“I want my children to get to school safely. I want to be able to go to market safely.” That is what I and some colleagues from the Bundestag were told by women in the Niger when we were there last year. Shopping, going to school, working – everything that is a matter of course for us is a daily hazard for millions of people in the Sahel.
More than 40 percent of all of the people killed last year by terrorist violence worldwide died in the Sahel. In the last six years, the number of deaths caused by terrorism in the region has increased eightfold. And this violence is not just causing hardship and suffering today, it is also creating terrible risks for the future. The security situation in the Niger forced more than 800 schools to close last year, most of them in the Tillabéri region. When girls and boys lose their chance at an education, they also lose their hope for the future. An additional year of schooling reduces the likelihood of a young person in the region joining an extremist group by 13 percent, as a recent UNDP study shows. For girls, meanwhile, each lost year of schooling increases the danger of being married off a year earlier.
Lack of prospects, insecurity, violence – breaking this vicious circle is the aim of the Government of the Niger, and our aim within the European Union. We do not want to leave the people of the Niger to struggle alone. EUMPM Niger, the EU’s new Military Partnership Mission, is a cornerstone of our efforts. It will help to train and equip the armed forces of the Niger so that they can guarantee a minimum of security for the women and men and above all the children and young people of this country; so that this spiral of violence does not continue; so that we can dry up at least some of the support for terrorism.
And, yes – as some of you are perhaps about to underline – this is no mean feat. That has become clear in many parts of the Sahel, primarily in Mali. We are not, therefore, committing rashly or naively to this new mission. It has a clear goal and a clearly defined end – partly at the request of the President of the Niger, incidentally.
And we know that its success will depend on coordination with our partners in the Niger. This, too, is a lesson from our engagement in Mali. We must be able to rely on one another.
We have seen how well this can work in the Niger with Germany’s Joint Special Operations Task Force Gazelle, in Tillia. We are now building on those efforts.
When I visited the area with some of my colleagues from the Bundestag, one of the most important statements that we heard from the government was, I believe: “We don’t just need more soldiers. You ensure your security – particularly your domestic security – through the police.” It is precisely this path that we want to continue along together in the future. And so we are looking very closely to see where the military can have an effect, where the police can have an effect and where civil society can have an effect. EUMPM Niger focuses on listening carefully to our partners in the Niger when they tell us what they need to ensure their own security: what they need to equip and train their soldiers, what they need for their training buildings and barracks.
It is clear that security needs more than the military. This is why we are embedding this mission in our civilian and humanitarian efforts in the region. That is, incidentally, the foundation of our National Security Strategy. And thus also the foundation of our Sahel Strategy, which we are currently updating. It includes our understanding of human security and of an integrated security approach.
When we look closely, we see why people join extremist groups. They lack the bare necessities – food, income, schooling, above all the resources that they need to feed their families, as well as employment. This is why we are targeting our emergency assistance here, helping to meet humanitarian needs – in the health sector, for example – and to create real prospects through education and employment. That, too, is part of our integrated security policy.
I would like to emphasise that we are cooperating with a government – and in these challenging times this is certainly good news, particularly in the Sahel region – that is not only democratically elected, but whose president said to me, during my visit: “Do you know what? The most important things of all are education, health and women’s rights.” That’s not something you hear from presidents every day.
And why are these things so important to him? So that they can finally get the birth rate under control. Because they know that if they do not get the birth rate under control, then it will be impossible to build as many schools as they need, and to feed everybody, particularly if the impact of the climate crisis really worsens there.
This is why it is so important to us to recognise the climate challenges in the region, too. These too act as a driving force of terrorism, because they cause internally displaced persons and local residents to fight over the little available agricultural land. We want to prevent violence from spreading from countries such as the Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali to the coastal states of West Africa. We are therefore working with the Niger, as well as other countries, in the field of mobile border protection – for example with the security forces of the Niger – and in the fight against human trafficking and arms smuggling. Joint action is needed for all of this – for the Niger, and for other countries in the region, too.
Security is vital. That is what this mission is about. It is about children being able to go to school, women to market and men to their fields. It is about a future without constant fear, without hardship and violence. Thank you very much.