terrorist groups no place to hide.
Sall pointed to the western intervention in Libya as an example of why African populations had to be involved in decisions on rooting out terror groups, as the nation’s instability has fuelled conflict elsewhere.
“We must beware of preconceived solutions formulated without Africans,” Sall added. “The consequences of these interventions, which we are living in the Sahel, are often worse that what they were supposed to rectify.”
The forum follows the recent launch of the G5 Sahel force, an anti-jihadist military initiative working across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to counter the significant threat al-Qaeda-linked groups pose in the region and to stop Islamic State gaining a foothold.
The world’s newest joint international force, the five-nation G5 Sahel plans to number up to 5 000 military, police and civilian troops by March 2018.
Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President who will chair the African Union from 2018, said African nations “have only ourselves to blame” if the international community alone decided on the continent’s security needs.
Beyond the Sahel, the Shabaab, a militant group aligned with al-Qaeda, regularly carries out suicide bombings in its bid to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed government, while conflict in eastern Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan blights the continent.
The Dakar Forum is a French-backed initiative, and the European nation retains a heavy military presence across the Sahel.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly said Africans “know what it is to by wounded to the core by terrorist savagery,” paying tribute to the 130 people killed in the 2015 Paris attacks on the event’s second anniversary.