The security-development nexus in the Sahel Sahara region


Global Europe

Picture of Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah

President of the Think-Tank C4S. Former UN Special Representative for Somalia

Fifty years ago, Felix Houphouet Boigny, President of Cote d’Ivoire, used to remind his fellow citizens that “there is no development without peace”, adding that “while economic injustice can be corrected at a later stage, violence and anarchy are too costly to be repaired in a life time”.

Houphouet Boigny’s acknowledgement of the link between security and development came after the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, in a Europe devastated by the Second World War, had already begun to address this complex nexus. Today, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the European Union’s Global Strategy and the EU Consensus on Development continue to debate it.

The question was, and still is: how can we build peaceful and inclusive societies in fragile states?

A peaceful world needs to provide security for countries and their populations by combating extreme poverty, protecting social and physical infrastructures and therefore removing the grounds for civil conflicts that are the ultimate insecurity.

Both insecurity and conflicts are lethal threats to development: it is the poor who suffer most from resource scarcity and environmental degradation resulting from armed conflicts. It is the same poor who also are most affected by the lack of development.

Non-dogmatic approaches need to be devised to confront the reality of today’s security threats, especially in light of the continued conflicts plaguing a large number of countries, particularly Libya and the states of the Sahel Sahara and the Horn of Africa.

Focusing primarily on a government’s security – in other words, the survival of the regime – does not necessarily ensure security for individuals

One recurrent question enters the discussion: is the security discussed that of the state or of its citizens? Simultaneously addressing the security of both is a significant yet necessary challenge.

Focusing primarily on a government’s security – in other words, the survival of the regime – does not necessarily ensure security for individuals. In many countries, a lack of security is primarily the product of ineffective or irresponsible governance. Equally, outdated and misguided governance practices cannot provide successful development strategies. Pervasive corruption and domestic policies that discriminate based on ethnicity, religious or geographical origins are as lethal as armed conflicts. Indeed, they fuel them. Moreover, these policies discredit the governments, and so further undermine their effectiveness in fighting for development and security.

Since the 1990s armed violence in African has taken place in the form of violent civil wars (in Burundi, Rwanda, Congo/Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda), often with little or no external interference. These rebellions were often uprisings against social exclusion or mismanagement carried out by oppressive and corrupt regimes. Their peaceful settlement generally resulted from better governance strategies, including power-sharing.

Today, in a fast-changing environment, many political leaders continue to manage their countries primarily on a tribal or regional basis. Blinded by greed, or prisoners of tribal clans and groups, they often ignore and dismiss today’s realities, such as that we are now living in an era of mass and fast communications and open societies. Moreover, they pay little attention to shifting demographics and high rates of urbanisation. Meanwhile citizens, and especially the younger generations, reject nepotism and corrupt leadership. These issues are time bombs that must be adequately addressed.

Conflicting priorities between states and the international community can present difficulties

One step towards overcoming these challenges would be increasing the transparency of national management of state resources.

The practical issue of how to increase security through a stronger focus on development must be addressed on an international level just as much as a national one, but conflicting priorities between states and the international community can present difficulties.

The present situation in the Sahel Sahara region is a telling example. In this region the main priority of national governments is to promote development while making use of external assistance to combat terrorist organisations. For developed countries with an interest in the region, such as EU member states, the short- and mid-term priorities are more directly concerned with fighting terrorism and stopping migration flows and drug trafficking across the Mediterranean Sea.

While these priorities may not be conflicting in themselves, when it comes to aid allocation the two issues are in competition. In theory, the aim for both the development and security agendas should be leading successful strategies simultaneously on the two fronts, but in reality resource scarcity makes this difficult to achieve.

Today, just as during the Marshall Plan era more than seventy years ago, the many interconnections between development and security are recognised by all sides. But this does not necessarily translate to good governance in this area. The chief difficulty to be addressed is how governments can place the concerns of their citizens at the centre of their  policies.  And for this to be achieved, governments must sufficiently strengthen state institutions so as to stop the retribalisation of their countries and the deconstruction of their states.

This article is from Friends of Europe’s upcoming discussion paper ‘Investing in People, Peace and Prosperity’, in which international experts in these fields consider how policymakers can address the security-development nexus to build peaceful and inclusive societies. This discussion paper complements the Friends of Europe Policy Insight debate ‘To achieve Agenda 2030, give peace a chance’, held as part of the 2017 European Development Days.

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