West Africa: Remarks At the Ministerial Roundtable for the Central Sahel


Ministerial Roundtable for the Central Sahel

As Prepared

Thank you for the chance to discuss U.S. engagement in the Sahel. The Secretary of State's approval of a Diplomatic Framework for the Sahel and the creation of my position as Special Envoy earlier this year reflects the U.S. government's commitment to the region. Further, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)'s recent reorganization is helping to streamline our response to complex crises such as that in the Sahel. I'm delighted to be joined today by Jenny McGee, USAID's Associate Administrator for Relief, Response, and Resilience as well as by Richard Albright, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

The need in the Sahel is staggering and increasing. There were more reported conflict fatalities in the Central Sahel region in the first nine months of 2020 than in any full year in recent history. In the past year, the number of conflict victims and displaced in the region has increased almost 200 percent.

We also remain concerned about continued reports of attacks on humanitarian workers. The tragic attack on a group of Burkinabe IDPs returning to their homes this month exemplifies these risks. We are committed to improving the security situation for both populations of concern and the humanitarian community.

The United States is the world's largest single donor of humanitarian assistance globally, and we have been the largest single donor of health, development, and humanitarian aid to the Sahel. The U.S. government added nearly $152 million in additional humanitarian assistance to our response for Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso, as I announced in September. That brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance in these countries, including for COVID-19 prevention and response, to more than $310 million in the past year. Turning to Chad, the other of the G5 Sahel countries, we have provided over $129 million in humanitarian assistance in the past year to help the country address the impact of multiple conflicts. With this funding, the U.S. government provides lifesaving aid to those displaced by conflict as well as the communities hosting them.

In addition, the United States is dedicated to helping the people of the Sahel transition from receiving humanitarian aid to investing in their development. In 2020, we have invested $154 million in order to build resilience to recurrent shocks and lift people out of poverty in the Central Sahel. This is in addition to longer-term investments like the nearly $500 million Millennium Challenge Corporation compact agreement we signed in August with Burkina Faso, which will provide access to affordable and reliable electricity, doubling the number of households with access over the next five years.

While we work together to relieve the suffering of those affected by conflict, we must also stay focused on addressing the root causes of violence and stemming its spread. The heart of the crisis in the Sahel is one of state legitimacy - a perception by citizens that their government is valid, equitable, and able and willing to meet their needs.

This legitimacy requires a focus on civilian protection and on ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violations and abuses. Absent states' commitments to meeting their citizens' needs, no degree of international engagement is likely to succeed.

In Mali, the international community, with regional institutions in the lead, must ensure free and fair elections in 18 months and a return to constitutional rule. But reforms, such as on corruption, human rights, and implementation of the principles of the Algiers Accord, are also essential. They are the only way to build citizens' trust in the state and ensure that Mali does not fall prey to a cycle of repeated political instability.

We welcome the partnership of other donors in responding to the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel and call on new donors to contribute toward the growing needs in the region. We will continue to be a catalyst for the international community's engagement to answer the call of those in need.

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