Video Remarks: The Growing Crisis in Africa's Sahel Region

Donald Y. Yamamoto
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Opening Statement
Washington, DC
May 21, 2013

Thank you very much Chairmen Smith, Poe, and Ros-Lehtinen; Ranking Members Bass, Deutch, Sherman, and the other Members of this Committee, for the opportunity to testify to you today.

The countries of the Sahel face a complex series of interconnected and ever-evolving challenges. The 80 million people of the Sahel, representing roughly ten percent of the sub-Saharan Africa's total population, live in some the world's poorest countries which consistently rank at the bottom of any human development scale.

The security vaccuum following the Libyan revolution and the crisis in Mali exascerbated the Sahel's longstanding political, economic security, and humanitarian vulnerabilities. Instability in Mali and increased arms flow from Libya into the region also collided with humanitarian crisis brought on by drought, poor harvest in the region, already burdened by chronic poverty and food insecurity. Addressing the Sahel's many challenging demands [requires] a comprehensive approach. We are working closely with regional countries and organizations to improve their capacity to secure porous borders and challenge terrorists and transnational criminal networks. The Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) is the United States primary vehicle to assist countries in the region to improve the counterterrorism capability and capacity to control border areas. Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Chad are currently using training provided under TSCTP to contain the threat of AQIM and other extremist groups. Sahel countries have played an active role in supporting the French and African-led military intervention that has pushed extremists back into the isolated areas in northern Mali.

Chad's role in Mali has been significant. Burkina Faso and Niger have also each contributed around 670 soldiers to the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). The United States is in the process of contributing up to $96 million to support AFISMA troop and police-contributing countries, including Niger and Burkina Faso. Improving security of the Sahel however requires more than counterterrorism responses. The acute security and humanitarian challenges facing the Sahel today demands a robust international response. Our short-term successes may be fleeting if we fail to address the long-standing political and economic fragility and render the Sahel susceptible to crisis and conflict. Poor governance, weak democratic institutions, and lack of development and economic opportunites cultivate furtile ground for instability. Improving governance, strengthening democratic institutions, increasing economic opportunities, particularly for the young, and are therefore central to improving the Sahel's prospects for long-term stability and security.  This has been reflected in the UN Security Council Resolution 2100 which articulates a comprehensive approach to addressing the multifaceted problems facing Mali. This also refers to a conference that my colleague and I attended in Brussels to address this issue.

While Mali and the Sahel remain extremely vulnerable, there are signs of progress. Niger for instance, has achieved remarkable political and economic reforms since returning to democracy after the 2010 coup. Mali is also moving forward. The United States co-sponsored Resolution 2100 and joins the international community in supporting Mali's plan to hold presidential elections in July. The creation of a Malian peace and reconciliation commission signifies another important step forward. The elections and a national reconciliation are crucial in setting Mali back on the path towards peace and security. And so with this I welcome your questions.