Sahel Crisis: CRS Official Advices Going “beyond military to address root causes”

Map representing countries with the Sahel in Africa, a region affected by violence

Some days after France and five Sahel nations in Western Africa met and agreed early this week to advance their military cooperation in the fight against jihadist insurgency destabilizing the countries of the region, a West African-based official of the humanitarian arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has underscored the need for stakeholders “to address the root causes of the conflict” even as military interventions are  being considered.

On Monday, January 13, leaders of France, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania met in France’s northwestern town of Pau to discuss military cooperation in the Sahel region. The six Presidents agreed to put their forces under a single entity dubbed “the Coalition for the Sahel.”

“Beyond a military intervention, we need to address the root causes of conflict such as extreme poverty, high youth unemployment, a lack of education – all of which have led to an erosion of a once strong social fabric,” CRS Director for West Africa, Jennifer Overton has said in a statement sent to ACI Africa Thursday, January 16.

In the statement, the regional CRS official raised concerns about the social welfare of people in the Sahel region saying, “despite military investments, many citizens are left without protection in the midst of serious security risks.” 

“We are very concerned for all people affected by the escalating humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region,” Ms. Overton said and added, “citizens have been forced from their homes, attacked and killed as a result of escalating violence. The needs for food, water and shelter are enormous and continue to grow.”

To alleviate the suffering of the Sahel people, the CRS official has called on stakeholders to work together to stabilize the region saying, “we must all work together to support communities resolve conflict, build peace, strengthen local institutions and government structures to help communities respond to the crisis.” 

With significant presence in the Western Africa region, CRS is a significant humanitarian stakeholder in the Sahel crisis. The organization has raised concerns about the “escalating humanitarian crisis” in the nations of the region and warned that more than one million people will be affected by the conflict in 2020.

In November 2019, the aid agency organized a two-day Inter-Conferences Workshop on Security in the Sahel to discuss the crisis in the region. The November 12-13 meeting was held under the auspices of  the Sahel Peace Initiative, a partnership between CRS and the Catholic Church in Western Africa. 

In their communique, the participants, among them Bishops, appealed to various stakeholders to work towards a long-term solution to the crisis to facilitate peace, security and to alleviate the suffering of the people in the region.

The Sahel region, which spans 5,400 km encompassing Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and  Eritrea has been facing rampant violence facilitated by political crisis in the countries, which offer a fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist groups. 

In his report to the UN Security Council, UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mohamed Ibn Chambas reported that “the region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets.”

According to the UNOWAS chief, casualties from terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger had risen to 4,000 deaths in 2019 alone, compared to 770 deaths in 2016.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]