Let me begin by thanking the Special Envoy for her briefing. Guebre Sellassie, we welcome your taking on this critically important post and look forward to working with you.
I also wish to thank the Secretary General for his comprehensive report, and for his leadership on this issue.
As we come together to discuss the implementation of the United States--United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, it is worth noting that this entire initiative is built on the premise that serious security challenges facing the Sahel are, by definition, regional challenges. Whether it is groups of extremists carrying out attacks across borders, droughts leading to regional food insecurity, or a humanitarian crisis in one country that displaces refugees to several others – these problems are not isolated to any one State. Nor can the solutions be.
In order to address these complex, transnational problems effectively, we need to come up with regional solutions. And we need to enlist the full range of actors in carrying out these solutions, including governments, multilateral and regional institutions, NGOs, and civil society groups.
I would divide the challenges we face in the Sahel – and by “we” I mean all of us who care about the region and its people and who see its security and stability as tied to our own – into two categories.
The first consists of the emergencies and immediate crises, such as the current instability in Libya or the deteriorating situation in northern Mali, where we have seen renewed fighting.
I would also count the growing threat posed by Boko Haram. Because, while it was the group’s brazen kidnapping of schoolgirls that captured international headlines – and, let me be clear, the outrage their abduction has generated is fully justified – that was not an isolated attack. Indeed, Boko Haram was attacking innocent civilians long before that incident. And it has continued to mount attacks, with alarming regularity and increasing lethality, since then. Just a few weeks ago, the group massacred scores of citizens along Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. It is estimated that the group has killed more than1,800 civilians this year alone.
There is a clear consensus that the deeds of these extremists – like the instability in Mali and Libya – must be met with a coordinated, international response.
That consensus was reflected in the ministerial meeting hosted last week by the UK government – at which foreign ministers of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, as well as representatives of the EU, France, Canada, the UN, the AU, and my government, agreed upon a unified response to the crisis in Nigeria. That meeting produced concrete commitments from all of the participating countries, from beefing up the Multinational Joint Task Force to strengthening sanctions against Boko Haram’s leaders at the international and national level, to ensure that neither their militants nor their coffers find safe haven.
That consensus is reflected at the regional level as well, has been reflected in the ongoing work of the Ministerial Coordination Platform, which brings together five Sahelian governments to collaborate on security and development issues.
That same consensus undergirds President Obama’s announcement a few weeks ago of the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, which is aiming to work with allies and partners worldwide to respond to the evolving threat posed by violent extremism – including in the Sahel.
The second category of challenges in the Sahel consists of the longer-term, chronic problems faced by the region – such as widespread environmental degradation, chronic food insecurity, and the lack of opportunities for the region’s youth. To cite one alarming statistic: at least 20 million people are at risk of food insecurity in the Sahel, and nearly 5 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition.
These chronic, long-term problems may seem less pressing on the surface. But left unaddressed, chronic problems become crises; and crises demand urgent and often more costly or risk-fraught responses.
So, if we know that youth under the age of 25 form the largest constituency in the Sahel, and that they are the hardest hit by growing unemployment in the region; and if we know that young people who have no opportunities are particularly vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment into extremist groups; then we must invest more in expanding opportunities for young men and women in the region.
I would like to offer a few recommendations as we continue to work together to address these challenges in the Sahel.
While we are on the right track towards adopting a regional, multilateral approach to these complex problems – we need to improve our coordination. This means being more mindful of avoiding overlap and prioritizing resources, to ensure that the ones we have provided are used in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Second, we must invest in prevention, and we must invest in resilience. We need to do a better job of addressing the long-term, chronic problems before they metastasize into urgent and large-scale crises.
My government is doing this right now, through programs like RISE – the Resilience in the Sahel-Enhanced Initiative. Announced in February by the U.S. Agency for International Development, its premise is simple: you invest in making the most vulnerable populations more resilient, so they can bounce back when the inevitable crisis comes – whether it’s a drought, flood, or some other unforeseen, but predictable disaster. The United States has dedicated $130 million to RISE over its first two years. The program is already implementing a range of projects, such as promoting the cultivation of hardier crops in Niger, and working to reduce acute malnutrition in Burkina Faso.
We, the United Nations, have also been doing this through a number of smaller initiatives, like many of those mentioned by the Secretary General in his report. In one of those initiatives, in Mali, UNDP brought together 100 civil society groups to promote the involvement of women in the peace process and local-level dialogue. While programs like this may not stop the fighting in Mali immediately – they can help empower communities to mitigate the violence, and they can lay the foundations for building future peace.
I am convinced that if we can address these problems collectively and collaboratively; and if we are willing to not only react to the emergencies, but also to do more to anticipate them and to address their root causes; then we will be able to make the Sahel more peaceful and more prosperous, which is in all of our interests. We are confident that the integrated strategy encapsulates these various elements.
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