The Algerian Approach to Resolving Crises in the Sahel

The Sahel region of Africa has faced escalating instability and conflict over the past decade. Central states like Mali and Burkina Faso confront insurgencies, coups, and humanitarian crises. Algeria, the region’s major power, has taken an active yet cautious approach to addressing these complex challenges. This article will analyze Algeria’s strategies, limitations, relationships, and evolving security and diplomacy policies across the turbulent Sahel.

Overview of Conflicts and Instability

The Sahel encompasses transitional semi-arid lands between the Sahara and savannas in parts of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Sudan.[1] Historically, pastoralist and agrarian communities coexisted through adaptive cross-border mobility. However, recent decades brought crisis drivers:

  • Climate change and desertification strain livelihoods and produce scarcity conflicts.[2]
  • Impoverished, neglected peripheries enable Islamist extremist recruitment.[3]
  • Weak states and corrupt central governance fuel anti-government grievances.[4]
  • Proliferation of militias and arms trafficking exacerbate conflicts.[5]
  • Competition for resource wealthproduction fosters violent divisions.[6]
  • External military interventions produce destabilizing spillovers.[7]

Algeria remains the region’s dominant economic, military and diplomatic power. Its policies significantly shape prospects for mitigating conflicts, though limitations constrain Algerian control.

Algerian Foreign Policy Priorities

Algeria’s leaders view preserving domestic stability and regime security as paramount concerns driving regional strategies.[8] Beyond this defensive posture, scholars characterize Algeria’s foreign policy as pragmatically balancing principles and realism:[9]

  • Upholding state sovereignty and territorial integrity reflects Algeria’s revolutionary legacy. This leads Algiers to avoid direct interventions abroad and reject external interference.
  • Maintaining regional stability provides strategic depth and containment of conflicts near Algerian borders. Algeria uses diplomacy and intelligence operations to shape regional affairs.
  • Maximizing leadership influences counterbalances rivals like Morocco. Algeria positions itself as an indispensable mediator.
  • Developing the Sahel economically can alleviate drivers of radicalization and stem irregular migration.
  • Pushing democratic reforms remains rhetorically valued but secondary. Stability takes priority over democratization in practice.

These principles broadly shape Algeria’s cautious crisis management approach – engage and stabilize, but avoid overcommitment.

Tensions with France

France’s continued military role across the Sahel challenges Algeria’s regional posture.[10] France prioritizes counterterrorism and views Algeria as inadequately cooperative on intelligence sharing. Meanwhile Algeria sees French forces as militarizing and destabilizing the region. Ongoing frictions limit security coordination.

Historically French colonization bitterly divided the two countries. Today Algeria remains skeptical of Western interventionism that ignores local dynamics and institutions. In turn, France wants Algerian backing for its regional missions. Reduced French deployment could elevate Algeria’s crisis management profile if Algiers provides alternatives to fill security gaps. But mistrust persists despite necessity of pragmatism.

Mediation Role

Algeria leverages its neutral status between contending groups to mediate peace processes and political transitions in the Sahel. Algeria helped broker accords ending Mali’s 1990s Tuareg rebellion. In 2015 Algiers brought Mali’s government and northern armed groups together to conclude the Algiers Peace Accord, although instability resumed.[11]

Following Burkina Faso’s 2014 popular revolution, Algeria shepherded a managed transition preserving stability. Algerian quiet diplomacy aims to socialize rivals toward compromise and inclusion. However critics argue dialogues sometimes paper over deeper unaddressed grievances that resurface later.

Counterterrorism Cooperation

Algeria’s own 1990s civil war against Islamist insurgents informs its counterterrorism capacity building in the Sahel. Algerian intelligence shares threat insights and border security support with regional militaries. But direct interventions could provoke retaliations inside Algeria, so risks are weighed carefully.[12]

Algiers opposes ransom payments for hostages that fund militancy and rejects formal alliances with Western powers pursuing unilateral counterterrorism. Algeria instead emphasizes local partnerships under AU frameworks. But efforts remain hampered by mistrust between Sahel militaries and host communities vulnerable to radicalization.[13]

Managing Regional Relations

Algeria maintains engagement with all regional players to balance influence, contain conflicts, and compel inclusion of marginalized communities. However, divisions between groups frustrate durable solutions.

With Morocco, Algeria competes for clout but tries limiting interference in the Sahel. Relations with Tunisia and Libya focus on border security. Mauritania represents a key western buffer state for Algeria. Chad provides critical access eastward but remains beset by instability.[14]

In Mali, Algeria advocates reconciling the government with northern groups like Tuareg separatists and urging moderation over repression. But turmoil hampers progress.[15] Alongside the UN, Algiers supports negotiations toward restoring stability in Mali.

Development AidAllocation

Algeria directs substantial aid to the Sahel for infrastructure and public services, aiming to alleviate economic drivers of radicalization. Algeria also provides humanitarian support to Malian refugees. But Critics argue corruption undermines aid effectiveness, requiring local capacity building and accountability alongside material assistance.[16]

Additionally, Algeria’s aid favors border regions directly impacting its interests. Deeper investments are needed in communities where extremist recruitment flourishes. While aid dependency risks persist, Algeria expanding socio-economic support could bolster stability over military approaches.

