Conflict Dynamics and Drivers of Peace in the Sahel Region: Perspectives from Civil Society

By Lorenzo Angelini

The Sahel region faces a number of development and security challenges which are often interlinked. While some of these challenges are specific to individual countries, others are similar across borders or are transnational in nature. As the European Union (EU) is currently looking to adjust its engagement in the Sahel, especially in relation to peace and development issues, a clear understanding of the peace and conflict dynamics in the region is essential if it is to ensure that its actions are conflict-sensitive and make a positive contribution to the human security of local populations.

In the framework of the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) [1], EPLO organised a dialogue meeting in early March which brought together twenty civil society experts from the Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and officials from the European Commission (EC), the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Office of the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the Sahel. The objective of the meeting was to gather civil society input on conflict dynamics and drivers of peace in the Sahel, and to allow participants to exchange with and provide recommendations to the EU in relation to its engagement in the region.

What follows is a summary of the key points and recommendations which were made by the civil society participants. Some of these points are accompanied by video interviews of a number of participants.

  1. The key message which emerged from the discussions was that EU must base its engagements in the Sahel on the needs and the human security of the populations living in the region. It must ensure that its engagements do no harm and are conflict-sensitive. In order to do so, it must consult diverse local and national civil society for the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of its actions.
  1. The EU, other international actors and national governments in the region put too much emphasis on security-related actions (particularly military actions) to address conflict issues (including through the G5 Sahel). Security-related actions may sometimes be needed (in which case they must be fully conflict-sensitive), but they can also be counter-productive and they do not address the root causes of conflicts. The EU should instead focus on, and invest much more in, peacebuilding, development and humanitarian actions.
  1. The EU should ensure that it analyses and understands the diverse nature of armed groups and how they are perceived locally. There is a wide variety of armed groups across the region, and their degree of legitimacy among communities varies. Armed groups (and national armed forces) are also not necessarily homogeneous.
  1. The EU should use its political dialogue with its partner governments in the region to insist that they implement fundamental governance reforms. The EU should also be vocal publicly about abuses and problematic actions carried out by its partner governments and their armed forces.
  1. The EU should promote judicial reforms and positive transitional justice initiatives in its political dialogue with its partner governments, so as to allow populations (including victims) to have a fair and effective access to justice, and to ensure that authorities are held accountable.
  1. The EU should help national and local authorities in the region to improve their provision of public services, including in areas such as administration, education, health, justice, etc., in particular in remote areas. However, this has to be accompanied by positive governance reforms in order for diverse populations to benefit from fair and effective access to public services.
  1. The EU should support local and national civil society, including through capacity building programmes and long-term funding adapted to their needs and initiatives, and by promoting an open civic space in its political dialogue with its partner governments. As funds are still often diverted by state actors, the EU should seek to fund civil society organisations (CSOs) as directly as possible (in particular local CSOs based in remote areas) and make it easier for them to access funds, including for cross-border initiatives. See the following video for additional comments on this point by some of the civil society participants: English version, French version.
  1. The EU should support dialogue initiatives at all levels, in particular (1) between communities, (2) between national security forces and populations, and (3) between armed groups, communities and authorities. See the following video for additional comments on this point by some of the civil society participants: English version, French version.
  1. The EU should support (national and local, formal and informal) governance initiatives aimed at addressing inequalities and ensuring that populations have fair and equitable access to natural resources, land and decent livelihoods. It should support inclusive efforts to provide people with professional training and economic opportunities, particularly young women and young men. The EU should also work to reduce climate change and to mitigate its effects. See the following video for additional comments on this point by some of the civil society participants: English version, French version.
  1. Although many of the root causes of the conflicts in the Sahel originate in the region, external factors may also contribute to exacerbating tensions and violence, such as the situation in Libya and the insufficiently-monitored supply of weapons to Sahel governments by international actors.

These points and recommendations are explored in more detail in the report from the meeting, which is available in French and in English. These issues are also discussed by some of the civil society experts who participated in the meeting in a longer video available in French and in English.

[1] The Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN) is a mechanism for dialogue between civil society and EU policy-makers on issues related to peace and conflict. It is co-financed by the European Union (Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace and managed by the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), a civil society network, in co-operation with the European Commission (EC) and the European External Action Service (EEAS). The fourth phase of the CSDN will last from 2020 to 2023. For more information, please visit the EPLO website.

Lorenzo Angelini is the Policy Officer responsible for coordinating EPLO’s work relating to peace, development and security and to EU-Africa relations.

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