Humanitarian aid sanctioned?

An interview with Thierry Mauricet, Director General of Première Urgence Internationale, on the consequences of sanctions regimes and anti-terrorist measures on bank transfers by humanitarian organisations.

Alain Boinet: Thierry, can you tell us what are the concrete consequences of sanctions regimes and anti-terrorist measures on the bank transfers of humanitarian organisations to finance their aid projects for populations affected by crises and what are the consequences?

Thierry Mauricet : The humanitarian aid provided by NGOs cannot be done without financial means. In addition to fundraising through public generosity (which demonstrates the confidence of citizens in non-governmental humanitarian organisations), most NGOs benefit from funding from institutional donors such as the European Commission or various UN agencies such as the UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, to name but a few. Similarly, many states allocate funds to aid agencies such as the United States through The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), or Great Britain through the Department for International Development (DFID), not forgetting the Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS) of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the French Development Agency (AFD).

This funding often concerns assistance programmes for populations living in countries under embargo and/or under financial sanctions set up by the UN, the European Union, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury, not forgetting states, including France. Public humanitarian aid donors are obviously aware of this. By granting funds to NGOs, they recognise that humanitarian organisations in their field work are not affected by these regulations.

However, from January 2015, following the heavy financial sanction imposed on BNP Paribas by the US Department of Justice for violating the US embargo on certain countries, French banks have all progressively tightened their banking compliance rules. While this approach is understandable (as they fall under the French Banking and Financial Regulation Act and the Monetary and Financial Code), it now makes it extremely complex, and sometimes even impossible, to transfer the funds needed to implement humanitarian aid projects to countries under embargo and/or financial sanctions, when humanitarian crises are taking place there. These compliance standards may even extend to third states not covered by an international sanctions regime, but located in areas considered “at risk”.

The countries concerned by the geographic and/or thematic (to combat the financing of terrorism) sanctions regimes in force are currently the following:

Afghanistan, Belarus, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe. NGOs are present everywhere.

A nurse examines a child during a consultation in a health centre supported by the humanitarian aid NGO Première Urgence Internationale, in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, on 18 January 2018 / ©Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

French banks thus systematically request that each transfer be documented (employment contract and pay slip for expatriate salaries when their name or nationality is suspected, contract from institutional donor(s) for sending cash or payments from suppliers to the countries of intervention, etc.). However, this increasing administrative burden is now almost the “ideal” case for an NGO, as many banks now totally refuse to execute transfer orders to these countries despite all the authorisations and derogations obtained and produced by NGOs from DG Treasury, the United Nations and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Remittances are essential to the implementation of humanitarian aid in the field, and to do this, NGOs based in France need to use the French banking system. However, given the obstacles caused by the excessive interpretation of compliance rules by almost all banks, they are increasingly obliged to ask their staff to carry out the physical and cash delivery of the funds needed to continue aid projects, or to use parallel cash transfer systems via money transfer agents. These alternative methods of transferring funds limit the capacity of NGOs to act and expose their staff to security risks. Indeed, in addition to the risks incurred by physical transfers, delays in payments from local suppliers can also lead to serious security problems for NGO staff.

To illustrate these banking difficulties from another angle, NGOs also face problems in receiving the funds allocated to them by institutional donors. Indeed, when these payments are addressed to NGOs and they concern a project taking place in a country subject to embargo and/or sanctions, it is not uncommon for these payments to be blocked by the recipient bank on the grounds that the transaction is contrary to its compliance policy (including when these funds are addressed by the US Department of State, which is the equivalent of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs).

These difficulties in transferring and receiving funds have an impact on the NGOs’ cash flow and consequently on their teams in the field, which is a hindrance, not to say an obstacle, to relief and assistance operations which are nonetheless essential to the vulnerable populations we assist.

Faced with the risks of fraudulent use of funds in crises where groups labelled as terrorists operate, humanitarian NGOs have taken numerous protection and control measures. What are they and is this sufficient?

