Strong alliances with local partners The Federal Government realigns its Sahel policy

Joint press release 3 May 2023 by the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Defence and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

The Federal Government is realigning its Sahel policy. The Cabinet today approved a final extension of the mandate for the Bundeswehr contingent serving with MINUSMA. In parallel, the Federal Government will step up civilian support for the region and shift the focus of its security-sector engagement towards the Niger, Mauritania and the countries around the Gulf of Guinea.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius: “Following the possible end of EUTM Mali and the upcoming withdrawal of German forces from MINUSMA, we nevertheless want to contribute our share to military and defence efforts in the Sahel region. The most recent escalation in the Sudan has made us aware of how suddenly a country’s instability can turn into an existential threat to the lives of our citizens. It is crucial that we continue to strengthen and advance the growing African ownership of security and stability on their own continent through our engagement in the Sahel. We can only achieve this together, in a partnership of equals, which is why our commitment is not only multilateral in the context of our alliances but also bilateral. For example, we are continuing to train the Niger’s special operations forces and pass on our know-how to them.”

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: “When states in the Sahel fail, we feel the shockwaves here in Europe, too. That’s why we must continue to support people in the region – by providing both civilian and military assistance. The fact that terrorist organisations are expanding their reach there and that Russian forces are putting down roots poses a threat not only to the local population. Whether we like it or not, what happens in the Sahel does concern us. We are therefore realigning our engagement in the region and will let our participation in MINUSMA wind down in an orderly fashion over the next 12 months. We are strengthening our cooperation with the Niger, Mauritania and the countries around the Gulf of Guinea. Together, we want to prevent the region’s crises from spreading to these countries and thereby engulfing the neighbourhood.”

Development Minister Svenja Schulze: “Many people in the Sahel region end up joining extremist groups not out of conviction but because they need an income. This is where development policy can do its part to uproot terrorism. We will expand our development policy engagement throughout the region. If we cooperate with international partners, we can achieve more than individually. That is why we are ready to assume more political responsibility in the Sahel Alliance, the central donor coordination body for the region.”

The situation in the Sahel has a strong impact on stability in northern and central Africa, as well as on the Gulf of Guinea region – and thereby also indirectly impacts security in Europe. The effects of climate change, scarcity of resources and strong population growth are exacerbating conflicts in the region. Recently, military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso have set back democratic development. In some countries of the Sahel, the security environment is worsening, and the regional humanitarian situation remains precarious.

In realigning its engagement in the Sahel, the Federal Government is primarily focusing on civilian stabilisation measures, addressing the causes of crises and providing needs-oriented humanitarian assistance. Germany will continue to give military support to reliable partners such as the Niger, both bilaterally and in the context of the EU. The Federal Government is also seeking to promote regional approaches, for example through ECOWAS, that aim to have the region itself assume greater responsibility in the security sector. Where promoting central government structures would not benefit the general population – for example in an authoritarian state or due to Russian influence or human rights abuses – Germany will not completely scale back its civilian engagement, but rather will refocus its cooperation on decentralised structures and provide more direct support to the population.

Although the Bundeswehr is set to end its participation in MINUSMA, Germany will continue making available military and defence policy support with a view to tackling the challenges emanating from the Sahel – international terrorism, fragile states and organised crime.

Under the guiding principle of African ownership, engagement in the Sahel will aim to foster increased African ownership of security and stability. The recently established EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger is in line with this approach. The mission is specifically designed to meet the needs of the Niger and supports its armed forces’ self-directed capacity-building efforts. Germany is involved in the establishment of a technical school, the training of soldiers and the building-up of a command support battalion. The Bundeswehr is also providing bilateral support. In late December, training of the Niger’s joint special operations task force GAZELLE was successfully completed. The Bundeswehr will continue training the Niger’s special forces – at the Niger’s request – in the context of Mission TORIMA, with the aim of making them sustainable. However, the toolbox for this partnership-based approach extends far beyond training missions. Significant elements include the Enable & Enhance Initiative of the German Federal Government as well as equipment aid and training assistance.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development will focus its engagement in the Sahel on creating jobs and vocational training opportunities for youths – for example in processing agricultural goods, in the construction sector and in building infrastructure such as water pumps. The objective, in cooperation with partners, is to create alternatives to the recruiting strategies of extremist groups. In addition, social security systems should help the most vulnerable members of the population to better deal with crises such as the effects of climate change. With its Sahel Plus Initiative, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is looking to support the entire region, that is the countries of the Sahel plus the West African coastal states of Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin. Because terrorist groups in the region are not bound by national borders.

To ensure its efforts have a greater impact, the Federal Government is prioritising strong alliances with local partners and multilateral organisations. Germany is also assuming political responsibility. This summer, Development Minister Schulze will be standing as a candidate for the Chairmanship of the Sahel Alliance, the coordinating body of the 18 most important donor countries and organisations.