This week, the Sahel Alliance, a consortium of 25 development partners including the World Bank and IFC, renewed its pledge to help five countries of the subregion out of poverty.
Set up in 2017 to coordinate development efforts and financing for the G5 - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger –the Alliance is the world’s best effort yet to support the growth and stability of the Sahel.
Sadly, the subregion has been making newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons. It faces a complex mix of instability, extreme poverty, climate-induced droughts, hunger and displacement. Now, COVID-19 is expected to push an additional 1.3 million people in the region into extreme poverty.
But what the headlines won’t tell you is that there has been progress. Over the last three years for example, against all odds, the Sahel Alliance brought electricity to 550,000 people, drinkable water to 5.5 million and vaccines to 3.4 million children.
The World Bank Group has been playing its part in this regard, reaching 19 million people – many of them pastoralists - under its Green Wall program and helping more than 2 million people get social protection. The Group is now scaling up its engagement across the subregion thanks to a new strategy.
Sustaining the progress made, and helping the Sahel emerge from both the fragility trap and the COVID crisis, is going to be virtually impossible without the private sector, which provides up to 85 percent of jobs across the five countries and powers much of their growth, services and innovation. This is even more important now that governments have run out of the necessary fiscal space to stimulate their economies.
So, what’s the way forward?
First, we need to support the subregion’s entrepreneurs, who in spite of their youthful, creative energy need training and financing. IFC has been investing in private firms with the potential to transform economies.
One of our clients is CEDIAM, a company that’s helping Mali to process and export mango puree, thus creating added value, employment and fixed income for mango producers, and contributing to strengthening the value chain. We are collaborating with the World Bank in Niger on the development of a solar energy market. And in Mauritania, we are providing advisory services to make it easier for small businesses – particularly those led by women and youth – to grow.
Second, there can be no development breakthrough without strong public-private collaboration. We will continue to work with colleagues at the Bank to create favorable conditions for the private sector to flourish. This includes important policy and institutional reforms that help make energy utilities more efficient or create the incentives to build cellphone towers in remote areas.
And finally, to echo Paul Collier at a recent Sahel Alliance event, development finance institutions need to pool their capital and energy to invest in pioneer firms even if they lose money at the beginning. IFC recently signed a number of important agreements – including with DEG and PROPARCO – to facilitate this kind of collaboration.
Now is the time to put our best work and energy in motion in the Sahel. With a strong movement in place, a development breakthrough is within reach.