Accountability and transparency are key to the legitimacy of humanitarian NGOs. Protecting against the risk of misappropriation of funds is a constant concern. Accounting for the funds they have, the way they use them and the programmes they run is an integral part of their operational and financial management. Various codes of conduct, to which many NGOs adhere, as well as widely shared organisational practices, are a reminder of the need for any association to see itself as accountable both to aid recipients and donors.

In practice, the achievement of these objectives mobilises various stakeholders within and around the NGO: private or public aid donors with their demands for rigour, transparency, accountability, traceability and efficiency; the national and international staff of the NGO for whom commitment, motivation and quality are cardinal values; the populations receiving the NGO’s programmes who, in their vulnerable situation, expect speed, efficiency, quality, relevance and sustainability.

Robina Awujia, midwife for Première Urgence Internationale, has just helped give birth to little Adut Mabior, at the Majak Kaar health centre, located in north-western South Sudan, on 30 April 2018 / ©Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

In order to comply with these various requirements, and to explain to donors, the public and any control body, how donations and funding are distributed, what they have been used for and the expected results, the associations have always implemented concrete mechanisms to mobilise and hold accountable those in charge of carrying out projects and, at the same time, submit to external processes of results evaluation and accountability.

It is important to note that in recent years, NGOs have been faced with an exponential increase in control and audit mechanisms (ex ante and ex post) on the part of public donors, despite the fact that they are sometimes redundant or out of step with operational realities. These growing administrative constraints are leading to a sharp increase in the number of staff employed by NGOs so that they remain capable of meeting them.

However, the “Grand Bargain”, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, was concluded with an agreement between the largest donors and humanitarian agencies (24 states including the UK, the USA, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Commission) committing them to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian action in a number of ways, including harmonising and simplifying reporting requirements.

This commitment has in fact remained ineffective and each donor still tends to have a unique understanding of the elements of its relationship with NGOs, which then have to juggle different policies, administrative and operational constraints, modes and frameworks.

In order to demonstrate that NGOs are achieving the programme objectives for which funds were raised, it is time for public donors to focus their legitimate demands for accountability on striking the right balance between the operational processes of aid delivery and the establishment of control policies, systems and procedures.

Several years ago, you initiated this issue within the CHD, then Coordination Sud and within the framework of the Humanitarian Concertation Group with the Crisis and Support Centre of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. What has been done so far and where are you today?

In February 2017, a working group entitled “Humanitarian Access & Banking System” was set up within the Humanitarian & Development Coordination (CHD), a collective of 52 NGOs. Since its creation, this group has brought together more than twenty member or invited NGOs. All the NGOs that participated in this first meeting reported the same difficulties with bank transfers and their growing concern that they would not be able to continue their relief operations if these blockages persisted and/or increased.

At the end of this first meeting, it was decided to organise a meeting as soon as possible between the NGOs and the different Ministries and State administrations involved in this issue (the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, so that a common position can be adopted on this subject, from a tripartite (State/NGO/Banks) perspective of transparency and mutually agreed and guaranteed security, so that the banks can once again execute, in full confidence, bank transfer orders to countries under sanctions as well as to neighbouring States.

After explanation of the issue and a request addressed to the Director of the Crisis and Support Centre at the time, a meeting was organised at the end of 2017. Around the same table, a number of NGOs members of the CHD, representatives of the DG Treasury, the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution (ACPR), the organisation for the processing of intelligence and action against clandestine financial circuits (TRACFIN), the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Interior as well as several compliance officers from French banking institutions met. For most of these administrations and departments, the problem and its consequences were almost a discovery.

This was followed by numerous meetings between NGOs, the CDCS, the DG Treasury and certain bank compliance departments (which for the latter two had no knowledge of the accountability, control and compliance processes already in place in NGOs).

Parallel to these discussions, certain recommendations and statements were made on this issue in order to take into consideration the specific positioning of NGOs such as the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights in its October 2018 opinion, the United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 2462 of March 2019 or the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) through its Recommendation No. 8.

