We need a Marshall Plan for West Africa — to keep us all safe

We need a Marshall Plan for West Africa — to keep us all safe
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To open a map of West Africa is to confront the challenges faced by the 16 countries in the region. Their immediate neighbors, including, lest we forget, Libya, Algeria and Egypt — and the nations bordering those, enlarge the scope of their impact to the whole world.

At the same time as the recent massacre in Sri Lanka, deadly attacks were also perpetrated in Burkina Faso and in Mali, that generated far less attention.

West Africa has become a melting pot of terrorist movements, jihadist groups, and ISIS — a sort of terrorist hub with all too few observers. We just saw two French soldiers killed in raid that freed four hostages in Burkina Faso. It is a favorite for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has a significant financial endowment and sophisticated organization — and a new base in Burkina Faso.

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These groups have joined forces with al-Murabitun, Ansar al-Dine and the Macina Liberation Front to form a brand new threat: the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam Wal-Muslimin (JNIM).

This organization targets the tri-border region with Niger and Burkina Faso. I haven’t even mentioned Boko Haram and the Shebab, though their deadly influence is spreading throughout the region. 

G5 Sahel, an international framework for regional cooperation and security formed in 2014, is innovative, but brings an insufficient response.

The United Nations Security Council has just given its support to the G5 Sahel, and recently, while at a G5 Sahel summit ahead of a tour of West Africa, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged $51 million to help fight Islamic extremism. 

Unfortunately, this follows a trail of broken promises. The United Nations has transferred only half of its 2018 pledge of $470 million, and the Trump administration is dragging its feet in the fight against terrorism in West Africa, contributing only $111 million.

Here in France, some experts have asked themselves how more than a billion euros were collected for Notre Dame de Paris in under a week, while a few hundred million cannot be raised to secure programs urgently needed by G5 in Sahel.

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No matter how you look at it, we are not doing enough.

What the world needs is a Marshall Plan for West Africa.

It is generally agreed that peace will be achieved through education and development, and it is upon these elements that we must build a common anti-terrorism policy.

In order to address the growing problem, we must state some uncomfortable truths: without civil states and secure borders, the threat of terror emanating from West Africa will continue to grow.

The notion of border integrity barely exists in the region. The low presence of the state in the Sahel-Saharan belt, due as much to its vastness as to leadership culture, constitutes a major handicap in the fight against terrorism, and must be remedied.

It is also essential to restore, or to establish, the basic institutions of state, starting with the civil rights ranging from social protection to education and health.

In Ghana, a traveling state records births from village to village with variable regularity.

In Chad, a nation of almost 15 million people with 450,000 births a year, UNICEF estimates that the birth of 1 out of 10 children is registered

In late April, Niger, with 21.4 million inhabitants, passed a law regulating civil status and creating a national policy for civil status. 

As the United States debates whether to include a citizenship question in its Constitutionally-mandated census, other nations are just beginning. 

Among other factors, the new Niger law takes into account international norms for the identification of persons, security, information technologies, the establishment of biometric electoral lists, control of demographic and migratory flows including computerization and the establishment of a national population register.

In Central Africa, such services are non-existent or corrupted. The authorities admit that few mayors are able to provide any legal documents.

Take a moment to imagine the consequences of these shortcomings, not only in terms of managing large and youthful populations, often the result of polygamous families, in places where illiteracy rate may exceed 70 percent, but in terms of global security.

These inadequacies, basically the absence of civil states, are a godsend for terrorist networks, for whom the lack of basic civic structure serves as a blind spot to glide under our radars.

Here, we are on the eve of the European elections, and security and anti-terror policies are legitimately at the heart of our concerns.

There may be no better use for the European fund set aside for security and policy cooperation than to help secure the civil status of our partners in West Africa.

This work should be done within a UN/European Task Force, regional organizations, international donors and could bring in the cooperation of the United States, for which the fight against global terror is a matter of top importance.

Finally, and another platform for international cooperation, all relevant institutions must closely scrutinize the application of #nomoneyforterror, the principal vehicle for interrupting international terror financing.

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Indeed, the current weakness of the system and loose controls have facilitated the flourishing of hostage-taking, drug trafficking, human trafficking and the transfer of ostensibly small, non-suspicious sums of money by ungoverned systems such as Orange money

Here too, we must go from intentions to action.

It has become a commonplace to say that Africa is our future; if we are not careful and if we do not make cooperation a priority, this future looks bleak.

A Marshall Plan is necessary not only for the safety of Africans, but for our own.

Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing Orne, Normandy, since 2007; she led a commission investigating jihadist networks in Europe and wrote a report for NATO on the financing of terrorism. Follow her on Twitter @senateur61.