The European Union (EU), and France have announced 1.3bn euros ($1.5bn) of development funding aimed at combatting armed groups in African Sahel countries, which are struggling with armed groups and lawlessness.
The EU has pledged 800m euros to the effort, Neven Mimica, the bloc’s international cooperation and development commissioner, told a conference in Mauritania on Thursday.
France for its part “will invest 500m euros to benefit the priorities” of the G5 Sahel, added French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The alliance, made up of Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Maliand Mauritania, has struggled to contain armed groups in the scarcely populated desert area.
Traversing Central and West Africa, the Sahel region is a hotbed of lawlessness, insecurity and impoverishment, with many living a permanent state of neglect.
Speaking at the opening session of the conference, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz called on the international community to act and invest in development projects.
“Terrorism, cross-border crime, drug smuggling and lack of security in the Sahel region are attributed to injustice, marginalisation, underdevelopment, absence of education and unemployment among young people,” he said.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou meanwhile said Sahel countries had received only 18 million of a total 414 million euros previously pledged to support the deployment of G5 Sahel joint force launched last year to fight terrorism in the region.
Critics of the initiative say while it is important to fight lawlessness in the region, the lack of economic opportunities for ordinary civilians undermines the group’s security mandate.
They also argue if Europe wants to curb the flow of migrants, it needs to invest in infrastructure that will serve vulnerable populations who have suffered from an increase in fighting and displacement.