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Development and / or security: Issues concerning the relationship between the European Union, the Maghreb and the Sahel

Abdelhak Bassou | July 07, 2017

This Policy Brief tackles the link between development and security in the Mediterranean basin, as well as the involvement of countries on both shores in a partnership providing the necessary security for joint socio-economic development. The Sahel countries are also taking part in the analysis and play a role in the success of security strategies in the Maghreb and within the European Union. The paper provides examples of rich countries faced with insecurity, of poor countries without insecurity, and other low-income countries that enjoy significant stability in the region, such as Morocco.


In reference to the Mediterranean as a cooperation area between the North and the South, it is now established that this cooperation brings together the following:

• A Northern partner, which is the European Union (EU) in its entirety. The Mediterranean countries of Europe are inseparable from their integration area, which is the European Union.
• A Southern partner is difficult to define, due to lack of institutional integration. The African Union does not seem to have reached a level of integration that allows it to act as a united entity. The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) is far from constituting a true institution for integration.

The European Union is thus involved in a cooperation process with a fragmented area, and the partner is therefore difficult to define. This fact obliges the EU to consider its southern neighborhood as a group of countries that are in a dispersed order, hence the need for separate and practically customized policies to respond to the ambitions of each country instead of an integrated and coherent whole. The most illustrative example is North Africa, which is regarded as the EU’s immediate vicinity, and where the latter, despite a common general framework (European Neighborhood Policy), is forced to approach each country individually.

The problem of cooperation with this North African area is all the more complicated because it is interdependent, both in terms of economy / development and in terms of security / stability, with its southern neighborhood comprised of the Sahel and sub-Sahara.

In addition to the risks related to a fragmented area and its expansion due to the interference between the neighborhood and the neighborhood’s neighborhood, there is also the question concerning the present circumstances in North Africa as well as in its Sahelian and sub-Saharan neighborhood. It is characterized by a quest for development and prosperity in a climate undermined by threats to security and stability,  hence the need for the EU to combine the imperatives of economic development and security / stability in its relationship with the South.

Development and security are therefore the two objectives that govern cooperation between the European Union and its southern neighborhood in its extensive sense. In this neighborhood, some countries benefit from relative stability, which leads to hopes for a better future in terms of development and prosperity, while other countries in this neighborhood experience the obvious shortcoming of either development or security and even in the absence of both notions, in some cases.

Despite these uncertainties and handicaps, the European Union cannot afford to not pay particular attention to the neighborhood to its South. Indeed, the situation in the Mediterranean has shown that the security of the North depends on the stability of the South. The collapse of Libya and the new conditions of instability it generated in the Sahelian and even sub-Saharan region have seriously jeopardized the security of the Mediterranean’s northern shore in its broad sense, meaning the entire European Union.

In 2015 and 2016, traditional migration corridors proved to be vulnerable, in particular those with points originating in a destabilized southern country (Libya-Italy corridor), and resilience or even efficiency in corridors with points originating in countries spared by the Arab Spring events (Morocco-Spain corridor).

While the concerns in the southern neighborhood were development-oriented, it is clear that since the Arab spring, security issues have emerged as a major problem.

Security concerns have compounded the economic and development concerns. How, then, can the security situation be restored in the countries where it has deteriorated, while supporting economic development efforts? Is it necessary, or is it possible to achieve both objectives in parallel or should priority be given to one at the expense of the other? If so, which one should be prioritized?

I. On the links between Security and Development

1. Uncertainties about revealed and automatic linkages between economy and security in situations concerning several African countries:

How do the issues of security/stability and economy/development come together? If we draw from the general theory, we do not find any established rules of relations or links between security on the one hand and the economy on the other. This lack of a general rule linking development/wealth and security/prosperity is also true in Africa:

• In some African countries where GDP appears to indicate economic growth (notably through a cash economy), security does not seem to follow suit: The case of Nigeria is the most striking in this respect. Sometimes the first and sometimes the second-largest GDP in Africa, Nigeria is not known for its security. The persistent disparities between communities and regions, Boko Haram’s resistance to the measures initiated but not completed, and the actions carried out by the Delta of Niger Avengers leaves the country one of the most unstable with an uncertain future. The security risks in this country cannot be attributed to poverty or lack of resources, but rather to a bad management of capital, which hinders development and generates disparities that are, in turn, sources of social unrest, instability and insecurity.

