Together for security, stability and development: Germany’s involvement in the Sahel region

In 2019, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited the Koulikoro Training Centre in Mali

In 2019, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited the Koulikoro Training Centre in Mali, © Xander Heinl/photothek.net

21.04.2021 - Article

The Sahel region is one of the priorities of German foreign, security and development policy. Germany is heavily involved in the region, from providing humanitarian assistance to joining civilian and military stabilisation efforts.

Major challenges: Social conflicts, terrorism, climate change

In the north of the African continent, the Sahel stretches from west to east over an area as large as Western Europe. The region faces major challenges. Life there has been shaped by terrorist attacks and social conflicts, partly along ethnic lines, for years. Broad swathes of territory have little in the way of state authority or access to state services such as education and healthcare.

The Sahel is one of the world’s poorest regions. The majority of people there make their living from agriculture, which is acutely jeopardised by climate change and extreme weather. The World Food Programme expects that hunger in the region will continue to grow.

Important for security in Europe, too

The five Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger and Chad are crucial for the stability of West Africa – and also affect security in Europe. Germany and Europe are therefore working to comprehensively reinforce state structures in the region via an integrated approach. This is the only way to combat violence in the Sahel in the long term and offer the people of the region a viable future.

A priority for German foreign, security and development policy

For Germany, the Sahel is thus a priority for foreign, security and development policy. Its work in the region ranges from acute emergency assistance to civilian and military stabilisation efforts to longer-term development cooperation.

  • Germany is participating in the UN stabilisation mission MINUSMA, contributing up to 1100 soldiers and 20 police officers. This represents the largest deployment of the Bundeswehr abroad through the UN. MINUSMA is, among other things, supporting the implementation of the Algiers peace accord between the Malian Government and armed groups. Its core tasks include strengthening state structures in the north and centre of the country and protecting the civilian population as well as human rights.

  • As part of the EU training mission EUTM Mali, Germany is making up to 450 soldiers available to provide the Malian armed forces with training and advice. Around 14,000 Malian soldiers have been trained to date. On 21 April 2021, the Cabinet agreed to extend both mandates, subject to the approval of the Bundestag. The Bundeswehr should in future be in a position to support EUTM Mali with up to 600 soldiers. Germany will take over the command of the mission again in July.

  • The missions EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger have been working to build up the Malian police since 2014 and 2012, respectively. Germany is supporting the work of these missions through the European Union as well as through project-specific assistance, and is seconding police and a small number of other personnel to both missions.
  • Germany also provides targeted assistance to the countries of the region, in particular Mali, Burkina Faso and the Niger. This work focuses on capacity-building – strengthening civilian and military security forces – and stabilisation, i.e. strengthening state structures. The aim is to help restore the state’s authority in conflict zones and bolster people’s trust in their state. Germany has provided around 277 million euro for capacity-building and 217 million euro for stabilisation since 2016.
  • In Mali, Burkina Faso and the Niger, more than 12 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance and almost one in ten goes hungry. Germany doubled its annual contribution to almost 50 million euro in 2020 and has also worked to secure international support. It helped organise a conference in October 2020 where Foreign Minister Maas pledged 100 million euro for 2020‑2023, and a total of 1.7 billion US dollars was mobilised from all participants. Meanwhile, Germany has pledged a total of over 1.3 billion euro for development cooperation since 2016.

Germany is also part of various international efforts to help stabilise the Sahel region:

  • The Coalition for the Sahel was founded at the 2020 summit in Pau. Its members include the Sahel states themselves, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and a large number of international partners. The Coalition creates a framework for international involvement in the Sahel and sets out four priorities: combatting terrorism, strengthening the armed forces of the Sahel states, civilian stabilisation efforts and sustainable development in the region. While the 2020 summit in Pau focused on expanding military cooperation, the follow‑up summit in 2021 revolved around greater civilian efforts – from developing public administration, in particular the police and justice system, to ensuring that the people of the region have adequate access to food, water and healthcare.
  • An important element of the Coalition for the Sahel is the Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel, the central platform for strengthening national security forces in the region and restoring the authority of the state in areas where terrorists have driven it out. The EU is playing a crucial role in these efforts, coordinating the necessary measures on the ground in the Sahel states.
  • In 2017, Germany, France and the European Union also founded the Sahel Alliance, whose members include the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other European countries. The Alliance’s members closely coordinate their development cooperation work in the region, with a focus on good governance, decentralisation, food security and education.


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