Letter to Secretary of State Pompeo Regarding Conflict in the Sahel, April 3, 2020
April 3, 2020
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary:
On behalf of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace (CIJP), I write to express my concern about the growing conflict and loss of life in the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger and the risk of its spread to neighboring countries such as Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to propose recommendations on how the U.S. government can further address this conflict (see attached Policy Framework). I am keenly aware of the potential crisis the coronavirus will inflict not only on our own country, which is far more able to respond, but also especially in Africa where many of the poorest people in the world live. I want to thank Congress and the Administration for the allocations for countries overseas and hope that we can work together to complement those funds in phase four of the coronavirus response plans.
Returning to the Sahel, the outbreak of violent conflict in Mali in 2012 triggered by the return of Tuareg militia from Libya after the fall of the Khadafi regime was in fact the fourth rebellion in the northern region of Mali since 1962. At its core, this recurring conflict stems from a persistent problem of poor governance. 90% of Mali’s population, mostly sedentary farmers, live in the southern 1/3 of the country and dominate the central government. The government of Mali has never built a just and sustainable social contract that recognizes the legitimate aspirations of the people in northern Mali, especially the Tuareg, for self-autonomy, inclusive government, local justice and adequate social services. After each rebellion, the government and the people in the North signed agreements, the latest in 2015, designed to address these grievances and aspirations, yet, these agreements have been ignored or violated.
The outbreak of conflict in 2012 turned radically more threatening when Al Qaeda and ISIS took advantage of the instability, entered the area, and took control over most of the North. Worse yet, these extremist groups have capitalized on the long-standing grievances of the indigenous peoples in northern Mali and won their support and/or acquiescence by offering security, justice and social services, all but destroying the government’s credibility. Armed groups have expanded this strategy into central Mali and Burkina Faso to form common cause with Fulani communities and have conducted additional deadly attacks in Niger. Even though the French, the European Union, the G-5 five Sahel countries, and most recently the African Union have deployed thousands of troops to the region, the number of these attacks has doubled every year since 2015; fatalities increased from 225 to 2,000, and 900,000 people have been displaced. Thus, the violence now threatens the entire Sahel and even coastal countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana and Benin.
In his 2020 address to the diplomatic corps in Rome, Pope Francis stated “…it is painful to witness, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, continuing episodes of violence against innocent people, including many Christians persecuted and killed for their fidelity to the Gospel. I urge the international community to support the efforts made by these countries to eliminate the scourge of terrorism… we need to implement practical strategies aimed not only at increased security, but at reducing poverty, improving healthcare systems, favouring development and humanitarian assistance, and promoting good governance and civil rights. These are the pillars of authentic social development.”
The Committee on International Justice and Peace has been engaged with the Bishops’ Conference of Mali since 2013 at the beginning of the current deadly round of violence. We worked with the Church to develop policy points that we communicated to State Department in April of that year. Last year, CIJP staff participated in meetings with partners to develop new regional level strategies in programming, fund raising, communications, and advocacy to address the conflict. They then met with bishops from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger to develop shared plans that they have now started to initiate. The attached Policy Framework is the product of these comprehensive consultations which I propose for your consideration.
I and the Committee staff are ready to meet and work with you, others in the Africa Bureau, as well as USAID to reinforce our efforts to address this conflict along with the violence preventing violence coastal in Nigeria that threaten the peace and stability of the entire Sahel region.
Most Reverend David J. Malloy
Bishop of Rockford
Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace