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Abstract

Almost 65% of the population in the Sahel is under 25, and there are few opportunities for young people. How will you tackle poverty and stop the youth from being attracted to groups engaged in terrorist activities? The Sahel population is young, which is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. Young people are energetic, dynamic and ready to promote development. Youth in the region are becoming more educated and can benefit from the opportunities we see around us. What governments and the international community need to do is to recognize youth as players—not as a burden. It is important to help them identify opportunities for development, including creating small and medium enterprises.
What further action is required? A change in polices. The region has plenty of opportunities, yet lots of the people are poor. We must break that paradox by changing policies.

What impact can the UN make in the Sahel, and what are the challenges? First, we have a mandate from the Security Council to develop a UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. We are now developing a concrete plan, with specific activities and actions that can be promoted not only by the UN, but by other partners, including the private sector. Most of the challenges in the Sahel can be turned into opportunities.

Are there any opportunities? Yes. For example, the Sahel is extremely hot, and that heat can be turned into renewable energy. Also, the richest fishing ground in the world is off the coast of West Africa, which covers some Sahelian countries. Again, the geographical position of the West African coastline is an advantage. Being close to Europe, fish can be caught there today and be in European markets the next day, while still fresh. It is not by chance that you see many big fishing companies going there.

What are the main challenges facing the Sahel? One of the biggest constraints in the region is the lack of electricity. However, with the abundant sunlight and the wind all year round, we can create renewable energy almost everywhere in the Sahel. In some cases it could be off-grid solutions, and in other cases it can be on-grid solutions, meaning that we generate energy, transfer it to the national grid and distribute it to reduce dependence on fossil fuel. Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries are required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. We need to generate energy that can transform economies in the Sahel. For example, fishing products can be processed locally, creating value-added jobs for the local youth. Although pastoralism can pose a challenge due to the frequent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in the region, at the same time, there is plenty of fresh beef, even halal, exported from the Sahel to such places as the Middle East and North Africa.