Première Urgence Internationale in Iraq / ©Thibault Savary

In 2019, banking blockages continued and were reinforced. The maximalist approach to risk management led some French banks to close NGO accounts on the grounds that their activities were taking place in countries subject to embargoes and sanctions, or requesting the signature of letters of affirmation stating that the NGO concerned was prohibited from operating in certain countries subject to the same sanctions. Coordination SUD (regrouping 175 NGOs) in turn became actively involved in this advocacy, and the new CDCS Director in turn took up the issue. Mandated by the Deputy Director of the Minister’s office, initiatives under the aegis of the CDCS have multiplied (inter-ministerial meetings, consultation meetings in Brussels) and NGO/DG Treasury/Banks meetings have continued.

At the beginning of January 2020, some NGO representatives were invited to meet the President of the Republic to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. It was on this occasion that I was able to talk about the difficulties we were encountering in terms of bank transfers. The President discovered the extent of the problems caused by these blockages in the banking system and asked the diplomatic unit of the Elysée Palace to look into the matter. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic hit France in turn a few weeks after this meeting, thus stopping the momentum.

The past 4 years have been a real journey of the cross to acculturate all these stakeholders who did not know how NGOs work. Convincing them of the good practices put in place by the NGOs (even though they are well known to the MEAE), and constantly demonstrating their professionalism and their great rigour, without obtaining any real relaxation from the banks, quite the contrary.

On 21 January 2018, Morgane Faber, logistician for Première Urgence Internationale, receives medicines for the Ndele hospital and the 20 health centres supported by the NGO in the north of the Central African Republic / ©Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

What about the practices of institutional partners in France, both CDCS and AFD? On this subject, it seems that AFD is now asking partner NGOs to draw up lists of beneficiaries to be sent to them. What is the situation and how are humanitarian NGOs reacting?

The increase in credits allocated to humanitarian action and national and international laws and regulations on Countering Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (LCB/FT) is leading French institutional donors to ask NGOs that receive their grants to set up an increasing number of accountability and traceability processes for financial flows.

Since the beginning of this year, CDCS and Agence Française de Développement (AFD) have strengthened the clauses in their grant agreements that require beneficiary NGOs to screen any legal or natural person that may be the subject of a financial or monetisable transaction. In other words, all expatriate and national staff, all suppliers and other service providers, and all partner NGOs must, before contracting and payment, be checked using screening software to ensure that these legal and natural persons are not on any list of sanctions or embargoes of the United Nations, the European Union and France.

Many of CDCS’s and AFD’s NGO partners do not have screening software which costs 20 000.00 euros per year, nor the staff, in sufficient numbers, needed to process these countless and time-consuming seizure operations.

For CDCS, considering the prevalence of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), screening is limited to partnership, commercial and salary transactions with any legal or natural person. To date, screening is required for each invoice and at the first euro, and for all staff paid before hiring and then on a regular basis, this method also applies to any partner legal entity.

On the other hand, AFD, considering the prevalence of banking regulations on its grant agreements, is adding to the scope retained by CDCS the screening of any transaction linked to programmes based on cash transfers and any monetisable donation (a simple pair of crutches is considered as an asset that can be resold and can therefore contribute to the financing of terrorism) in favour of any natural person, thus including the “ultimate” beneficiaries of aid (whatever their age).

Among the LCB/FT clauses of these agreements is the stipulation that the beneficiary (the signatory NGO) of the grant declares that “it has not directly or indirectly provided material support or other resources to any person or entity that commits, attempts to commit, advocates, would facilitate or participate in Acts of Terrorism, or has committed, attempted to commit, advocated, facilitated or participated in such Acts” thus introducing a paradoxical notion of the “predictive” faculty that an NGO could have, making it legally responsible in case of breach.

Discussions are underway with the CDCS to specify the screening procedures in order to make them effective from a benefit/risk perspective.

On the other hand, more than a dozen grant agreements, although approved by AFD, have not yet been signed by beneficiary NGOs.

