Security and development join forces in the Sahel

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the troops of France's Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa's Sahel region in Gao, northern Mali, 19 May 2017. [Christophe Petit Tesson/POOL MAXPPP OUT/EPA]

Military matters will dominate the agenda of the summit on the Sahel region in Brussels on Friday (23 February), but there will also be talks on strengthening development aid in the region. reports.

The international conference on the Sahel region promises to be a balancing act between security and development issues in the region, which continues to suffer the threat of terrorism and poverty.

Twenty heads of government and state are meeting in Brussels to increase their support to the joint G5 Sahel force, which brings together Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in the fight for peace and stability in the region.

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

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.

During the summit, international aid for the G5 Sahel is expected to reach the pledged €300 million.

With poverty rates of between 40 to 50%, the security problem is not the only one to hamper the region. “Development and security should go hand in hand in the Sahel: one cannot exist sustainably without the other, “stated the head of the coordination unit of the Sahel Alliance, Jean-Marc Gravellini.

The Alliance for the Sahel was launched in July 2017 as a joint initiative of the EU, France, Germany, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the UN. The aim is to improve the coordination of development cooperation in the Sahel region.

Against a backdrop of widespread poverty, this large area (six times the size of France), has become a breeding ground for jihadism. Since its intervention in Mali in 2013, France has highlighted the need to not only resolve the security issues in the region but to also support the local population.

“The main concern of the population living in the Sahel is the return to justice against terrorism and extremism”, stated Gravellini. The Sahel Alliance should accelerate the implementation of development projects in the most vulnerable areas of the region.

These projects would be based on the themes of good governance and internal security, energy and climate, education, vocational training and employability for young people (as they make up the majority of the population in the Sahel). Major themes also include basic infrastructure, local development and agricultural and rural development.

France hopes to increase international action for the Sahel region, and the alliance has recently welcomed three new donor states: Spain, Italy and the UK.

According to the French presidential office, during the conference, the various members will present a portfolio of around 400 projects to be implemented in the Sahel region, with total aid amounting to €6 billion for the 2018-2022 period.  A large part of the sum will be provided by France, €1.2 billion over the next five years.

This sum reflects a real effort from France as to reach such levels, the allocated aid to the Sahel will have to increase by 40%. At the last Interdepartmental Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) the French government announced its decision to significantly increase its aid to the Sahel region.

EU to lead funding demand for Sahel force

The European Commission is hoping to drum up further funds for a joint military force tasking with combating jihadist groups in the Sahel at a funding conference in Brussels on Friday (23 February).

Vulnerable areas

Concentrating aid on the most vulnerable areas of the Sahel region is a key point for the Alliance.

“The point is to concentrate action in the most vulnerable areas of the Sahel, that is to say where there is the biggest risk of implantation of terrorism,” said a source in the French presidential office.

This aims to concentrate efforts on the most vulnerable populations, “local development projects will be set up for the population, for them to see rapid improvements in their situations”, said Gravellini.

The new alliance also involves coordinating de facto development and security measures. “In concrete terms, this implies a real methodological revolution by making the French Development Agency and the military staff work on a common map to synchronise their actions,” said a source in the French presidential office.