The Sahel is a minefield. Since the outbreak of the Tuareg revolution and the 2012 coup d'état in Mali, the arid region has witnessed the rise of jihadist groups that hamper development and threaten territorial security. The West's involvement has lost its relevance after the announcement of France's withdrawal plans, but a new upsurge of insurgents is forcing the EU and its partners to design a new action plan eight years later.
This Friday, the Francisco de Vitoria University held the seminar 'Eight years of international operations in the Sahel: rethinking the strategy', a space for debate and presentation of the impact caused by the different international operations carried out in the region. The director of the IPI-UFV International Security Centre, Ignacio Cosidó, presented the event and the researcher and coordinator of the Expert Group Sahel-Europe Dialogue Forum of the IPI-UFV International Security Centre, Beatriz de León Cobo, moderated it.
The event featured a distinguished line-up of speakers with extensive experience in the field. The Spanish diplomat and former EU Special Representative for the Sahel, Ángel Losada; the Brigadier General of the Spanish Army, former commander of the EUTM Mali mission, Alfonso García-Vaquero; the researcher and head of the Centre d'Analyse sur la Gouvernance et la Sécurité au Sahel, Boubacar Ba; and, lastly, the President of the French think tank Institut Prospective et Sécurité en Europe, Emmanuel Dupuy, took part in the conference.
Ángel Losada was the first to speak. The renowned diplomat, who has served in the Spanish embassies in Nigeria, Cuba, Kuwait, Chile and Ethiopia, among others, is one of the great experts on day-to-day life in the Sahel, having recently served as the European Union's Special Representative in the region, which ended last July. For the diplomat, the Sahel is "a crisis zone" caused by its lack of good governance. "This is the main problem," he said.
"The European Union was the first organisation to develop a strategy. It is based on two principles: security and development. There is no one without the other. "And to extend it with a third: the question of human rights and humanitarian issues", Losada concluded. The Spanish diplomat acknowledges the difficulties of the 18 international missions deployed on the ground, none more damaging than the abysmal political management. The large amounts of money squandered can be explained precisely by this phenomenon. "Many wonder where the money goes...".
For the diplomat, the diagnosis is obvious. The Sahel is a mosaic of crises. From security to economic and development crises, from inter-ethnic strife to demographic crises - women in the region tend to have more than seven children on average - and migration crises. The latter crisis could be even worse, but Losada points out that the main destination for African migrants is their own continent. "It is a challenge.
According to the diplomat, Europe's challenges include finding a good government with which to establish good relations "without falling into neo-colonialism", coordinating efforts and, finally, being clear that "we are not here to work in the Sahel, but to work with the Sahel". In the medium term, the EU aims to strengthen each country's internal capacities and propose a return to statehood. In the distant future, the ultimate goal is to build a strong alliance between regional actors.
Emmanuel Dupuy reviewed the Elysée's various interventions in regional instability, not without first highlighting the close links between France and the Sahel region 'from a colonial and military point of view'. President Macron's recent announcement of a troop reduction in the region after ten years of discreet progress and a disbursement of 942 million euros promises to trigger a series of changes in the coming months. On this point, Malian researcher Boubacar demanded more commitment from Europe: "Civil society must be involved".
"Spain unites the two shores of the Mediterranean", stressed General García-Vaquero. He reviewed the deployment of the Spanish army in the region and its mission, which is none other than to facilitate people's lives and preserve stability. "We are proud," the general said. "But military intervention is not enough. We must be an aid to development". For García-Vaquero, the solution cannot be military. It needs accompaniment, because "the security of the Sahel is the security of Europe and Spain".