Thank you Mr. President, and thank you to all of our briefers today for your briefings and for your dedicated work advancing peace and development in the Sahel.
We share the Special Advisor’s assessment that the Sahel is an important and culturally diverse region filled with potential, but that its people today face a daunting set of challenges.
We also agree that in this region, competition over natural resources exacerbated by natural disasters, including desertification and drought, contribute to the instability that we see today.
We are particularly concerned by the increasing unrest in the central Sahel, driven by the scarcity of resources. These communities are increasingly seeing these disputes through an ethnic lens, and each side brands the other as the enemy.
In the face of all of these challenges, the United States continues its multi-sectoral partnerships with the governments and societies of the G5 countries to bolster stability and security through U.S. humanitarian, health, agriculture, governance, and development assistance. In fiscal year 2017, the United States provided more than $460 million in development and humanitarian assistance to programs in the G5 Sahel countries.
All of our support seeks to complement the United Nations Integrated Sahel Strategy and the creative partnerships envisioned in its support plan. We particularly appreciate the emphasis on unlocking the potential of the private sector in the Sahel, also as a way to harness the power of youth in a positive way.
The United Nations’ efforts to attract and align international support for priority challenges in the Sahel is crucial. In particular, we should continue to support priorities and activities that are Africa-driven. Therefore, we commend the recent success of the G5 Sahel Donor and Partner Coordination Conference in Nouakchott on December 6, with its focus on each of the four pillars of the G5 Sahel – security, governance, resilience, and infrastructure – and towards those projects of highest priority, of greatest cross-border impact, and of maximum chance of success.
A key component of U.S. efforts to support resilience in the Sahel is to provide women and youth with access to economic and civic empowerment. Women are the world’s safest borrowers, as they pay back microloans at a rate of 97 percent. In addition, women business owners create a multiplier effect in their communities. They are more likely to hire other women, and to reinvest in their families and their communities.
Women and youth often face high barriers to access commercial activities, including access to finance, the legal and regulatory environments, education gaps, and social and cultural norms.
The United States is actively engaged in addressing these issues in the Sahel. For instance, in the Sahel the United States Agency for International Development is working to build stronger connections between the programs it funds in food security, health, microenterprise, and community development.
For example in Niger, USAID is engaging women and young people in the community dialogues and local decision-making to prevent violent extremism from taking root in vulnerable communities. By engaging women across their many roles as mothers, teachers, civil society actors, and business leaders, we can focus resources more constructively to address the drivers of violent extremism, combat radicalization, and keep our communities safe.
On security, the United States commends the G5 Sahel Member States for operationalizing the Joint Force to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime, a primary contributor to regional instability.
The United States strongly supports the G5 Sahel Joint Force and its efforts to establish lasting security. We have and will continue to work closely with all partners to coordinate our contributions of much-needed equipment, training, and technical advice to G5 Sahel Member States to fill prioritized capability gaps of the Joint Force.
But Mr. President, security responses alone will not solve the problem absent progress in addressing the political, environmental, development, and humanitarian challenges in the region.
Only by promotion of good governance, addressing the root causes of instability, creating economic opportunity, respecting human rights, and enhancing security can the states in the region make sustainable progress toward addressing these challenges.
Their progress, combined with the support efforts of bilateral and multilateral partners, all working in a complementary fashion with the UN’s Sahel strategy, will be critical to realizing the vast potential of the region and its peoples.
Thank you, Mr. President.