Lasting peace is attainable in the Sahel region through greater investment and partnership in governance, energy, the youth and women, participants heard at the latest high-level special edition of AFRI CONVERSE dialogue series, co-organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) Development Forum.

Home to over 350 million people, the region faces multi-dimensional challenges, which are often characterized by poverty, rapid population growth, climate change, food insecurity and instability.  

“The interplay of insecurity, governance deficits and climate vulnerability has fueled high levels of inequality, citizen frustrations and, ultimately, the humanitarian and development crises,” said Ms. Asako Okai, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Crisis Bureau for the UNDP.

Yet, despite these challenges, Ms. Okai highlighted that the Sahel hosts the world’s largest renewable energy potential, some of the fastest growing economies in the world, the youngest population in Africa (more than 200 million people are under 25 years of age) and breathtaking tourist destinations – all of which have significant potential for investment and prosperity.  

“Over the past few years, UNDP through its, “REGENERATION: UNDP at Work for a Brighter Future in the Sahel”, has proffered a development approach that is anchored on the principles of prevention, stabilisation, transformation and sustainability,” she added. Tailored approaches are being deployed to reduce risks and vulnerability, prevent conflicts, build resilience, and put communities and countries on the sustainable development path.

Cognizant that no one institution can solve the complex challenges facing the region, Ms. Okai said UNDP has in its efforts leveraged all of its partners, including regional institutions and governments to design and implement flagship programmes prioritising stabilisation of conflict-prone areas. She further underscored that any long-term, comprehensive solution for the region has to involve the private sector as its engagement is vital to job creation, inclusion and economic growth. 

Addressing the political and security context of the Sahel, Mr. Ryuichi Kato, Vice President of JICA, said in light of endemic poverty and inequality, there is a need for a development approach that builds trust between governments and citizens.

“This approach is important to create a setting where citizens and governments work together to build resilient states and foster trust. Our aim is to promote resilient state-building where no conflict arises. One of the ways this can be achieved is through governments offering inclusive services that are functional and useful to the population”, said Mr. Kato.  

JICA’s approach to peace and stability in the Sahel is based on three pillars, which aims to align with the pillars in the G5 Sahel agenda. These pillars include governance and security, resilience and human development, and the development of economic and social infrastructure. The G5 Sahel is an institutional framework for the coordination of regional cooperation in development policies and security matters in west Africa.  

Despite concerted actions by development partners, regional institutions, and state authorities, the extreme vulnerability of the Sahel has been laid bare by the impact of forced displacement, caused by widespread violence perpetrated by armed insurgent groups and criminal gangs. Ms. Sayoko Uesu, from the GRIPS in Japan, detailed situation of threats spreading in the borderlands including Liptako-Gourma, Northwest Nigeria, Southwest Niger, and Northern Ghana. 

Ms. Uesu noted that Japan’s engagement in the region was enhanced in 2019 when it joined the G5 Sahel as an observer. She further highlighted that the government also launched the New Approach for Peace and Security in Africa (NAPSA) at the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD) 7, which aims to address the root causes of conflict and terrorism through supporting institution building. 

Touching upon that NAPSA highlights the role of prevention and mediation, she shed light on the need for a more flexible cooperation framework engaging NGOs and civil society organizations which are closer to the local communities in order to provide a platform which brings a wide range of actors together for regular dialogue and exchange. 

Reflecting on some of the achievements in Mali, Mr. Bakary Kone, Head of the Twinning Cooperation Division, Sub-Directorate of Cooperation and Partnership, General Directorate of Local Authorities, reiterated that sustained commitment from all stakeholders is required. 

Although challenges still remain, some successes are notable in Mali, such as the implementation of 6,468 infrastructure projects in the field of basic social services from 2015 to 2019 to build and maintain trust within the communities. 

“In addition to infrastructure development, concrete activities by local authorities to build trust between government and citizens include participation of populations in the management of local and regional affairs and the involvement of women in managing local authority services,” said Mr. Kone.

Mr. Abdrhamane Cisse, Director General of Local Authorities in Mali, reaffirmed Mali’s commitment toward lasting peace and development and expressed gratitude to Japan and JICA for their continued support and interest.  

Echoing the importance of partnership, UNDP’s Ms. Okai said UNDP has long collaborated with Japan and promoted peace and stability aligned with the TICAD focus under the concept of human security. “Capitalising on the proven impact of our interventions and the network and credibility built within the region, UNDP looks forward to enhanced partnership with Japan and JICA to support the Sahel countries,” said Ms. Okai.

The AFRI CONVERSE dialogue series will continue to be held bi-monthly to build momentum for TICAD 8 to be held in Tunisia in 2022.  

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