These NGOs argue that the LCB/FT clauses in AFD’s agreements would force them to screen the “ultimate” beneficiaries of aid and that this screening is contrary to their values and IHL principles, a red line that cannot be crossed. Screening the “ultimate” beneficiaries would mean no longer selecting them on the basis of their needs, which would cause NGOs to lose their impartiality, a serious breach of humanitarian principles, and deprive them of their capacity to access.

A midwife from the humanitarian aid NGO Première Urgence Internationale examines a pregnant woman during delivery at the primary health centre in Majak Kaar, north-western Southern Sudan, on 30 April 2018. / ©Gwenn Dubourthoumieu

In view of the next National Humanitarian Conference which will take place in Paris on December 17th, what do you propose with humanitarian NGOs to face the risk of a decrease, and sometimes even paralysis, of humanitarian aid in certain countries?

Topics related to “The impact of sanctions regimes and anti-terrorism measures on humanitarian aid” and “Respect for International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian access” will be discussed in two separate round tables at the CNH. The choice of these topics by NGOs and the drafting of these two round table titles alone reveal the level of concern of humanitarian aid actors.

In his statement to the United Nations General Assembly on 22 September, Emmanuel Macron recalled the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and the fundamental rights of all. He announced the construction of an initiative to ensure the effectiveness of international law, the protection of humanitarian personnel and the fight against impunity. Mr. Macron also underlined the fact that the Humanitarian Space is a common heritage that must be protected by guaranteeing access to civilian populations as well as the protection of the personnel who support them, and that “the neutrality of humanitarian action must be respected and its criminalisation stemmed”.

The President must attend the next session of the National Humanitarian Conference. The NGOs expect him to take this opportunity to announce concrete measures to put an end to the impunity of those who attack humanitarian personnel and the implementation of measures to safeguard the humanitarian space, in order to guarantee and respect the independence and neutrality of humanitarian actors, in line with his recent statements at the UN General Assembly.

It is also expected that, in the face of increasing sanctions regimes and anti-terrorist measures that put NGOs at risk from security and legal risks, it will announce specific exemption measures for humanitarian action and actors, thus reaffirming the prevalence of IHL over all other considerations.

The expectations of NGOs are equal to the threats to the humanitarian space and aid actors: very high.


Who is Thierry Mauricet?

After a degree in commerce from the European Business Institute, a law degree from the University of Paris X and a professional activity as an advertiser for 7 years, Thierry Mauricet co-founded the association Première Urgence in June 1992 to help the besieged populations in Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. From 1994 to 2011, he was the association’s General Director.

Since April 2011, he has been the Director General of Première Urgence Internationale, an association resulting from the merger of the NGOs Première Urgence and Aide Médicale Internationale.

Première Urgence Internationale aims to provide integrated aid in the fields of health, food security, nutrition, rehabilitation and construction of infrastructures, access to water, hygiene and sanitation, economic recovery, education and protection, in favour of populations who are victims of humanitarian crises.

The annual budget of Première Urgence Internationale is €120 million. It enables us to implement 150 projects in 26 countries in favour of more than 7 million vulnerable people.

Associative activities :

– Adminsitrator of the Federation of the Voice of the Child from 14 March 1995 to 18 November 2006;

– Member of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights from 10 May 1999 to 25 March 2009;

– Secretary for Humanitarian Coordination and Development from 6 May 2013 to 4 June 2018;

– President of the Humanitarian and Development Coordination since 4 June 2018;

– Administrator of Coordination SUD since 13 December 2018;

– Administrator of Coordination SUD since 13 December 2018; Director of Coordination SUD since 13 December 2018; Referring Administrator of the Humanitarian Commission of the Board of Directors of Coordination SUD since 26 September 19;

– Member of the Humanitarian Coordination Group of the Crisis and Support Centre of the MEAE since its creation in November 2013.

Security and development in the Sahel: a book to understand … and to act.

Pierre Brunet gives a rich and clear summary of the book Security and Development in the Sahel, published by Harmattan, edited by Peer de Jong.

