INTERVIEW – The Sahel should be seen as a region of opportunity despite many crises

The Sahel is a vast, sparsely populated region that stretches across Africa from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, an area ravaged by conflicts linked to terrorism, the effects of climate change and the lack of progress.

UN news discussed with Mr. Annadif on solutions to the problems facing the region.

What is the historical context of the Sahel region?

Sahelian populations are far from the decision -making centers of the countries that make up the region and therefore live on the margins. But they were strong and self-sufficient, living on trade and nomadic agriculture.

After the political turmoil in Libya and before that in Afghanistan, this region became a sanctuary of terrorist groups that used religion to incite and hate. This is not Islam, it is a rotten Islam that these groups want to spread to serve their plans, taking advantage of the fact that most people in the Sahel are very sensitive to religious issues.

Due to the lack of basic services and infrastructure, some people may be tempted to join the discourse of these groups which, in some situations, play the role of the State by providing services such as education, health. and righteousness.

Can you describe the situation today?

UN News/Daniel Dickinson

Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel.

Today, the Sahel is full of terrorists. With the fall of Gaddafi in Libya, the region became an open-air arsenal, where weapons circled like bread; anyone can get a gun, which causes violence.

The region is also suffering from the impact of climate change. In the past, nomadic shepherds and farmers lived together, but with climate change, there was little arable land and little pasture for shepherds, which led to many conflicts. among the community.

In the past, local leaders helped ease these conflicts, but they were ousted by terrorists who, in some cases, manipulated and exacerbated disputes between farmers and herdsmen to expand their influence. .

What kind of crisis is the region facing?

The region is facing many crises, for which Sahel populations are not responsible. These are global issues that have global implications: we are seeing more illegal immigration, more terrorist influence and the collapse of states.

With a little support, Sahelian countries can move forward against these overlapping crises and provide a defense against terrorism. But it is important that the international community remains involved in supporting the efforts of countries in the region.

A Malian refugee in the Tillaberi region of Niger.

© UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

A Malian refugee in the Tillaberi region of Niger.

What are the solutions to these deep -rooted problems?

Investing more in education is essential to delivering solid solutions. In a region comprised of 60 to 70% young people, it is important to redouble our efforts to ensure young people’s access to education.
It is important that the State and public institutions play their role in ensuring the provision of basic services and laying out the infrastructure for development. There is no way without progress. And it requires a minimum of financial support.

It is also important to see the Sahel as a region of opportunity rather than just a problem, and people should be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Where are these opportunities?

Most people in the Sahel want peace; they are hardworking, strong and live very little. They didn’t ask for much. There is the opportunity to exploit the resources that are under the earth’s surface, for example underground sources of water, minerals and gold.

The terrorists sold gold mined in the Sahel to fund their operations.

If these resources are properly utilized, if the people living in the Sahel benefit from them, it is a way to stop the illicit flows of drugs, weapons and people in the region.
Although these people are poor and neglected, they are proud and attached to their region and they no longer want to leave it.

How does the United Nations support these solutions?

The United Nations is an important partner in the Sahel, working in coordination with various partners to support the tireless efforts of governments in the region.

As part of the implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (SINUS), the United Nations has contributed to peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance and development through the work of United Nations agencies, funds and dedicated programs serving the people of the Sahel, every day, to shape a better future.

Under the leadership of Mar Dieye, the Office of the Coordinator for the Development of the Sahel is actively working to mobilize regional and international partners to facilitate the implementation of programs and projects to improve the content of the Strategy.

The governments of the Sahel countries are doing what they can and we must continue to support them. Their efforts are necessary but not enough to complete the various challenges.

Given the changing world situation caused by the crisis in Ukraine, I call on the international community not to neglect the Sahel region and to continue financial support and political commitment to the region. We must all remain active at this critical time in the Sahel countries.

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