West Africa: Opening Remarks At High-Level Meeting On the Economic Challenges From the Security Crisis in the Sahel

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Thank you all very much for being here today. It is truly an honor to welcome so many distinguished guests from the Sahel region and beyond, including two presidents, several finance ministers, and representatives from the EU, UN, World Bank, and of course the IMF.

The Sahel is a region that is very close to my heart.

I traveled to the countries of the Sahel many times when I handled humanitarian assistance at the European Commission. I have been to refugee camps, hospital wards for malnourished children, and the homes of families who fled a vast distance to get away from violence.

I will always remember, too, the dignity and strength of those who had been through such difficult circumstances, from hearing the great Malian singer Inna Modja sing passionately about the challenge of finding water, to meeting refugees who insisted on giving me a beautiful shawl despite having almost nothing.

As I have often seen throughout my life, macro decisions have lasting micro consequences. And in many ways, the challenges I witnessed firsthand in the Sahel trace back to two macro issues: one, the continuing security crisis; and two, the resulting difficulties in building strong economic fundamentals in the region that would help people improve their lives and develop and build resilience.

We have also seen that, over the last four years, countries in the region have dramatically increased their security spending. This threatens to crowd out other critical spending - not least the spending necessary to save lives and support livelihoods in the face of the pandemic.

In effect, the security crisis and the economic crisis in the Sahel feed on each other in an endless vicious cycle. Breaking this cycle will require a sense of urgency and continuing commitment and cooperation across institutions, including the IMF. A strategic schedule of technical and high-level meetings could help maintain momentum.

Our meeting today is an important step, and I look forward to a constructive and meaningful conversation.

Thank you very much.

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