Conference on Militancy, Border Security, and Democracy in North Africa and the Sahel

, 9:30am –
Washington, DC, USA

The African Peacebuilding Network (APN), in collaboration with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), held a one-day conference on “Militancy, Border Security, and Democracy in North Africa and the Sahel.” The event, held February 24th, 2016, in Washington DC, brought together scholars, policymakers, practitioners, diplomats, and reporters from Africa, the Middle East, and the United States to engage in discussions examining security and governance challenges in the Maghreb-Sahel, especially those concentrated along national boundaries. Special emphasis was placed on Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

The conference consisted of several panels focusing on the permeability of borders, economic marginalization, and political vacuums in the hinterlands of North African states, with special emphasis on Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Tunisia. These challenges were seen as being responsible for transforming border communities into epicenters of identity-driven politics, militancy, violent conflict, and organized transnational crime. Attention was paid to security forces operating against militant insurgencies in peripheral regions and transnational jihadist militancy, both of which have penetrated the Sahara and threatened state borders. Challenges also include the issue of smuggling and illicit economic activities, as well as continued social and political discontent. The issue of corruption was also discussed, as were the risks that countries, such as Mauritania, remain exposed due to insurgency and violence, including the spread of jihadist ideologues at an astonishing rate.

Two presentations were made by APN alumni: collaborative working group grantee Dr. Charles Ukeje (2014) and APN postdoctoral fellow Dr. Gbemisola Animasawun (2015). Also in attendance was APN advisory board member Professor Ismail Rashid, who served as a moderator.

Audience members represented a wide range of universities and international offices, as well as regional organizations and institutions, including:

Al Jazeera
American University
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
Congressional Research Service
Council on American Islamic Relations
Delegation of the European Union to the US
Embassy of Egypt
Embassy of France
Embassy of Morocco
Embassy of Tunisia
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom
Freedom House
Georgetown University
George Washington University
Hudson institute
Howard University
International Crisis Group
International Institute for Strategic Studies
Libyan American Public Affairs Council
Maghreb Arab Press
Middle East Institute
Moroccan American Center for Policy
McDaniel College
National Democratic Institute
Project on Middle East Democracy
Search for Common Ground
Tahrir News
United States Institute of Peace
U.S. Army
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Department of State
United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
World Bank

The keynote address was given by John Desrocher, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs. He spoke about the fluidity of security threats in the region and the drain on resources in the Sahel, as well as increased economic competitiveness and trade that allow groups to exploit vulnerable populations. Desrocher also gave a broad overview of the US State Department’s work in stabilizing the security situation in northern Mali and Libya. He stressed the need for political accords, the advancement of institutions and development goals, democratic transitions, and unity governments.

Calls were also made by panelists to produce holistic, long-term approaches to effectively tackle cross-border violence by extremist groups affiliated with, or pledging allegiance to, transnational Islamist terrorist organizations. There was expressed need for mutual cooperation between northern and West African states and the donor community, as well as partnership between state leaders. One panelist urged state leaders to work with traditional and religious elites in order to secure spaces and humanize security. Emphasis was also placed on creating strategies to incentivize education and help bolster the economic, political, and social landscape in the region.

By the end, participants called for more action to deradicalize populations and connect the state with the citizenry in the Sahel and Mahgreb regions. As Dr. Ukeje said, “The state is still alive; it might not be well, but the connection to the citizenry must be there.” Panelists felt the need for more robust understanding of how these current problems have festered and developed over the long-term. It was agreed that researchers must interact more with policymakers and practitioners in order to make better-informed decisions and policy actions.

Photos from this event can be seen on APN’s Flickr page.

Full video footage of the event is available for viewing here.