Opening Speech at Gathering for Sahel Special Envoys

Oslo, 3 December 2015

State Secretary Tore Hattrem's speech at a meeting for Sahel special envoys with representatives from donor countries, the UN, EU, OECD and the World Bank - in Oslo 3 and 4 December.

Dear friends,

We are here because we care about the Sahel. Insecurity in this region affects us all. Stability and development in the Sahel is clearly to our advantage.

We know this region faces serious threats and challenges, but there are also some more hopeful signs.

Let me start with the downside such as the menace of terrorism. We observed with horror the tragic events at Radisson Blu in Bamako as well as the recent attacks on Minusma in Northern Mali.

The incidents clearly demonstrate that al Qaida-linked groups are determined to undermine the fragile peace process in Mali.

These terror groups with international links have not been part of the Malian peace process. They remain a difficult obstacle for peace and security in Mali as well as the entire region.

The complexity of the situation highlights why it is vital that the international community remains engaged in Mali.

At the same time, the prime responsibility for the implementation of the peace agreement lies with the parties to the conflict themselves.

They must make the tough decisions to sustain and secure the peace process. In particular, the Malian Government must deliver on its commitments.

While much focus has been on building a lasting peace in Mali, we must not forget that other countries in the region remain highly fragile.

For instance, we must closely monitor Niger, which next year will undergo elections that might potentially be challenging.

This country, as well as Chad, are vulnerable to security threats from their neighbourhood such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and the crisis in Libya.

To respond to these challenges Niger and Chad spend a disproportionately large amount on security. This comes at the expense of much needed programmes on education, health and food security. This is not sustainable.

We all know that one of the drivers behind today's migration crisis in Europe is the lack of opportunities for the youth in their home countries. The grip various criminal groups have taken over large spaces in the Sahel adds to the problem.

An important contribution to the current migration crisis would be to combat the illicit networks behind human smuggling and trafficking. These networks are also responsible for drug trafficking as well as illegal trade in small arms and light weapons.

Illicit smuggling groups thrive in the absence of legitimate state authority and the instability provoked by extremism and jihadism.

Some affirm that there is now a power vacuum in the vast Sahel region. I do not agree. The problem is not absence of control, but rather that the wrong people are in control over these sparsely populated areas.

Enhanced security and military efforts are still needed.

We applaud the French military contributions such as Serval and Barkhane. Norway is fully committed to Minusma, and we plan to contribute in the EUTM.

However, we must also address the underlying root causes: acute poverty, marginalisation, food insecurity and a growing young population with limited hopes for the future.

That task is even more difficult given the current budgetary constraints experienced by many donor countries.

It is vital to focus on security while supporting resilience in local Sahel communities, and thus paving the way for long-term sustainable development.

Security, resilience and development are fundamental pillars in promoting stability in the region. Yet we will never succeed unless we also properly address a fourth pillar: governance.

Local populations must perceive their governments as transparent, fair, credible and legitimate.

In this vein, strengthening the role of women in the Sahel – politically and in the economic and social life – is essential.

This is not least important from a human rights perspective. I am convinced that empowering women will benefit the Sahel societies.

There are also some good news from the region.

Burkina Faso has just conducted its first genuinely free elections in more than three decades. This happened only a few months after a coup d'état was averted.

A new president is now elected through a well-conducted ballot. I hope the experiences in Burkina Faso will inspire neighbour countries.

The peace and reconciliation agreement for Mali also gives reason for hope, despite the continued terrorist threat.

The recent OECD meeting in Paris was an important demonstration of the international support to the people of Mali.

The Valletta Summit proposed a balanced and long-term plan of action on how to deal with the migration challenges as well as a funding mechanism.

Key items for joint follow-up include:

  • the need to address root causes of migration in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa,
  • the need to invest in development, jobs and good governance, fighting criminal networks running much of the irregular migration racket, and
  • providing protection to refugees and those in need.

In short, to achieve this, we must forge strong partnerships.

We appreciate that the Sahel countries are taking on greater leadership and ownership of the initiatives addressing the challenges of their region. This was demonstrated at the fourth meeting of the Ministerial Coordination Platform and the Second Summit of the G 5 Sahel.

An important task for our informal network is to support the Sahel governments in assuming their responsibilities for their own populations. The region needs friends, and this informal network is a clear demonstration of our commitment to the Sahel.

I wish you a constructive and fruitful discussions and a wonderful time here in wintry Oslo.