Conference on preventing Violent Extremism in the Sahel - Dakar 27 au 28 juin 2016 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ahmedou Ould Abdallah president centre4s   
Saturday, 02 July 2016 03:38

Conference on preventing Violent Extremism in the Sahel

Opening Statement by Ahmedou Ould Abdallah President centre4s and former UN SRSG to West Africa

Dakar, 27-28 juin 2016






Honorable Representative of the Government of Senegal

H.E. M. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, The SRSG to Wets Africa and the Sahel et le Sahel,

HE Ms Dagmar Schmidt, Ambassador to Senegal,  Switzerland

HE Youssef Mahmoud, International Peace Institute,

Ladies and Gentlemen Representatives of the Diplomatic Community and of International Organizations,

Ladies and gentlemen,


For decades, armed violence has been recurrent throughout the world including, presently, the Sahel Sahara. Therefore, the nagging question is: can governments, through appropriate policies, prevent such violence in West Africa and the Sahel?


At gathering like ours today, it is interesting to look, not at how to define armed violence and terrorism - that would be a huge undertaking - but to discuss the prevention of violent extremism. Violent extremism that kills and maim innocent people, transforms many others into displaced persons, sends entire communities into refugees camps and, above all, has contagious effects.


Armed violence weakens states public institutions, is conducive to the dictatorship in the name of efficient leadership and destroys physical infrastructures including those financed by international cooperation. Finally, it diverts to the security efforts national revenues already allocated to economic development.


Then, there is the hard question: is it possible to establish identifiable benchmarks that could help foresee the threats that would lead to violent extremism? With the recent armed attacks on Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and the countries around Lake Chad area, violence in the Sahel does not need any more to be identified.

Thus, the question is how to stop its spiral in its intensity and geographic expansion.


On security matters, peoples’ expectations can no longer be settled in a satisfactory manner with new series of studies even the sharpest ones. They also cannot be satisfied with the waging of long and costly wars that rarely result in lasting peace settlements.


For many people in the Sahel, violence is part of life even though it has changed in nature. During the Cold War, violence came mainly from law enforcement personal. To date, that legacy, of a not so distant past, is still pervasive in most countries. The simple sight of what the Sahelians call ‘’uniformed personnel ‘’, in other words police, gendarmes and soldiers, pushes the populations to fleeing for cover.


My first observation is that, today, the priority should be to ensure that, fear and violence must cease to be the norm. Peoples in the Sahel, as probably those of other regions the world over, are against violence and terrorism. However, their relationships with governmental authorities remain ambiguous. With no sympathy for radical groups, they do not necessarily support their government’s fight against terrorists. They remain indifferent to a war that they think is not theirs. Although they value their safety and the security of their properties, they are not convinced of the authorities’ serious commitment. Moreover, they fear reprisals from either camp since, at the end, they are the only ones that will remain in place!


It has already been said and written. Still, it should be repeated again and over: exclusion and injustice felt by one or more segments of the population, even if they result only from governmental incompetence or simple blunders, strengthen the citizen search for specific ethnic and religious identities. These combined frustrations constitute the most effective recruiting agents of violent extremism foot soldiers.


However to be fair, the Sahel governments are presently facing one of the most thankless tasks across the region.


Firstly, the economic situation for 2016 is already particularly difficult. Mineral and raw materials lower prices have weakened States revenues and therefore their ability to meet social demands. Revenues from tourism have also evaporated due to terrorists activities. Population distrust will be even deeper and with it, the possible collusion between that discontent and radical groups rebellions. At the end, security risks should multiply as countries are already economically fragilized.


In this context, and while national governments and their international allies are bracing themselves for confrontations, new generations of terrorists appear on the market of violence. Like all markets this one is also erratic. These generations of radicals are often the result of new dynamics within the jihadist movement themselves. The real challenge is that, very often, they are one or more steps ahead of the forces that are combating them.


The rather well structured oldest radical movements, though often prone to internal - either true or false - rival divisions (Shebab in Somalia, the Sahel AQIM, Boko Haram around the Lake Chad Basin), are increasingly joined by new and more volatile groupings: Mujao, Mourabitounes Ansar Eddine, Macina Liberation Front, Islamist state or Daesh, etc. Sometimes, these divisions are also a camouflage to protect the identities or to exaggerate the real importance of an extremist entity.


Today, while the ability to anticipate remains the biggest challenge, threat is identified almost everywhere. That is the challenge of prevention.


In that context, I mean by preventive policy '' a coherent, sustained course of action, engaging multiple actors directed by an agreed - upon lead actor and aimed at reducing tension and encouraging a constructive, cooperative environment in a country that is either threatened  by violence or that has already experienced some degree of violent conflict. ‘‘

It is important to make the distinction between preventing the outbreak of a new conflict (proactive prevention) and to prevent the worsening of a conflict that is already underway (reactive prevention). However, due to the nature of the crises in the Sahel, the simultaneous implementation of both preventive approaches - proactive and reactive - is necessary.


Prevention should include a financial, economic and a political dimension, and of course a sustained military effort. The latter, although necessary, is not sufficient and must be constantly strengthened and complemented by a political and financial support.


As a response, prevention must also address the gradual building of a true state in which citizens can feel secure. That means well managed states that are friendly to their citizens and their public institutions.


Which international, regional or State institutions would be that lead actor accepted by all other actors in the Sahel? Multiple strategies for the region calls for consistency to their effective implementation.


In the short term, prevention of armed violence can be seen as a demonstration of solidarity and assistance to vulnerable countries populations. Beyond these purely national aspects, prevention can also be understood as insurance to protect investments made in peacetime through international cooperation. That should not be missed by the Sahel external partners.


Among preventive policies that help to consolidate peace, the fight against corruption has a special meaning. Corruption is a cancer that discredits public authorities and by the blatant injustices it generates (overnights millionaires), pushes the citizen, especially youth to revolt. As everyone knows, '' nobody is born a terrorist. '' It is states’ policies and the leadership behavior that discredit the authorities and often leads to terrorism.


Finally, the response must include support for the private sector. In bringing creativity and flexibility, the private sector can help to provide the concerned countries with a response to their youth desire to work rather than to join extremist movements.


In conclusion, I would like to express a wish that I know remains difficult to get.

Facing serious and credible threats, the international community must redouble its efforts to avoid the cacophony in its actions. For the Sahel there are over a dozen strategies prepared to address violent extremism. The main international actors are involved in their follow up: United Nations, World Bank, European Union, African Union, etc. Countries like France, the United States, and the European Union have invested blood and money.


Still in the Sahel, violence is probably not yet at its peak.


Where is the solution? The United Nations second Secretary general, Dag Hammarskjöld liked to say '' the purpose of the UN is not to bring humanity to  heaven but to prevent it from going to hell. ''


To help avoid that hell, the Sahel states should, at their own level of responsibility, undertake additional efforts. They can for example create national fronts to occupy the whole of the countries' political space. To that end, governments of national unity, for the duration of the crisis, could be put in place.


 All this should have a purpose: to ensure that their country - those of the Sahel and West Africa - are no longer the subject of concerns to the international community but the agents of their own destiny.


Thank you for your attention.



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