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A refugee crosses the Mentao refugee camp, August 14, 2012. Photo by Oxfam NZ

Panel Discussions - Friday, September 07, 2012

Peace and Security Threats in the Sahel-Sahara Region

The crisis in the Sahel will not end unless new responses depart from the traditional “business-as-usual” approach. This was the key insight offered in a high-level roundtable on the Sahel held at IPI on September 7, 2012. Six key points emerged from the meeting:

1. The emergence of Islamists serves as a cover for illicit trafficking, facilitating the transfer of a considerable amount of foreign currency. As such, a strict security approach should be complemented by principles of governance and the rule of law.

2. A negotiated settlement in Mali appears unlikely at present. The government institutions and political elite are too weak and divided to convincingly incentivize rebels to negotiate. An alternative to the Economic Community of West African States mediation process may be needed, one that would involves key players such as Algeria.

3. The difficult prospects for negotiation make military escalation increasingly probable. Since many of the groups operating in northern Mali have a tenuous tactical alliance, and given historic friction between sedentary and pastoral communities, any military action is fraught with risks.

4. Long-term reforms are needed to address legitimate grievances of the Tuareg and other populations, restructure a weak national army, and establish an effective government in Bamako. Regional platforms for capacity building could strengthen weak local structures.

5. The acute security crisis in Mali is eclipsing the longer-term humanitarian, developmental, and demographic time bomb in the region. Advancing the “resilience” agenda will be critical to meeting this challenge and staving off disaster.

6. To ensure coordination of activities, the expected appointment of a UN special envoy for the Sahel should be balanced by regional ownership of the proposed “field-led” integrated strategy to be presented to the Security Council on September 17th.

The meeting was co-organized with the African Union (AU) and the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the United Nations. This timely meeting came ahead of the presentation of the UN integrated strategy for the Sahel to the Security Council on September 17, and a high-level meeting on the Sahel organized by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the margins of the general debate of the 67th session of the General Assembly, which also takes place in September.

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