L’Harmattan [1] has published a book that summarises, in a digestible number of pages, the interventions, analyses and reflections exchanged during the symposium “Security and Development in the Sahel, from Concept to Reality”. This event was organised by the Themiis Institute and the Europe-Mauritania association, at the Paris headquarters of UNESC0 on 1 October 2019.

Quite often, this type of report or symposium minutes is a dry, complex thinkum, aimed at a narrow readership of academics or specialists. This is not the case with this book, which reads like a multi-voiced but fluid, homogenous, coherent and above all clear analysis. Mixing inventory, concrete diagnoses, speaking examples, global vision and presentation of the “field of the possible” in terms of solutions to a problem that is already too advanced as far as this Sahel region is concerned, it attempts to answer this question: How can we fight against the multifaceted insecurity that plagues the countries in the area, while at the same time building the means to offer a future to both the victims and the actors of this insecurity (often the same ones…)?

The development-security continuum, a Copernican revolution for European thinkers

Moreover, this book is a counterpoint – or an echo – of Serge Michailof’s essay “Africanistan”, which I also had the opportunity to review for Défis Humanitaires. In his book, Serge Michailof insisted on the need for “developers” in the broadest sense to “dare” to engage in the construction of tools ensuring long-term security, tools without which all development efforts are lost in the sands… And in L’Harmattan’s book, it is very often the observation of the need to “dare” to engage in the construction of a development that is sustainable, viable and capable of meeting the immense expectations of a population destabilised by numerous simultaneous shocks (including, for example, beyond insecurity, climate change), a young population and exponential demographic growth, that is asserted. And this is often done by the military, which is far from neglecting the need for military combat, on the ground, in the face of the numerous armed groups taking advantage of the disintegration, disappearance or abandonment of the state and its services in huge regions. Without development prospects, no military victory will ensure real security change in the long term.

Distribution of CASH, Mali, 2017 / ©Solidarités International

This ‘continuum’, to use a buzzword, between development and security, as the Mauritanian Major General Ould Sidi Mesgharou writes, is a Copernican revolution for many European development thinkers who for a long time wanted to see and theorise only the continuum between development and democracy, which seemed to be natural and in a way self-sufficient.

But it is not only European developers who have been challenged in their approach by the emergence and rise of insecurity in the Sahel. As Maman Sambo Sidikou, Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel, points out in his introduction, “Terrorism is relatively new in the Sahel and has caught us by surprise”. Drawing the consequences of this “strategic surprise”, the same Maman Sambo Sidikou concluded his remarks by affirming the need for the G5 Sahel and also for African and European leaders in the broadest sense involved in resolving the situation, to take relevant, effective and tangible action, which implies “acting differently and going outside its comfort zone”.

A contradiction to be resolved between security expectations and those of the population

This effective action, intervening as well, and in synergy, in the field of the military as well as the institutional and development fields, implies a certain number of prerequisites that I will mention in conclusion, but it already presupposes, as Maman Sambo Sidikou points out, to decide – or at the very least to arbitrate clearly – between security expectations, As for this region of the Sahel, Western allies of African countries… and the expectations of the populations living there… The former, beyond the fight against terrorism, expect the defence and security forces of the countries in the Sahel to “secure the borders”, i.e. “prevent the international mobility of migrants towards the North”, while the populations living along the route of the latter subsist today, to a large extent, from this migration, which consumes and nourishes the local bursar, all along the way… Peer de Jong, Vice-President of the Themiis Institute, even speaks, in his intervention, of “a situation which has ended up generating a profitable economy of disorder whose crossed interests progressively lead to a state of endless war”.

A contradiction to be resolved, therefore, all the more so as the needs and economic expectations of the population in the Sahel are staggering .

