EU Sahel security support shows positive but limited influence

National guard trainees benefit from a joint training by EUCAP Sahel Mali and UNPOL MINUSMA on the protection of high-ranking people. Photo by: MINUSMA / Marco Dormino / CC BY-NC-SA

WASHINGTON — The suppression of violent extremism, along with broader efforts to improve peace, security, and governance, have been among top development priorities across the West African Sahel region, as groups such as Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb expand their threat to livelihoods in the region.

International support provided by European and North American military forces has placed pressure on these groups, but a recent report by the European Court of Auditors details the limited progress and operational challenges that have impacted the European Union Capacity Building Missions in both Niger and Mali since arriving in-country in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

The civilian missions in each Sahelian country are part of the larger EU Common Security and Defense Policy which operates within a mandate that provides training, advice, and equipment to help strengthen the capacities of police, military police, national guard, and other national forces responsible for internal security. However, challenges rising from armed conflict, organized crime, illegal migration, political instability, and terrorism greatly hamper ongoing security efforts in the Sahel.

“We concluded that the Missions contributed towards strengthening the capacity of the forces responsible for internal security but that progress was slowed by the challenging context in which they worked and by operational inefficiencies,” the audit report detailed. “We [also] found that the Mission staff did not receive adequate practical guidance and, in the case of EUCAP Sahel Niger, pre-deployment training.”

The report also faulted both the European External Action Service, responsible for operations, and the European Commission, responsible for budgeting, for not providing enough support, “[a]nd in some cases appl[ying] procedures that were unsuited to the working conditions on the ground,” it said.

Since 2012, the EC allocated €69.4 million ($80.4 million) to Niger for 2012- 2017 and €66.4 million for Mali for 2014-2017. Each mission received annual budgets and two-year operating mandates. However, in light of large sums of funding made readily available for each mission, both had a high number of staffing vacancies. Recruitment procedures were also “time-consuming and often unsuccessful”, the report noted.  

The EUCAP Mali mandate focuses on restoring democratic order, strengthening national security forces, and building the trust of civilians regarding armed forces. EUCAP Niger addressed organized crime, availability of arms and, more recently, irregular migration.

Civilian missions such as those in the Sahel region typically are not intended to become long-term EU deployments. Staffing gaps, however,  further reduced operational efficiency, auditors found, as medium or long-term plans were not addressed, nor was a clear exit strategy presented. Along with setting mandates and budgets to match operations, ECA recommended to improve monitoring and evaluation to mission outcomes.

Auditors noted that the EUCAP Mali mission took lessons from EUCAP Niger before arriving in country. In Niger, for example, the mission did not become a legal entity until 18 months after arriving in the capital of Niamey. It lacked a budget specifically during the set-up phase, was unable to recruit security staff at the onset, and many staffers lived in and worked from hotels for their first six months — all factors which exposed staff to high security threats.

In addition, many rules and procedures were often applied in a way that was unsuited to working conditions in landlocked West African countries and “many of the staff responsible for identifying projects and preparing technical specifications were not sufficiently aware of EU procedures and rules before they arrived at the Missions in Niger and Mali [which] led to delays in procurement procedures and cancelled contracts,” the report added.

In particular, the one-year budgetary period made it difficult to prepare and complete contracts within the regulatory deadlines, given the long delivery times and relaxed approach of local suppliers. Also, the obligation to use the European Commission contract framework, which required that similar items for both missions and beneficiaries be grouped into a single contract, led to delays and less frequent purchases.

Although working within a list of challenges, there were some reported bright spots to the EUCAP Sahel missions. Internal security forces received training in areas such as arrest techniques, crime scene management, forensic evidence analysis, vehicle maintenance, and detention of irregular migrants. Specialized courses concerning human rights were also administered to municipal police and magistrates.

Both missions addressed sustainability by providing courses on how to train other staff, helping draw up training plans and design training courses that introduced human resource management systems, created job descriptions, and encouraged structured interoperability among internal security forces. However, auditors found that groups often “abandoned tasks such as information sharing between the security forces.”

The report offers recommendations for improvement, including the need to expand practical guidance on operational procedures and to provide more equipment before the end of 2018. It also recommends that the EU Commission set budgetary periods that match operational needs and that the EEAS define a clear path toward an exit strategy.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.

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