Spanning many African countries, the Sahel sits on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel is usually defined as the territory traversing the width of the continent from northern Senegal on the Atlantic west coast, through areas of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and into Sudan and Eritrea on the eastern Red Sea coast. It is characterised by its semi-arid land and low population density
In 2014, due to rising shared security concerns, five of the countries in the Sahel formed the Sahel Group of Five (G5). Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger’s launched the G5 as an initiative of the African Union when Mauritania held the presidency.
The G5’s founding goals were to fight insecurity and support development across the five states.
In 2017 the G5 initiated a cross-border Joint Force in Bamako, capital city of Mali. The initiative was welcomed by the United Nations in UN Security Council Resolution 2359, which officially welcomed the “Deployment of Joint Force to Combat Terrorism Threat, Transnational Crime in Sahel” on June 21st, 2017. The full text of UNSC Resolution 2359 can be read here. Since then there have been several notable organisational developments.
- G5 Joint Force
The creation of a 5,000-strong Joint Force of the G5 was endorsed by the African Union Peace and Security Committee in 2017. The full text of the endorsement can be read here.
The role of the G5’s Joint Force is to combat terrorism, cross-border organised crime and human trafficking in the Sahel G5 countries. The Joint Force carried out its first operation in November 2017, using the armies of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It is active in a 50km strip of land straddling the three countries’ shared borders, with seven battalions in zones in the west, central and eastern areas.
- Sahel Alliance
In July 2017 an international donor coordination group, the Sahel Alliance, was established by France, Germany, the European Union, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme. Since then, the Sahel Alliance has grown and now also includes the following donor states and international institutions: The World Bank, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland. The United States and Norway hold observer status.
The Alliance aims to secure swifter, more effective and better-focused assistance to be utilised in particularly vulnerable areas of the Sahel. France and Germany were the most prominent states in the formation of the alliance, keen to focus on economic development through increasing employment opportunities.
The Sahel Alliance has six focus areas:
- Increasing youth employment, education and training
- Agriculture, rural development and food security
- Energy and the effects of climate change
- Decentralisation and the efficient provision of basic services
- Internal security
The agreement on improving the effectiveness of aid was formalised the donor-Sahel G5 partnership agreement signed in October 2018.
Also in 2018, the Permanent Secretariat of the G5 Sahel established the Emergency Development Programme to address the most pressing issues faced by populations in the G5 states.
The partnership developed further at the Group of Seven (G7, consisting of seven major world economies: United States, Italy, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany and France) summit held in Biarritz, France in 2019, where the Sahel Partnership Plan was agreed. The plan is a response to an increasingly unstable region and seeks to address the fragility, inequality and poverty that burden the Sahel.
With the G7 providing approximately 50% of the Sahel G5’s official development assistance, a total €11.6 billion was pledged for 800 projects to be implemented between 2019 and 2014. The investment includes funds targeted at areas not yet directly affected by conflict as well as focusing on improving the living conditions of communities directly affected by the security crisis.
The Sahel G5 and their international donors have identified major areas of concern that undermine security and development in the Sahel, with some areas already in crisis and others also vulnerable. These factors include environmental degradation, food insecurity and demographic pressures (population growth will lead to a doubling of the Sahel’s population by 2040).
The 2019 G7 / G5 joint communique also identified profound difficulties including a dearth of economic prospects and employment, particularly for young people and women; an over-reliance on the food sector which will be negatively affected by climate change, including desertification; limited access to basic social, economic and academic resources; inadequate health systems including poor nutrition; ineffective justice systems and weak governance.
A recent analysis by Tactics Institute also shone a light of the tremendous instability being visited on the Sahel region by Africa’s illegal gold trade. In-depth reports by Reuters have revealed the scale of the revenue being lost to Sahel government treasuries due to the gold trade, which is booming, but benefitting very few people. Additionally, the gold trade has attracted terrorist groups who, having lost ground in the Middle East, now have a foothold in the Sahel. And with the Jihadists, instability, violence and terror have contributed to the immediate crisis that the Sahel Alliance must face if security in the region is to be secured.