West African leaders meeting in Burkina Faso have announced a $1bn plan to combat rising insecurity in the Sahel region.
The pledge, to be funded from 2020 to 2024, was announced on Saturday at the end of the Economic Community Summit of West African States (ECOWAS) in Ouagadougou, where members of the bloc were joined by Mauritania and Chad.
ECOWAS had decided to mobilise “the financial resources of up to a billion dollars for the fight against terrorism”, said Nigers President Mahamadou Issoufou.
The money, paid into a common fund, would help reinforce the military operations of the countries involved – and those of the joint military operations in the region. Full details of the plan would be presented to the next ECOWAS summit in December.
Fighters with links to the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed groups have strengthened their foothold across the arid Sahel region in recent years, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking local ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Backed by France, a multi-national military force in the Sahel region began operations in 2017, pulling troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania in a bid to drive back the armed groups.
But a lack of finance, training and equipment, has limited the effectiveness of the G5 Sahel joint taskforce and its numbers – at the moment, the force numbers 4,000 troops, when 5,000 were originally planned.
At the start of the Ouagadougou summit, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Brou, pointed to the mounting human, economic and political toll of the violence as he called on the United Nations to strengthen its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission, which has been based in Mali since 2013.
He said: “2,200 attacks in the last four years, 11,500 dead, thousands wounded… millions of displaced and economic activity has been greatly affected.”
Burkino Fasos President Roch Marc Christian Kabore argued that “threats transcend borders. No country is safe” and that “the escalation of violence has led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis” in the Sahel.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said “MINUSMA and the G5 Sahel are not enough. We have to find wider and more effective means of coordination” while Nigers Issoufou added that “the international community cannot turn a blind eye and must assume its responsibilities”.
ECOWAS would also ask the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to consider security spending as an “investment” and drum up support from Western and Arab donors, he said.
In July, the UN said attacks were spreading so fast in West Africa that the region should consider bolstering its response beyond current military efforts.
“I totally believe we are not winning the war against terrorism in the Sahel and that the operation should be strengthened,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this month.