EU envoy: The Sahel is ‘critical’ to Europe

Guinea's President and President-in-Office of the African Union Alpha Conde (2-L), and Donald Tusk (2-R), President of the European Council, attend the closing session of the 5th African Union - European Union summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 30 November 2017. [Lenan Koula/EPA]

The Sahel is a critical focus area that directly affects Europe, and above all Spain, the High Representative of the European Union for the Sahel, Spain’s Angel Losada, said in an interview with EURACTIV’s partner EFE.

“The Sahel is one of the most important points and a polygon of crisis for Europe, and more for Spain. (…) It is the border of our border,” explained the Spanish diplomat in a hotel in Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast and where this Wednesday (29 November) the summit between the members of the European Union and the African Union (AU) kicked off.

“All the crises multiply in one place (…) and you have to face them all” in the Sahel, an area that forms a 5,400 kilometre-long belt stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and that extends from northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, southern tip of Algeria, Niger, Chad and South Sudan to Eritrea.

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At this fifth Euro-African summit, which is being held for the first time in a sub-Saharan country, one major point of negotiations is the new European “alliance for the Sahel, a new way to make [economic] aid more flexible, reach the population and have a direct effect”. The “co-responsibility of these countries” will also be discussed, he explained.

“We are in an emergency situation. [We must] simplify methods to ensure that aid reaches its target and does not end up in the pockets of some leaders,” said the diplomat, who served as ambassador to Nigeria for five years.

According to Losada, the countries of Africa want “direct budget support”, that is, an economic injection into their budgets.

This is an issue to which the EU “would agree, provided there are checks to ensure that the aid arrives”. The EU must be aware of how the 3,500 million euros allocated to the Sahel are managed.

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This area, geo-strategically so important for Europe, is also facing a crisis of terrorism, which in turn triggers another of the most important problems in these regions: immigration.

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“What is painful is the trafficking of people and illegal migration, at alarming levels, from the human point of view and from all that can be seen,” he adds, referring to the situation in Libya, and is again in the spotlight after the US network CNN broadcast a video allegedly depicting the sale of humans as slaves in an unspecified place in Libya.

“In the medium term we have to create the economic conditions to just prevent these young people from going to a horrific, inhuman destination,” the diplomat said, adding that the EU has financial instruments and projects “in situ” that can help, especially in transit countries such as Niger.

At the centre of the negotiations in this forum, which is attended by the High Representative of the EU Federica Mogherini and where youth is the main focus, will be security in the Sahel area, with Mali as the main nucleus.

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In Mali, the new G5 regional joint force – Mauritania, Mali, Burkina, Niger and Chad – is expected to be deployed, which will complement the UN troops (Minusma), the French military mission Barkhane and US troops, whose mission is to train Malian forces.

Losada described as “admirable” the initiative of these countries, supported by the EU, so that this joint military force – which will have some 5,000 soldiers deployed in the field – fight against terrorism in the region, re-establish a stable state, contribute to humanitarian and development actions. “Without security there can be no development,” he says.

The diplomat, who goes to Mali once a month as part of his role on the mediation team for the peace process, asserts that the situation in the country is very complex.

The peace process “is not going as fast as we expected, but not as slow as we feared, because it could be worse”, he argued, before reiterating that this dialogue is very important because “security in the Sahel is security for Europe”.

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