Over the past decade, the United States, France, and the European Union (EU) have drastically increased security assistance to countries in the Sahel region. They have done so to address two perceived transnational threats—violent extremism and mass migration to Europe—but have often neglected Sahel countries’ own interests and long-term stability. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Niger, the world’s poorest country. Although in 2018 the country received $1.2 billion in external aid—representing 13 percent of its GDP—it has not made the country safer for Nigeriens. If long-term peace and stability is the end goal of foreign security assistance, donor countries need to center Nigeriens’ priorities in their aid.
Since a 2012 coup, Mali has received significant security assistance from United States, France, the European Union and other foreign donors to address violent extremism and insurgency and help stabilize the country. In the wake of the August military coup, it is clear that strategy has backfired—and that, in fact, the failure of international security sector assistance to prioritize governance likely contributed to the conditions that led to the coup.
On August 18, rising tensions to boiled over into a mutiny, leading to the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. This dramatic chain of events followed three months of protests, calling for Keita’s resignation. As the country grapples with an intractable insurgency and eight years of instability, anger over the government’s failure to resolve conflict, respect democratic norms, and provide basic services pushed citizens and the military to their boiling point. What comes next in Mali over the coming months could have significant implications for the country’s democracy and on the stability of the Sahel.