• In other countries, stability and security do not appear to enable significant economic growth. As an indicative example, Madagascar (given the GDP per capita) is ranked 5th among the 25 poorest countries in the world despite the calm and stability that seem to prevail there. This is also the case for Malawi, which ranks second among the poorest countries. The absence of destabilizing elements does not seem to lead to prosperity. Why are these poor countries not experiencing major security problems?

These two examples therefore demonstrate that it is not by ensuring a good ranking in terms of GDP that a country can reach satisfactory levels of security, and that it is not by being without security problems that a country can escape from poverty. These two examples may also lead to the conclusion that for security and stability, it would be necessary to:

• Have natural resources and capital;
• Govern this capital well and manage it in order to mitigate the social disparities that generate disturbances.

However, by examining the situation in another category of countries, it is observed that they appear to be able to cope both in terms of stability and economic growth without having considerable natural resources.

The case of Morocco is to be noted, which seems to assert itself as a stable state in the middle-income category, without having hydrocarbon resources. One question, however, arises: Is stability in Morocco due to the socio-economic system, which tends to adopt the right rules of economic governance? Or does stability permit a better management of wealth creation mechanisms?

2. The security / development balance in the North and the priority issue in the South.

The question of the link between security-related facts and their corollaries of peace and stability on the one hand, and questions of development, economy and prosperity on the other, does not arise in the same terms between partners around the Mediterranean:

• The so-called developed countries of the North are less concerned with the issue of security/development as a priority. Both objectives are generally achieved. The question is only to maintain the level of equilibrium between the two concepts by introducing adjustment elements capable of dealing with possible imbalances.
• In the South, which is the geographical area in which African countries are situated, prosperity and security are difficult to ensure concomitantly. This difficulty raises questions about the priority between the objectives of security/stability and those of economy/development.

In the South, it is often noted that the efforts invested in socio-economic development are hampered by a lack of stability and security. Prioritization is all the more necessary in that the means available to these countries do not make it possible, either through their weakness or due to their mismanagement, to meet needs on both fronts.  But this prioritization is also problematic because it is not established that prosperity is the only way to ensure security, or that security is a prerequisite for prosperity. 

As a result, there is a focus on an image of the Sahel and sub-Saharan area, which leads to a vicious circle where underdevelopment generates instability which in turn re-generates underdevelopment, and the big question remains, which is how can this trend be reversed? More precisely, how can it be reversed in a way where it would be able to achieve the following: 

• Ensure the security and stability that can foster development, otherwise
• Ensure economic development and growth that can promote stability and security.

Whichever option is chosen, middle- and low-income countries are faced with the question of which concept is a prerequisite to the other and what priority should be chosen? The weakness of the resources precludes them from conducting the two efforts in parallel.

However, the situation is not the same in all countries in EU’s southern neighborhood. While in some countries the ingredients of development are available but only handicapped by governance and mismanagement issues, in other countries states are nearly failing and the issue of development is challenged by the difficulty of rehabilitating the state.

Therefore, there is not a standard solution to ensure security and prosperity. While the Maghreb and Sahel states are broken up by a lack of a reliable integration processes, they are each experiencing different circumstances. Economic systems develop distinct vulnerabilities. The causes of insecurity are multiple and specific, and solutions must therefore be adapted.

How can we bring prosperity where security is not lacking, and bring security where certain natural resources, in particular natural resources, facilitate economic growth and where do we start in states where poverty and instability are combined? What role can the relatively stable southern states play in improving the situation of other states?

II. European action in the Maghreb and the Sahel: Customized solutions are needed.

1. States showing security capabilities but which are economically threatened.

Chad is the prototype of this kind of state, and the country has built a reputation as a safe power among its African peers. The wars against Gaddafi’s Libya and also in Darfur in addition to its commitments in the Central African Republic and Mali alongside the French troops ended up making the Chadian army a military structure that dominates its subject both within and outside the country. Domestically, the regime dominates its opposition and ensures the essential stability, even if certain human rights bodies decry the methods used. In the region, the Chadian army, whose firepower can only be equaled or surpassed in Central Africa by Angola, appears to be a military structure with seasoned and experienced troops, capable of evolving with a certain degree of ease in hostile Sahelian environments. Due to these qualities, the Chadian army is often solicited by French military interventions in the region. The Chadian army was present alongside the French in the Serval operations, followed by Barkhane and also in Operation Sangaris.

In 2013, the Chadian army, which had 25,000 men, was ranked third among ECCAS countries, behind the DRC and Angola. For the inhabitants per armed forces ratio, the country was also third with one soldier for 433 inhabitants, behind Angola (1/169) and Gabon (1/342). It was also third in terms of percentage of GDP devoted to defense with 2.6% after Equatorial Guinea (3.7) and Angola (3.5). 

