G5-Sahel force five years on

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The five-year-old force working to stabilise Africa’s Sahel shows potential, but needs international support to reach full operational capacity, a senior UN peacekeeping official said this week.

At the same time, Bintou Keita, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, called for enhanced political and economic solutions to tackle the strife-torn region’s myriad challenges.

The force, dubbed the ‘G-5 Sahel’ after the group of countries that comprise it – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger- the Joint Force, proposed by the African Union and backed by the UN Security Council, aims to “neutralise” armed groups in the region and strengthen co-operation on economic development and security.

“The G-5 Sahel has taken additional steps to operationalize the joint force following a terrorist attack on its headquarters in June,” Keita told the Security Council.

She was encouraged by the resumption of joint force operations in January, noting the force carried out four operations since the beginning of the year.

“I call on the G-5 Sahel member states to accelerate full operationalisation of the joint force so it can reach full operational capability,” she said during a briefing alongside UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director, Yury Fedotov; Burkina Faso Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alpha Barry; Representative of the AU for Mali and the Sahel, Pierre Buyoya and EEU Special Representative for the Sahel, Angel Losada Fernandez.

The situation in Mali and in wider Sahel remained worrying Keïta said, adding the region faced serious problems – from growing insecurity to the spread of violent extremism across borders – the solution to many Sahel’s challenges including climate change, drugs and people smuggling, cannot be solely military.

She said effective G-5 Sahel operations “will send a strong signal to terrorist groups: their encroachment on the life of the population will no longer be tolerated and be rejected by the collective determination of the region”.

“A security-driven approach alone will not be sufficient to combat violence in the region in a sustainable manner. It must go hand-in-hand with collective and co-ordinated efforts and a broader strategy encompassing poverty reduction, good governance, development and humanitarian assistance and security interventions,” she said.

The UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel “remains a valid framework for co-ordinated action and I call on partners to support its operationalisation,” she said, referring to the 2013 Security Council endorsed programme prioritising life-saving activities to meet immediate needs, while building the resilience of people and communities as part of a long-term development agenda.

Fedotov said the G-5 Sahel countries achieved some notable results with UNODC support, addressing regional judicial co-operation and mutual legal assistance; firearm marking; investigation of terrorism financing; illicit trafficking at airports; and the resolution of backlogged cases involving terrorism suspects in pre-trial detention.

“Our G-5 Sahel partners deserve credit for commitment to advance efforts through the Joint Force in a fragile security environment, but we must be clear: daunting challenges remain.”

“The EU and its member states are determined to build this partnership with G-5 Sahel countries. It is vital for the security and development of the region. The EU is prepared to maintain its support through 2019 and 2020, upon the condition of greater involvement by the G5 Sahel States in achieving the objectives on the ground,” Losada said.