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Controversies around the EU-funded Senegalese security forces

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  • Post category:News

Written by: Alice Duman

Edited by: Manfred Sintorn

Supervised by: Syuzanna Kirakosyan

On 29 February 2024, EU-funded Senegalese security forces violently suppressed pro- democracy protests (Nielsen, 2024). Controversy ensued as the Groupes d’Action Rapide – Surveillance et Intervention au Sahel (GAR-SI Sahel) security forces, initially trained to combat cross-border crime along Senegal’s border with Mali, were being utilised for domestic purposes (Popoviciu & Bautista, 2024).

Given the EU’s proximity to the Northern Africa region, it perceives the region as a security problem (Rodríguez, 2015). Accordingly, in 2016 Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese experts joined to improve internal security and cross-border cooperation amongst northern African countries (FIIAPP, n.d.). Importantly, this project aligned with both the EU’s Action Plan for the protection of public spaces and the European Security Strategy, grounded in the belief that security is a fundamental element for fostering sustainable development (FIIAPP, 2021a). In particular, the Spanish Civil Guard proposed the creation of the GAR-SI Sahel project to the European Commission’s Emergency Trust Fund. Resembling the Spanish Rapid Action Groups for Surveillance and Intervention system, the project aimed to utilise the same model across the G-5 Sahel countries (namely Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger) and Senegal (FIIAPP, n.d.).

Thus, between 2016 and 2023 the GAR-SI Sahel received funding of €75 million from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and spearheaded by the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP), the initiative deployed units across Senegal and the G-5 Sahel countries. Specific to Senegal, the GAR-SI Senegal underwent rigorous training from the various European forces named above and obtained a substantial investment of over €7 million to establish a 300-strong unit, to combat armed groups and curb illegal cross-border activity, in Kidira (Popoviciu & Bautista, 2024). Regardless of European intent, however, it has become clear that Senegalese forces are now using EU-funded security forces and equipment to suppress non-violent protests.

The recent revelation fuels ongoing debates about the effectiveness of European efforts to stabilise West Africa. For example, Lynch et al. (2023) deem such plans to continuously erupt, while International Crisis Group (2024) declares the EU’s military missions on the ground in Western Africa to have lost their purpose. Moreover, the increasing presence of other foreign powers, such as China, Iran, and Türkiye are propelling a regional shift away from the EU (International Crisis Group, 2024). With this in consideration, the potential ramifications of mismanaged EU-funded military initiatives remain uncertain. Nonetheless, they undoubtedly contribute to the worsening relationship between Europe and West Africa.


FIIAPP. (n.d.). GAR-SI SAHEL: Rapid Action Groups for monitoring and intervention in the Sahel. FIIAPP. Retrieved March 14, 2024, from si-sahel-rapid-action-groups-for-monitoring-and-intervention-in-the-sahel/

FIIAPP. (2021a, March 10). A moment from the visit to the facilities of the Guardia Civil. FIIAPP. combating-terrorism/

FIIAPP. (2021b, May 20). The Guardia Civil trains the Senegalese Police in anti-terrorism techniques. FIIAPP. police-in-anti-terrorism-techniques/

International Crisis Group. (2024, January 30). Reorienting Europe’s Approach in the Sahel | Crisis Group. europes-approach-in-the-sahel

Lynch, S., Caulcutt, C., & Busvine , D. (2023, July 29). Europe’s plan to stabilize West Africa erupts again. POLITICO. erupts-niger-military-coup-wagner-group/

Nielsen, N. (2024, March 6). EU funding in spotlight after Senegal protest crackdown. EUobserver.

Pareja Rodríguez, I. (2015). África como generador de inestabilidad, y su influencia en las políticas europeas de seguridad y defensa. Revista de estudios en seguridad internacional, 1(1), 85–113.

Popoviciu, A., & Bautista, J. (2024, February 29). How an EU-funded security force helped Senegal crush democracy protests. Al Jazeera. crush-democracy-protests#:~:text=The%20Senegalese%20300%2Dstrong%20unit