Wednesday

28th Sep 2016

UN appoints 'big EU name' for Sahel job

The UN has hired mild-mannered former European Commission and Italian leader Romano Prodi to help pacify west Africa.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon and President Francois Hollande of France, a former colonial power in the region, unveiled Prodi's appointment as UN special envoy for the Sahel on Tuesday (9 October).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Prodi is said to have been angling for a UN post for the past few years (Photo: prodi.it)

They said he will co-ordinate a mixed bag of international projects out of a UN office in Italy.

The Sahel covers Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and parts of Sudan, Cameroon and Nigeria.

The region is gearing up for war after nations in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) promised to help Mali storm Azawad, a breakaway territory conquered by Touareg tribes who used to fight for late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

It is also home to laundry list of Islamist and organised crime groups.

Ban on Tuesday named Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao). But Al Qadea in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM, blamed for kidnapping French tourists) and Ansar Al Sharia (blamed for killing the US ambassador to Libya) are also active in the area.

Prodi is an economist and a two-time former Italian prime minister. He also led the EU commission from 1999 to 2004.

He has no experience in conflict mediation.

But Ban and EU leaders say his background in EU coalition politics make him the right man for the job.

"Prodi has a long and distinguished career in government and international diplomacy as a consensus-builder, having served as prime minister of Italy and president of the European Commission for several years," Ban said in a letter, obtained by Reuters, to UN colleagues earlier this month.

"The leadership and extensive experience of Romano Prodi will greatly contribute to mobilise the international response," EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy said on Tuesday.

A UN official told the Washington Post that Prodi's main value will be in PR terms.

"We wanted to appoint someone with a big enough name so that this issue would not get ignored and swept under the carpet in a few months," the UN contact said.

The EU is getting increasingly involved in the Sahel to stop it becoming an Afghanistan-type base for terrorist operations in Europe.

EU countries in August launched Eucap Sahel Niger.

The €9-million, two-year-long operation will see some 50 EU police and military advisors help train security staff in Niger, Mali and Mauritania.

EU foreign ministers will next week also discuss how to help Ecowas to get the Touaregs out of Mali.

France's Hollande said on Tuesday that the EU will play a small role in the conflict.

"I want to remind you, since it's important, that this is an African force, and that therefore the Africans - and primarily the Malians - are responsible for the planning and force generation," he said.

A French foreign ministry spokesman the same day spoke of "logistical support."

"We know what we don't want to do: 'No boots on the ground' ... This isn't an expeditionary force that we're sending to Mali," he said.

Opinion

The EU’s new offer to Africa

The European Commission’s plan for a multi-billion African investment vehicle is mainly another incentive for African leaders to give higher priority to border management.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EJCMourns the Passing of Israeli Statesman Shimon Peres
  2. World VisionNew Tool Measuring Government Efforts to Protect Children Released
  3. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  4. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  5. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  6. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  7. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes and Villains. See Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away
  8. Martens CentreQuo Vadis Georgia? What to Expect From the Parliamentary Elections. Debate on 29 September
  9. EJCAppalled by Recommendation to Remove Hamas From EU Terrorism Watch List
  10. GoogleBringing Education to Refugees in Lebanon With the Clooney Foundation for Justice
  11. HuaweiAn Industry-leading ICT Solution Provider and Building a Better World
  12. Belgrade Security ForumCan Democracy Survive Global Disorder?