Article written

  • on 18.06.2015
  • at 09:47 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Interview with Damien Helly (ECDPM): Foreign Presence in Sahel Is More Diversified, but Better Coordination Is Needed 0

In March 2015, the ECDPM published a policy paper on the Sahel and the region’s main development and security issues titled “Sahel Strategies: Why Coordination is Imperative”. In this in-depth interview with Joshua Massarenti of, Damien Helly, the deputy-head of Deputy Head of Programme (Strengthening European External Action) at the ECDPM and co-author of the report, looks at the leading development trends in the region, the difficulties that both the EU and others international organisations face in leading development projects and the important challenge of turning development strategies “into concrete results that can act as forces of change and strengthen development”.

In the last few years, the Sahel region has become a haven for terrorist groups and many different types of traffickers. These groups constitute a serious threat for the region’s development. How do you consider the policies put in place by the International community to help the concerned countries combat these problems?

Unfortunately there is no easy or short answer to this question. For the moment, we are trying to find the best methodologies in order to understand what is happening in the Sahel region in terms of the relationship between Africa and Europe. There are always several stakeholders in what you describe as “the policies put in place by the international community”.

That being said, I note three large trends since 2012: an Europeanisation concerning French policies in the region, an internationalisation of the foreign presence in Mali in particular and in the Sahel in general with significant funding promises as well as more recently, a regionalisation of the Boko Haram problem.

The major challenge today is to transform these strategic adaptations into concrete results that can act as forces of change and strengthen development in the broadest (and most positive) sense of the term.

Reading your analysis note on the Sahel strategies, important questions are asked regarding the coordination between the relevant different institutional partners, yet one looks in vain for an analysis of the strategies directly developed or that may be developed by the local populations concerned; i.e. of the coordination between the institutional partners and the local population. On a local level, little information is collected while even less is reliable and locally, there is often no adequate means of assuring the reliable transfer of information to the global partners. As such, what type of security problems does your organisation deal with?

I share your impatience. The document that you read is just the first stage in a longer process of analysis, of data collection and of supporting the regional diplomacy with the goal of creating a common political vision of the main issues and of the actions to take in the Sahel.

We chose that for this paper to work on the strategic level as we identified the risk of an “institutional structure dispute” between the different organisations and States present in the region. It was thus necessary to clarify the debate and show everyone that their approaches were not necessarily incompatible. Furthermore, these debates remain open.

The next stage in our work will aim to produce a more complete vision of the action plans and, if possible, of the implementation of the Sahel strategies on a regional level. This requires time and considerable resources which are not easy to obtain, but we are working on it.

Each government in the Sahel coordinates its international cooperation on a national and local level. We hope to be able to connect more systematically the ongoing successes with the leaders of the global strategies in order that the necessary knowledge is better circulated. This is at the very heart of our Centre’s mandate.

Moreover, we have started a pilot project over the local governance of water in Niger and in Mali by publishing a multimedia blog on our website. We want to generalise this approach and are searching for the necessary financial support. If you have any ideas, they are very welcome!

Have you calculated, as a percentage, the share of the budget allocated to studies, reports, analyses, symposiums, meetings of experts and decision-makers etc. in the billions reputedly committed to security in the Sahel? Ultimately, do you have an idea of the percentage of these funds that result in concrete and durable actions which are objectively of benefit to the relevant Sahel-Saharan populations, once all the service charges for the implementation of these actions are deducted?

The experience of the ECDPM has shown that one of the biggest challenges for all involved parties in achieving development effectiveness is having better knowledge management. This is the reason why we chose to clarify the general understanding of the main issues, which is necessarily always guaranteed.

Of course, numerous studies are redundant if they are not properly utilised or if the context is unfavourable. In 2014, an experienced anthropologist told us that “I have done a lot of applied research, yet little research that has been applied”. So, how do we apply what we know?

Another challenge is to make development more politically aware in order to know what is possible to change and what is not. We suggest to carry out political economy analyses both nationally and internationally, in cooperation with businesses, high-level government authorities and the biggest financial partners. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult exercise to accomplish and we are not always heard or listened to. We try to avoid, as far as possible, small, ad hoc studies which are not linked to more profound and longer change processes and which do not strengthen what already works.

What have been the reactions to your study?

I must admit that that there have been many reactions and most have been positive. For example, the United Nations told us that we were only the ones to ask the real questions. Also, during a high-level meeting in Bamako in 2014, Adboulaye Diop, the Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Pierre Buyoya, the High-Representative of the African Union, encouraged us to continue our work and to enhance it. I believe that our efforts are appreciated as in an impartial manner, we improve the debate on the Sahel.

Studies require a sharing of information. What were the most willing organisations with regards to information-sharing? Is there a real desire to share information amongst the region’s donors?

Some were undoubtedly more helpful than others. There are some organisations however which exist on paper but are not very active such as the CEN-SAD, which had done a lot of work in the region during the Gaddafi era. There are also stakeholders which are new for us, like the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). In general, everyone realises that working alone offers no added value. In our study, the fact that our diagnoses on the major problems were relatively consensual reassured donors that their strategic visions were not really in competition with one another. What differentiates them is their implementation of programs and their impact as some actions plans do not correspond to the strategy as it was originally set out. The risk that a donor launches programs that are disconnected from the wider-strategy and do not take proper account of the environment in which these programs will be implemented is very real.

Click Here to continue reading this interview

by Joshua Massarenti (

© Les Echos du Mali, Le Courrier (Niger), Le Calame (Mauritania) et L’Autre Quotidien (Benin)

Click Here to read the original version of this interview in French

Translated by Kevin Hind

Photo Credit: Flickr/More Europe – external cultural relations

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