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  • on 19.12.2014
  • at 05:28 PM
  • by Kevin

An Atlas to help tackle the Sahara-Sahel’s multidimensional challenges 0

Brussels – The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) held the official launch of the Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel Friday December 19th 2014 at the European Commission.

The inauguration of the Atlas took place on the last day of the Sahel and West Africa Week, organised every year by the SWAC Secretariat in conjunction with a handful of different partners, including the West African Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). SWAC is a group composed of West African organisations, countries and international organisations and is the only international platform exclusively dedicated to West African regional issues.

For Laurent Brossard, director of the SWAC Secretariat, the Atlas’s main purpose is to present a comprehensive vision of the current multidimensional issues affecting the Sahara-Sahel region. He adds that using a spatial approach to understand these complex phenomena is crucial in successfully tackling the different challenges present in this region.

In recent years, instability and violence have become key elements of the region: terrorism, drug trafficking and political instability in countries like Libya and Mali, are developing on a regional scale.  “The Sahara-Sahel region is often portrayed as being an empty space, when in reality that is not the case”, according to François-Xavier De Donnea, President of the SWAC. The vibrant nature of the exchanges of humans and goods across the region is brought forward in the Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel: Geography, Economics and Security. It contains 150 maps that cover a multitude of spatial issues over different timeframes, such as migratory movements and trafficking networks.

Today, the spatial organisation of the Sahara-Sahel captures conditions of the globalised world where places primarily function through intersection of flows, such as the flow of goods and people. The development of urban centres, social networks and traders are at the nexus of all these flows. Criminal networks – such as terrorism and the trafficking arms, drugs and human beings – are taking advantage of this spatial and social structure.

Trafficking in the region has been facilitated by intense spatial mobility and continuous circulation relying on old influential networks. In some cases, trafficking has even enjoyed the support of local communities.

Following the presentation of the Atlas, a panel discussion entitled “How to formulate integrated responses to the region’s multidimensional challenges” took place. Speakers included Mr Aguibou Diarrah, Director of the Border Programme of the African Union, and Ms Hiroute Guebre Selassie, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel for the United Nations, among others.

Speakers expressed a shared vision on a number of different challenges affecting the region as well as potential solutions. They agreed that the responses adopted necessitated to be multidimensional in their approach. For example, they concurred that strategies to enhance security, promote good governance and encourage development ought to go hand in hand with one another in order to be successful. The need to adopt a long-term vision in the elaboration of such responses was also a point of agreement. Lastly, there was a consensus on the importance of encouraging integrated cooperation between the various States within the Sahara-Sahel region. Aguibou Diarrah pointed out that such initiatives were already underway and ought to be used as examples, such as a health centre operating on the Mali-Burkina Faso border and managed conjunctly by the authorities of both States.

“Co-ordination of the regional and international players working in the Sahel is key to the success of the different initiatives for this region,” said the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel, Hiroute Guebre Sellassie. “The multitude of actors and interventions do not pose an obstacle but constitute an opportunity, on the condition that this surge in generosity be co-ordinated so as to respond to real needs identified by the States and people of this region.”

By Sophie Blais –

Photo credit: Sahel and West Africa Club

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