Ahead of ECOWAS: Civilians protection must be at the heart of any security response in the Sahel

Published: 12th September 2019

As leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meet for an extraordinary Summit to fight terrorism on Saturday 14 September, Oxfam together with six INGOs urges them to put the protection of civilians and their lives at the heart of any security measures to the situation in Sahel.

"Civilians are the first victims of conflict in the Sahel, a region already devastated by unprecedented humanitarian suffering. The fight against terrorism should not worsen the humanitarian and protection situation for the thousands of civilians already affected by lack of security", said Omer Kabore, Oxfam's Country Director in Burkina Faso.  Leaders at this meeting must give priority to addressing the Sahel needs through a human security approach - one which considers not just the security threats perceived by States but the protection threats identified by the people themselves, through a participatory and inclusive process",  added Kabore. To do so, governments must protect civic spaces and uphold freedom of expression. They must enable the communities and wider civil society to participate in decisions that will shape their fate. As the humanitarian crisis in the central Sahel continues to worsen, it is imperative that ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, as well as the donor and international community, continue to invest in addressing the humanitarian and protection needs of civilians.

In just one year, the number of displaced people across Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali has increased fivefold. Despite the various security measures put in place by the region's States, the security situation continues to deteriorate, causing a massive spike in the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance - 13 million only during 2019.  Particularly in Burkina Faso, "the situation is becoming increasingly worrying. The number of people who fled their homes jumped from 60,000 at the beginning of the year to over 271,000 at the end of August. In Mali, in addition to the 310,000 refugees or displaced persons officially registered, 920 schools remained non-functional at the end of the 2018-2019 school year in the regions affected by the crisis. Projections now suggest that more than 300,000 people will be displaced by the end of the year.

"People in the Sahil are in desperate need for food, safe drinking water, and sanitation. In addition, they need basic shelter, hygiene, health, protection, and education. Yet humanitarian actors are overwhelmed by the scale and rapid deterioration of the crisis. "said Kabore.

The first day at school is starting with several hundred thousand girls and boys unable to go to school, due to the growing insecurity, and despite the mobilization of military and security resources in recent years. As inter-community conflicts increase, the current security approach will not address the crisis in the long-term. It is essential to engage equally all men, women and young people in the communities to take part in finding solutions to ending the current conflicts, to respect their rights and voices.

"ECOWAS Heads of States and Governments must find durable political solutions to respond to the demands and needs of communities, particularly around the improvement of governance, gender justice and the reduction of inequality. Moreover, aid must not be used for security purposes, but to enable the most vulnerable people to rise out of poverty and to live in dignity," says Ibrahima Coulibaly, President of the Network of West African Farmers and Producers Organizations (ROPPA). Security objectives are different from aid objectives. Respect for humanitarian principles, including helping the most vulnerable populations, must be guaranteed.

The signatory organizations :

  • Association pour la Promotion de l’Elevage au Sahel et en Savane (APESS)
  • CARE
  • Oxfam in West Africa
  • Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
  • Réseau des Organisations Paysannes et de Producteurs d’Afrique de l’Ouest (ROPPA)
  • Réseau Bilital Maroobe (RBM)


Contact information

For interviews please contact Claire Le Prive' 

Claire Le Privé - Regional media and communication advisor – West Africa 

 (+221) 78 140 47 93, claire.leprive@oxfam.org


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