The Sahel comprises Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad. The region has been in a widening transnational conflict for 10 years.

London: The virtual UNSC high-level debate on Maritime Peace and Security was chaired by Narendra Modi, as India holds the rotating presidency this month. The Prime Minister, speaking for 1.4million people and for the security of the rest of the world proposed a Maritime Freedom Charter to ensure inclusive, free and open maritime traffic for the peace, prosperity and commercial growth of all countries in the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR).
Ben Wallace’s, UK Defence Secretary, contribution was to thank India “a good friend” and PM Modi for the welcome initiative, he said “UK has a proud history in maritime security. We build international support to deter and counter hostile state activity at sea including piracy, smuggling, illegal fishing, and other maritime crimes worldwide. We are currently preparing a new National Strategy for Maritime Security, to articulate in one place the UK’s full range of objectives and interventions in the maritime domain up until 2025.” He confirmed that UK would be more persistently engaged and increasingly proactive in the IPR, as a recent trip had made him all the more aware of the threats that face all participating nations and laws at sea. The British High Commissioner in Delhi, Alex Ellisconfirmed “The British government supports India’s raising the issue of maritime security at the UNSC. The Joint Maritime Partnership exercise between UK’s Carrier Strike Group and the Indian Navy highlights the growing partnership in the Indian Ocean. Our seas should be open and secure for all.”
At the end of July, the maritime partnership exercise between the Indian Navy and the Royal Navy saw the two navies conducting a range of multi-ship, air, sea and sub-surface maritime evolutions, and close-quarter manoeuvring in the Bay of Bengal.
PM Modi then introduced the UNSC Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, who also called for stronger international cooperation as incidents of insecurity have nearly doubled in West Africa, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, the South China Sea, the “unprecedented” levels of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, and the more recent concerns in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. “Maritime insecurity is also compounding the terrorist threat emerging from the Sahel,” Ms. Viotti told ambassadors.
The Sahel comprises of Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Chad. The region has been in a widening transnational conflict for 10 years. The Islamic State in the Greater Saharahope to impose a caliphate and are gaining in influence. Jama’at Nusrat Al Islam Wal Muslimin, which incorporated AQIM, is also actively destabilising state authority.
China seems to be the godfather to the Sahelwhilst securing resources and markets for itself. Mauritania’s fish, mineral, and energy potential are of increasing strategic interest to China, Poly Hong Dong Fishery Company operates a USD200 fishing plant in Nouadhibou, which is accused of depleting local fish stocks. Mauritania received a gift of half a million doses of Sinopharm in March with a second batch in May.
In 2018 Burkina Faso rescinded recognition of Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China. In 2019 Wang Yi visited bearing the CCP chequebook of diplomacy. Adele Orosz, Deputy Special Envoy to the Sahel of the German Federal Foreign Office, says “ Violent extremism sneaked in through the back door, and today in Burkina Faso it is interwoven in local disputes about resources and power, pitting ethnicities and communities against each other, and Burkinabe people against state authorities.” Today the security situation in Burkina Faso is on a dangerous downward trajectory due to smuggling and the diversion of weapons and ammunition to non-state armed groups.
China’s military has been in war-torn Mali ostensibly on a peace-keeping mission and to protect its exploitation of resources and the transport infrastructure to get them out of the country. Recently China’s Ganfeng Lithium is reported to have acquired a 50% stake in Mali’s Goulamina hard-rock mine, thought be to one of the world’s largest deposits of spodumene. Mali is also rich in gold, iron ore, phosphates, uranium, manganese, and bauxite. In July an MoU was signed between China’s Wan Lei, Chargé d’Affairesin Mali, and Mali’s Defence Minister Colonel Sadio Camara who accepted a donation valued at 60 million Yuan= over USD9million, made up of weapons, ammunition, vehicles, transport equipment, and protection.
Niger also benefitted from 400,000 doses of Sinopharm and in June saw the launch of the China-Niger collaboration in the 1,982km, 20-inch diameter pipeline that will carry crude oil from the Agadem Rift Basin fields in Niger to Benin’s Atlantic oil terminal in Sèmè-Kraké port. On Wednesday Human Rights Watch reported420 civilian deaths in Western Niger and that tens of thousands have been driven from their homes during Islamist attacks since January 2021.
Chad rejected Taiwan in favour of One China in 1997, since 2003 Chad’s oil production has been dominated by the China National Petroleum Company in Chad, crude petroleum is Chad’s No1 export with the top destination of China, in 2019 India was third from the top. China has helped Chad’s industrialization and infrastructure and has offered to strengthen Chad’s capacity for countering terrorism.
The above is merely a nano-glimpse of China’s variety of interests in the Sahel, suggesting the liberality of an aspiring colonial power. According to a report from the Georgetown University Center for Security Studies China has also transformed itself from the world’s largest net importer of weapons to a net exporter, Africa has become an important and growing market for Chinese arms exports. A report for the Institute for Defense Analyses claims that “the official Chinese policy of non-interference, applied to potential arms buyers, means that China will sell weapons and security equipment to a state without regard to its internal political situation or the repressiveness of the regime.”On one side we see China’s peacekeeping efforts, replacing the French in the region, to protect their Belt and Road investments and on the other side the potential for Chinese weapons to be part of the instability if they end up in the wrong hands.
According to the Africa centre, “Beijing is on a quest to expand its global economic and military influence and promote its models and norms. Its strengthened relationships with Africa, which are rooted in party-to-party ties and ideological bonds dating back to its support for anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements, are a major part of this quest because African support for Chinese positions at the UN and other bodies is beneficial in amplifying China’s voice on the global stage.”
Covid, climate, and conflict are at a tipping point for the Sahelian region, 13.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in Central Sahel. Civilians are being killed in hostilities between armed groups, they are getting caught up in inter-communal violence and military operations and displaced. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports grievances over access to land and water are exploited by bandits and criminal or jihadi networks, fuelling further fighting, military crackdowns and inter-communal violence. Boris Cheshirkov, Spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency said “The level of brutality against civilians is ghastly and systemic. Parents are being executed in front of their children by armed groups with alarming frequency.” Tomson Phiri, Spokesperson for the World Food Programme said “We could see an irreversible slide into chaos, with the risk of a spill-over of instability into border areas of neighbouring countries around the Gulf of Guinea. This could precipitate further deterioration in food security in West Africa”.
Last year Dr J.Peter Pham, the first-ever and now former US Special Envoy to the Sahel appointed by Mike Pompeo said, “insurgencies and armed trans-national groups are a perennial reality in the Sahel… As the United States has learned the hard way in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the best way to endure progress in the realm of peace and prosperity is to ensure that efforts are driven by local and regional institutions and that everything we are doing is in support of those efforts.”