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National statements

Peace and Security in Africa: Sahel

Thematic issues

  • Chad
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Ebola
  • Extremism
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Mali
  • Sahel
  • Sanctions
  • Small arms
  • Syria
  • Terrorism
  • West Africa


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you, Mr. President.

I particularly welcome Chad's leadership – as itself a Sahel country – in organising this briefing and thank Special Envoy Guebre Sellassie for the update on the UN's response and efforts to implement the Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. Not an easy task.

As we know, since June, we have seen a sharp rise in targeted attacks against UN peacekeepers in Mali, a deteriorating security situation in Libya, political instability in Burkina Faso, barbaric terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, and the first cases of Ebola in Mali.

Chronic fragilities and instability continue to impact the region and pose a direct threat to civilians. There are almost 25 million people in the Sahel facing food insecurity right now – over 65 per cent of the population – more than the entire population of my own country. The region hosts over one million refugees. And its population, the fastest growing in the world, is expected to double in the next 20-25 years, which can only worsen such challenges.

The strategy can be a useful tool –within the UN system and more broadly – providing a multidimensional approach to address problems that transcend the borders of the region. But the challenge as always is in its implementation, which has struggled to date. But the strategy still probably remains the initiative with the most potential to bring the existing plethora of security and development actors under a single framework.

With the large number of actors in the Sahel, coordination is crucial, but is still insufficient. A recent mapping exercise showed that many of the core countries of the region are covered by at least seven different regional or international Sahel-focused strategies. We must enhance coordination or the UN Sahel Strategy itself will fail. At the same time, coordination cannot be a substitute for concrete action.

It has been just over a year since the Secretary-General's joint visit to the region together with the Presidents of the World Bank and African Development Bank and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. This is the model we need to achieve results in complex situations like the Great Lakes and the Sahel.

When the Council last met on the Sahel in June, the Special Envoy spoke of the importance of breaking down the institutional barriers between these organisations to ensure better targeted and coordinated action, based on areas of comparative advantage. I would welcome any further assessment of how this is being accomplished in practice. Greater clarity on the division of labour between your Office and the UN Office for West Africa would also be useful.

We are encouraged by the growing leadership from the region, including through the Ministerial Coordination Platform. National ownership and political will is obviously essential to achieve lasting progress. The participation of the Group of Five for the Sahel in the most recent meeting of the Platform, held in Bamako, Mali on 18 November, was a necessary signal of increasing coherence and cooperation. We welcome your advice today on the establishment of an International Contact Group for the Sahel.

Such cooperation is vital in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. The Sahel has been particularly affected by this scourge, with Al Qaida affiliates in the region exploiting local conflicts and weak state authority and taking advantage of trafficking and criminal networks to move around arms and resources. The trend of small arms smuggling in the region is increasing. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Libya , a pressing problem, given weak institutions and the continuing flow of weapons out of the country – the Council clearly needs to give Libya more attention. The interface between terrorism and transnational crime in the region is clear. It is so obviously fuelling conflict.

This is why Chad's debate next week – and initiative to put forward a Council resolution to address the linkages between terrorism and transnational organised crime holistically – will be so useful.

We pay tribute to French counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel through its regional military force, Operation Barkhane. We also commend the efforts to operationalise the Multi-National Joint Task Force to combat Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin. The Council should support that initiative.

To deal with the terrorist threat, we need not only security and law enforcement approaches, but also efforts to counter violent extremism at the community level. Programs need to target youth in particular – the largest demographic constituency in the region, maybe half of whom are without jobs – who we know are highly susceptible to radicalisation. We urge the UN to leverage the full range of development and security entities to help build community resilience against terrorism.

The Council's Al Qaida sanctions regime remains a critical partner for national and regional counter-terrorism strategies in the Sahel. Despite the Council's recent focus on Iraq and Syria, the Al Qaida Sanctions Committee and its Monitoring Team continue to target Sahel-based Al Qaida affiliates; the Committee's most recent listings on 19 November were two Libya-based entities associated with Al Qaida in the Maghreb.

The key is for all UN entities – missions and offices in the region, agencies, counter-terrorism bodies, and relevant sanctions committees and groups of experts – to be working together in support of joined-up solutions to address terrorism and organised crime – for example by helping to strengthen border security.

Beyond security, we also need to ensure that we tackle the root causes of cyclical crises in the Sahel region, including by strengthening governance – particularly at the regional level.

Providing concrete support and programming to strengthen governance over such a vast and diverse expanse is obviously a challenge. But is one of course that must be prioritised – we need to see concrete projects on the ground to kick-start change; and we would welcome any further views from you on how greater progress can be made in this area.

To conclude, while we remain confident that the Sahel strategy is the right tool to address the challenges of the region in a coordinated manner – and are thankful for your own efforts in that direction – there is a very real risk that, absent concrete programs and real coordination, the strategy will atrophy. We look to your leadership as Special Envoy to drive forward implementation.

Thank you again

Last Updated: 5 June 2015
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