However, if Chad overcomes and can project a certain security / stability, the image that the country projects in terms of prosperity, development and governance, raises concerns about the future of this state. A relatively weak economy, based on the rent of modest oil production and the stagnant political model of pre-democracy, indicate a certain level of vulnerability. Moreover, security aspects dominate Chad’s projection ambition. The 2016 budget law allocated 76% of the civil service budget items for security and defense services. What was left to provide the other sectors with executives and officials?

In this type of country, European cooperation or aid is called upon to provide the ingredients for economic development and democratic promotion, but not to take any action that may lead to the weakening of security and defense skills. In such a country, democratization must take place in an evolving and non-disruptive process in order to avoid destabilization. The country must also be assisted in order to improve the management of its wealth and ensure the proper redistribution of its income. Cooperation should be aimed at supporting the country to diversify its economic resources and identify opportunities for wealth creation, while avoiding slowing down the economy with military efforts that can wipe out its struggling economy.

2. States with economic potential but affected or threatened by insecurity. 

Two major African hydrocarbon producers illustrate this case: Libya and Nigeria. These two countries have so many security problems - many of them different - that OPEC has exempted them from the reductions that were recently decided upon.

Nigeria has made hydrocarbon production its only, if not its main source of income. By 2016, nearly 70% of Nigeria's (non-offshore) oil wells were shut down due to insecurity and sabotage. A country whose oil supplies two-thirds of its budget revenues and almost all of its export revenues is being penalized by falling prices and reduced production.

The management of the oil wealth, in terms of distribution, social justice and governance in general, remains problematic in Nigeria, mainly in the Niger Delta region. This wealth is a capital that could have brought prosperity. However, in the absence of good governance it generates insecurity. At first glance, it seems that insecurity hinders development and prosperity, but it turns out that this insecurity is a result of an inequitable distribution of the country's wealth.

Oil in Nigeria is extracted from the Niger Delta where the population believes that it does not receive its equitable share of the oil windfall. First, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and then the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have never stopped fighting, and even war, against foreign companies and the State of Nigeria, which they consider to be "looters of their wealth." Today, NDA is demanding that 60% of oil revenues be allocated to local communities. 

In Libya, a politically unstable country, control of black gold is crucial for the two competing authorities, each wishing to assert their legitimacy. These two authorities are not the only ones on the ground to want to appropriate oil resources. Terrorist groups as well as tribes mingle in the conflict. Some armed groups regularly attack wells and terminals, and sometimes tribes take them over in the name of social demands. If on the one hand the conflict situation affects oil production, this resource fuels the covetousness of the disputing parties and delays or even makes impossible any solution to the Libyan crisis. The country has capital that could ensure its development and prosperity. However, without a process of reconciliation that can bring about security and peace, this wealth becomes a deadly stake.

Oil is indeed power in Libya. Each faction struggling to capture power in Libya must first struggle to control the production sites.

Thus, the oil war that prolongs the Libyan conflict and hampers any political solution opens the country not only to a fratricidal struggle but to the action of terrorist groups on all fronts.

Any cooperation with Nigeria or Libya is not about protecting them from danger (Boko Haram in Nigeria and Daech in Libya), but helping them to find solutions for governance for Nigeria and reconciliation for Libya. They will thus be able to overcome instabilities and invest their capital in development.

3. States, simultaneously poor and unstable.

Mali and even Niger are examples of the category of countries where current resources do not appear to be able to provide the necessary support for establishing a system that can, at least in the medium term, ensure the prosperity of these two States. Despite the availability of the uranium resource available to Niger and Mali’s relative gold production, the two countries remain among those that can be described as poor.

Moreover, the security situation in these states remains alarming, in particular because of terrorist activity:

• In Mali, the security crisis that has hit the country since 2012 began by threatening the northern part of the country, but soon took over the Central regions with the Macina Liberation Front and in the South with the Katibas Khalid ibn Al Walid. Mali is on the way to becoming a terrorist-base that aims to spread to the whole of West Africa. The new group formed in March 2017 called "Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM)" led by a well-known Malian, Iyad Ghali, illustrates the important role that Mali has in the terrorist movement shaking the region.

