Development aid and security spending in Africa’s Sahel region are ‘inextricably linked’

France believes development aid in the Sahel region would be ineffective without security spending. [US Army Africa/Flickr]

Strict aid accounting rules mean the international community is reluctant to finance security operations in Africa’s troubled Sahel region, leaving France all but alone in tackling this sensitive issue. EURACTIV France reports.

Sandwiched between the Sahara desert and Africa’s tropical forests, the Sahel region is in dire need of peace and security.

As several experts noted at the Convergences World Forum in Paris this week, the region’s development is being held back by a lack of international interest in solving its security problems. France currently appears to be the only developed country with any motivation to get involved in the sensitive issue.

“We have launched a consultation on security and development in the Sahel, and we found that the cost of inaction would be far higher than the cost of the investment needed to develop the region,” said Sylviane Guillaumont Jeanneney, the president of the Foundation for International Development Study and Research’s (FERDI) interdisciplinary working group on peace and security in the Sahel.

Deepening involvement

“France’s efforts have been very important for security in the region,” the specialist said. Since the 2012 crisis in Mali, the list of French military interventions in the Sahel region has grown steadily.

France notably initiated operation Serval in Mali, as well as operation Barkhane across the Sahel, and has taken part in the UN’s Minusma mission, also in Mali.

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“So France’s efforts were much more focussed on defence than on development, unlike those of the international community more generally,” said Jeanneney.

In 2015 alone, France spent €650 million on military operations in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso. For the same period, French development assistance to this region was only €240m.

Impasse on accounting

But on average, international donors spent five times less on efforts to maintain peace and security in the Sahel than on traditional development projects. And with good reason.

“The international community is very reluctant to finance security operations because they cannot be accounted as development spending. But in the Sahel, the two are inextricably linked,” Jeanneney added.

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Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, former President of Mauritania, told a Brussels audience that the first prerequisites for the development of Africa are the fight against terrorism and corruption.

The financing of security operations in developing countries has long been a taboo, and donors are often reluctant to fund actions aimed at maintaining order.

“The French Development Agency (AFD), like the rest of the international community, changed its mind on security fairly late on,” said Olivier Ray, the head of the AFD’s crisis and conflicts unit. The international rules are also moving in this direction.

But the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the organisation in charge of setting the rules for the accounting of official development assistance, still only allows countries to run a certain amount of security spending through their books as development aid.

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The Juncker Commission presented Tuesday (28 April) new proposals to strengthen the link between security and development in the external actions of the European Union, two fields of action which were largely kept separate in the previous commission.

The thought of tallying defence spending in the development column is hard for many NGOs to accept. They fear that this practice would lead to funds being diverted away from the poorest countries and from domains like health and education.

France is one of the countries leading the charge to change the rules on aid accounting, but an international consensus is proving hard to come by and discussions have stalled.

Increasing security spending

“The international community absolutely must increase its funding for security in the Sahel,” said Jeanneney.

Aside from questions of security spending, the international community’s peace keeping record is “modest to poor”, according to Ray. “The international community intervenes too late and leaves too early: it is the same thing every time there is a crisis,” the expert said, citing the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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But for the countries of the Sahel region, security is clearly the priority. “What people worry about is insecurity on a day to day basis. We have to develop the police and the forces of order to protect our populations,” said Tertius Zongo, the former prime minister of Burkina Faso.

The countries of the Sahel region have already taken steps to coordinate a response to the security challenges they face. Since 2014, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso have come together under the umbrella of the “G5 Sahel” to seek a regional response to the difficulties raised by armed groups of terrorists and bandits.

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