Magharebia (Washington DC)

19 June 2014

West Africa: Sahel Terror Tied to Economic Conditions

Rabat — Development of the Sahel and the Maghreb must be part of any security strategy, according to an international conference this week in Rabat.

Social, economic and political situations can be exploited by terrorist organisations to recruit new members, Georges Nakseu Nguefang of the International Organisation of Francophonie (OIF) noted on Tuesday (June 17th).

Instability has become endemic across the Sahel over the past decade, he told participants at the 2-day event organised by the International Peace Institute, the University of Hassan I, the Moroccan Economic Intelligence Association and the Centre for Sahel and Sahara Security Strategies.

Illegal trafficking, tensions over energy, poverty and other issues "threaten the fragile social, economic, political and geopolitical balances that exist there", he noted.

"Against this background, radical Islamism has gained traction in various countries across the region," he added.

All countries in the region are affected by security threats, agreed former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ghozali, adding that the situation in Libya was especially worrisome.

To combat terrorism, it is essential to improve the economic situation in each country and enforce the rule of law, he said.

"There can be no security without development," the former premier repeated several times.

Maghreb nations must set aside their political differences in order to achieve the economic integration that people are so eager to see, Ghozali said. They could then take advantage of their complementary strengths and bargaining power to act as a strong regional hub.

According to Morocco's minister-delegate for SMEs, distributing wealth more equally between North and South and activating a new South-South partnership are "essential keys to the creation of a vast area of stability in the Sahel and the Maghreb".

"The role of young people and women is particularly vital in helping to create a virtuous circle of prosperity and stability, namely regional integration," Mamoun Bouhdoud added.

Participants also highlighted the importance of building trust between governments and populations, and investing in the younger generation.

Maghreb and Sahel youth face several problems, such as low level of education, poverty, social exclusion and unemployment, law student Hicham Lakbiri said.

"This aggravates tensions and makes young people more likely to get involved in terrorism or engage in criminal activity for financial reasons," he said.

He called for young people to be given their rightful place in society in order to act as a force for development and stability.

Tackling unemployment is the most important way of achieving stability in the region and fostering trust between governments and citizens, he told Magharebia.

Young people are the majority in countries across the region, political analyst Jamal Farhani pointed out.

"We need to rely on development and the promotion of employment to prevent our young people from becoming easy prey for criminal networks or being drawn into radicalism," he added.

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