West African nations met European leaders on Tuesday for talks on preventing jihadist conflict in the Sahel region from spilling over into countries on the Gulf of Guinea.
Coastal nations Ghana, Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast face increasing threats and attacks from Islamist militants across their northern borders in Burkina Faso and Niger.
The summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, comes as more Western countries withdraw peacekeepers from Mali after the military junta boosted cooperation with Russia.
Under the so-called Accra Initiative, the heads of state of the Gulf of Guinea, Niger and Burkina Faso meet with representatives from the West African Community (ECOWAS), the European Union, Britain and France.
“This basically strengthens our efforts to be able to fight terrorism and terrorist-related activities,” Palgrave Bwaki Dankwa, Ghanaian government spokesman for governance and security, told AFP.
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The conflict began in the Sahel region of northern Mali in 2012, spread to Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015, and countries on the Gulf of Guinea are now suffering sporadic attacks.
Ghana has increased security along its northern border and has so far avoided any cross-border attacks.
But Benin and Togo in particular have faced threats across the northern border with Burkina Faso.
Benin has recorded 20 incursions since 2021 while Togo has suffered at least five attacks, including two fatal ones, since November 2021.
For nearly a decade, French and other peacekeeping missions have operated in Mali as a bulwark against spreading violence.
But after two coups in Mali, the military council increased its cooperation with Moscow and allowed what Western countries call Russian mercenaries into the country.
This prompted France to withdraw its forces as part of its anti-jihadist mission in Barkhane. Britain and Germany said last week they would also end peacekeeping missions.
Armed Forces Minister James Heppey said last week that the UK would “rebalance” its deployment, though he gave no details of what form it would take.
He said the Accra Initiative countries would likely need different capabilities than the British Long Range Expeditionary Forces currently in Mali.
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But the partners aim to increase the capacity of the Gulf of Guinea states to “guard against further contagion”.
In the Three Sahel countries, thousands of people have died, more than two million people have been displaced, and devastating damage has been inflicted on three of the world’s poorest economies.