Vertiginous, because population growth in the Sahel – as Serge Michailof had already demonstrated in his book – is explosive. Franck Galland, who works for the ES consulting engineering firm he manages, recalls the figures: the population of the G5 Sahel countries will double in the next twenty years. For example, Niger, which had 3.5 million inhabitants in 1960, has 20 million today, will have 35 to 40 million in 2035 and more than 50 million in 2050… As Alain Antil, Director of the Sub-Saharan Africa Centre of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), states, “The demographic explosion is not a problem in the absolute, but de facto it accentuates all the problems, starting with the basic service needs of the populations, which are already difficult to cover. If we take only the primary need for access to water, Franck Galland points out that 150 million Sahelians are already facing huge challenges on this issue, with per capita water availability having decreased by more than 40% over the last twenty years. As for the “economic expectation” in itself, the situation is almost worse: Alain Antil explains that the economies of the zone only have the capacity to create, in terms of good jobs, not even 10% of the annual needs of new arrivals on the labour market.

Transit site, IOM, Cameroon, 2014 / ©Solidarités International

“The war in the Sahel reveals the inadequacy of our European development models to the emergency”.

A decisive part of the misfortune gnawing at the region is, according to many speakers, a form of renunciation, blindness or avoidance on the part of many of the politicians in power. Alain Antil states that “everyone pretends to believe that the security apparatus, and by extension the states, govern their territory”… To illustrate this “absence of elites’ outburst”, he cites as an example (an intervention made before the coup d’état of 18 August 2020) the case of Mali, where “the political course seems to run smoothly in Bamako, without major changes, while more than half of the national territory is now controlled by others than the state”. However, as Peer de Jong points out, “the war is becoming international and spreading”. And he goes further, pointing out that this war-insecurity that is taking hold and spreading leads to fears of contagion towards the South and the Gulf of Guinea, which could lead to a “Somali-style” development. Peer de Jong said that “the Gulf of Guinea is now within reach, suggesting the possibility of a chaotic zone and the possible establishment of “multi-purpose caliphates” between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Finally, Peer de Jong underlines that “the war in the Sahel reveals the inadequacy of our European development models to the emergency”. He specifies this urgency, detailing how the deterioration of the security situation, combined with the absence of the state in the territories, allows the unlimited development of highly organised cross-border crime based on the GATs (Armed Terrorist Groups), crime with multiple activities (trafficking in arms, drugs, migrants, etc.), which benefits everyone, between “narcoterrorism” and “islamic terrorism”.

It is therefore urgent to win the war, because, as the Mauritanian colonel N’Diawar N’Diaye states, and even if the stakes of development are, at the same time, essential, “this war will be won militarily or will not be won”. Peer de Jong goes on to explain that “the objective is no longer simply to destroy an invisible enemy with less and less rudimentary means, but to encourage the emergence of an environment that is hostile to it. It is therefore necessary to act on the biotope of this adversary of which he himself is sometimes a stranger, by favouring the emergence of a space that is resistant to the presence of an Islamist terrorist force or not”. The objective is therefore no longer simply the “constantly renewed” destruction of terrorists, but rather action in favour of populations likely to bring their aid and to switch to assistance to armed groups.

It is in this respect, as Peer de Jong points out, that “the fight against violent extremist groups, by its obviously political purpose, is akin to a counter-revolutionary war”. And he continues: “Any counter-insurgency war implies methodical and long-term actions at the level of the threatened state.

Only a strengthened state presence can embed security

The objective is therefore clearly the people. Peer de Jong, again, sets out the concept and the method: security is mainly provided by the effective presence of the state as far away as possible (access to water, education, health, administration, police, gendarmerie, army, justice). It is a question for the state to reach the most distant and therefore the most destitute, by setting up the essential and regalian services in a sustainable way. Only this effective and honest presence (especially in the area of justice) can entrench security wherever the army has taken back territory from the enemy. The ultimate objective is therefore to “put in place a policy of dissociation (GAT-population) by carrying out continuous security and development actions as close as possible to the centres of life”.

Children participating in a handwashing quiz, Niger, 2014 / ©Solidarités International

As Peer de Jong acknowledges, “this form of action, which constantly mixes political, security and development action, requires a large number of staff. In any case, it is structurally part of the medium term. The return of people’s confidence in the State is not necessary, it can only be built over the years. The method, moreover, must be adapted to the particularities of each country or zone, because, as Christophe Bigot, France’s special representative in the Sahel, points out, “Over an area of five million km2 , we cannot have the same approaches”. Finally, other issues that are sine qua non should be examined, such as the non-representativeness, in most of the G5 Sahel countries, of regional or ethnic diversity in the size of their armed forces, as underlined by Alain Antil.

