19 July 2021
Italy and its increasing interest towards Sahel
Last June, Italy hosted in Matera the G20 Foreign Affairs Ministers’ Meeting. The G20 is the international forum that brings together the world’s major economies. Its members account for more than 80% of world GPD, 75% of global trade and 60% of the population of the planet. It is made up of 19 countries and the European Union.
The 2021 G20 was focused on three interconnected pillars of action: people, planet, and prosperity. Thus, topics like global health, sustainable development, climate change, international fair trade, sustainable food futures, energy transition were addressed during the meeting. They were all analyzed and discussed in a view of multilateralism and global governance. As shown by the COVID-19 pandemic, international cooperation is paramount to address the upcoming challenges. First and foremost, climate change. A worldwide problem that can be faced only by thinking and acting globally.
Another important issue addressed was Africa and the relations between it and Europe. The Ministers restated the importance of supporting Africa in fighting inequality, creating inclusive policies for women and youth, and elaborating a strategy for the energy transition and climate change.
Africa – and particularly the Sahel – represents a crucial priority for Europe and Italy’s foreign policy. The Sahel part of Africa is a semi-arid vast region that stretches along the Sahara’s desert, from Senegal to Sudan. The core group countries belonging to the Sahel are Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, and Burkina Faso. This area is a pot of severe climate change, population movement, and jihadist attacks. It is the epicenter of Sahelian insecurity. In 2014, these countries created the G5 Sahel: an institutional framework for the coordination and monitoring of regional cooperation in development policies and security matters, targeting terrorism and the jihadist organizations operating in the region.
As stated by the UNHCR, “the central Sahel region is facing a severe humanitarian and protection crisis. Massive displacement, most of it driven by intense and largely indiscriminate violence perpetrated by a range of armed actors against civilian populations, is taking place across the region. While internal displacement is on the rise substantial numbers of refugees have fled to neighboring countries”.
On this account, in the last years, Sahel has become a priority target of the EU policy. In 2015, the European Commission launched an “Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa”, consisting of EUR1.8 billion from the EU budget, with the aim to help foster stability in regions and to contribute to better migration management. It aims to address the root causes of destabilization, forced displacement and irregular migration, by promoting economic and equal opportunities, security and development. The EU’s strategy for the Sahel centers on the idea that governance, security, and development are strictly interconnected. In fact, the high instability caused by the failure of local governance is a core driver of the violence and insecurity spread in the Sahel. Beyond this, there are also other issues hitting profoundly the region like illicit trafficking of drugs and human beings, limited economic development, high demographic growth, inter-ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and climate change. Indeed, the region is one of the most at risk from adverse effects of climate change. Competition for land and the impact of climate change have generated divisions between communities leading to more fighting. And the situation will worsen more and more over the years.
Therefore, the growing insecurity and instability generate more migration both internal, causing “the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world”, and external migration, feeding mass migration to Europe.
And here stand the reasons behind the Italian strategic orientation towards the Sahel: contrasting irregular migration and fighting terroristic groups. The wave of terroristic attack hitting Europe since 2014 and the migrations crisis pushed Italy to promote a more proactive political and diplomatic presence in the Sahel as well as the deployment of a growing number of armed forces employed both for capacity building and counterterrorism. Addressing these topics is crucial for Italy and the Mediterranean stability. Thus, the Italian political and diplomatic involvement in the Sahel next to France and Germany – which are the States most engaged in the region – is quite significant for the stabilization of the area.
The difficult situation in this area has generated a huge and severe humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region. United Nations aid agencies and non-governmental organizations continue to express their concern over this rapid worsening of the crisis. Indiscriminate attacks by armed groups and militias, insecurity, widespread human rights violations - including gender-based violence and violence against children - and the effects of climate change have triggered massive displacements across the region. The number of people forcibly displaced has never been higher: from central Sahel to the Lake Chad Basin, more than 2 million people are uprooted and in need of protection. “The conflict in the Sahel is growing wider, more complex and involving more armed actors. Civilians end up paying the price as they face an increasing number of deadly attacks, gender-based violence, extortion or intimidation, and are forced to flee, often multiple times” said Xavier Creach, UNHCR Sahel Coordinator and Deputy Director for West and Central Africa.
Chiesi Foundation is well aware of the complexity of the Sahelian context since it works in Burkina Faso since 2010. The Foundation operates in the health sector, and specifically, in the field of neonatology, collaborating with the San Camillo Hospital in Ouagadougou (HOSCO) developing projects aimed at transferring scientific means and knowledge in order to improve the care quality for premature and pathological newborns.
The deterioration of the security situation, extreme poverty, instability, gross human rights violations, and large-scale displacement have reached high levels in Burkina Faso. More and more people are fleeing their homes seeking safety in nearby villages or fields. 1.3 million people are internally displaced.
Here, humanitarian assistance is a life-or-death matter.
To conclude, the increasing political interest manifested by Europe and European Countries like Italy in the Sahel is a necessary step toward the stabilization of the region and the creation of a more peaceful environment. However, this must go hand in hand with a humanitarian response.