Beatriz Mesa: “For the first time, Algeria recognizes that it is part of the Sahara conflict” | Atalayar

In the last program of “De Cara al Mundo”, at Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Beatriz Mesa, journalist and COPE correspondent in North Africa and author, who presented his book “Los grupos armados del Sahel: Conflicto y economía militar en el norte de Malí”. In addition, the journalist also gave us the keys to the latest developments in the conflict between Algeria and Spain, following Spain’s position on the project of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara.

What are you telling us in your latest book “The Armed Forces of the Sahel: Conflict and the Military Economy in the North of Mali”

First of all, it is an important deconstruction of the threat, because e.g. in the last 20 years where we have worked with international terrorism or security, there is an obsession to make people believe that any armed group that hoists a flag with religious references and associates it with jihad has to do with religious goals, with the installation of a religious or extremist state of nature. Far from it, when we refer to armed groups in the Sahel, regardless of ideology, whether it is jihadist or secession, there is a much more complex problem, which is the control of a territory, linked to the defense of a tribal identity, and this territory is important in economic terms because they are staging areas for an international criminal economy, a haven for other criminal activities such as Western hostages, etc. In summary, there is a whole criminal corps involving all these armed elements, who have also become more sophisticated over time, and there are internal struggles linked to power and to the elites and to this economic control, which has led to significant armed proliferation in recent years. I summed it up, but it’s much more complex than what I just described.

What are the mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group doing there?

We are talking about it now, as if it were news, but Russia has been cooperating with Mali for a long time. One of the main proponents of Mali’s independence was Russia, and the two countries have always had very close ties. It is true that in the field of security, this space has been dominated by the United States, in the international context of the prevention of organized terrorism, since 2000 we have military bases in Mali in this context, and then France joined, which drove the Americans from this predominant position . Due to major clashes between Mali and France, as Mali’s assessment of the security efforts led by France is negative. So negative that these armed groups have spread, so the perception of the people and the Malian state is that France’s intervention had no clear goals, but rather geopolitical goals, which ultimately led France to withdraw from the Malian scene, and not Sahel. Mali has therefore sought other strategic partners such as Russia, which has no historical or colonial alliances with an armed actor, while France has significant ties to tribal groups in the region. It continues to have close ties to jihadist terrorism and has joined the armed groups eroding Malian institutions, the same groups that rose up against Bamako to fight for independence. These enemies of the Malian state are France’s friends, so for Mali, France’s alliances over the last thirteen years of its presence in Mali have been the wrong ones.

In your book, you emphasize the need for the EU to pay more attention to the Sahel region, which remains our backyard and to which we do not pay enough attention.

The Sahel region has actually become a laboratory for international security over the last ten years, with France putting its first drops there. Researchers who have been working in the region for a long time do not warn about a problem with ideology because ideology is not the ultimate goal, but about a bigger problem with the criminal economy. How the states have lost control of this parallel economy because what separates one country from another in relation to the criminal economy is the moment when the institutions are absorbed by the actors of the criminal economy. A state cannot allow the criminal economy to remain in the hands of non-state actors who end up becoming major rivals to the state because they have accumulated weapons and men and control this basic economic resource. Ultimately, we have what we have now in a state like Mali, where the country can not impose itself in the north and has lost it, half the country is in the hands of armed groups. We can not allow this to spread to Niger or Burkina Faso, where there are reasons why a young person becomes violent and chooses to take a Kalashnikov, because it becomes a kind of survival and from the beginning, only because of it geographical context in which this individual finds himself, it is for him a kind of death, and since I am dead in life, I die at least of violence. This is a very important reflection, Europeans need to know who these perpetrators are and why this violence does not want to go away, so what we need to consider is how a peace process can be achieved and it is done by reclaiming what was there before, a negotiation. Negotiation with all armed actors, regardless of their nature, non-aggression agreements with Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, etc. This has helped maintain stability in the region. Until these agreements are restored, it will be difficult to achieve periods of peace rather than violence.

