Despite numerous strategies to improve security, governance and development, the situation in the Sahel remained fragile, speakers in a joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council and Peacebuilding Commission agreed today, amid calls for Governments and international partners to improve coherence on the ground by matching short-term objectives with a longer term vision for the region.
Opening the session, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said deterioration in the Sahel stemmed in part from the lack of development, good governance, and respect for human rights. While Mali was at the centre of Islamist violence, other countries had experienced attacks from across the border. Niger faced a triple threat from Boko Haram, Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), along with spillover effects from the Libyan conflict.
Those and other groups were competing for ungoverned spaces, she said, and vigilantism was replacing legitimate authority. Thirty million people in the Sahel struggled daily with food insecurity. One in five children suffered from acute malnutrition, while more than 5 million people faced displacement and required protection. That confluence had spurred a deadly flow of migration through the desert towards the Mediterranean and beyond.
She said reversing those conditions required regional and international cooperation, along with renewed efforts to close the gap between humanitarian needs and development imperatives. Governments must link short-term objectives in pursuit of a long-term vision, with efforts to address root causes coordinated with the United Nations Development Group and the resident coordinators in Sahel countries.
She also expressed support for consistent efforts to reassert State authority, cautioning against a disproportionate emphasis on security. Any approach must be based on increased financing by Governments and partners alike, while full use must be made of the Ministerial Coordination Platform for Sahel Strategies. “We have set in motion reforms to enable faster, more effective, inclusive and sustainable action,” she said, stressing that improved partnership between the Council and the Commission was part of that approach.
Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said today’s meeting built on last year’s joint meeting on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustaining Peace. “We need to make sustaining peace part of the coordinated approach for implementing the 2030 Agenda”, he said. Against that backdrop, the Council had joined forces with the Commission to focus on the situation in the Sahel, which remained fragile. “This is a region with complex and multidimensional challenges” he said, ranging from socioeconomic inequalities, to climate change, to a lack of jobs.
He said today’s meeting would take stock of strategies for the region, and offer ideas about long-term stability and development, especially in taking a cross-border approach to building resilience. It would explore how to coordinate strategies and plans to achieve results on the ground.
Cho Tae-yul (Republic of Korea), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that body had responded to the 20 January Security Council presidential statement encouraging it to assist the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) in implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the region. The Commission had convened a meeting on 6 March, where participants welcomed such a role.
Further, he had attended the 14 June Ministerial Coordination Platform meeting in N’Djamena, where the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the African Union High Representative and the European Union Special Envoy had reviewed progress since the launch of the Strategy in 2013. Participants reiterated their commitment to maintaining the Platform as the political coordination framework to address transnational challenges. They also welcomed efforts to expand it to include thematic groups focused on security, resilience and governance.
In the ensuing panel discussion, Mohammed ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), said that while the idea of a multidimensional approach was as valid today as in 2013, the complexity of the Sahel required a flexible response. Marginalization and radicalization, as well as human, drug and arms trafficking existed alongside demand for employment and education access. Success depended on collaboration in conflict prevention, prompt humanitarian intervention, early recovery and peacebuilding efforts that built on locally defined solutions.
Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said fragility in the Sahel had a number of causes, stemming from deficiencies in resilience, governance and investment, especially in agriculture and youth employment. Many of the 17 strategies to address them were reactionary: partial, short-term responses that covered limited territory.
It was important to have a vision of the future, which defined nature and scope of public and private investment, he said. Creating that vision should include border communities. The United Nations Integrated Strategy could be streamlined to serve as a framework for unifying initiatives around the region. As border issues had been the “Achilles heel” of many strategies, building security required making the borders a link, not a barrier. The 2016 Bamako Declaration on border management was a strategic frame of reference that would allow for organizing a response.
Speakers from United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, joined delegates in posing questions to panellists, outlining both critical challenges and efforts to address them. Mali’s delegate said G-5 Sahel countries sought to empower local communities to manage their own affairs and requested international support for those choices. “We need resources,” he said, which must target their priorities. Chad’s delegate, meanwhile, said the 14 June Ministerial Platform meeting highlighted the need for initiatives based on recommendations made at that meeting, the most important of which was communication of the actions already under way.
