Implications of Trust-Building in the Sahel Region
The International High-Level Conference on the Sahel held in February 2018 in Brussels, co-chaired by the EU, the UN, the African Union, and the G5 Sahel, focused on strengthening much needed international support to Sahel countries in the areas of security and development. Five months after the conference, GMF’s Paris office organized a meeting on European Engagement in the Sahel Region in partnership with the Embassy of Denmark in Paris. GMF program and public affairs coordinator Jessica Pennetier spoke with Ambassador Maman Sambo Sidikou after the event about the challenges of dovetailing a coherent security and development strategy in the Sahel region, which is plagued by recurring security challenges.
Ambassador Sidikou was appointed the permanent secretary by the G5 Sahel heads of state at their summit in Niamey, Niger on February 6, 2018. Prior to his current appointment, he served as the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) from October 2015 until January 31, 2018.
You mentioned how talking to people in their own language is key when trying to build trust between the local populations and G5 Sahel troops on the ground. Can you explain a little more about what this means to you?
Ambassador Sidikou: First and foremost, we need to ensure people are protected — that is what it is all about. But as you rightly mentioned, I think we need to talk to people in their own language. It is all about communication. People need to understand that the G5 Sahel Joint Force is not a “foreign force.” It is a force made up of people from the countries around Mali — Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Chad and these are forces protecting fellow citizens. Our job in the G5 Sahel to make sure people understand that.
Do you think social media can work toward peace building? Does the international community need to rethink its communication strategy in the Sahel Region?
Ambassador Sidikou: I would go first for basic tools. Radio is a common tool all over. Even nomads on camels use radio. But social media is part of the landscape now. Mind you, negative forces provide smart phones to youths, as a way of enticing them to be part of their networks. So obviously we have to do something in that area as well — I am not talking about Viber, but something like WhatsApp can be useful. We need to think through our strategy toward the youth, because they are the most vulnerable. Not only employment but also communication is needed to wean them out of these groups.
Education is key. But militarily speaking, I also believe that before any force is deployed, there needs to be a joint training in the field of human rights and in Law-enforcement. That training needs to be professional and once the troops are on the ground, in-service training should continue. At all levels, from officers to soldiers — especially because officers need to understand their own troops. There needs to be more specific training, including Training of Trainers (TOTs). You need to look at all the actors, from police, to military, to justice. Training needs to look beyond pacification of areas. Women and young people are also recurrent targets, so we need to talk in more detail about that.
I would like to go back to one of your quotes during the conference. You said: “He who steals the royal trumpet does not have the authority to blow it.” Can you explain what this means to you?
Ambassador Sidikou: The royal trumpet symbolizes the voice of the people, people who vote you in and for whom you really need to be accountable for. Alternatively, you can wait for others to talk, so that they can pass their own messages, come to you with their expectations, and you can gauge the needs of your own people.
The international community’s development strategy has been regional rather than national. Do you think a bottom-up approach would work better?
Ambassador Sidikou: The cross-border areas in the Sahel region share common identities. This is why regional policy governance is crucial. However, it is the local level that really matters. That is where people can empower themselves. Not only to voice their concerns, but also to feel responsible and accountable for their actions.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.