The blurred boundaries of political violence in the Sahel-Sahara

By Olivier Walther, Visiting Associate Professor, Center for African Studies at the University of Florida and Associate Professor, University of Southern Denmark


Explore the OECD West African Papers series for more work on African socio-economic, political and security dynamics.


The Sahel and the Sahara are faced with exceptional political instability involving a combination of rebellions, jihadist insurgencies, coups d’état, protest movements and illegal trafficking. Analysis of the outbreaks of violence reveals that the region is not just the victim of an escalation of wars and conflicts that marked the 20th century. The Sahel-Sahara has also become the setting of a globalised security environment, in which boundaries between what is local and global, domestic and international, military and civilian, politics and identity are blurred.

Local grievances, global reach

A shared characteristic of many conflicts in the Sahel-Sahara is that belligerents often leverage global ideas to pursue local and national claims. Boko Haram, for example, simultaneously exploits the pan-Islamist vision of a unified Muslim world, whose boundaries transcend national borders to embrace all believers, and the historical narrative of the Kanem-Bornu empire that reigned over the Lake Chad region for around 1 000 years. These players also rely on the investment of global resources into struggles that are driven by local and national aspirations. For Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in particular, the unofficial ransoms paid by foreign governments in exchange for hostages represent amounts estimated at several tens of millions of dollars.
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Strengthening Regional Agricultural Integration in West Africa

By John Staatz, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University

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Photo credit: Ryan Vroegindewey

Soaring and volatile international food prices since 2007-08 have forced West African governments and their development partners to translate their long-standing rhetoric about support for West African agriculture into concrete programmes. Doing so effectively, however, has proven much more challenging than simply meeting the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) goal of increasing the share of national budgets and donor funds dedicated to the agricultural sector. A recently released joint study by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) and Michigan State University (MSU) draws lessons from such efforts over the past 10 years and suggests ways in which policies and programmes can be more effective in helping West Africa feed its young, burgeoning and increasingly urban population. Research by MSU, SFSA and West African scholars provides a number of crucial policy insights. Continue reading

Girls robbed of their childhood in the Sahel

By Laurent Bossard, Director, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)

In Mali, Niger and Chad, 40% of children under five suffer from stunting. These children do not receive enough nutrients. Their bodies — their brains, bones and muscles — do not get enough calcium, iron or zinc or enough vitamins (A, B2, B12 etc.), so they do not have enough energy to grow and develop. Many of these children will suffer from chronic diseases and will have cognitive problems — so they won’t be able to go to school for long, if at all. As adults, they will have little chance to flourish and, secondarily, will have low economic productivity. Many will also die very young, often before turning five.

In these countries, at least 100 children out of every thousand die before reaching the age of five. That’s 10 times more than in Sri Lanka, 20 times more than in Canada and 50 times more than in Luxembourg. Why are these children dying and why are they doomed to a hopeless future?  Continue reading

Six key challenges to improving nutrition through social protection in the Sahel and West Africa

By Jennifer Sheahan, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat 

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The Sahel and West Africa region is home to some of the most nutritionally insecure people in the world. In 2015, 19 to 21 million children in the region under the age of five were affected by stunting. This figure is growing and may exceed 22 million by 2025. Today, strong evidence exists linking social protection to improved nutrition. In December 2016, the 32nd Annual RPCA Meeting focused political attention on some of the key challenges to be overcome in this area.

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Les frontières et les réseaux oubliés du développement

Par Laurent Bossard, Directeur, Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CSAO/OCDE)

cross-border-cooperation-large-freLa publication CSAO/OCDE « Coopération transfrontalière et réseaux de gouvernance en Afrique de l’Ouest », aborde le sujet – crucial mais trop méconnu – de la coopération transfrontalière, par le biais d’une approche encore peu utilisée en Afrique de l’Ouest et dans le monde du développement : l’analyse des réseaux sociaux. Cette double originalité fait de la lecture de cet ouvrage une expérience pleine d’enseignements.

Plus de 46 % des villes et la moitié de la population urbaine ouest-africaines se trouvent à moins de 100 km d’une frontière. Ces espaces frontaliers couvrent la totalité des territoires du Bénin, de la Gambie, de la Guinée-Bissau et du Togo; les deux tiers de ceux de la Guinée, de la Sierra Leone et du Sénégal; plus de la moitié de la superficie du Burkina Faso et du Ghana. Continue reading

West Africa’s diet transformation: Will the region capitalise on its changing food demand?

By John Staatz, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University, and Frank Hollinger, Economist at the Investment Centre Division (TCIA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

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Demand for food in West Africa is changing dramatically, opening great opportunities to create new wealth and jobs. But will most of the wealth and jobs be created in West Africa or in the countries that export food to the region? The decisions made over the next few years by West Africans and their development partners will largely determine who benefits from this massive opportunity and its attendant challenges.

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Burkina Faso: Resilience building is underway

By Julia Wanjiru, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat

sahel-week-banner-blog-development-mattersBurkina Faso is a poor, land-locked West African country, with about 18.5 million people, a number that is increasing fast at 3.1% per year. Categorised as a Least Developed Country (LDC), Burkina Faso regularly ranks at the bottom end of the Human Development Index (183 in 2015). Poverty is mostly rural (50.7% rural poor compared with 19.9% urban poor). Food insecurity and malnutrition remain a chronic concern (Global Acute Malnutrition = 8.6%).

acute-malnutrition-rural-areas-burkina-fasoDespite the large number of people living in poverty and the fact that the people of Burkina Faso are among the most vulnerable in the world, they also are very resilient. Continue reading