Under the French presidency, the Security Council will visit the G5 Sahel States this week. That is a regional grouping composed of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. Countries that are experiencing a security crisis since 2005, the year of the first major Western hostage-taking and the year of major armed attacks against the national security forces. The Sahel is also a transit area where various trafficking, especially in drugs, cigarettes and human beings, has gradually become widespread.
It is frequent for the Security Council, the UN most important body, to undertake fields' visits to learn more about a crisis before returning to New York with more ideas for possible solutions. Specifically, at the beginning of the 2,000 decade, the Council had made well publicized trips to countries ravaged by violent civil wars: Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone. All are countries where the United Nations had invested massively for peace through the deployment of peacekeeping troupes and humanitarian assistance. Countries that are now rather stable, which gives hope for the Sahel.
Marked by a newly imported political culture, where acute suspicion explains almost everything, the Sahel is experiencing several simultaneous several crises. The most publicized, and the most deadly but not necessarily the most profound one, is the security crisis. A crisis resulting from attacks by the jihadist movements most of whom are increasingly "indigenous». That means that both recruits and leaderships hail from or are close to the local populations. Secondly, there is also an internal crisis that fuels the previous one. While the danger is real, the presence and usefulness of public authorities are often not seen or even felt by the citizen. Still, governments behave as if the situation was normal and efforts to strengthen and broaden their political bases were neither necessary nor useful.
To these two deficits should be added a third much more serious one: the denial of realities. That denial is reinforced by an insidious and quasi-official political campaign that attributes the source and the seriousness of the crisis to external forces. A euphemism to designate those governments that came to the rescue of our countries! In the capital cities streets and in private talks, as well as in schools, the populations are brainwashed to believe in a plot fomented by our partners. A pervasive xenophobia, whose ravages would certainly be worse in the future, is taking roots in the region.
There is no call for solidarity with the allies fighting a common enemy and helping to increase the effectiveness of national and international troops. But xenophobic campaigns, conducted across several states, try to demonstrate that connivance between jihadists and political rebellions on the one hand and bilateral and multilateral forces on the other. As unbelievable as it may seem, it is in this environment of suspicion that the Security Council delegation will visit the G 5 Sahel.
In this context, how to help address the region tragedy? The UN's second secretary-general, the Swedish Dag Hammarskjöld, liked to say "the United Nations was not created to lead humanity to Paradise but to prevent it from going to Hell".
Criticizing United Nations is quite legitimate and remains an easy and frequent exercise even before General de Gaulle's famous qualification of the Organization as " a machin" or "something" . But that is not the point. For countries affected by a multidimensional crisis and for their external allies, the priority should be to establish strong internal fronts able to overcome a determined enemy that is constantly gaining more room and weight in the region. Open or insidious, the demonization of bilateral or international allies is unfair, but above all it is an escape that serves only short political interests. National governments cannot use external partners to exonerate themselves from their own responsibilities. The rewriting of history is a dangerous exercise that has often led to terrible disasters that the Sahel nations would be well inspired to avoid.
Ultimately, the G5 Sahel states and their allies must strive to explain to the Security Council delegation their priorities and how they plan to implement them through wise policies and decisions. In that connection, the first step is to put an end to insecurity. That requires several measures of which military action is an essential component that should not be minimized and let alone demonized. To ensure its effectiveness, it needs the moral and political support of governments and especially national public opinions.
Then there is the question of acting simultaneously on several fronts starting with restoring the visibility and usefulness of the State as well as safeguarding what remains of its authority. Ending the tribalization of public service and security forces should be one of the first steps the concerned countries should take. That should help to stop the process of the "deconstruction" of the post-colonial state. That deconstruction / regression reinforces the ethnic and regional bases of the rebellions.
The Security Council knows that there are wars of choice. That is when external actors intervene to help an ally, exert pressure or assert their power. In a region where, despite a significant progress in freedom of expression, the Council should remind the governments visited that, as a wise approach and in all the parties' mutual interests, it is vital to form a common front rather than exposing allies to popular vindictiveness. In this connection, and beyond historical truth, the continued mentions of the Sahel external partners' secret agendas and resistance to colonization, more than a century ago, do not serve the current priorities i.e. the fight against terrorism. It does not either to the development agenda. And it will not be sufficient enough to avoid additional governance efforts required by a more demanding citizenry.
As usual, the Security Council delegation will listen and discuss with national authorities and may meet with civil society representatives and key figures from the countries visited. It will find the manner and style to encourage its interlocutors to act in a way that the Sahel governments and their external partners work together to achieve a common ambition that is the return to stability and development. Silences and questions will be the answers to out of context statements that may be served to them. However, the Security Council message will be friendly and therefore sincere. That is precisely what it takes to marginalize an increasingly confident adversary that is more and more openly present in the region.
For the governments visited, the meetings with the Security Council are important opportunities not for internal political considerations but to present convincing and implementable policies. Policies that are credible to a preeminent political body whose influence cannot be underestimated. The financing of the G5 Sahel forces, of United Nations troops and accompanying economic measures will undoubtedly be discussed during this visit.
Familiar with the Sahel and its problems, the French Presidency of the Security Council can help the countries visited or at least, according to the enshrined formula, keep the item on the Council's Agenda.