Voice of America (Washington, DC)

West Africa: AU Launches Regional Initiative to Stabilize Sahel

An African Union official says the organization's Mission to Mali and the Sahel (MISAHEL) has launched a cooperation initiative with countries in the Sahel to combat terrorism as part of efforts to stabilize the region.

The special adviser to African Union (AU) special representative for Mali and the Sahel Pierre Buyoya says the AU is implementing the Nouakchott Agreement. Special adviser Issaka Souare says the accord between countries in the region enables security agencies to cooperate with their colleagues in neighboring countries to combat terrorism as well as investigate transnational crimes.

Souare says, "The aim of the agreement is to bring together security agents, those organs and structures that work in the security realm, so that they can work together to mutualize their efforts and their resources to fight against terrorism, and other forms of transnational criminality."

Not much success in the past

Previous regional anti-terrorism efforts enjoyed only limited success before signing the agreement, says Souare. He says MISAHEL has been encouraging countries in the region to unite to combat armed groups who aim to destabilize the region.

"What we needed to do was to break the ice. It was the first time that heads of security intelligence services of the region came together - regularly and openly and frankly, one could argue - to discuss security challenges in the region," said Souare.

"What we are trying is to really move now to have secure communication channels between these [security] services, and then move to have joint patrols."

Souare says it is unlikely that individual countries in the region can separately combat cross boarder crimes and terrorism without the support and cooperation from their neighbors. The Sahel includes portions of Gambia, Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Algeria and Niger, northern Nigeria and Cameroon, central Chad, southern Sudan, northern South Sudan and Eritrea.

Joint security has a better chance fo success

"We are departing from the observation that most of the security challenges in the region cannot be faced by one single country," said Souare. "You must collaborate regionally, in order to be able to defeat these challenges."

Souare also says MISAHEL wants to start joint security patrols to combat any upsurge in cross-border crime and terrorism. He says they will consider the initiative successful if the countries themselves take the initiative to fight terrorism at the regional level.

"A good sign of the success of an initiative is when it is actually taken over by the targeted countries, when there is national ownership. Appropriation by the countries of the region is our ultimate aim," said Souare.

"We are trying to spur this cooperation. But slowly and gradually, countries in the Sahel would take over the initiative and will no longer need the direct involvement of the African Union."

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