On May 13th, the EU Foreign Affairs Council convened to discuss the situation in the Sahel, among other things.
The meeting took place ahead of a meeting between EU foreign ministers, defense ministers and development ministers with representatives of the G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
“The Council reiterated that the Sahel is a strategic priority for the EU and its member states. The various meetings taking place during the week of 13 May demonstrate this sense of priority and the EU’s integrated approach to the region.”
The political and diplomatic dialogue is focused around the EU-G5 Sahel political partnership, including ministerial meetings and the implementation of the EU Sahel strategy, the regional action plan as well as the Malian peace process.
The EU also supports the security and stability of the region through three CSDP missions: EUCAP Sahel Mali, EUTM Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger with a reinforced regional approach. In addition, the EU and its member states assists in the operationalization of the G5 Sahel Joint Force with € 147 million in funding already allocated to the Joint Force.
Total development cooperation support from the EU and its member states to the G5 Sahel countries amounts to € 8 billion for the period 2014-2020.
Following the May 14th and May 16th, meetings, the EU Council reiterated that there was a necessity for a need for a integrated approach, which combines political dialogue, security cooperation (including through CSDP operations and direct support to the G5 Sahel Joint Force), and development aid. EU development ministers explored ways to address the recent deterioration in the security situation, and agreed that the response must be multi-faceted, and should address socio-economic issues as much as security ones.
On the side of the UN Security council, the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations said the grave security situation in Mali and the Sahel is compounded by poor governance and a lack of resources for young people, all of which present a breeding ground for violent extremism.
“The G5 Sahel should accelerate full operationalization of the Joint Force, a mechanism that pools resources to fight terrorism, she said, expressing concern that geographical restrictions on the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have hampered the actions of Joint Force battalions.”
Burkina Faso’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the current proportion of national budgets that the G5 Sahel countries allocate to security, between 18 and 32%, is placing a large burden on social services.
The African Union’s High Representative for Mali and the Sahel said recent events in Niger resulted in the deaths of more people than all those killed in all the terrorist attacks recorded in 2018. The 14 May attack in Niger, on that country’s border with Mali, killed 28 people and is a reminder that ISIS remains active in the Sahel.
The European Union’s Special Representative for the Sahel, said the bloc will continue to provide resources, equipment and other support to make the Joint Force operational, including its police component.
South Africa’s representative warned: “The Council should be mindful of the catastrophic ramifications of the security situation for the rest of the West African region if the situation is not adequately addressed.”
Finally, the French representative spoke at the meeting saying that “We will only be able to succeed if we walk on the two legs of security and development.”
Other countries that took part were: China, Dominican Republic, Germany, Russian Federation, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Kuwait and Indonesia.
Conclusions of the May 14th and 16th meetings by EU and G5 Sahel representatives have not been published as of mid-day on May 17th.
But, on May 14th, Malian Foreign Minister Tiebile Drame said that “a race against time” has started following attacks in central Mali and across the border in northern Burkina Faso.
Speaking after the meeting with EU Representatives, Drame said that “we need support. We need to speed up procedures. We need international mobilization in a concrete way.”
The conclusions from May 14th and the following comments all seem to be in the right direction, but it is not much different than the usual rhetoric.
So far, since 2014 the experience in the Sahel has highlighted the lack of consolidation among EU missions and the need to better integrate ad hoc programs into a broader strategy under the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy.
“Also undermining success is discontent among troops, as exemplified by instances of military personnel refusing to take part in operations or abandoning their posts. Insufficient training and a lack of ammunition, together with militants’ prowess, contribute to low morale. It would seem unrealistic to expect any significant improvement on this front in the short and medium terms, partly because of funding constraints and delays for some of the missions,” IISS’ Virginia Comolli wrote.