For years, the countries of the Sahel-Saharan region and West Africa have been grappling with a succession of political, humanitarian and security crises with negative impacts on peace and development. The threats of destabilisation in this region include a broad spectrum of economic and social factors (poverty and inequality), unfulfilled constitutional and political reforms, conflicts over access to and exploitation of scarce natural resources due to climate change, inter-community tensions, among others. In addition to these structuring factors, there is the weakness of democratic institutions and defence and security forces, which sometimes play a dysfunctional role, a weakened civil society, the lack of transparency of elites who enjoy a deficient legitimacy, and the majority of the population who do not benefit from the 'peace dividend'. Insecurity is also fuelled by the presence of radical Islamist groups and cross-border crime, which is facilitated by the vastness of the territories, the porous nature of the borders, the limited capacities of the states in the region, the illegal circulation of SALW and, above all, the absence of clear strategies at national level. The typology of these destabilising security challenges and threats and their transnationality as well as their rapid regional spread therefore call for an integrated response from the states of West Africa and the Sahel.
Despite major efforts to ensure stability and lasting peace in the Sahel and West Africa, it must be said that the proposed solutions remain insufficient or even ineffective to date. This is evidenced by the frequent extremist and criminal attacks with their recurrent loss of civilian and military lives, the displaced people who continue to flee their villages, and the resurgence of coups d'état (Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Conakry). This prompted the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed IBN CHAMBAS, to admit this state of affairs before the United Nations Security Council in January 2018. Similarly, the inconsistent approaches of international partners have led to misunderstandings, which limit their effectiveness and reduce the will to collectively resolve common security challenges. Coordinated and collective approaches that address the root causes of the current crises in the region are urgently needed to effectively respond to dynamic and hybrid security threats. In the Sahel-Sahara and West Africa, the challenge is certainly the communitarisation of security, i.e. the possibility of considering security in a collective manner. It will be necessary to act flexibly and inclusively and to obtain the support of governments and the population. States are therefore called upon to coordinate their actions and policies to combat the criminal and terrorist groups that use their territories as safe havens, exploiting the fragility of institutions and aggravating the already precarious security situation in the region. This means integrating national security policies into a comprehensive Sahelo-Sahelian security and defence policy to promote better collective security in the face of security challenges in the region and in West Africa.
The introductory proceedings of the conference focused more on the need to rethink resilience and conflict resolution, in particular by focusing on the final resolution of conflicts and not exclusively on their settlement. To do this, responses must take into account the specificities of the Sahel-Sahara zone and West Africa. Africa must resolve its conflicts by drawing on its endogenous knowledge and practices. This requires a better appropriation of the concepts used by partners to describe the current situation on the continent. It is also necessary to restore trust between people and political leaders and to train people in the principles of democracy by boosting political dialogue.