• In Niger, a country spared from the last Tuareg separatist uprising, is nevertheless triply targeted by terrorism.
- On its western flank, Niger is threatened by the groups settled in Mali, which are constantly making murderous incursions, particularly in the regions adjoining Gao.
- In the South, Boko Haram constantly threatens the country by regularly conducting raids that result in the deaths of soldiers and sometimes long or short occupations of entire villages.
- In the north, the country remains handicapped by the porous border with Libya, which is hundreds of kilometers away, and where several terrorist groups operate.

It therefore appears that neither Mali nor Niger can today, for lack of resources, combat the poverty and the rampant insecurity that prevail due to the proliferation of terrorist groups.

The challenge for Western efforts in general, and in Europe in particular, in these two countries remains to ensure not only the construction of an economic management system that can bring development and prosperity, but also to build the ability in those states to secure their territories against terrorist threats.

On the latter point, experience has shown that foreign military actions cannot replace the ability of these States to ensure their own safety. This is all the more necessary since the foreign presence in these states constitutes a significant argument for the radicals and their recruiters.

In view of the financial costs involved in concomitantly strengthening the defense resources and the structures to be created in order to initiate the appropriate modes of development, the effort to be deployed seems to be very great, hence the usefulness to ask oneself whether to start with development or security.

In order to avoid the choice imposed by such an equation, Europe must therefore get involved with all its member states and even be assisted by the international community as a whole, especially for security and defense. The effort to be made cannot be limited to training but also equipment because the present resources of the countries concerned are insufficient to acquire the required resources.

4. Relatively stable and middle-income states.

The problem of reconciling security/stability and development/prosperity is not experienced in the Maghreb and the Sahel to the same degree of acuity.

As stated above, some countries are rich in capital but suffer from a lack of security. Some others show security capacity while lacking development and prosperity, while a third category is lacking in both areas.

In order to complete the picture, however, it is necessary to examine the case of certain countries which have been able to achieve stability / security and relative economic development by stabilizing themselves as mid-sized economies. As with other categories, a country is chosen to illustrate the characteristics: Morocco.

Having been one of the few countries to surpass the impacts of the Arab spring in terms of destabilization, Morocco has both a stable socio-political system and a relative tendency toward economic growth.

Moreover, the country even shows soft power projection capacities especially within the African continent where it tries to associate itself with its African peers in the quest for stability and prosperity. Recent orientations of Moroccan policy towards Africa in the context of solidarity partnerships based on the win-win principle under the framework of South-South cooperation demonstrate the capacity of sub-regional powers to project themselves.

In terms of European behavior vis-à-vis such countries, it is clear that the European Union is not particularly interested in the opportunity that this category of country could offer in the efforts towards implementing a triangular cooperation strategy. Such countries share common values with both Europe and sub-Saharan Africa and can thus constitute the transmission link between the two shores.

This kind of complementarity has emerged on some occasions with regard to Morocco:

• When, in 2013, Operation Serval responded to the most critical needs and helped to avoid Mali’s takeover by terrorist groups. Immediately afterward Morocco took the lead, particularly in the social and religious area, notably by training Imams qualified to fight radicalization and extremism and to establish a tolerant Islam to free the country from extremist and jihadist pursuits.

• When the Franco-British forces also intervened by preventing the massacre of the Libyan populations by their former "leader," Morocco subsequently deployed all diplomatic efforts under the aegis of the United Nations to reach the Skhirat agreement considered by the majority of the international community as the gateway to a final resolution of the Libyan issue.

Europe would benefit from encouraging this kind of complementarity by relying on the countries in the South that have a relative stability and tendency towards development.


The challenge for Europe in its relationship with its neighborhood is the realization of the main objective of the European Neighborhood Policy: to present the neighborhood with an economic offer that includes an offer concerning security.  Thus, it is a question of two objectives, one economic and the other security.

Yet despite the absence of a clear relationship between security and the economy, the effects of one sector on the other cannot be automatically denied.

It is easy to recognize empirically that the economy responds to security. The stronger the economy, the more it provides the means to ensure security and minimize the effects of the uncertainties of the phenomena of insecurity. On the other hand, capital, the driving force of economic development, has the tendency to flee insecure or poorly secured areas and therefore security is necessary for economic growth.

It has, however, been discussed above that in Africa, wealth does not always lead to security and the latter does not always ensure development. Hence the challenge for Europe support to each of its neighbors and in a climate marked by:

• South-level fragmentation in which partners are dispersed;
• A mismatch between the countries’ levels of development and security;
• A lack of synergy between Europe's efforts and the potential of southern countries with projection capabilities, in joint action with countries in the region that require assistance for their security and/or development.

This situation therefore makes a quasi-personalized European policy towards their neighborhood of the South more necessary than ever.