Making sense of the funding and implementation of Sahel strategies – Part two


Our series of blogs on international strategies in the Sahel aims to better equip practitioners working in the region. We started by comparing Sahel strategies (AU, EU, World Bank, AfDB, ECOWAS, UN), looking into the geopolitical stakes behind coordination and identifying ways of working regionally. Our previous blog on the financing of international efforts in the Sahel argued it is still difficult, on the basis of open sources, to give a clear-cut and comprehensive picture of the amount of funds available for the Sahel region. Here we bring further examples and insights and raise some questions on the implementation of the various Sahel strategies.

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      It seems in general that the money pledged to the Sahel is targeted towards crisis response, often in the form of humanitarian assistance, as well as infrastructure and the promotion of resilience and food security. For example, World Bank funds support regional development interventions in clean energy, irrigation infrastructure, pastoralism, health services, regional communication and connectivity.

      The new funding going to security, governance and rule of law – sectors that feature prominently in several Sahel strategies – is less visible, though stakeholders that met during our recent May and June 2014 missions to the region confirm that initiatives have started to address this.

      Implementing Sahel Strategies

      For the time being it is not easy to give a comprehensive overview of the actual implementation of the various Sahel strategies as the available documents we consulted mix the regional and national levels of action.

      At the national level implementation means the continuation of ongoing work in humanitarian aid, development, security and governance with perhaps a stronger awareness of the need to adopt a regional approach. It is likely that the least innovative stakeholders will just do ‘business as usual’ and argue that their efforts in individual countries contribute to regional endeavours, without necessarily trying to align with national or international coordination efforts.

      Yet new initiatives have already been officially launched. Two projects based in Mali and Niger, each worth US$ 3 million and funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF, mostly funded by non-African governments usually keen to provide aid) aim to increase confidence between armed groups and authorities in Mali and to promote socio-economic reintegration in the border region of Tahoua in Niger.

      The EU also reacted very swiftly in the aftermath of the conflict in Mali and, among many other emergency measures, supported the return of the Malian administration in the regions of Mopti, Gao and Timbuktu.

      In the case of cross-border cooperation, new funding for the region was announced by several agencies (for instance the support to pastoralist activities) and will be used for new programmes, but nothing concrete and visible for the populations has been reported yet apart from the joint deployment of patrols in the framework of the Nouakchott process.

      In many organisations, programmes are still in the pre-planning and identification phase, at times implying lengthy internal debates to ensure bureaucratic or cross-agency coordination. The UN has set up its own working groups for each of the three goals of its strategy (security, governance, resilience) and since 2013 has launched some regional and national projects.

      The EU started implementing its strategy with regional programmes in 2011. One example is the Counterterrorism Sahel Initiative (CTI Sahel) developed under the ‘Security and Rule of Law’ line of action, while the AGIR food security initiative has also been running for several years.

      Monitoring and Evaluating the Sahel Strategies

      Our preliminary comparison of strategies shows that measures to track progress and review these strategies are largely absent, with the timeframes of implementation, monitoring and evaluation usually unclear. Only the African Union strategy explicitly envisages an action plan with dedicated follow-up and evaluation mechanisms. The EU strategy is reviewed on a regular basis but not evaluated as such.

      This raises questions about the accountability of those who will promote and implement the various strategies. Existing studies already highlight that informed stakeholders in the northern Mali are raising fundamental questions on the appropriateness, sustainability and consequences of previous development interventions, and this has been confirmed by some of our recent interviews.

      Knowledge Will Empower the Sahel

      This overview of the implementation of Sahel strategies leads to some preliminary conclusions.

      Stakeholders in the region working in humanitarian, development, security or governance affairs are not starting from scratch as implementation is already ongoing at the national level and to a lesser extent at the regional level.

      Not all the strategies are being implemented with the same speed. The EU, the World Bank and the AfDB – not to mention the US which is already providing large multi-faceted assistance and cooperation with each country of the region – have all continued their engagement and in certain cases increased it with their November 2013 pledges.

      As for some African states and organisations, it seems they are trying to catch up while adjusting the building blocks for a more solid regional architecture. Algeria has recently revitalised its mediation role, the Sahel G5 has presented its own strategy and implementation plan, the ECOWAS strategy is about to be finalised and the African Union is working on its governance-focused approach.

      Competition for visibility and legitimacy has now reached full speed among regional and international stakeholders in the Sahel. The challenge will be to ensure transparency on the available funding and that the advancements of implementation processes are communicated in a timely manner to the communities who are ultimately the intended beneficiaries of ongoing efforts.

      The collection, processing and analysis of data on funding and implementation will require strong expertise and capacities that not all organisations in the region have. Thorough monitoring and evaluation for learning and accountability purposes will have to be ensured. This can help us move away from three well known yet hard to avoid obstacles: past-illusions, ignorance of the living memory of aid and its paradoxes (including the damage done by structural adjustments) and cynicism – not so infrequent in the context of the Sahel.

      The views expressed here are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of ECDPM. 

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