Building Peace in the Sahel
Sustainable Development Goals: 16
- SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
UN Secretary General's Peacebuilding Fund's Partners Mission to Niger.
To gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund’s (PBF) investments and recommend ways to strengthen its engagement in Niger and the Sahel, a mission of the Fund's partners visited Niger from 14 to 19 October 2019. The mission included representatives from Sweden, Norway, Japan, Germany, Estonia, France and the Netherlands, along with the Chair of the Advisory Group to the Fund and a member of the Advisory Group. The Chief of the Fund also joined the group.
The representatives met with the Minister of Interior, officials at the Independent Electoral National Commission, the UN Country Team, and the international community in Niamey. They also visited five projects funded by the Secretary-General’s Fund and interacted with the beneficiaries, local authorities, and project partners.
Following a successful democratic transition in 2011, the Government of Niger has demonstrated its commitment to conflict prevention and peacebuilding, including through power-sharing agreements with a wide array of communities represented in the country, which is a unique case in the sub-region. Niger is part of the G-5 Sahel and a strong advocate of a regional response to the security threats in the Sahel. The country is experiencing an increasing number of attacks against civilians and the state by armed groups, that exploit local conflicts to their advantage, to either occupy or use Niger as a passage for illicit trafficking with impunity. Consequently, Niger holds today about 500,000 persons of concern, including about 256,000 refugees, 186,000 Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs), and about 3,000 returnees from Libya.
The region of Diffa is affected by criminal activities of Boko Haram, causing numerous schools to close, paralyzing economic activities, and leaving young people with very few livelihood alternatives. The Diffa region hosts the majority of IDPs in the country. The areas of Tillabery and Tahoua suffer from the spill-over effects of the conflicts in Mali and Burkina Faso, causing increased attacks against civilians by armed groups and the outbreak of inter and intra-community violence, a first for Niger. Moreover, a new front of instability has recently opened in the region of Maradi, following inter and intra-community conflicts in the neighboring areas of Nigeria, causing some 40,000 refugees from Nigeria to flee to Maradi.
Niger is also a central migratory hub in West Africa, and much of the northbound migration traditionally takes place through the Agadez region. Agadez hosts approximately 1600 asylum seekers/refugees.
Against this backdrop, Niger will hold municipal presidential and legislative elections between November 2020 and February 2021.
THE PEACEBUILDING FUND IN NIGER
The Secretary-General's Peacebuilding Fund began its engagement in Niger in 2012 at the request of the Government to support national efforts to prevent the spill-over effects of the ongoing conflicts in Libya, Mali, and Nigeria into its territory.
Since 2013, the Fund has invested USD 33.5 Million for both national and cross-border projects. These projects target conflict-prone regions, including Tahoua, Tillabery, Agadez, Diffa, Dosso, Maradi, with community-based conflict prevention projects empowering youth and women. These interventions strengthened inter and intra-community social cohesion and trust between the populations and the local authorities, including the security and defense forces. The Fund also helped build a conducive environment for peaceful elections held in 2016, ensuring the inclusion of women and youth in the electoral process.
In 2017, the Fund approved support for the socio-economic reintegration of about 245 Boko Haram ex-associates held in the Goudoumaria camp. This project was an opportunity to test a new approach in line with the new Screening Prosecution Rehabilitation and Reintegration framework for ex-combatants associated with terrorist groups. Following the first implementation phase, new partners are now supporting this process, which may provide lessons for similar experiences in the Lake Chad basin region.
Thanks to the establishment of a National Steering Committee, the Fund’s support has strong national ownership both at the national and local levels. The current Fund's Steering Committee, co-chaired by the President of the HACP and the UN RC, comprises The Ministry of Development, Cooperation, and Territorial Administration; UNICEF; the European Union; the Director of the Association of Women organizations in Niger (CONGAFEN). The participation of the UN, Partners, and NGO representative is based on an annual rotation.
To respond to newly emerging threats in 2018, the Fund was quick to approve a new package of $13.4 million to support projects aimed at promoting a conducive environment to the elections scheduled for 2020 and 2021. The Fund also addressed conflict drivers in the regions of Diffa, Tillabery, Dosso, and Maradi, including farmers-herders conflicts with a strong focus on the prevention of violent extremism and youth and women empowerment. The Fund’s current active portfolio in Niger amounts to about USD 20 Million comprising 10 projects: seven (7) national and three (3) cross-border projects.