Mauritania’s delegate cautioned against making the Sahel a “laboratory” for different concepts. He advocated support for “integrationist thinking” among regional countries, as an “ideology of dehumanization” was gaining ground. Respect for State sovereignty was also essential in ensuring that what was done was actually viable.
The joint meeting then heard presentations by Mohammed ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), and Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Mr. CHAMBAS, speaking via video link, said the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) defined three strategic goals for tackling security challenges: enhancing inclusive and effective governance, strengthening national and regional security mechanisms, and integrating humanitarian and development plans in order to build resilience. Those areas were considered complementary and offered an integrated response to the multiple challenges in the Sahel.
Yet, he said, “a lot has changed and the situation has evolved since the strategic approach of 2013”, citing political and security developments, institutional changes in the United Nations field presence, and a growing number of partnerships and programmes. While the idea of a multidimensional approach was as valid today as it was in 2013, the complexity of the Sahel required a flexible response, as challenges existed in different contexts. Marginalization and radicalization existed, as well as human, drug and arms trafficking alongside demand for employment and education access. Success depended on collaboration in conflict prevention, prompt humanitarian intervention, early recovery and peacebuilding efforts that built on locally defined solutions.
He underscored the need to redefine “the how” and address any duplication of efforts, pointing to a document titled “elements of an action plan for the UNISS” adopted during the Strategy’s steering committee meeting on 23 June, and which just today, he had sent to the Department of Political Affairs for transmission to the Deputy Secretary-General. It outlined a clear division of labour for United Nations actors to separate coordination and advocacy functions from implementation of the Strategy’s programmes.
As the Sahel hosted 17 bilateral and multilateral strategies, which had grown difficult for countries, “we are compelled to have coordinated regional approaches to tackle security, governance, resilience and development challenges”, he said. He underscored the need to focus on common objectives and consider the role of Sahelian countries, regional institutions and international actors. An overemphasis on security or humanitarian response must be avoided, as that would only tackle the effects of the crisis, rather than its roots.
Mr. DIEYE said the fragile situation had a number of different causes, all of which were “well known and overstudied”. They stemmed from deficiencies in resilience, governance and investment, especially in agriculture and youth employment. There was also an enormous security challenge, stemming from trafficking, transnational crime, unregulated migration, identity issues, the war in Libya and emergence of extremist groups, along with the fact the Sahel linked the Atlantic with the Red Sea, and had enormous mining and energy resources. Many of the 17 responses were reactionary in nature. They were partial, short-term, and covered limited territory. They were not coordinated and carried high transactional costs. “Their aggregated effect is thus quite limited,” he said.
It was possible, however to build a Sahel that was not a prisoner to fatalism, he said, noting that such efforts would require a structural response. First, it was important to have a vision of the future, which defined nature and scope of public and private investment. Creating that vision should not be left to States alone; participation, especially by border communities, was appropriate. The second imperative was the need to coordinate actions in the Sahel. The United Nations Strategy could be streamlined to serve as a framework for unifying initiatives around the region. Structures including the Lake Chad Basin Commission must be strengthened. The third imperative related to optimal management of border regions, as border issues had been the “Achilles heel” of many strategies. In a region of boundaries that often were artificial, building security required making the borders a link, not a barrier. The 2016 Bamako Declaration on border management was a strategic frame of reference that would allow for organizing a response.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers from United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, joined delegates in outlining the critical challenges and efforts to address them. The representative of the World Bank said that, as of this month, the financial institution will have delivered on the $1.5 billion commitment made by its President in 2013 while on a visit to the region. A further $1 billion from the International Development Association would start 1 July and focus on irrigation, solar power and a Lake Chad initiative. The Bank viewed the drivers of fragility as unequal benefit-sharing, demography, climate risk, the spread of extremist ideology and the trafficking of drugs, people, weapons and finance. The speaker from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meanwhile, said 13.7 million people in the region were severely food insecure, the most vulnerable of whom were in urgent need of food and livelihood assistance. FAO was working with the World Food Programme (WFP) to improve resilience, especially in the Lake Chad Basin, where they provided humanitarian and livelihood assistance.
