Introduction: Securitizing the Sahara

By | June 2010

Since 2002, the US government has been pursuing a series of counter-terrorism initiatives in Northwest Africa’s Sahara-Sahel region. These measures began with the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), to ‘assist Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad in protecting their borders, thus supporting the U.S. national security interests of waging war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security’. In 2005, the United States reformulated the PSI into the half-billion dollar Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI), ‘designed to provide a regional response to terrorism by offering a balanced program of military assistance, intel[ligence] sharing, democratization and good governance support, and humanitarian aid’. The TSCTI also expanded the scope of participation, bringing Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia into the project. The 2010 budget request for the re-branded Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) was $80.3 million. In the brave new world after 11 September 2001, this is small beans for a US development-security outlay; it represents just two percent of the 2010 development budget for Afghanistan (the State Department’s side of the civil-military counter-insurgency effort) or what the Pentagon plans to spend on Iraq and Afghanistan every six hours in 2010. The TSCTP is described in US government documents as ‘a multi-faceted, multi-year strategy aimed at defeating terrorist organizations by strengthening regional counter-terrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region’s security forces, promoting democratic governance, discrediting terrorist ideology, and reinforcing bilateral military ties with the United States’. Apparently the TSCTP has been so successful that its ‘best practices’ have also been adapted to the East Africa Regional Strategic Initiative, a similar counter-terrorism program focusing on the Horn. Despite this commitment from the US government to the Sahara-Sahel, there is no consensus among policy makers, observers, regional governments and locals on-the-ground as to the ultimate rationale for these security initiatives.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 85

How the ‘War on Terror’ Undermined Peace in Northwest Africa: The Western Sahara Conflict After 9/11

By | August 2007

Whether we like it or not, the effects of September 11, 2001, can be witnessed in some of the remotest spaces of the Earth. In this essay, I will outline two ways in which post-9/11 U.S. policy has affected the Western Sahara conflict between the occupying power, Morocco, and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist independence movement. The most obvious effect of the ‘War on Terror’ is rhetorical; a shift in the way Morocco now characterizes the conflict. Yet this mutation, as I will argue, is mere substitution. Moroccan efforts to securitize the discourse in its favour are an old trick that unfortunately works in Washington. Secondly, I will describe how and why the George W. Bush administration undermined the UN peace process in Western Sahara in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 77