Destabilization, propaganda narratives and comprehensive countermeasures were the topics of the Common Effort Conference 2023 WEST AFRICA AS AN ARENA OF GEOPOLITICAL CONFLICTS in Berlin, June 13th, 2023. The one-day high-level meeting brought together security experts, policy makers, development organizations, and research institutions to discuss the violent spillover effects from the Sahel region into the Gulf of Guinea states of West Africa and was hosted by the 1 German-Netherlands Corps, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Project Lighthouse Africa, and the German Africa Foundation.
While Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has shaken European security, China is pursuing its own version of world order. Climate change is confronting all of us with consequences for living conditions and resource management. In the midst of all this, the African continent is attracting increasing attention from foreign policy actors. For some, it’s a “second scramble for Africa” and its resources. For others, the use of propaganda narratives to promote instability in West Africa is a powerful weapon against “the West”.
The European Union has a vested interest in strong bilateral relations in the region, but lacks a coherent approach and strategic alliances. Lt. Gen. Nico Tak, Commander of 1 German-Netherlands Corps, stressed that “foreign militaries must be humble in the African context and can only support, but never be the solution” to conflicts. The Dutch general emphasized: “Militaries are a political tool of governments, and military organizations can sometimes be somewhat impatient. But there are no quick fixes.
In this context, it is imperative to better understand the situation on the ground by listening to the African partners and letting them make the decisions. This is especially true when it comes to the West African information landscape. Prof. Dr. Martin Emmer of the Freie Universität Berlin and research director of Project Lighthouse Africa pointed out that “most conflicts begin with communication and tend to end with communication. Understanding and mapping communication flows is therefore a prerequisite for conflict prevention.” Who is saying what to whom and why? But these are only the first questions.
Discussions focused on the role of foreign actors, the comprehensive approach to security and development, conflict resolution, and the role of the EU in the region. The role of communication, narratives and perspectives in the current West African context sparked a lively discussion. Special emphasis was placed on a Common Effort Community derived concept of “Narrative Management” for community countermeasures, which is currently being implemented with local partners in Senegal.
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