MEIG Highlight 29/2023 – Reflections on the current unrest in the Sahel: Charting a path to peace and prosperity
Daniel Crentsil, 10 October 2023
The Sahel, which translates to « the shore » in Arabic, encompasses diverse geographic and agro-ecological landscapes, comprises of twelve nations and around 400 million inhabitants. According to the United Nations strategy (UNISS), this covers 10 countries (Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria). However, a core group consisting of countries such as Mali, Niger Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania form the G5 Sahel.
From the early 1960s, many countries in the Sahel region have experienced various acts of violent extremism and terrorism due to issues regarding illegitimate governance, economic decline and the after effects of climate change which have heightened conflicts and crime in the region over the past decade. The crisis is already affecting neighbouring countries, such as Mauritania and Chad, and risks spilling over to Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo.
The region’s instability can be attributed to various factors bordering on indiscriminate attacks by armed groups and militias including Boko Haram and the Islamic State, insecurity, widespread human right violations, including gender-based violence and violence against children, and climate change. Furthermore, the region faces a demographic surge of its youth leaving them in difficult circumstances with limited prospects aside from engagement in the informal economy, embarking on perilous emigration routes to Europe, or resorting to joining extremist jihadist groups. In this regard, one must acknowledge the precarious nature of some of these Sahel states, where military regimes have seized power but find themselves ill-equipped to address the internal challenges that prompted their rise to authority. According to the UNHCR, as of 2023, more than 4.2 million people have been displaced across the region, and 3.7 million people are internally displaced in the region due to the instability in the region.
The military coup in Niger follows a pattern seen in Mali and Burkina Faso between 2020 and 2022, but the distinguishing factor this time is that the potential for a regional conflict is now more imminent than ever before. The military regime behind the recent uprising in Niger cited insecurity as a key motive for toppling the sitting government. Recent events in the Sahel are reshaping regional dynamics. Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea support Niger’s military junta, while Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria are considering military intervention.
During her 2023 State of the Union Address, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged that region has become a fertile breeding ground for terrorism, emphasizing the direct implications of this situation for Europe, specifically in terms of security and economic well-being. She emphasized the importance for European countries to demonstrate a similar level of unity and determination toward addressing the situation in Africa as they have shown in the case of Ukraine.
The path to peace and prosperity in the region is a daunting task, thus the persistent challenges arising from the Sahel necessitate a comprehensive approach. Upon reflection, it remains evident of the importance of prioritising humanitarian assistance to those affected in the area as this will prevent these vulnerable states from completely descending into chaos.
Considerable investments should be channelled into enhancing the quality of education and healthcare services, with an emphasis on empowering females, particularly women and girls. This can yield a reduction in child marriages and improved overall health outcomes, consequently contributing to a slower population growth rate. Furthermore, addressing corruption and advocating for good governance are paramount objectives on the political front. Furthermore, support should be geared towards the restructuring of agricultural sectors and the development of the private sector and entrepreneurship. These measures are instrumental in addressing the root causes of instability and fostering sustainable development in the Sahel in the long run.
Daniel Crentsil, MEIG Highlight 29/2023 – Reflections on the current unrest in the Sahel: Charting a path to peace and prosperity, 10 October 2023, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.