I thank the Kingdom of Morocco for taking the initiative to organise this important debate at a time when the Sahel is facing such formidable challenges and I thank you, Minister Otmani for chairing it. I also thank the Secretary General, Mr. Romano Prodi, Mr. António Guterres and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Côte d’Ivoire for their statements.
The presence here today of representatives from several organisations involved in the region further underlines the relevance of the topic for the maintenance of international peace and security in the Sahel and beyond it.
Recent events in Mali have underlined the need for the international community to pay greater attention and give a new priority to dealing with longstanding fragilities in the Sahel and their consequences. We hope that this Council can soon pass a resolution that will specifically address the situation in that country, in line with what has been requested by the African Union and ECOWAS.
The present crisis in the Sahel is historically deep-rooted, has complex, multifaceted causes, be they economic, social, political and ethnic. It therefore requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses the transnational nature of the challenges at hand, including, naturally, those of organised crime and terrorism, which represent today a serious threat also to neighbouring regions.
Indeed, we should also be aware of the fact that security issues are not restricted to the Sahel. In fact, instability in West Africa coastal countries might significantly contribute to the mounting insecurity in the Sahel, The increase in activities of drug traffickers and organized crime networks on the coast and their illicit financial resources, do in fact fuel criminal activities and terrorism in the whole region. Effects for neighbouring regions of the Magreb and Europe are also evident.
Portugal has for a long time defended a regional approach to the Sahel, not just because we find the same fragilities in most countries in the region, but also because the challenges faced by those countries are of a transnational nature.
Efforts made by individual countries are important and can be more effective if the emphasis is placed on the development of regional capacities. There are already regional action plans approved by regional organisations, such as ECOWAS, which should be put into practice to deal with the problems affecting the Sahel. We should also encourage bi and multilateral ad hoc arrangements between Sahel countries themselves for pooling resources for border control and in combating terrorism and organised crime.
Support from outside the region is also a reality. I would mention among others the European Union, which is already implementing its own strategy for the Sahel.
Therefore, we believe that the UN regional offices, UNOWA and UNOCA, but also the relevant UN missions in the region, can have a key role to play in bringing together all the relevant actors and promoting concrete initiatives. Much is already underway, but it is important that those different initiatives are framed by a coherent strategy.
In this respect, we welcome the appointment of Mr. Romano Prodi as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel and look forward to the finalisation of an integrated strategy for the region. We hope that Mr. Prodi may develop a strong working relationship with ECOWAS and with the AU Representative for Mali and the Sahel and we reiterate our full support to his endeavours.
As coordinator of international efforts, the UN should take into account the perspective and the potential contribution of the wider region, including that of North African countries, and thus overcome the difficulty posed by the fact that countries affected do not belong to one single regional organisation.
Some of those problems faced by Sahel countries require quick responses, as they may potentially expand beyond the region or aggravate an already very serious humanitarian and security situation, but others require long-term strategies and instruments. We think therefore that the UN strategy should clearly identify which measures may have an immediate effect – for instance on humanitarian assistance, arms proliferation, criminal networks or border control – and which ones work essentially in the long run, especially those aimed at economic recovery, youth employment, those that address climate change and capacity-building. This will help us in understanding how the different types of measures can best be employed and combined to promote sustainable development and security in the region.
Looking at long-term measures, we believe that particular attention should be given to the issue of institution building. As the example of Mali clearly shows, it is obvious that without strong institutions, countries will remain vulnerable to both internal and external threats. We therefore expect the integrated strategy to provide concrete indications on how to address the issue of institution building and what kind of measures may improve countries’ resilience.
I conclude by stressing again that the international involvement in the Sahel requires coherence and complementarity of the various efforts. A coordinated and integrated approach is thus of essence, building on experience and solutions and lessons learned in similar situations in other regions of the world. Such an approach will help prevent duplication and ensure that international responses effectively address the multiple dimensions of a complex situation such as that of the Sahel.
For her part, Portugal will continue to contribute to the collective effort to find new and bold responses to a situation that extends beyond the Sahel region and affects us all.
Thank you very much.