Since 2020, there have been eight coups in West and Central Africa. Niger, Sudan, Guinea and Gabon experienced coups — Mali and Burkina Faso each had two coups' months apart. At the same time, there has been an alarming increase in terrorist attacks by militant Islamist organizations.
In his opening remarks, Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the committee will examine this recent wave of coups and violence — and the implications for U.S. policy.
"The challenges are great, but we must acknowledge the current trajectory is grim. It requires a critical evaluation of our policies. Congress demanded that when we passed the Trans Sahara Counter-terrorism Partnership Act," he said.
Cardin explained that although junta leaders have justified their coups by pointing to their elected governments' failure to improve security, they themselves have failed to deliver as well.
In both Mali and Burkina Faso security has sharply deteriorated and civilian deaths have skyrocketed.
President of the ECOWAS Commission Omar Touray said in July, West Africa recorded over 1,800 terrorist attacks in the first six months of the year resulting in nearly 4,600 deaths with dire humanitarian consequences.
Speaking at the U.N. Security Council Touray said half a million people in the 15-nation economic bloc were refugees and nearly 6.2 million are internally displaced.
The spiraling security situation, Cardin said, is already impacting coastal West African nations, and the committee is trying to find out what is driving this dynamic.
"It's hard to say our security assistance has been effective in the Sahel or in countries in West Africa," he said. " We certainly have very little to show in terms of improved security, stability, or stronger democratic institutions. And quite frankly — there is an uncomfortable truth in all this."
"Across the Sahel, the United States trained militias and militaries responsible for the coups. We trained the very people overthrowing civilian governments. So, it is critical that we take a brutally honest look at our approach to date," Cardi said.
The senator noted that the presence of the Russian Wagner mercenary group presents an additional serious threat but said diplomacy and good governance would ultimately prevail.
"We need to lead with our values as we try to advance an agenda of good governance in the region. I think we need to make our position crystal clear: military takeovers of civilian-led governments are coups. We shouldn’t mince words," Cardin said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee testified that the sub-region of the Sahel is integral to U.S. relations with the continent.
Phee said the Biden administration recognizes Africa as a major geo-political force, and that’s why the administration seeks to elevate African voices in institutions such as the U.N. Security Council, the G20, and IMF.
She explained that the urgent challenges in Ukraine and the Middle East at times overshadow the U.S. partnership with Africa.
Speaking on fostering a return to civilian rule, Phee said the U.S. is working with regional organizations like ECOWAS, the African Union and Africa regional economic commissions who are essential partners in advancing peace and democracy.
In February, leaders of the AU met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss several issues including security. The AU said it was maintaining its suspension of four countries — Burkina Faso, Guinea , Mali and Sudan — which have been ruled by military leaders following coups.
Niger and Gabon were suspended in August after coups in their nations toppled their elected leaders.
The U.S., Phee said, is helping countries in coastal West Africa to strengthen governance by programs including increased engagement in highly marginalized communities and the implementation of initiatives launched by President Biden at the last U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December.
The Biden administration committed $55 billion to Africa over the next three years to "a wide range of sectors to tackle the core challenges" in health, climate change, trade, security and women's partnerships.
VOA's Douglas Mpuga complied this report. Some information for this report came from Reuters.