Jerome Vitenberg is an analyst of international politics and taught International Relations and Political Science for the London School of Economics through the University of London's International Programsat DEI College Greece.
In a column last month, Vitenberg wrote that France’s involvement in the war-torn Central African Republic is part of a strategy to assemble a bloc of liberal democracies in Africa. He explains that France (and its western partners) should create what he himself has termed the “Doula-Djibouti Corridor” across Africa, although France has never used this term.
CAR’s population is 80% Christian, but an Islamist campaign of violence is causing mayhem and the deaths of over 1,000 civilians and displacement of over 500,000 people. Unfortunately, some Christians have responded with their own militias that have engaged in retaliatory violence.
The following is Vitenberg’s interview with Ryan Mauro, Clarion Project National Security Analyst:
Clarion: Can you describe the bloc that France is assembling? Are other European countries involved?
Vitenberg: The French Operation “Sangaris” is reinforcing the insufficiently-trained African peacekeeping forces in a humanitarian mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). Its aims are:
1) To disarm both the Muslim and Christian militias;
2) To secure the infrastructure required for the rapid and safe movement of people and material; and
3) To act to re-establish public order and public institutions.
The Islamist threat in Africa results from the opportunism of terrorist groups (e.g. Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) or states (e.g. Northern Sudan, Chad) that use the ideology to destabilize local governments under the cover of “social justice.”
The “Douala-Djibouti Corridor” would include three categories of allies:
1) The civil societies in the states within the Corridor, as well as those from Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya;
2) The traditional external partners—the United Kingdom and France—as stabilizing powers.
3) I would expect the U.S. to have both an ideological and strategic interest in joining this regional democratization effort.
You will note that I do not include the European Union, African Union, or other states involved in economic operations in Africa like Russia and China. I do not believe they have shown a willingness to give priority to the values required to lead the corridor toward its goals. They would rather work exclusively to advance their own self-interests. Therefore, the primary external parts should be, in my opinion, France, the U.K. and U.S.
To the south, the “Corridor” would face Mali, Chad and Northern Sudan, much as communist East Germany faced West Germany during the Cold War.
Cameroon, currently in the dictatorship of Paul Biya, is a fragile state. The presence of a strong and stable cluster of democratic states on its borders would ensure that a transition to democracy there occurs more easily, thus blocking the Islamist movements.
Finally, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria are also fighting Islamist groups. Preventing those groups from using the Corridor’s states for refuge and for staging grounds for attacks would contribute to the stabilization of the entire area.
Clarion: What are the most immediate enemies of the Corridor?
Vitenberg: The most active groups trying to destabilize the area are the Islamist terrorist militias. By doing nothing, we allow them to progress. A resolute demonstration of political will and pro-active, concrete implementation of steps towards democratization would act as a road-block to those militias.
The opposition to the campaign comes from several sources:
1) Revolutionary groups—Islamists like Boko Haram and the Muslim Brotherhood—who are interested in maintaining the chaotic situation.
2) Powerful economic interests—notably, multinational corporations—that are willing to maintain the status quo because it allows them to benefit from fruitful and exclusive deals with the corrupt administrations.
3) Regional dictators or states opposed to democratization like Paul Biya of Cameroon, Chad and Northern Sudan.
Clarion: What is the official stance of France and other European countries towards the Muslim Brotherhood and, specifically, its role in Egypt?
Vitenberg: The French and other European intelligence agencies are fully informed about the jihadist goals and malicious strategies of the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated organizations.
On the other hand, the political echelons have shown a policy of appeasement towards those organizations within their countries. Each European country has a different theoretical understanding and practical methodology towards its dealings with Muslim organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
These differences result from how the various states relate to minority groups, the relationship with the minorities’ representative groups and, more generally, the concept of the relationship between the state and the individual.
There is a blatant contrast between the well-known intolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology towards non-Muslim states and societies and the laissez-faire policy of the European governments towards the Brotherhood. There are several hypotheses about the political elites in Europe.
In some cases, the political echelons are naïve and believe in appeasement of jihadist organizations. Their normative and idealist approach prevents them from listening to their security and intelligence agencies.
Political elites may be victims of political blackmail that leads to a quiet understanding with the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in their countries. The understanding is that the European government lets the Islamists operate and the Islamists will keep quiet and not cause too much trouble.
The political elites may also be bribed, possibly via financial donations (e.g. from Qatar) for specific national projects or due to corruption with funding deposited into secret bank accounts.
There might be more explanations, but I believe that stupidity, fear and greed summarize why politicians are letting the Brotherhood manipulate individuals and families as a first step and societies and governments later.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.