We need to redefine this policy very carefully because the stakes are high. I was recently in Mauritania and there is some stability, but there is also a risk of destabilization …

The threat of destabilization is there because more and more armed organizations are emerging, regardless of the ideologies that theoretically mobilize these people. What is important here is to see how the arms trade is incessant, how there are no borders for these armed groups, why we are talking about transnational violence, and that means there are many communities like Tel that are participating in this violence. If we in Burkina Faso, Togo or Côte d’Ivoire are witnessing a manipulation of society by violence, in this case the Tel community, they may appear in Benin or Mauritania, as is already the case. . There is no need for another actor who, through elements such as social justice, economics, etc., begins to acquire certain leaderships and takes the banner to organize young people and go in this direction towards the institutions, erode states and create parallel states, this is something very worrying. We must not simplify it to jihad because jihad is one of the many slogans that exist, being a Muslim in this region is not important, what is important is to belong to an ethnic group or to a faction and go against a territory.

beatriz mesa

You’re talking about conflicts and the criminal economy, drugs, weapons, human trafficking, kidnappings and animal trafficking … Let’s remember that David Beriáin and Roberto Fraile were murdered in Burkina Faso when they reported on animal trafficking … This is an area how many elements must be taken into account.

Of course poaching, the case of our colleagues who were in an official convoy, which also becomes a target for these criminal groups, they cut down roads, tracks and forests, they cut down trees, they kill elephants and take ivory. We are talking about areas with nature reserves that provide great benefits for the states, but also for these actors. Today, when there are virtually no Western targets in the region due to the risk and exposure to kidnappings, home kidnappings, kidnappings of politicians, tribal leaders, religious leaders and even local aid workers are taking place, which is part of the agenda for this criminal economy. It is clear that Europe has a commitment to this region, because it is the southern border of the continent, we are concerned about the flows of people arriving in Europe, and we are concerned that an actor coming from this region to our continent, can become an extremist, etc. Europe must look beyond and see how it can help these states create serious armies without losing sight of the fact that even if we have national armies tomorrow in a case like Mali, these armies are not representative of a multiethnic population and the ethnic sensitivities must be taken into account and it is the complexity of the countries we are in that has been overtaken by the modern state that challenges modern borders and returns to colonial borders , because they believe that the modern state has not worked. There is a problem with historical religion.

Now that summer is beginning, Beatriz Mesa’s book is crucial to solving the biggest problems plaguing the Sahel region. Let us continue with another question. How do you see the Algerian question ?, Putin is pushing?

Our observation is that Algeria has never needed orders from Russia in its foreign and domestic policy. Algeria is a sovereign country and the proof is that it is a country that is closed to the international community and that it is the army that is pulling at the threads of the country; it is very clear that the path it has taken is to concentrate its economy on hydrocarbons and mainly on gas. It is very clear that they do not want to open up to international tourism, they do not even want to open up to SMEs, they know the administrative barriers for the Algerian state which prevent foreign investors from easily entering the country. Algeria is, what it is, a rather closed system, and now I personally see that it was obvious that it should have this tantrum; for several months she had expressed her anger over the Spanish government’s change of attitude towards the Sahara conflict. The reading is that Algeria, for the first time by suspending the trade agreement, acknowledges that it is part of the conflict. This is important because she tried for years to stay out of this conflict and now she is not and she tells us all that she is part of the Sahara conflict and explains to us her alliances with Polisario and all that. It includes. Another important point is that there has been an outcry in Spain over the gas for several days, and there is a press release from Algeria saying that the gas is protected and that it is escaping the suspension of this treaty because it is part of other mechanisms. A third point, without wanting to demonize Algeria, Spain must take care of all its southern partners, I understand Morocco’s weight for all that it represents in terms of trade, migration, etc … but we must take care of the second quarter, and we need to do a more serious job.

Like taking the Falcon, going to Algiers and explaining why certain decisions are made …

Exactly.

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