Constraints on Algerian Influence

Despite Algeria’s rising Sahel activity, analysts note its reluctance to be drawn into risky military commitments itself. Borders remain tightly controlled fearing transnational militancy.[17] Protracted regional crises strain Algerian foreign policy capacity. Other limitations include:

  • Rivalries impede security cooperation with Morocco and some regional governments.
  • Overdependence on oil and gas revenues hampers diversified economic assistance.
  • Domestic political uncertainty distracts from consistent foreign engagement.
  • Opposition to external intervention blocks UN or Western-led missions.
  • Corruption and elite conflicts undermine local partners’ effectiveness.
  • Public skepticism of entanglements abroad constrains engagement.
  • Porous borders challenge Algeria’s own security containment.

Navigating these constraints requires Algeria adopt nuanced policies balancing stability imperatives with limited exposure. Multilateral frameworks and broader burden sharing could support Algeria’s leadership while mitigating risks and burdens.

Evolving Security Posture

Algeria maintains well-defended borders but avoids direct interventions in neighbors’ crises. However, sustained regional disorder may compel Algeria to cautiously expand security activities beyond its borders.[18] Limited operations could stem specific trans-border threats without deep force commitments.

Possible contingencies include pursuing militants into border zones, targeted strikes against terrorist bases, deploying defense advisors to build regional capacities, and increased support to local proxies and self-defense militias. Heightened border security aims to contain spillover effects.

Any escalation would require cautious calibration to avoid embroiling Algeria in regional quagmires. But continued turmoil coupled with French drawdowns will heighten pressure on Algiers. Balancing security necessities with restraint will challenge Algerian leadership.

Opportunities for Regional Leadership

Analysis suggests Algeria could substantially improve Sahel crisis management by:

  • Boosting security coordination with neighbors and select Western partners against specific transnational threats.
  • Elevating economic aid to strengthen institutions and provide development alternatives to extremist recruitment.
  • Deepening engagement with civil society and community leaders to advance inclusion and political reform.
  • Leveraging Algeria’s credibility to mediate stalled peace processes and democratic transitions.
  • Backing regional mechanisms like the G5 Sahel Joint Force with equipment and training to build self-reliant capacities.[19]
  • Encouraging political compromises that decentralize governance and empower marginalized groups.
  • Deploying Maghreb coordination with Morocco and Tunisia to contain Sahel disorder.

A more proactive posture aligned with Algeria’s principles could positively shape the Sahel’s trajectory if matched with strategic restraints against overreach.

Conclusion

Ongoing instability across the Sahel poses dilemmas for Algerian foreign policy. Algeria’s cautious approach aims to contain conflicts and steer regional order to protect domestic security and interests. But sustained regional crises demand enhanced engagement. Elevated but pragmatic peacemaking, counterterrorism and stabilization efforts could advance stability if balancing commitments with risks. However, lasting solutions require reinforcing state legitimacy and addressing drivers of radicalization across Sahel societies.

References

[1] African Union. (2016). ALGERIA: The African Space for Dialogue, Peace and Reconciliation in the Sahel-Saharan Region. https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20160223

[2] Benjaminsen, T. A. (2016). Does Climate Change Drive Land-Use Conflicts in the Sahel? Journal of Peace Research, 53(1), 97–111.

[3] Thurston, A. (2018). The disease is unbelief: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview. Brookings.

[4] Mechoulan, D. (2017). Made in Havana: How Algeria Created the Sahara Struggle. War on the Rocks.

[5] Centre for Security Governance. (2016). Non-State Security Providers and Political Formation in Africa.

[6] International Crisis Group. (2019). Getting a Grip on Central Sahel’s Gold Rush. Africa Report 282.

[7] Chivvis, C. S. (2016). The French War on Al Qa’ida in Africa. Cambridge University Press.

[8] Harchaoui, J. (2019). Algeria’s Political Economy: The Path to Economic Stagnation. Arab Reform Initiative.

[9] Ouenes, A. (2011). Algeria: Unchanged Priorities of the Foreign Policy. IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook.

[10] Tessler, M. A., & Ibrahim, I. (2016). Algeria: Tradition and Modernity in a Troubled Land. Libyan Studies, 47, 89-113.

[11] Mezran, K., & Leggeri, M. (2017). Libya’s Role in the Sahel in Flux. Atlantic Council.

[12] Steinberg, G., & Werenfels, I. (2016). Relations between algeria and Morocco: Beyond Good and Evil? German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

[13] Harmon, S. A. (2014). “We Need Protection from Our Protectors”: Corruption and Human Rights Abuses by the Military in Algeria. Armed Forces & Society, 42(2), 312-330.

[14] Martinez, L. (2016). Why Algeria Isn’t Exporting Jihadists. Foreign Affairs.

[15] Lebovich, A. (2019). Bringing the Desert Together: How to Advance Sahel-Maghreb Integration. European Council on Foreign Relations.

[16] Masbah, M. (2020). What Algeria’s Approach to Mali Says About Russia’s Influence in Africa. Chatham House.

[17] Belakhdar, K. (2021). Algeria’s Role in the Sahelian Imbroglio. Italian Institute for International Political Studies.

[18] Oche, O. (2021). Algeria and the Sahel Crisis. Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.

[19] Powell, K. (2022). Algeria, Broader Sahel Security Powerhouse, Would Welcome More International Involvement. The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

أنا حاصل على شاهدة الليسانس في العلوم السياسية والعلاقات الدولية بالإضافة إلى شاهدة الماستر في دراسات الأمنية الدولية، إلى جانب شغفي بتطوير الويب. اكتسبت خلال دراستي فهمًا قويًا للمفاهيم السياسية الأساسية والنظريات في العلاقات الدولية والدراسات الأمنية والاستراتيجية، فضلاً عن الأدوات وطرق البحث المستخدمة في هذه المجالات.

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