France and the United States in Western Sahel: Cooperation and Competition in an Interlocking Conflict-Abstarct

 Abstract of paper to be presented at Cornell Institute for African Development’s Symposium on Development, Extremism, Security and the State in Africa, October 21-22, 2016

 By Marcel Kitissou

Gérard Chaliand (1980) explained the importance of Africa in the geopolitics of the Cold War era, listing resources such as diamond, gold, cobalt, vanadium, platinum, chromium, manganese, copper, uranium, and more. While these resources were essentially concentrated in countries of the southern part of the continent, none of which were colonized by France, gas and oil, phosphates, iron and uranium were located in countries of the Maghreb and western Sahara-Sahel, all of which, except for Libya and Western Sahara, were French possessions. Therefore, the area is of strategic importance for France. With regard to the United States in the Sahel region, all partners of the Trans-Sahel Counter-terrorism Initiative, announced by the G. W. Bush administration in 2005 and continued by the Obama administration as the Overseas Contingency Operations, are former French possessions except for Libya and Nigeria. In addition, western Sahel, where Tuareg irredentism takes place and where the presence of jihadi activists is salient, overlaps with both France’s traditional zone of influence and the US-led coalition of the willing against terrorism. Evidently, the nationalistic agenda of the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in northern Mali neither coincides with the interests of France nor with the global ambition of al-Qaeda as, similarly, France’s national interests in the region are not in perfect harmony with the objectives, however complimentary, of the United States.

This paper will deconstruct the complex web of harmony and clash of interests that has led to increased militarization of the region.