The development politics of the Sahel – The slow delivery of a promised integrated approach

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      Finding solutions to the complex security and development challenges facing the Sahel region is not about the money or continuously multiplying the number of platforms that coordinate action. It is about political leadership and making informed decisions - and neutral brokers can play a role. For the next EU Global Strategy there are some lessons to learn. It takes time to translate African and international visions for the Sahel into actual impact. Two years after the historic visit of Ban Ki Moon and other high officials from international organisations, the state of play in the politics of development in the Sahel region remains dominated by talks on security threats and the quest for more efficient coordination. All Sahel strategies call for integrated and comprehensive approaches to development and security - yet these visions are yet to be fulfilled. The EU and its Member States can play a positive role, but the current debate on migration - together with other recent crises such as the Ebola outbreak, the Malian conflict resolution talks in Algiers and the coup in Burkina Faso - have distracted the politics of regional coordination. Assessments made in the field by impartial knowledge brokers that support efficient regional diplomacy would, in the long run, make a contribution in tackling these regional challenges and support implementation. Diplomatic dynamics in the Sahel The 5th Meeting of the Ministerial Coordination Platform for Sahel Strategies (PMC in French) recently took stock of what progress had been made. The record is quite thin, but there is one achievement of note. The umbrella framework of the PMC is recognised as the only space where all stakeholders of the Sahel can meet - both African and international. Unlike a year ago, it now works hand in hand with the G5 Sahel, a group of countries from the region which includes Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Mali has chaired the PMC since 2013 and has just handed the chairmanship over to Chad, who is also expected to take over the G5 Presidency this month during a G5 summit on 18-20 November. The double hat of Chad as the chair of both the PMC and the G5 is likely to lead to the merging of certain coordination structures - a point hotly debated in Bamako last week - and to a pragmatic focus on select number of priorities in the short term, namely counter terrorism, security and migration. It’s not about the money  Despite the increased visibility of numerous international and African initiatives in the Sahel over the last two years, in particular because of the high level UN visit to the region in 2013, an adequate ‘clearing house’ that collectively identifies and traces funds and interventions is still missing. There is plenty of money in the Sahel from the fiscal pipelines of the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Islamic Development Bank and from EU funds. For instance the AfDB has committed over 680 Million USD since 2013 (when it pledged 1.9 extra billion for the Sahel) but only 3% of these funds has been disbursed. The World Bank has committed more than 600 Million USD but only disbursed 2 Million this year. Disbursement and implementation are described as the real bottlenecks for a comprehensive approach to the development challenges of the Sahel. In conversations in the corridors of these Sahel talks, international diplomats and development bankers bitterly admit they expect G5 governments to exert more dynamic leadership in the implementation of programmes that were supposed to quickly address the needs of their populations. One African ambassador bluntly put it: “Because we are looking elsewhere and not at ourselves, it is making people in this region lazy. I am sorry, but we don’t do things because we feel somebody else can do it for us.” He was not challenged by anyone. While Europeans seem to be tired of the rounds of debate that the coordination platform demands, all the relevant European actors and institutions were represented. They adopted the 2015-2020 EU action plan for the Sahel last April. A new EU Special Representative to the Sahel Region is to be appointed soon. This sub-strategy and the upcoming EU Global Strategy will have to dovetail but finding the right language to do so should not be difficult. There is fast turnover of staff in the region and EU political sections of EU Delegations are hardly growing -  yet enough continuity seems to be there to ensure institutional memory. What is really new in the EU-Africa relationship in the Sahel is the hotly debated issue (at least in Europe) of migration flows from Africa and the Middle East towards Europe – resulting in the Valetta Summit and the setting-up of a European Union Trust Fund. This new dynamic imposes adjustments to the Sahel strategy and action plan. It will have implications for the quality of Africa-Europe relations, especially if both sides clash on the issue of migrants’ readmission. However, these adjustments won’t radically transform existing implementation challenges for an integrated approach to development & security or the need for more vigorous leadership of governments in the Sahel. A recipe beyond traditional coordination Global strategic visions or financing development and relief interventions are not really the issues in the short term. Much more attention should be paid to the conditions in which money reaches (or not as the case may be) the populations across the regions of the Sahel. These funds need to be used in a smart way, where all stakeholders need more knowledge to be shared more widely and informed by knowledge from the field about what is going on and where. Regular, focused and evidence-based stocktaking of good practices in implementation and impact at the regional and local level is needed. More knowledge is needed in skilled people who can operate successfully for implementation – even if it’s through vocational training. This can be done with a focused mapping of pilot projects carried out by those in areas where the need is utmost and challenges such as pastoralism, infrastructure, youth employment, education, culture and cross-border security cooperation related to security and justice sector reform are a priority. Instead of multiplying the gatherings of regional players to talk about coordination, all the organisations working in the Sahel would gain from combining their coordination meetings (or organising them back to back) and nurturing them with timely and informed updates by impartial brokers to find solutions to the numerous challenges. ECDPM stands ready to continue to play this role with relevant partners. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM In addition to structural support by ECDPM’s institutional partners The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Austria, this publication also benefits from funding from the Department of International Development (DFID), United Kingdom
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