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Aarti Panchal asked: Why are the international organisations not taking effective steps to curb terrorist activities in the Sahel region?

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  • Princy Marin George replies: Many countries in the Sahel region lack the capacity to tackle issues facing them owing to fragile state structures, and pressing political and socio-economic concerns. Regional problems, such as organised crime; trafficking of arms, humans and weapons; and, proliferation of terrorist networks are cross-border in nature, necessitating strong inter-state interaction. Regional cooperation, however, has been fragmented due to economic and political incapacities, and in some cases, outstanding bilateral contentions. Efforts to deal with these problems at the national level have proved to be inadequate due to their trans-national nature and porous borders between countries in the region.

    International organisations have worked on combating transnational threats, such as terrorism for over a decade. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, and the European Union (EU) have all formulated approaches to support security in the region. Most recently, the EU launched a civilian mission in Niger (EUCAP Sahel) to assist in improving the capacities of the Nigerian security forces, and eventually those of Mali and Mauritania - the other frontline states - in combating terrorism and organised crime, improving national control over territories, and in facilitating development in the region. The United States has also played a prominent role in strengthening regional counter-terrorism capabilities. Though multilateral frameworks may be the best way to address a trans-national issue, such as terrorism in Sahel, there are many challenges to it as well.

    As mentioned earlier, regional cooperation is lacking since not all Sahelian governments can agree on the best way to tackle these issues. There is also resistance to a regional approach to countering terrorism because of the perception that it could encroach on their sovereignty. Governments in the region have also been sensitive to international intervention, particularly Western-backed, since it is seen as detracting from more pressing local development priorities. Given recent events in the region, particularly in the Western Sahel, international assistance may be critical to addressing these threats.