Maximum concern in the EU over instability in sub-Saharan Africa

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The image, early in the morning, of a group of Gabonese army officers on the country's public television announcing that they had taken power after Ali Bongo's electoral victory was announced yesterday added another cause for concern for Europe over the deterioration of the political situation in sub-Saharan Africa.

The latest events, added to the obvious fragility of some governments, have led the European Union to rethink its role in the Sahel, where it helps several countries fight jihadism. Even before the signs of the military coup in Gabon became known, the issue was on the agenda of the informal meeting that the European Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs have been holding since yesterday in Toledo, under the auspices of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union. .

“The situation has taken us all by surprise this morning,” said the high representative for EU Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, upon his arrival, warning that the possible military coup will increase instability” in a region that is already in a “very difficult” situation. “The situation in sub-Saharan Africa is not exactly improving, starting with the Central African Republic, then Mali, Burkina Faso, now Niger and perhaps Gabon…” he reviewed. In December, he might have added, there was also a coup attempt in Chad.

The EU will respond with short and medium-term measures to the seizure of power by a military junta in Niger on July 26, a country whose armed and police forces it had been supporting for years in its fight against Islamic terrorism. On the one hand, it is preparing to give birth to sanctions against the coup plotters that will be in line with the decisions made by organizations and governments in the region. And, on the other hand, with an urgent internal reflection on European policy towards the region, as well as its military presence in different African countries after years supporting the armed forces of countries that, in some cases, have ended up carrying out coups d'état . “Without the European support of recent years, perhaps some of these countries would no longer exist,” Borrell defended when asked by the press. “No one can give a guarantee of what will happen in the future, but we must support legal governments,” he said, as was done in his day with Mali and Niger.

“Without the European support of recent years, perhaps some of these countries would not exist,” defends Borrell.

The future of EU military and police missions in the region is also up for debate. "We must continue to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the situation," said the Spanish Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, who recalled that Spain participates with troops in EU military missions in Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic. "The coup d'état in Niger and the one in Gabon mean that we have to wait until we have all the elements of judgment on the table so that we can seriously study our military missions." Robles did not rule out withdrawing part of the Spanish forces in the region, particularly from Mali, but always "depending on what the EU decides", because Spain is present there "in the framework of European missions." However, she clarified, “the EU cannot be left out of the Sahel.” Any security “vacuum” “could be taken advantage of by hostile actors,” Robles warned.

The growing instability in the region is “a big issue for Europe,” admitted with obvious concern the head of European diplomacy, who considered that the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenaries, does not mean the end of Moscow's interventions. In the continent. The group "will quickly find a replacement" and "will continue to be operational in Africa, because it is Russia's armed wing there."

For Europe, its own security and the future of migratory flows are at stake. An internal preparatory document for the meeting proposes reflecting on “how to safeguard our interests and objectives in the field of security to combat terrorism and counteract the influence of the Wagner group, and control irregular immigration at a time when three central states of the Sahel “They are governed by military junta and there are radical armed groups that seek territorial expansion.”

The situation in the Sahel and the response to the military coup in Niger will be some of the topics that European foreign ministers will address today. Although no decisions are taken in the informal ministerial meetings, community services are already working on the preparation of sanctions against the military junta in Niger, and the EU External Action Service will put its proposals on the table, which will reflect the measures restrictive measures already adopted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The coup in Niger accelerates the debate on the European presence in the Sahel, security and immigration

The countries associated with this organization have suspended trade with Niger and frozen their reserves in the regional central bank, as well as the assets of some state companies. The EU, for its part, responded by suspending financial aid to the country and security cooperation, in addition to paralyzing the contribution of 70 million euros in weapons that the EU was preparing to make through the European Peace Mechanism, created despite of its misleading name to acquire weapons for countries in conflict. What the EU is now preparing is a new legal basis to impose sanctions on specific people and organizations considered responsible for the coup.

In Europe, governments and institutions agree to support “African solutions for African problems” – that is, that any response or solution to the crisis must come from and be led by Africa – and to “value” any request for help that may be launched. Cedeao, but with limits. “At the moment there has been no request for support for an eventual military response,” Borrell said. In his opinion, “it is clear that the coup in Niger opens a new era of instability in a region that was already very fragile.”

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