In Niamey, the mission met with Mr. Mohamed Bazoum, Minister of Interior and General Abou Tarka, President of the Haute Autorité à laConsolidation de la Paix (HACP) and co-chair of the Peacebuilding Fund's Steering Committee.
The Ministry of Interior thanked the Fund for being one of the first donors supporting the socio-economic reintegration of Boko Haram ex-associates in 2017. However, more efforts should be deployed to enhance the prevention of conflict and peacebuilding capacities of the UN. He asked for further international assistance to help the Government to simultaneously tackle conflict drivers across borders, with priority to the Liptako-Gourma region and the Niger/Nigeria border.
The mission also met with Mr. Issaka Souna, President of the National Electoral Management body (CENI). Mr. Souna explained that since 2017, the CENI is an independent and permanent body. He pointed out that one of the most significant technical challenges of the coming elections is the establishment of a biometric electoral list. Because of the absence of a national identification registry, the only way to deliver identity documents to the population is through "Audiences foraines," which are very expensive.
Mr. Souna acknowledged the ongoing support from Switzerland, USAID, the UN, and the International Organisation of Francophonie (OIF) and advocated for increased support from the International Community, including the EU, to the electoral process, given the high stakes and challenges ahead.
The mission met with Ms. Bintou Djibo, the UN Resident Coordinator (RC) and the UN Country Team (UNCT). The RC highlighted that the Fund plays a crucial role in preventing farmers-herders conflicts that are often instrumentalized by armed groups.
On conflict prevention, the RC said that the Fund helped the UN focus more on prevention through significant in-depth conflict analysis. The UN is testing new approaches through the Fund by putting prevention at the center of the Humanitarian/Development/Peacebuilding nexus. The UNCT is currently working closely with World Bank in Diffa on prevention and risk management.
Members of the UNCT highlighted that the added value of the Fund in Niger also resides in investing in the meaningful participation and empowerment of women and youth targeting at-risk groups in the border and cross-border areas, which are traditionally neglected. The Fund has allowed UN actors to work with non-traditional actors, including the defense and security forces, that were not involved in peacebuilding activities before. In doing so, the Fund creates the opportunity to link up to community-based results with the broader national framework for the implementation of the 1325 agenda. Through these activities, the Fund contributes to strengthening national capacities in the area of women, youth, peace, and security. The Fund is also actively contributing to achieving UNHCR's goal of having all refugees integrated with communities in Diffa and Tillabery through durable solutions to be completed by 2020.
Other members stressed that the added value of the Fund in Niger is that it provides incentives for the UN Agencies, Funds, and Programmes to work together as one UN and include conflict-sensitive programming in their regular mandates.
Furthermore, initial investments in high-risk areas, such as support to the reintegration of Boko Haram ex-associates, as well as the community stabilization project, contributed to the mobilization of additional USD 18.5 Million for the stabilization Programme in Diffa region, funded by Germany, the UK, Sweden and the EU. In the Liptako-Gourma region, an initial Peacebuilding Fund's investment of USD Three Million also contributed to mobilizing an additional USD Nine Million from Sweden for cross-border projects in this region.
The representative of Mercy Corps highlighted that PBF funds are valuable to cover the gap in peacebuilding funds, while humanitarian and development funds are usually more available.
In Niamey, the mission met with Germany, the EU Delegation and the World Bank. From the onset, partners called for stronger cooperation and building of synergies between the UN and partners' engagement with the Government in line with the UN reform calling for a more active role of the UN in conflict prevention.
The mission visited three projects in Tera, Tillabery region. A Youth Promotion Initiative project, implemented by Mercy Corps, presented a recent conflict mapping exercise. The mission visited the vocational training center created for youth at risk as well as the youth kitchen garden. Later on, the partners met with three mayors from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, with beneficiaries from the three countries, including farmers and herders, to discuss the results of the project and the situation in the region. The mission also visited a cross-border project between Niger and Mali to which accompanies community dialogue initiatives and security sector reform.
