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Today and tomorrow, Minister of Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez, Minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder and the Director of Sub-Saharan Africa of the FPS Foreign Affairs, Philippe Bronchain - representing Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib who was ultimately retained in Brussels - are paying a working visit to Niger to officialise a pilot project of Belgium's unique integrated approach - diplomacy, development and defence. With this holistic horizontal approach, Belgium aims to support the Niger government and population in creating greater security and socio-economic stability in the Sahel region, which is affected by terrorism and the effects of climate change. The Sahel, along with the Great Lakes region, is a priority area for Belgian foreign policy and also fits into Belgium's National Security Strategy.
Niger has been a partner country of Belgian Development Cooperation and Defence for many years. The country, and by extension the entire Sahel region, is affected by drought due to climate change, as well as extremist groups and terrorist attacks, including from Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). Both phenomena create insecurity among the local population, resulting in migration flows and impacting the country's stability and socio-economic growth and development.
Defence - Diplomacy - Development
Within the framework of bilateral cooperation, Belgium has supported the government and population in Niger for several years in order to safeguard stability The integrated Belgian approach - unique in the region - simultaneously focuses on three complementary axes: Diplomacy will mediate to pave the ground and put in place a framework, Defence provides a secure environment, within which Development can implement projects on socio-economic stability or provide humanitarian assistance. This integrated approach, incidentally, is applied by the Nigerian government itself.
Torodi, a rural community between the capital Niamey and the border with Burkina Faso, is one of the severely affected regions. Belgium is setting up a pilot project in Torodi, where the three D’s will work together to foster stability and growth for Niger.
As such, Defence is working with the Niger army and police on training and coaching to create both a more stable and a more secure environment. Development cooperation focuses on creating more social cohesion and trust among the population, while diplomacy ensures coordination between the various (inter)national policy levels. The goal is to support socio-economic growth and stability for the region and its people.
The Belgian development agency Enabel is working closely with local authorities in Torodi to set up social services, such as education and health, and create opportunities for economic activities, such as the production and sale of vegetables and livestock. Defence provides training, equipment and the construction of command posts for the local police and the Nigerien army. This allows them to have and maintain a visible presence.
Belgian diplomacy has a privileged relationship with the central authorities in Niamey, helps with coordination between the capital and local authorities, and has also completed a training programme with leading women in the Nigerian administration, in cooperation with the Egmont Institute.
Belgium mainly works behind the scenes, to maximise the trust of the population and the Nigerian government.
Promises of growth
The very young Nigerien population has enormous potential, the country is experiencing a successful democratic transition and promising economic growth. These positive trends need to be strengthened, so it remains important to support Niger's stability and resilience.
"Niger is and will remain an important partner of Belgium. We cannot afford to withdraw when the going gets tough. Besides, it is naive to think that the increasing insecurity in the Sahel has no impact in Europe and in Belgium. Earlier, IS was believed to be the problem of the Middle East, and of the US only. But that did not stop that terrorist organisation from carrying out attacks in Europe. Some problems seem far away. Until suddenly they appear on your doorstep," warns Minister Gennez.
It is a strong signal that Belgian ministers are on this visit in the Sahel together. During the visit to Niger, they will be received by President Mohamed Bazoum and also consult bilaterally with their respective counterparts. Furthermore, they will interact with local organisations who can testify on development programmes, the impact of the security situation, and on the roll-out of the integrated Sahel strategy. Finally, a transfer of military equipment to Nigerian authorities is also planned as part of military cooperation.
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