For without representativeness, the quality of the relationship between government forces and the population is altered, and this is central because it is vital that the human environment, in the words of Peer de Jong, “is favourable to government forces. Without this support, it is illusory to think of regaining control of lost areas. Regaining a foothold in a region, effectively controlling it, can only be achieved through the cohesion – almost connivance – that must exist between government forces and the people. The latter must feel ‘part of the country’, which implies a real work of perception of belonging and the construction of nation-states in the Sahel”.

What forces are needed to lead this struggle? As Senegalese Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, a Senegalese army general, says, “the UN model of population protection developed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and summarised by the concept of ‘presence as protection’ does not work satisfactorily in the Sahel. The adaptation of the UN tool to the threat in the Sahel should – in order to restore the moral standing of the blue helmets and thus the credit of the Organisation – be part of a more global approach to security, more focused on the root causes of conflicts, their prevention and peacebuilding”.

So, invent, or reinvent (Peer de Jong speaks for the armies of the Sahel to “recover their ancestral know-how”), a new form of military forces adapted to the challenges of the Sahel?

Combining security missions and regalian missions: the Mauritanian example

The example of Mauritania was examined in depth in this colloquium (due, among other things, to the sponsorship of the Europe-Mauritania association). The Mauritanian army has successfully trained and operated, in parallel, GSIs (Special Intervention Groups) equipped with armed pickups, capable of springing up and acting alone and far away, in autonomy, constituting a rapid, rustic force supported by the air force; on the other hand and in synergy, the Mauritanian general staff has implemented nomadic groups, often equipped with camels. These nomadic groups, somewhat resurrecting the ‘Saharan companies’ of the ‘colonial’ era, have the capacity to patrol in depth for a very long time in regions that they know, to move around where even 4X4s do not pass, to blend into the landscape, and, in addition to security missions (search and destruction of GATs, fighting and ambushes of opportunity) to carry out regalian missions with very remote populations, to follow simple development programmes aimed at the immediate satisfaction of the needs of these populations, and to offer police services (fight against cattle thieves, etc.). ). Knowledge of the terrain, rusticity, adaptability, autonomy and versatility… At a time of high-tech warfare and UAVs, the most effective long-term response may not be where we thought it would be…

Malian Tuareg refugee camp in Mberra, Mauritania, 2013 / ©Solidarités International

Other, much more “macro” tools are also needed. In this respect, Christophe Bigot detailed the creation of the Sahel Alliance in July 2017, under a Franco-German initiative with the World Bank and the EU. This new approach “makes it possible to devote more funds to the Sahel but also to reform the way development is done by reaching vulnerable areas, by using actors other than the State when the latter is absent, through non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local authorities or companies”. Finally, France has proposed a new framework for relations between the Sahel countries and their partners, called the “Coalition for the Sahel”. This new framework, led by Christophe Bigot himself, aims to “give a new impetus and to direct/energise efforts in four directions: the fight against terrorism, strengthening the military capabilities of States, support for the return of administrations to the territories and development aid”.

Reading this book gives a sense of hope, even if the findings and diagnoses are sometimes uncompromising. There are solutions, within reach, that is to say, a willingness. It remains for political, administrative and military leaders to respond to the prerequisites implicit in these solutions; lucidity, courage, a sense of responsibility, transparency, integrity, a willingness to include at all levels all the communities making up each country in the Sahel, a readiness to coordinate closely with neighbours and allies and to give themselves the means for this long-term fight, proximity to the reality on the ground… and a high degree of vision.

Pierre Brunet

Writer and humanitarian

Consult Pierre Brunet’s biography.

1] “Security and Development in the Sahel – From Concept to Reality”, edited by Peer de Jong, L’Harmattan editions.