No matter how those in the inner recesses of the Buhari administration in Abuja, and indeed, most of Africa try to conceal it, there is a resonance of the development in Afghanistan in their governments that have been excluding the popular people in the affairs of state craft.
As Menas Associates, a political risk consultancy rightly noted, rarely has President Muhammadu Buhari been so quick to explain the impact of a geopolitical shift on Nigeria to the international press. That the famous Baba Go Slow chose to release an op-ed by his top foreign policy advisers, to the Financial Times just hours after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15 clearly captures the resonance of this development to Abuja.
Intelligence report by Menas is indicating that there are plural implications of the Taliban show for Abuja and few direct lessons from the US withdrawal after Washington had spent over $1trillion on military aid with a client regime in 20 years. The figures for all Western spending in West Africa, military or ostensibly developmental , are tiny in comparison.
Arguably, Nigeria’s military is far more nationalistic than Afghanistan’s. Nigeria, accordiing to the intelligence report, wants weapons, drones, and access to intelligence and satellite surveillance, but not thousands of foreign boots on the ground. That is convenient for all sides as no such boots are on offer.
Sadly, in west Africa, France is playing the US role but writ very small. At its peak, Opération Barkhane drew in 5,500 French troops and logistical backup after it was launched in 2013. It succeeded and then has won sporadic victories against the jihadists, thanks in great part to the toughness and experience of Chad’s special forces.
French officials — already seeing domestic and west African political support for their mission evaporate — are studying the US–Afghan débâcle closely. Although the Sahelian states enjoy marginally more legitimacy and are more resilient than ousted President Ashraf Ghani’s regime, that could erode fast. All the Sahelian governments struggle to provide public services, security, and economic support.
In its August issue of Menas sister publication Sahara Focus, Menas Associates did a detailed analysis of the implications of the Taliban’s victory for the Sahel.
In any case, President Buhari’s reading of Afghanistan’s aftermath was, perhaps, clearly argued and mainly targeted at the Biden administration which is currently holding up consignments of military helicopters and other equipment to Nigeria.
Buhari warned that Africa is the new frontline of global militancy: ‘’We Africans face our day of reckoning just as in some sense the West is losing its will for the fight.’’ But, he did not bother to make the case for US troops on the ground:
‘’Africa has enough soldiers of our own’’, the Nigerian leader said as he takes flak for a clumsy conversation with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in which he suggested that Washington should relocate its Africa Command to the continent from its base in Stuttgart.
Menas’ intelligence report says instead, Buhari asks the US for technical assistance, advanced weaponry, intelligence, and ordinance. ‘’This fits with wider military trends, moving away from big military deployments to more networked and expeditionary operations, according to National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno.
‘’Using this equipment and tactics, special operations brigades are more quickly sent in, and can be digitally connected with soldiers linked to satellite feeds. That gives them a capacity for night operations the insurgents lack’’, the report says.
It seems Abuja has learnt a lesson from Kabul. Buhari is now arguing that better linking regional centres for trade will boost economies and undercut the insurgency. To this end, he is for investment in infrastructure, transport, and freight lines.
Before now, experts on regional insurgencies have been agreeing that affiliates of Islamic State (IS) and its rivals in al-Qa’ida have been transfering much of their operations from the Middle East to the Sahel and, to a lesser extent Libya and the Lake Chad basin.
‘’The al-Qaida and IS franchises in the Sahel are building up their revenue base by taxing artisanal miners in Burkina Faso and Mali. Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is replicating this process in Nigeria’s North-East and North-West which explains some of the extreme violence in Zamfara State where there is heavy competition for mining revenues’’, Menas’ report says.
In the meantime, security experts agree that implication of the Taliban takeover is a huge morale boost for jihadist forces everywhere. Though it is hard at the moment to gauge how much the return of the Taliban damages the US and supports China, Pakistan, and Russia, but, at its recent pan-Africa co-operation forum, China argued that Afghanistan has vindicated its stated non-intervention policy.
Interestingly, few African officials are really buying that, and as Menas’ intelligence report indicates, ‘’China’s strength for Africa will continue to be its market and financial muscle, neither of which the US has managed to rival in recent years. And Russia will be emboldened to increase its marketing of mercenary and arms supply operations.’’
Arguably, this must have triggered why Nigeria last month signed a military co-operation agreement with Moscow that includes the supply of weapons and training of troops. Nigeria has long used Russian military equipment and aircraft alongside Western kit. Obviously, Nigeria’s message last August was that it’s prepared to buy a lot more.