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Mali - Barkhane french operation - war against terrorism / Fred Marie (Flickr)

Security at home and abroad: European support for the G5 Sahel force

Interview with the EU Special Representative for the Sahel

Annemarie  van de Vijsel | July 19, 2017

Following up on last year's interview, The Broker held another exclusive interview with Ángel Losada, the EU Special Representative for the Sahel. We met with Losada at a timely moment, shortly after the announcement of a new joint force of five Sahel countries, and Europe pledging support to this force. Another motive to talk to Losada was the two-year anniversary of the peace agreement signing in Mali. We spoke to Losada after his meeting with Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, in The Hague. Read the interview below:

You were just having a meeting with Minister Koenders. Was there a special reason that you talked to him?

Yes, I think it is a very appropriate moment, because in the Sahel things are moving very quickly. It is clearer now than ever that, as I said in the interview last year, the security in the Sahel is the security for Europe. The Netherlands is doing a big effort, mainly with its participation in UN stabilization mission MINUSMA and the contribution to development in the Sahel.

Important in this regard is the creation of a new joint force in the Sahel by the G5 Sahel countries, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. This joint force has been approved by the African Union and welcomed by the UN. The importance of this force is that it will not be a force made out of Europeans, but a national force owned by the Africans themselves. They are looking for support from the EU in equipment and in training, in making this force operational and support in capacity building, but they do not need European soldiers. The EU has already engaged 50 million euro. At my meeting with Minister Koenders earlier today, I wanted to thank him and the Netherlands for their support for stabilising the Sahel.

Have you asked Koenders for his support to this mission?

This force is already supported by the international community through the UN resolution that welcomed it. France and Germany have pledged a contribution and asked the international community for their contribution. At the next coordination meeting of interested international partners in Berlin, we will see what every country can contribute.

[Losada did not give an update on a possible Dutch contribution to the force.]

Do you expect that enough money will be raised in the end? Some experts say that a lack of financial resources for MINUSMA and Barkhane has affected their success. They say that this force would really need sufficient financial support.

What I expect is that all countries realise that we are not only talking about the security of the Sahel, but also about our own security and thus will contribute what they can. Therefore I am confident that we will find the necessary means to make this force operational.

Everything has gone very fast because the needs are very urgent. The implementation of the peace process in Mali must be accelerated. The government of prime minister Maïga is conscious of that and is working in that direction. The Algerian authorities, who lead the peace process, are also conscious of that. And we are also pushing. We hope that in the near future we will be able to create peace in Mali, peace in the Sahel, and then use this force to fight against the other problems in this area: terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and that we will be able to contribute to the restoration of the state and to improve the humanitarian situation.

So the mandate of the new force should not be just security but also development.

Yes, the mandate comprises four objectives, as stated in the Concept of Operation: 1) fight against terrorism, illegal drug trafficking and human trafficking; 2) contribute to the reinstallation of the state authorities where they are absent; 3) contribute to humanitarian aid, and 4) contribute to development actions taking place in the region. Now we have to find the proper means of coordination of the new force with MINUSMA and Barkhane so that we can have a real impact.

Yes, because we have two forces there already.

This force is different because it is a force from these countries themselves, composed of national forces on both sides of the respective borders. They will have the right of pursuit to chase terrorists 50km across the border. That will be a good way of managing border control. The force will comprise 5000 people, divided into 7 battalions in 3 border areas. There will be two battalions on the border between Mali and Mauritania, mainly to stop illegal trafficking. There will be three battalions on the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, an area with much insecurity. And there will be two battalions on the border between Chad and Niger, an area with a lot of traffickers. Always one battalion from each border country will be deployed.

But how could these forces, being situated at the borders, address development issues?

They will provide security to the NGOs and the programmes and projects from the EU and the member states working there. EU projects and programmes for the region sum up to 3.5 billion euro from 2014 until 2020, and to 8 billion if the contributions by the member states are included.

Is this 3.5 billion for security or for development?

For development. It is the budget of the European Development Fund, the EDF. In addition to the EDF, the EU has two other financial instruments for the region: the Trust Fund for addressing the root causes of migration, of 2.8 billion, and the African Peace Facility, from which the contribution of 50 million euro to the G5 force will be paid. Part of these funds can also be spent on security.

[Editor’s note: The Trust Fund is largely paid from the EDF.]

What is the money on development mainly spent on?

The money from the EDF and the Trust Fund addresses the root causes of migration. Resilience, youth, gender, education.

Critics say that the funds for development are spent on stopping migration or on border control, instead of on development.

The Trust Fund has two different aspects: one is focused purely on migration itself, and the other is focused on the root causes of migration.

How is progress on the development part of the Sahel Regional Action Plan?

We are seeing a lot of advancements but without security it is very difficult to proceed. The peace process on Mali foresees action on development as well. The better the peace process goes, the easier it will be to provide support for development in the North.

[For more information, Losada referred to the progress report on Sahel Regional Action Plan.]

So it is difficult to say how much has been achieved in terms of development as insecurity in Mali is still so much of an issue?

Of course, security in Mali is an issue and without the proper environment for security it is very difficult to proceed with development. That is why the creation of this joint force is so important. But nevertheless many actions for development are being taken, for youth, for education, by building roads.

Current discussions on migration and security in European countries must have shifted the focus in your mandate more towards security than to development.

Yes, but the two issues are linked. That is why we have the funds for these countries.

In the peace process in Mali, the first two years after the signing of the agreement are over now.

The implementation of the peace process has been slow at the beginning. A lot still needs to be done to implement all foreseen actions from the peace agreement but several instruments are already in place: the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, the National Committee for Security Sector Reform, and the Integration Committee. The interim authorities are also in place, there is joint patrolling in Gao and we hope to have them soon in Timbuktu and Kidal. A challenge will be the upcoming electoral period in Mali including a referendum on a new constitution, but the peace process must go on.

It is going slowly, but it is going on. Mali’s new prime minister has given a new impetus to the process and that makes me a little optimistic. The big problem that still lies is terrorism, jihadism and the attacks that are taking place. I hope that with the creation of the joint force we will be able to tackle this.

But so far the other two forces in Mali have not been able to improve the security situation.

There is a big difference between what was happening when we started and where we are now. When we started, the military movements were fighting each other. Now there is a ceasefire between the movements and they sit around the same table. Now, the problem is that we have groups outside the peace agreement, jihadist groups, which are trying to boycott and destroy the whole process.

But they say they were not included in the peace process.

How can they be included in a peace process when they are killing all around? They still want to do that.

In diplomacy it is always a difficult decision whether to negotiate with terrorists or not.

It is impossible to negotiate with people who do not accept any kind of negotiation, who only accept terrorist actions. The international community and the president and prime minister of Mali have been very clear that there can be no negotiations with the terrorists.

Many experts say the security situation in Mali has not improved, it has only worsened.

It is not worse. I do not say it is paradise, but it is not worse than before the signature of the Peace Agreement. Of course much can still be improved and we are working hard to achieve that.

Hopefully it will help, as so much has already been done on security and it has not improved a lot. Is the creation of yet another force really the best way to go forward, or would anything else be better?

There is no plan B. The only plan is the peace agreement and we have to accelerate its implementation. Much has still to be done. But I think there is a firm conviction from all parties that there is no plan B.

Photo credit main picture: Mali - Barkhane french operation - war against terrorism / Fred Marie (Flickr)