Instability in the Sahel.

29/02/2024

A transition space between the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa, the ecological belt of the Sahel runs through more than a dozen countries. Its complex regional security panorama, the migratory routes that cross it, the impact of climate change and its natural resources make it a strategic region for international stability.The Sahel (Arabic for "coast") is the lower strip of the Sahara, the largest (non-polar) desert on the planet. This space of three million square kilometers (larger than all of Argentina) was for centuries a mandatory transit area for extensive trade routes between Europe, Africa and Asia.

Important political centers prospered in its warm steppes during pre-colonial times, from the empires of Ghana and Mali to the kingdoms of Kanem and Shilluk. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the region was subject to French imperialism - in the West and center - and British - in the East -. 60 years after its legal decolonization, the Sahel is going through a critical situation in political, economic, social and environmental. According to Xavier Creach, coordinator of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the region, the Sahel is an area deliberately neglected by the international community because it does not decisively affect "the economic and production centers that have a global impact." 


The widespread humanitarian crisis has already caused more than three million displaced people and refugees. In recent months, the economic emergency and mobility problems have increased significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The security crisisThe destabilization of the region peaked in the last decade. The first episodes came as a reverberation of the episodes of the Arab Spring in Libya and Algeria: tensions enhanced the proliferation of armed groups that also began to act in the Sahel through the porous borders of the desert

Subsequently, the region was convulsed by other jihadist and/or secessionist groups: Al Qaeda for the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Arab Azawad Movement (MAA) in northern Mali in 2012 and Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria since 2010. The consequences of these internal problems quickly spread throughout the Central Sahel.

Since 2014, there have been hundreds of attacks by jihadist groups and other armed forces against government facilities, productive centers and village communities in Cameroon, Niger and Burkina Faso. Over the years, violence has intensified amid a governance crisis in rural areas.

Governments' primarily military responses, including the use of self-defense militias over which they exercise limited control, have frequently led to abuses that drive civilian victims into the arms of jihadists. Certain factors, such as the climate crisis and migratory flows from the south to the Mediterranean, have intensified many distribution conflicts in the region: in 2019, Burkina Faso suffered more jihadist attacks than any other Sahelian country

In each Sahel country, the authorities blamed the negligence of the previous rulers in power and in most cases continue to fail to acknowledge the endogenous nature and severity of the situation (except Burkina Faso, which created the Plan in 2017). Sahel Emergency Program (PUS), so far unsuccessful). Thus, they have largely resorted to military force, with support from European troops, eminently France. Until now, regional institutionalism has shown itself impotent in the face of the security crisis. For example, the creation of the G5 Joint Force for the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) in 2014 failed in its diagnoses: it trusted that jihadism would spread horizontally, crossing the Sahel from east to west. Instead, a vertical expansion occurred that moved the threat from the Sudanese savannah to the coastal countries of West Africa (such as Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin).

Recently, the threat of instability over the Gulf of Guinea (and therefore offshore oil wells) encouraged a stronger response from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). , ECOWAS). Similarly, European allies French and German launched the Partnership for Sahel Security and Stability, or P3S, in August 2019. Between the gold rush and climate change. In parallel to the armed conflicts, in the central Sahel (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger) gold extraction has intensified since 2012 due to the discovery of a particularly rich vein that crosses the desert from east to west.

In the last five years, gold exploitation in areas where the State is weak or practically non-existent fell into the hands of insurgent groups. Artisanal mining constitutes a new source of financing and a tool to intensify recruitment.Informal economy networks and transnational organized crime in the region are increasingly involved in the smuggling of the precious metal. Thus, the new enclave economy fuels violence and reinforces crime. The Sahel States have tried with partial success to reduce illegal extractive predation, which still persists due to the lack of control in the global gold trade in practice.

In their efforts to control the deposits, many governments have delegated patrolling of these areas to parastatal militias. The States of the Central Sahel oscillate between encouraging and distrusting armed groups that, once empowered, can potentially turn against them at any time.

In addition to the fights for control of new valuable resources, conflicts between farmers and herders over scarce fertile lands in the Sahel also explain the instability, intensified by climate change. Faced with the humanitarian emergency, the United Nations estimates that the region has only a quarter of the resources necessary to alleviate it.

Droughts in the Sahel are not new: for 50 years in the 1970s, drought added greater economic stress to hundreds of localities that live below the threshold of extreme poverty. Since the droughts began, the countries of the Sahel have known themselves to be ecologically fragile and impoverished.

Poorly managed competition for access to increasingly coveted resources, particularly land, is behind fights between once peaceful communities. The alternation between periods of severe aridity and floods disrupt agricultural production cycles and fuel interethnic violence. In turn, insurgent groups benefit from these tensions by offering themselves as guarantors of protection and food.In early 2019, the alarming severity of the humanitarian situation led 17 countries in the Sahel and West Africa to meet in Niamey, the capital of Niger, to adopt a $400 billion investment plan until 2030 to combat the effects of change. climate.

At that meeting, participants explained the effects of global warming on the reduction in the area of ​​arable land, which led to the depletion of resources and increased insecurity. Africans stressed the need for industrialized countries, mainly responsible for global warming, to financially support the Sahel, the first victims.