The representative of Mexico said the presentations made today reflected the inconsistencies and lack of coherence of the United Nations system and Member States alike. There was clarity around the problems. “It seems like the formulas we have get lost on route to implementation on the ground,” he said. He asked what was happening, questioning whether the Organization was fragmented or if agencies were competing with one another.
The representative of Mali expressed concern over the security situation, which had worsened with the rise of terrorist groups and traffickers. As the impact of both factors transcended individual countries, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad had formed the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel), which aimed to re-establish security and promote development. Noting that the Security Council had recently endorsed the creation of a regional force to improve security, he said “we won’t be able to guarantee development for our populations until we’ve emphasized security,” stressing that the Group had also launched transport, farming and energy projects. On the issue of governance, he said G-5 Sahel countries sought to empower local communities to manage their own affairs and he requested international support for those choices. “We need resources,” he said, which must target their priorities.
The representative of Senegal, recalling a 2017 Security Council presidential statement, said “we have to recognize that poverty affects a very high proportion of the population”, in a region with limited economic prospects and faced with the impacts of climate change. The positive trend of reinforced cooperation must be welcomed. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had become a platform for dialogue and he recalled the objective of promoting peaceful, inclusive societies. Regional approaches were essential to sustaining peace in the region, he said, given the cross-cutting nature of the challenges ahead.
The representative of Indonesia registered his disapproval with how the term “jihadism” had been related with terrorism and violent extremism in the joint meeting’s concept note. Jihad had no relation to terrorism and must not inadvertently validate such an understanding of it. He supported the African Peace and Security Architecture 2016-2020 Roadmap for the peace and security architecture, calling for greater support for Strategy’s goals of governance, security and resilience, which must be adequately financed.
The representative of Norway, stressing that stability and development in the Sahel was important for her own region, said her State had increased political dialogue, as well as its contributions to humanitarian action and to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). “We must use our resources more strategically,” she said, linking long-term investments with humanitarian action. In addition to health and education initiatives, she advocated mobilizing the private sector to create jobs.
The representative of Japan advocated a holistic approach to the Sahel, stressing that, as focal point for institution-building in the Peacebuilding Commission, his delegation had held a meeting earlier today on cross-border issues in the Sahel. Participants had advocated greater partnerships and expanded support for cross-border projects, stressing that international assistance should support national and regional strategies.
The representative of Chad, noting that his country was recently declared eligible for peacebuilding funds, said such resources would help build national cohesion. Chad was an integral part of the Sahel situation and he supported tackling deep-rooted security problems with a regional approach. There were various plans and strategies under way, all of them requiring effective coordination. The 14 June meeting of the Ministerial Platform in N’Djamena, attended by the Peacebuilding Commission, highlighted the need for initiatives based on recommendations made at that meeting, the most important of which was communication of the actions already under way. “What is missing is a certain prioritization of actions,” he said, expressing support for the creation of a mechanism to promote coordination.
The representative of the United States advocated the whole-of-system perspective, stressing that breaking down institutional siloes was essential to meet the needs of countries in conflict or transition. He expressed strong support for countries in the region to foster stability and enhance economic opportunities. The situation in the Sahel had been over-strategized and over-studied by the United Nations and efforts should focus on deploying funds towards existing strategies and frameworks.
The representative of Cameroon said that many doctors had come to the bedside, yet the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin were still “very ill”. Questions centred on whether the treatments were correct, whether those treatments had been administered in a timely manner, and whether the dosage was the right amount. For some issues, the timing and dosage were off.
The representative of Mauritania said the relevant diagnoses had been made. “We now just have to find the ways and means to guarantee peace and development in the Sahel,” he said, underscoring the need for both investment and an integrated United Nations strategy for development, which promoted initiatives from national communities and stakeholders. He advocated support for “integrationist thinking” among regional countries, including through partnerships with national communities, especially as an “ideology of dehumanization” was gaining ground. “Let’s avoid making the Sahel a laboratory for different concepts,” he said. “We’re talking about peace and sustainable development,” for which there was much potential. Respect for State sovereignty was also essential in ensuring that what was done was actually viable.
Also speaking today were representatives of Brazil, Russian Federation, Egypt, Chile, France, China and Australia.