17 March 2014

West Africa: Sahel-Saharan Leaders Focus On Security

Casablanca — Nearly 30 of Africa's top diplomats recently wrapped up a summit in Khartoum aimed at addressing insecurity in the Sahel-Saharan region.

The ministers attending the 20th meeting of the Executive Council of the Community of Sahel-Sahara States (CEN-SAD), which concluded its proceedings on March 12th, adopted a draft framework for development and security and endorsed plans to establish new structures to strengthen the bloc.

They also agreed to create a committee to deepen research and debate on the draft strategy. The final version will be presented at the next CEN-SAD summit of the heads of state and governments, scheduled to be held in Rabat.

Participants at the meeting in Khartoum stressed the need to develop a strategy to build a just and lasting peace in the Sahel-Saharan region. They also underlined the need to adhere to secure the "peaceful transfer of power in the Sahel and Sahara space in the context of democratic participation of all the components of communities of member states, without exclusion or discrimination".

Attendees called for stepped up international co-operation to face security challenges in the region, as well as strengthened efforts to secure and control the borders, exchange information and co-ordinate movements in the face of challenges posed by armed groups and transnational criminal terrorist networks.

The diplomats expressed their rejection of armed rebellion, emphasising the criminalisation of movements opposed to peace and the need to oblige member states not to provide any kind of support to these groups.

The Khartoum conference recommended in its closing statement the support of civil society in the promotion of peace and the settlement of disputes in a nonviolent manner. In addition, it called for boosting co-operation with the media and cultural services to foster a more active role in the consolidation of security and stability in the Sahel region.

Participants also highlighted the importance of promoting trade, protecting emerging industries, accelerating the implementation of food security projects, lifting barriers between member states and facilitating the movement of persons, goods and services across borders.

Among the most prominent structures that the community intends to launch is a Permanent Council for Peace and Security as part of the bloc's Permanent Council for Sustainable Development. The council is expected to be announced officially during the upcoming Rabat summit.

In addition, the ministers discussed the difficult situation in some countries in the region, especially Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Sudan.

They expressed concern about security lapses that emerged due to these conditions and the rise in the risk of terrorism and international crime, especially human trafficking and the proliferation of weapons and drugs. This is in addition to the tragedies and humanitarian crises, including the exodus of thousands of refugees.

Participants stressed that the complexity of security challenges faced by the region and the high tension that follows in terms of political instability, requires that the member states address each risk in earnest and firmly, and accelerate finding practical and effective solutions.

For her part, the Moroccan minister-delegate for foreign affairs, M'Barka Bouaida, said that security depended on sustainable development.

"This strategy should give priority to co-operation in the areas of the fight against poverty, vulnerability, and exclusion and achieve food self-sufficiency and the development of infrastructure and human resources, and reinforce the promotion of investment, trade, and job creation," Bouaida said.

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