Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission (1999-2004) and former Italian prime minister (1996-1998 and 2006-2008) ends this month his mandate as UN special envoy for the Sahel. He speaks about measures to provide security in the region.
Ahram Online: In October 2012, you were tasked with developing the integrated UN strategy for the Sahel. Why was this strategy adopted?
Romano Prodi: This integrated strategy for the Sahel was implemented because it was clear to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that there was no possibility for isolated security or development for the five countries of the Sahel (Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) with their very porous borders. In addition, the secretary-general said there had never in the past been any concerted strategy among the different countries of the Sahel. Moreover, thanks to the integration of these countries, it is also possible to link their development to the rest of Africa. Action on these issues became absolutely necessary.
AO: What are the aspects of this strategy?
RP: The project, which was approved by the Security Council in 2013, has very specific objectives. They include food, water and agriculture with livestock. There is also the infrastructure, including roads and railways, telecommunications and the connections between different countries. There are health plans. Also, a great plan for 20 million people on decentralised energy, especially solar energy, and biomass. It is the only place in the world that has such an economic opportunity.
AO: What is the funding for these projects?
RP: In this regard, it should be made clear that, in recent months, the public has forgotten the Sahel. Now there is Syria, the latest developments in Egypt, Libya ... And representatives of different countries affect the financial support geared towards direct intervention. They are reluctant to give money without identifying its destination. The proposal we made is that the contribution to the Fund for the Sahel may be in cash, the traditional mode, or in kind. That is to say that if a country prefers the direct execution of tasks, it is possible. It has the option of choosing a domain among the priorities decided by the Sahel and reaffirmed by the UN. Germany may well decide to give 200 million euros to directly build four hospitals or schools. This last option is also much faster on the field with reduced overhead costs. There are other very specific opportunities. For example, I told the Chinese government that we need distributed power, because China is a leader in solar capacity with excess offer in the world market. It can therefore be directly involved in the Sahel. We conducted these discussions with various countries. This is done with the UN, the coordinated decisions of the five Sahel countries and the monitoring of the African Development Bank. It is a multilateral operation.
AO: But what political guarantees are provided in the Sahel region to investors seeking stability above all?
RP: There is no development without security. The UN Mission for Stabilisation in the Sahel -- the Minusma -- and the French army now have a direct responsibility on site. I followed the progress of the military side about the threat to Mali, and honestly I 'm more optimistic now than I was a few months ago because the situation was very difficult then. The new president of Mali made a wise proposal: to conduct negotiations on decentralisation in the north. There are still many problems, such as refugees who are not yet convinced they can go home, but there is far more security now in Mali. The problem remains Libya, with the intense internationalisation of terrorism. This is very dangerous.
AO: What is the concern for countries neighbouring the Sahel, like Egypt, in countering terrorism?
RP: Egypt is very concerned about the issue of the Sahel. When I met the then Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, he was the only head of state, and I mean the only one, who was against the French military action in Mali initiated on 11 January 2013. But by the end of the conversation he asked me if terrorism in the Sahel could strike Sinai. So he also was concerned by the internationalisation of terrorism. It is thus easy to understand that with the mobility of terrorism, no country is safe. Experts have calculated that there are over 1000 European terrorists alongside jihadists in Syria. With the political instability of countries, international terrorism grows.
AO: Sahel populations distressed by humanitarian and food crises constitute a migratory danger for Europe. How to deal with this problem?
RP: Humanitarian organisations have made significant efforts in this regard. The challenge was huge, but it was possible to provide food and the necessary means of survival. The European contribution has also been remarkable. Although Chinese influence in Africa has become an obsession, we must not forget that the European Union remains among the biggest contributors to this continent. With international cooperation, the humanitarian emergency has been remedied with good results. Of course, an eternal emergency is not possible, so the concern has become bringing security and economic life to reduce the number of refugees.
AO: What are the major steps that should happen in the Sahel now?
RP: Begin implementing the strategy in the four points listed above immediately and without the delays of traditional international organisations, because we must grant the people of the Sahel the international community's attention. If you establish the idea that there is international interest I think it will not be impossible to establish an autonomous process. But we must act quickly, it is necessary to convey the message of a change in direction. There are many potential international investments simply waiting to receive the message that things are settled.
Interview by Taimour HUBERT