The mission visited the Fund's Gender Promotion Initiative project, in Fabidji, Dosso region, that promotes social cohesion between herders and farmers in the Dosso and Maradi regions through gender and diversity-based approach." The Mayor thanked the contribution by the Fund, stressing that "the programme gave tangible and relevant results thanks to the essential role of women mediators in land-related conflicts that have brought back peace and social cohesion." 356 Dimitra Clubs are established in 60 villages, comprising 10,620 members, including 6,030 women, and deployed 151 women mediators to 20 land commission for the first time, benefiting 10,521 beneficiaries.
Local authorities further explained that the Dimitra Clubs are a community-based participatory mechanism by which village groups think about the problems their villages face and propose solutions to the local authorities and the village leaders for joint action. Thanks to the Dimitra clubs and the sensitization around women participation, it was possible to advocate for the deployment of women in the Land Commissions.
The mission also visited the city of Agadez to assess the current situation related to migration and displacements given a potential new Peacebuilding Fund project to address drivers of conflict in the Agadez region.
The mission met with the Governor of Agadez, Regional Council and several civil society associations that protect the interests of the Agadez population previously involved in the "migration industry." The mission also visited the IOM's Migrants transit Center, the UNHCR refugee homes, as well as migrants' "ghettos," where both Nigerians and foreign migrants live temporarily. UNHCR reported that there are currently about 1,600 Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees from Darfur and a few from South Soudan.
The current predominant trend in migration is southbound migration, following massive expulsions from Algeria of migrants and refugees. Since January 2019, about 20,428 persons, mainly West Africans and Nigeriens, were expelled from Algeria, rounding up in Agadez. Most of these migrants live in "ghettos" in extremely precarious conditions, and only those who wish to be repatriated to their home countries—which is a minority—seek shelter at the IOM Transit Center. The IOM Transit Center the mission visited hosts about 600 migrants who spend, on average, a few weeks in the center before being repatriated to their country of origin.
The host population is showing an increasing resentment towards the asylum seekers/refugees and the migrants in the transit centers who receive assistance by IOM and UNHCR while the people of Agadez are increasingly plunging into poverty.
Beyond the Fund, the partners also recommended increased coordination and cooperation of UN Agencies working in Agadez to come up with an integrated approach towards vulnerabilities in the region, beyond ad hoc cooperation agreement between IOM and UNHCR.
Concluding the visit, the mission reflected on the following findings and recommendations.
Niger has many structural factors that may lead to violence, including weak state presence in border areas, poverty, idle youth, climate change impact, competition for land and resources, etc. These factors, combined with spillover effects from other countries at its borders (conflicts in Mali, Burkina Faso, Libya, Nigeria, instability in Chad), may contribute to escalating insecurity and risk of violence. However, contrary to many of its neighbors, Niger also counts on several structural and circumstantial elements that support stability and peacebuilding and remain a strong asset for the country. At times though, some counterparts downplayed existing threats, advocating for the continuation of traditional development cooperation as the best way forward. The mission believed traditional development cooperation, which does not take into consideration the risks to violent conflict, will be, at best, ineffective and may, at worse, contribute to fueling violent conflict. There is, therefore, an opportunity for the UNCT and the broader international community to decidedly break away from business as usual and come together to strategically refocus its engagement with stronger conflict lenses. Conflict prevention should be at the core of all UN and international partners' advocacy and programs before the situation deteriorates further.
The mission believed coordination amongst the international community and within the UNCT could be strengthened. Many partners had limited knowledge of each other's interventions in the same area or issue, including in areas supported by the Fund. This seemed like a lost opportunity vis-à-vis the Peacebuilding Fund's partners who could have much better leveraged their respective representations in the country to scale-up the Fund's interventions. There might be opportunities for new or strengthened strategic coordination bodies to support well-targeted conflict prevention interventions, the electoral process, and the Humanitarian/Development/Peacebuilding nexus. The Fund's Steering committee could be better used to this end but needs to be revamped, for example, by reviewing and possibly enlarging its composition to elevate discussions at a higher strategic level and by creating a technical level committee in charge of daily oversight and coordination of projects. The revamped Fund's Steering Committee should also go beyond just projects, and encompass the whole peacebuilding and conflict prevention interventions in the country.
Given the breadth and scope of needs across Niger, it is difficult to prioritize. In this context, the Peacebuilding Fund should be used to try out new and risky peacebuilding and conflict prevention solutions rather than filling funding gaps of ongoing programs.
Johannes Oljelund, Advisory Group member of the UN Secretary-General's Peacebuilding Fund shares his thoughts from Niger.