Widespread economic, social, demographic, and environmental vulnerabilities in the Sahel call for official development assistance (ODA) to be spent on primary education, agricultural development and building the capacity of security forces. If international actors are serious about providing stability and preventing conflict in the region they should refocus their efforts in this direction – this is the only viable long-term strategy.
The Sahel has become an economic, social and political breeding ground for violence. High population growth and a youth bulge have contributed to low per capita income growth resulting in social, educational, and political vulnerability. As elsewhere, primary school enrolments are up, but time spent in school tends to be brief and the public education system is failing to provide people with the skills needed for the agricultural sector, which provides great opportunities for economic development in the G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad). At the same time, public sector jobs are disappearing and employment in manufacturing and services is typically reserved for those with secondary and higher education qualifications. Youth, who tend not to want jobs in agriculture, feel excluded from economic, social, political, and civic life and held back by deeply-entrenched inter-generational hierarchies. Salafist schools supported by religious organizations funded by Persian Gulf states have stepped in to fill the void, especially in northern Sahel where governments have withdrawn.
The international response: delayed and imbalanced
While terrorism has been contained, peace is at risk because military spending has not addressed the day-to-day insecurity experienced by those in remote areas due to banditry, trafficking, and related violence. As one interviewee explained, “There is no point in building schools or initiating water supply points if we’re afraid to go to the market or send our girls to fetch water.”
For a long time donors have been reluctant to fund military or police spending for fear of encouraging coups or strengthening armies that show little respect for human rights. So military spending is not recognized as ODA. This amounts to a failure to recognize the need for additional resources to strengthen the capacity of African security forces to control daily insecurity rather than terrorism. But capacity building for armies, gendarmeries, and police forces takes time and donors want to be at ease with overall governance before going ahead with financial assistance for security building.
The pattern of spending by donors does not seem to address the main economic, security and social challenges. In 2014, ODA shares for health were respectable: France 28%, US 21%, multilateral donors 9%. By contrast, per capita funds allocated to agriculture and especially to education – the two sectors singled out as important by respondents in our report – were generally low compared to the average for least developed countries from 2010–2014.
Change in official development assistance paid in the Sahel by all donors for education and agriculture (2002–2014) (gross payments in current million USD)
The way forward: boost funding and focus on security, primary education and agriculture
Increased financial effort by the international community to improve day-to-day security and re-ignite economic development in the Sahel is both necessary and urgent. All of the interviewees agreed that the cost of investing in security and development in the G5 Sahel countries will be far lower than managing the costs of an extended crisis. A simultaneous ‘big push’ in terms of foreign assistance for security, education, mobility, and development in rural areas is needed to tackle the vulnerabilities that are feeding this crisis.
ODA should also target projects with quick returns, for example, initiatives to promote the inclusion of professional content in school curricula and mini-projects in rural farm areas, where 70% of the population resides, combined with projects that will deliver longer-term returns (e.g. improvements in the quality of teachers and of security forces). Our report identified several success stories that offer room for hope. For example, rural development activities in the Agadez and Tahoua regions in Niger, as well as an agro-ecology project in Keita (also in Niger), appear to hold promise. In Côte d’Ivoire, the reintegration of fighters through a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration project has been very effective. However, success cannot be piecemeal and hinges on a ‘big push’ to address these interconnected areas by linking quick return projects with longer term development objectives.
This article is based on the report Linking security and development – A plea for the Sahel, produced by the Fondation pour les études et recherches sur le développement international (FERDI). The report summarizes views and insights from interviews with 17 actors and observers – military personnel, academics in and beyond the region, diplomats, dignitaries and former ministers in the G5 Sahel countries, and non-governmental organization representatives in the field – with deep insight into the various dynamics at work in the Sahel.
Photo credit main picture: Livelihood & food security work / Photo by SOS Sahel UK / Via Flickr