Staff seminar dives into security challenges in Sahel and our peace and stabilisation work in the region


Our Copenhagen office staff combined their yearly summer event with a seminar on developments in Sahel where both an external researcher and NIRAS colleagues shared their knowledge and experiences

June 28, 2021

After more than a year with personal interactions taking place primarily via Teams, lifted COVID restrictions in Denmark finally allowed our Copenhagen staff to organise a physical gathering with a focus on both professional development and socialising. For the first part of the day, colleagues from both our Swedish and German offices joined virtually.

Signe Marie Cold-Ravnkilde, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, kicked off the day by presenting her research under the headline ‘Security challenges in the Sahel region – local conflicts and international interventions’, Signe’s talk centred around the Sahelian context, the players involved, the nature of the conflicts, the nexus between security, the humanitarian sector and development, as well as climate change and western interests and dilemmas for the military and civilian interventions.

Signe touched on issues related to the “do no harm” approach of ensuring that no negative effects results when intervening, as well as how to “do development” in contexts marked by conflict. This is a familiar issue in NIRAS’s work with peace and stability, where we are aware that development interventions influence conflict settings. We therefore carefully assess the role we play, the change we drive, and the assumptions we make in order to create positive impact where we work and avoid doing harm. Signe furthermore emphasised the importance of partnerships and relationships on the ground: “The security situation in the Sahel has proven that despite significant efforts to stabilise the region, military engagement do not offer solutions to local drivers of conflict. Insecurity is expanding and spreading across the borders with dramatic repercussions for local populations. While the need for acute emergency assistance is growing, long term investment in sustainable development through locally anchored partnerships is the only way to combat violence and build resilience in the future.” This is also a principle that NIRAS seeks to ensure through our local offices, partnerships and collaboration with local experts.

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The topic of Sahel security challenges is a timely one as NIRAS’s Peace and Stability Unit has contributed to the prevention, resolution and mediation of conflicts and building of stability, resilience and long-lasting peace in fragile, conflict-affected contexts for more than 20 years. In an ever-changing landscape and with an estimated increase in the number of poor living in conflict zones globally, an integrated approach that takes account of factors such as climate change, extreme poverty, infrastructure, and fragile environments is needed. This aligns with NIRAS’s work in peace, stabilisation and migration, which is rooted in the nexus approach, linking humanitarian, development and security issues.

The Sahel has for long time been a place of work for NIRAS and many of our colleagues have formed their careers alongside the trajectory of development in that region. Currently, we have 13 ongoing projects in the region across key NIRAS technical fields such as peace and stability, governance, agriculture, private sector development, monitoring, evaluation and learning and within the water sector.

Rasmus Klitgaard, Sector Lead on NIRAS’s work with Peace and Stability

Mali and Cameroon: two examples from the region

Signe’s lecture was followed by discussions and brief presentations from several NIRAS colleagues who manage projects in the Sahel region. These included project manager Emilie Fity’s introduction to the NIRAS-managed Drivers of Change Grant fund (FAMOC for short) in Mali where two state coups have occurred in less than a year. Running from 2017 to 2022, the Danida-funded programme aims to build a resilient Mali through peaceful co-existence upholding human rights and a focus on young drivers of change in civil society. FAMOC focuses on dialogue, promotion of peace, conflict resolution, political transition and election participation as well as on holding government accountable.

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FAMOC includes a campaign called “The internal forces and me?” that raises awareness about the role of security forces and aims to improve collaboration with the public.

To overcome monitoring challenges in remote areas, FAMOC keeps track of social media posts to verify whether planned public activities, events, trainings have in fact taken place. The programme also makes use of community-focused/-led monitoring to track funded events and participation levels. Currently, a cloud-based management information system is being implemented for the management of grantees, intervention areas at regional, district, and municipality levels, and management of funded projects and disbursements. This system ensures data security, is easy to use and accessible in remote areas.

NIRAS project manager Grégory Chauzal further elaborated on the subject of remote monitoring when talking about our real-time monitoring and conflict-sensitivity evaluation in Cameroon. Funded by the AFD and taking place in the two northern cities of Bemenda and Maroua, ‘Suivi-évaluation sensible au conflit pour le programme Capitales Régionales 2’ seeks to support long-standing stabilisation in the Sahel region.

Massive regional immigration flows from Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Mali and Senegal have fuelled urban growth leading to significant increases in local needs. Lack of public investments and weak resource transfer to municipalities has fed a strong local discontent, also exacerbated by security deterioration and the state’s counterproductive approaches. The programme monitors local situations and assess their impacts while documenting the local population’s assessment of AFD’s infrastructure projects in terms of meeting expressed needs and priorities, ownership and sustainability.

The four-year project in the two cities encompasses a number of surveys with a large number of respondents, combined with semi-directed interviews, compliance visits, validation/discussion workshops and monitoring through security notes and social media monitoring. The project team is comprised of one partner organisation, one national consultant, two regional coordinators, 10 city enumerators, and three NIRAS Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning senior consultants.

Hybrid programming to tackle future challenges

Sector Lead on NIRAS’s work with Peace and Stability, Rasmus Klitgaard, who organised and facilitated the seminar found that the event provided grounds for interesting discussions on the work done in the Sahel region: “The challenges in the Sahel region are complex – this was re-emphasised in this seminar - but similar challenges are evident in other parts of the world, and best practice approaches to integrated programming, resilience and the nexus is likely to grow in the years to come,” Rasmus noted.

“Similar to the porous borders in the region, technical sectoral boundaries are evaporating, and we are likely to see an even stronger focus on hybrid programming, e.g. within water sector and governance or (climate-smart) agriculture and private sector development. The common denominator across the programmes of today and the foreseeable future in this region and beyond, is that of instability and, in some cases, armed conflict, which jeopardises development gains and requires us to always consider our role carefully and ensure that we do no harm.”

You can read more about the work we do in Peace and Stability here.

Get in touch

Rasmus Klitgaard

Rasmus Klitgaard

Sector Lead Peace & Stability

København, Denmark

+45 4810 4623