On 16 July 2020, the Brussels International Center held an online event on new approaches to security and governance in the Sahel. In partnership with the Centro Studi Internazionali (Ce.S.I), the event brought together a diverse panel of international and local experts to discuss solutions to persistent challenges in the Sahelian region, focusing especially on the emergency situations in Mali and Niger.
The event opened with a presentation from Brandon Locke, Strategic Adviser for Security Policy & Planning at the BIC, who highlighted the key intersections between governance, defense accountability, climate change and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. Referring to the issue of defense accountability, Brandon argued that there is insufficient oversight on defense spending, and the implications this has on prioritizing human security are very significant. Brandon recognized that there’s already a lot of impressive work being done by stakeholders, especially the EU, but suggested the need for new approaches to security and governance, particularly in view of the profound impacts that the COVID 19 pandemic will generate in the Sahel region.
Experts then discussed the importance of a holistic approach to strengthening States` capacity building and competences, especially through training, and considered sustainable mechanisms that would both mobilize political will and ownership over resources. The EU Special Representative for the Sahel, Ambassador Angel Losada, described three main challenges in the region: a lack of coordination between the many stakeholders involved in the Sahelian stabilization process; a lack of ownership and presence by the Sahelian states; and most importantly, a disregard to human rights. “The vacuum of the state is the oxygen of terrorism” said Ambassador Losada.
This transitioned into a debate over potential solutions to the main problems faced by the region, especially in terms of accountability and transparency. Participants voiced concerns over the disconnect between political will at the international level and local needs. Delina Goxho, Independent Security Analyst at the Open Society Foundations, argued that the main problem is that there seems to be a lack of a unified political strategy, and a lack of a focus on a political solution towards a common goal, especially in Mali. Complementing Delinas` inputs, Marco Lorenzini, Head of Central and Western Africa Bureau at Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that terrorism is not the root cause of instability in the Sahel. However, “to address the root causes of instability in the region we need major involvements of the States in the Sahel”.
In concluding, Karounga Keita, Director of the Sahel Office at Wetlands International, discussed the critical issue of discrimination in public investment distribution, including basic services, as a major driver of instability. This was followed by Ms. Alviina Alametsä, Member of the European Parliament and Shadow-Rapporteur on the EU-African Security Cooperation in the Sahel region, who argued that to tackle the root causes of extremism in the Sahel "young people have to be involved in making their local and global politics".
Representatives and participants closed the discussion by examining bottom-up and top-down approaches to governance that leverage the resilience capacities of local communities in the region, such as enhancing institutional capacity, building proper metrics to access capability of operations, and strengthen coordination with local communities. It was concluded that a new approach to security and governance in the Sahel will be required and significant reforms will be necessary to adequately address spiraling issues that will directly impact the region, during and after the COVID 19 pandemic.
The BIC and CE.S.I will prepare an outcome report on the event, summarizing the contributions and listing the events final recommendations.