Africa’s security environment at the inauguration of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) in 1998 differs from that in the second decade of the third millennium. The continent has been enduring a violent wave of threats, as well as conventional and unconventional risks. The security implications of what became known as the Arab Spring, the continuous attempts to penetrate the African depth and the current transformations impose themselves on an already crammed security agenda of the second largest bloc in the continent after the African Union (AU).
These conditions forced CEN-SAD’s members to divert their attention from the predominant economic issues towards security and defensive activities. The earliest signs began in the Rabat Communiqué in 2012 which stroke a balance between regional security and sustainable development as main spheres within the community’s action plan, then launching regular meetings of the defense ministers through strategic activities and forming a nucleus for its defensive activities.
1- Egyptian Action Plan: Institutional Engine
In the context of these developments, the Egyptian role has crystallized in the form of effective gradual engagement within CEN-SAD’s framework. Egypt has formulated a strategic action plan based upon South-South partnership in order to face the set of challenges on more than one level. This strategy materialized in the form of building a technically advanced security system. This was evident in Egypt’s setting up the Regional Center for Combating Terrorism as one of the results of the CEN-SAD’s Defense Ministers meeting held in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2016. It was officially inaugurated in 2018. The center is the first institutional entity within the community, and the first defensive activities started in the form of a military exercise hosted in the Mohamed Naguib Military Base. Approximately 1,000 military scholarships were handed out. Twenty-three countries, out of a total of 27 member states, have benefited from them.
The Egyptian Action Plan’s strategic objectives reflect a number of innovative mechanisms for confronting threats and risks witnessed by the CEN-SAD. They are as follows:
– High-ranking Egyptian participation in the CEN-SAD Defense Ministers meeting is derived from Egypt’s keenness to present its accumulated expertise in the defensive and security fields. It views that these regular meetings are a platform for endorsing joint defensive policies among community members and that these policies result in joint initiatives and mechanisms meant to upgrade the level of dealing with challenges facing the community’s members. We can say that the series of recent meetings, especially in Sharm El-Sheikh, Abidjan and Abuja reflected a new pattern in the African defensive policies within the community’s framework through focusing on intensifying cooperation in the security field on both the bilateral and multi-lateral levels to confront the threats to peace and stability in the Sahel and Sahara.
– The institutional entity of the CEN-SAD’s Regional Center for Combating Terrorism represents an advanced technical logistic base involving in the first place a partnership on the regional level through an African initiative that is the first of its kind. All the previous and subsequent initiatives relied on the external dimension in constituting emergency blocs to deal with specific issues and crisis. Thus, the approach is based upon placing the foreign partner’s interests as the top priority. The objective of setting up this institutional entity goes hand in hand with formulating an African vision. The agenda is based on partnership and common denominators between the community’s members. Later on, the foreign partner can be called with the aim of benefiting from its expertise.
– Building a joint defensive nucleus which was manifested in the first military exercise hosted in the Mohamed Naguib Military Base in which Sudan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Egypt took part in December 2018. Egypt is keen to expand its level of participation in future exercises. That exercise included the training of the Special Forces of the participant countries on working as one team on the rapid reaction towards tactical emergency situations according to forces’ actions on the ground against different terrorist threats such as armed groups and hostage rescue operations.
– Egypt has offered 250 training courses to support the G5 Sahel joint regional force and provided 110 armoured vehicles in support of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as continuous training courses organized by the Cairo International Center for Conflict Resolution, Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding (CCCPA). The 1,000 military scholarships which Egypt granted, on the occasion of inaugurating CEN-SAD’s Regional Center for Combating Terrorism, shows that it is a serious initiative for the enhancement of cooperation among member staes.
2- General Evaluation
Since Egypt is one of CEN-SAD’s 27 member states, focusing on this role shouldn’t be viewed as bragging because of the duties Egypt shoulders. This role is evident in several forums Cairo participated in under the umbrella of the community.
Here are some observations on the challenges the community faces:
– There is a global trend to build defense blocs in different regions to confront unconventional threats to world security, such as violent extremism.
Can communication within the community on the defensive level form a joint defensive bloc capable of confronting those border-crossing risks? The phenomena of terrorism and extremism created parallel phenomena constituting pressing threats to community members such as illegal immigration, refugees, etc. Size- and structure-wise, the community’s membership approximates that of the NATO, even if this comparison isn’t objective in reality. However, there remains an entity capable, to a great extent, of forging a homogenous bloc, especially that there are more than just one technical logistic nucleus that is about to take shape within this context.
– The community members’ collective security is still an interim demand among the crises witnessed by several state members. There are also other countries that are capable of providing the adequate back-up to support stability and peace. This was repeatedly by member states on many occasions. However, the will to activate the collective work needs to be sharpened in a number of frameworks, including the security and defensive frame. This in turn requires laying out a comprehensive strategic defensive vision and it shouldn’t be left to regular meetings which just crystallize an instant vision.
– CEN-SAD members came to the conclusion that traditional mechanisms aren’t suitable anymore. This is why initiatives within this context are limited. For instance, there is a dire need to establish an intelligence partnership among CEN-SAD’s members in parallel to upgrading the joint defence mechanisms.
– Financing is one of the main factors in driving any collective work or a joint system towards capacity building. It is perceived that this dimension wasn’t discussed enough but rather rests upon initiatives launched by the community members. Consequently, the community will witness a pattern of ups and downs depending on the financial support it receives. Alternatively, a financing fund should take charge of this task.
– The integrated institutional roles: There are some other African frameworks which provide parallel efforts and their roles shouldn’t be vilified or pitted in competition, such as the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT) established in 2004 within the AU structure. The efforts and expertise of the ACSRT should be benefited from to realise the joint objective under the African umbrella.
3- Future Vision
Implementing the initiatives which Cairo took upon itself to launch towards the CEN-SAD add to the value of security and defensive cooperation during the last few years. These initiatives are consistent with the Egyptian approaches expressed in many regional and international events stressing the necessity of building multiple spheres and partnerships in fighting terrorism and extremism. Modern capacity building should also be sustained within an institutional frame suiting this long-term mission in the light of the continuous transformations of the phenomenon and its offshoots.
It is also consistent with Egypt’s interactive role in its African environment in general. It is conceivable that what Cairo provided is but one building block in a long way in the future. This constitutes a challenge to Cairo that had to sustain these efforts and innovate the best ways to invest in qualitative.
This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Africa 2019… Equilibrium Severs … Promising Future, Cairo, March 2019.