By Siham Ali
The situation in the Sahel was a topic of discussion on May 2nd in the contest over the French presidential election. President-elect François Hollande called for international co-operation to curb terrorism in the region, where eight French nationals are currently being held hostage.
Sitting President Nicolas Sarkozy urged French citizens, including aid workers, not to travel to that part of the world.
In Sarkozy’s view, the top priority for the region is for the people of Mali to understand that they must hold democratic presidential elections.
“We need Mali, which is a country of considerable importance; it is being undermined by both the Touareg revolt and the problem of AQIM at the same time. We must step up our military and economic co-operation with Niger, Mauritania, Senegal and Mali when it has a democratic government”, he said.
He added that these countries lack the ability to cope with the size of the region, where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active.
He said that regional power Algeria would not allow France, as a former colonial power, to intervene directly. In his view, Algeria, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal and all countries in the region must be encouraged to co-operate with financial and technical support from France and other countries.
A similar view was put forward by president-elect François Hollande who asserted that the countries in the region must be helped to combat the growing threat of terrorism. He argued that efforts must be made to stabilise the region, which “threatens to become a very large haven for terrorists”.
The international community has raised the alarm over the dangers in the Sahel region, which is a hotbed of international organized crime, beginning with terrorism.
Moroccan officials have repeatedly underlined the importance of co-operation in dealing with the security challenges in the region. Morocco has always advocated a broad-based security approach with the involvement of all countries in North Africa and the Sahel.
Moroccan Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs Youssef Amrani stressed the need to strengthen regional co-operation, which he argued was an appropriate way to tackle the risk of instability in North Africa and the Sahel.
Moroccan Interior Minister Mohand Laenser said that a regional security strategy based on bilateral co-ordination and interaction between the Sahel-Sahara region and the Maghreb must be adopted and combined with co-operation with active forces. In his view, development is also vital as a way of creating economic prosperity and thereby safeguarding social stability and security.
Political analyst Redouane Bachiri said that the security threat posed by the Sahel region could only be brought under control if co-operation between the countries in the region was stepped up and assistance given by major world powers, as highlighted by Nicolas Sarkozy.