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International Donors Conference on the Sahel, Much Ado…Will It Make a Difference – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader
March 22, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

According to a number of reports, more than 60 delegations and 14 partner countries gathered in Brussels last month to put meat on the bones of the G5 Sahel force set up in 2017 to enable Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad build their military capabilities to conduct anti-terrorism operations in their countries and along their borders. There were also discussions concerning the need for social and economic development to address underlying local issues that feed dissatisfaction and instability.

The meeting was co-hosted by the EU, the UN, the African Union (AU), and the G5 under the auspices of Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou. Pledges were made totaling some $509 million for the joint force’s operating budget. Issoufou pointed out that it would only support the first year’s operations and that subsequent annual budgets of $150 million would be needed. France also announced that it would increase its contributions to development and government assistance to the region to more than $1.5 billion over the next five years.

As a post in Euractiv explained, “The aim of the military force is to drive out terrorist groups, smugglers, and organized criminal gangs that are taking advantage of the weakness of the state in certain areas of the region. It is a critical region since poverty, climate change, and the collapse of the Libyan state have turned it into an ideal breeding ground for all sorts of smuggling and could also be a haven for Daesh fighters fleeing Syria.”

Given this complexity, among concerns expressed by several delegations were “There is also a risk that an overly securitized approach could squeeze out equally necessary work on governance, justice, and the protection of local populations,” according to ECFR coverage.

In order to address concerns regarding the appropriate use of the funding, the G5 has set up a fiduciary fund for donations, and the EU now has set up a “coordination hub” for channeling international donations to aggregated and disburse funds within the GF effort. Hopefully, this will “help alleviate the risk already posed by so many international actors intervening in the Sahel, ideally avoiding duplication of efforts and wasted investments,” the article noted.

Coordination of both military and development efforts poses a tricky balancing act for the EU and G5 countries as the EU wants the G5 with intimate local knowledge to play the lead role in developing the military interventions while ensuring that support and assistance are channeled to projects that will best benefit at-risk populations and not exacerbate discrimination against local groups.

Unfortunately, the military situation continues to deteriorate. Attacks by jihadist groups aimed at French and G5 forces, often abetted by locals, have increased; and security operations by the joint forces sometimes agitate local civilians and have created refugee situations in some cases. It has been mentioned that as G5 operations continue, “The tactical need to work with “friendly” local armed actors could end up further destabilizing local security arrangements in the name of combating terrorism.”

This makes it even more imperative that the EU Training Mission (EUTM) and security sector reform in the G5 countries proceed apace, that the rights of minorities are protected, and that development assistance is effectively targeted. As Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs remarked, “This isn’t only about security but also about development. Because there can be no real conditions for security without social and economic development, such as opportunities for young people and women in the region.”

The Euractiv post listed that “France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the EU, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the UNDP have announced that the Sahel Alliance will collect a total of $7.4 billion to finance development projects for the next five years. These funds will go towards the 500 projects that will be set up in the countries of the G5 Sahel, and will be based on six main areas: employment for young people, rural development, food security, energy and climate, governance, decentralization, and access to basic services and security.”

Concerns with a balanced, coordinated strategy were also emphasized in a Devex post noting that Mogherini made the point that the EU had invested more than $9.8 billion in the Sahel in the past seven years. Yet, Friederike Röder, director of ONE France, was skeptical of the durability of the commitments. “It’s great to hear announcements for more investment into development in the Sahel, but we need to ensure that the primary objective of this funding is the eradication of extreme poverty and not controlling migration or military objectives,” she said.

Achieving positive results in the next few years will take more than infusions of money. Reliable coordination and collaboration across the spectrum of military and development programs can only be built on commitments to transparency, effective communications, transnational cooperation, and consensus that is a rare commodity in the region. With the Sahel still liable to increased infiltration by outside militants and jihadists, and the existing unstable political environment, it will take leadership that embodies a long-range vision of building states out of insecure territories based on tribal alliances.

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