Monday, 04.12.2017 - Tuesday, 05.12.2017 - Dakar, Senegal

1st Sahel-Sahara Dialogue: How to engage and with whom towards collective security in the Sahelo-Saharan region and in West Africa?

The increasingly complex political and humanitarian situation in the Sahel region is one of the major concerns for peace and security. The interweaving of issues, actors and networks further complicates the situation in the Sahel.

Photo: Participants at the 1st Sahel-Sahara Dialogue

Photo: Panelists at the 1st Sahel-Sahara Dialogue

Additionally, non-state actors who want to dominate areas where the state is weakly represented, in terms of administration as well as defense and security forces, weaken the security structures further. The stabilization of this region is without question an important challenge which needs to be met. In this context, the Peace and Security Centre of Competence Sub-Saharan Africa organized its first Sahel-Sahara Dialogue "How to engage and with whom towards collective security in the Sahelo-Saharan region in West Africa?" on the 4th and 5th of December 2017. The conference was held in Dakar, Senegal and brought together regional and international experts with the goal of striving to develop ideas leading to more promising strategies and conflict prevention mechanisms in the collective fight against security threats.

For years, the Sahel countries have faced a succession of political and humanitarian crises as well as security challenges with negative impacts on peace and development in the region. The precariousness of governance and the repeated political instability marked by the violence of social conflicts explains the widening of the gap between society and the state. The situation leaves the countries of this region increasingly vulnerable to insecurity resulting in armed conflicts, terrorist activities, illicit trafficking and organized crime. Even though initiatives to tackle the interlocking roots of the new security threats in the region are under way at the sub-regional, continental and international levels, it is widely felt that more flexible mechanisms to strengthen collective security in the region are needed due to the multidimensionality of the threats.

The main objective of the first Sahel-Sahara Dialogue was therefore to develop ideas leading to more promising strategies, conflict prevention mechanisms and the cooperative fight against security threats by trying to define "how to engage and with whom?". As part of the implementation of the project "Dialogues about Security Challenges in the Sahelo-Saharan region: Rethinking Sub-regional Security", the conference seeked to promote national and sub-regional dialogue on cross-border issues and the challenges and interdependence between North Africa and West Africa. Throughout two days, the conference, which saw the participation of regional and international experts, academics, representatives of civil society organizations, field actors representing local communities and state authorities has led to an open and inclusive dialogue.

The debates centered around the themes of:

  • Looking Back: What are the normative foundations of conflict engagement and which regional formats of conflict prevention and management are actually working?
  • What are the realistic conditions, criteria and objectives for conflict management and an effective response to current security threats in the Sahelo-Saharan region and West Africa?
  • Who are the relevant stakeholders for a sustainable engagement in conflict prevention and the fight against asymmetric threats in the Sahel and West Africa and who is missing?
  • What Works? Different forms of international engagement: Who guarantees peace and what are the criteria?
  • How to engage for collective security in the Sahelo-Saharan region and West Africa?

Furthermore, the discussion highlighted the urgency of integrating other actors (civil society, youth, women, community leaders) in the peacebuilding process, as well as the existence of constraints in peace management and consolidation, such as the long-term coordination difficulties of organizations working for the same goal (G5, ECOWAS and the AU). In addition to this, the specificity of the Maghreb states and the rivalry between Morocco and Algeria interfering in the negotiation process and therefore increasing the divide between the northern and Sahel states was discussed. Finally, the weak or non-existent coordination between the Sahelo-Saharan states facing essentially transnational challenges were highlighted throughout the two days.

In conclusion, the participants agreed on the importance of establishing a framework of collaboration between the various stakeholders for lasting peace and security in the Sahelo-Saharan zone. Relevant propositions were made, which included:

  • Managing conflicts by defining a holistic strategy including the "3D approach", namely Defense - Security, Diplomacy, Development, taking into account the local specificities to prevent people from collaborating with terrorist/trafficking groups.
  • Promoting dialogue among religions, civilizations and cultures by investing in changing practices over time to avoid violent extremism.
  • Strengthening cooperation between regional organizations as well as harmonizing the various development strategies in the Sahel to effectively combat security threats;
  • Supporting local initiatives and encourage inter-community dialogue and cooperation;
  • Harmonizing the legislation of ECOWAS countries in the fight against transnational crime;
  • Creating more inclusive conflict resolution mechanisms towards civil society, women, youth, community leaders, media and encourage them, including non-governmental organizations, to undertake efforts in consultation with the Sahelo-Saharan States.
  • States controlling their territories by ensuring an effective presence through the intensification of patrols, the satisfaction of basic social needs and the awareness of risk factors.

Peace and Security Centre of Competence Sub-Saharan Africa

Point E, Rue de Fatick x Boulevard de l'Est,
Residence Bity Lokho, 6th floor
B.P. 15 416
Dakar - Fann

+221 33 859 20 02