Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the annual session of the Peacebuilding Commission “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace in the Sahel Region,” in New York today:
I would like to thank the Government of Romania as Chair, and the whole Peacebuilding Commission, for focusing this year’s Annual Session on the Sahel and for inviting me. This session, and your joint session with the Economic and Social Council tomorrow on climate security in the Sahel, are opportunities to reiterate our commitment to addressing the multidimensional challenges in the Sahel region in a coordinated, comprehensive, coherent and efficient way.
I visited the Sahel earlier this year with a joint United Nations‑African Union delegation, and we were joined by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. We found the resilience of the Sahelian people not only inspiring but humbling. Their wish and hope for sustained peace and security was clear — as was the need to ensure women are meaningfully included in all initiatives and policies.
We met women who had been terrorized by extremists and women who had been married off in childhood. We also spoke to women who were supporting extended families and helping to build community resilience, and women religious leaders working to end child marriage and prevent radicalization and extremism. We met women peacebuilders and mediators, who were driving change and working for a more sustainable future. Their voices are essential in peace negotiations and decision‑making processes. Their experience and their leadership are essential to building a new Sahel.
Preventing and resolving conflicts and crises, reducing risk, building resilience and sustaining peace are shared responsibilities of the international community and the United Nations system.
In order to achieve peace and sustainable development, and to shift from delivering humanitarian aid to reducing and ending humanitarian needs, we must tackle the root causes of conflict and crises. These are found in discrimination, human rights violations, weak governance, conflict, and the impact of climate change. Only a collective, integrated and inclusive approach, owned and led by the countries of the region, will support sustained progress towards the lasting peace and development that are so urgently needed in the Sahel.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers just such an approach, and the Sahel region will be the litmus test. If we fail for the most vulnerable in the Sahel, we fail a generation of young people and the future of peace in the subregion. It’s as simple as that.
Fortunately, we also have a robust framework to support the Governments and people of the Sahel: the United Nations Integrated Strategy, mandated by the Security Council, has been recalibrated to better adapt to the rights and priorities of the people of the region in the context of the 2063 and the 2030 Agendas. The United Nations Support Plan for the Sahel was developed in close consultation with the Sahelian countries and partners, including the G5 Sahel [Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger], the African Union, the European Union, the Alliance and the World Bank, to advance the implementation of the Integrated Strategy, to try to foster coordination, mobilize resources and ensure that development aid reaches the people who need it most.
One of the overarching goals of the United Nations Support Plan is to shift the narrative around the Sahel and turn challenges into opportunities. Partnerships with Governments, regional and international institutions, the G5 Sahel, communities and the private sector will be vital to stimulate investment and create economic opportunities.
Because the Sahel offers enormous opportunities. It is the most youthful region of the world; it has abundant natural resources; it has great potential for renewable energy; and a rich cultural legacy. However, financial and human resources remain a challenge. The total needs to implement the Sustainable Development Goals for instance in the region are estimated at $140 billion this year, rising to $157 billion annually by 2022. It is therefore imperative that we increase our advocacy and resource mobilization efforts in a more joined‑up manner.
Investing in this region is vital, not only as a matter of human dignity and to meet humanitarian needs, but to prevent countries that are experiencing fragility today from becoming the failed states of tomorrow. Many of these countries are grappling with threats including terrorism and insecurity that originated beyond their borders, and with climate change that respects no borders at all. At the same time, they are some of the most generous hosts of refugees in our world today.
Supporting transformative policies for stability and development in the Sahel is a matter of international solidarity and global security if in a collective responsibility.
Women and young people must be at the centre of all our efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The Sahel cannot continue to deprive itself of the contributions of more than half its population if we want to see real progress and make a difference.
Women, including young women, are agents of change. They are not only custodians of peace; they also have the greatest transformative effect on societies. Peace that is made without women’s contributions in mediation is less likely to last. Development without women in leadership roles will be slower and less successful.
We must remove the obstacles women and girls face in the Sahel so that they can lead the change. They need access to economic opportunities, knowledge and entrepreneurial skills so that they can create jobs, launch innovative tools and products, and look beyond their immediate surroundings to do business in regional and international markets.
The United Nations is making progress in this area. Last month, on the margins of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Annual meetings, we launched two major joint initiatives on climate‑resilient agriculture and renewable energy, aimed at driving change and generating new dynamics in the Sahel region. These programmes will build community resilience by providing access to energy and economic opportunities, with a focus on women and young people (women mediation in Africa).
There are 41 million young people in the Sahel. These young women and men are often portrayed either as victims, or as potential perpetrators of violence — but we now know that these stereotypes are completely wrong. The landmark study on Youth, Peace and Security published last year, “The Missing Peace”, found that including young people in meaningful civic and political participation is the best way to harness their energy and to build peaceful communities and societies.
These are some of the challenges and opportunities we face as we seek to build sustainable peace and development in the Sahel. As I had the privilege of telling the Security Council earlier this year: the cost of inaction and failure in this region is high. Poverty, weak institutions, discrimination and violence against women including abhorrent practices like child marriage, are creating an environment conducive to extremism.
But we must keep our eyes on the prospect of peace, in a region that has enormous potential to be a dynamic presence on the global stage. I wish you all fruitful discussions and look forward to hearing your ideas as we take forward the implementation of the 2030 and 2063 Agendas.