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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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

Habitat III decisions crucial for the future of Africa’s cities

By Greg Foster, Area Vice-President, Habitat for Humanity, Europe, Middle East and Africa

habitat-3Africa will have some of the fastest growing cities in the world over the next 50 years. Unless something is done, and done soon, millions more will flood into unplanned cities and live in already overcrowded informal settlements and slums. It would appear as if the United Nation’s Habitat III conference, which happens every 20 years, and New Urban Agenda couldn’t come at a better time.

Habitat III’s goals sound simple — develop well-planned and sustainable cities, eradicate poverty and reach full employment, and respect human rights. Being able to leverage the key role of cities and human settlements as drivers of sustainable development in an increasingly urbanised world, the meeting will seek political commitment to promote and realise sustainable urban development. This could be a watershed moment for Africa’s cities. But critical challenges stand in the way of making Africa’s cities economic powerhouses, centres for exchanging ideas, and places that meld cultures and peoples. Three actions are needed. Continue reading

Breaking the vicious circle of conflict and fragility

By Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director General, European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development

Insecurity bears political, social and economic costs, depriving people of a life free of fear and want and diminishing their trust towards state institutions. By 2030, 62% of the global poor will live in fragile and conflict-affected states.[1]  People in these states are twice as likely to be undernourished as those living in other developing countries, while their children are twice more likely to die before the age of five. On the other hand, lack of representation, weak and unaccountable institutions, socioeconomic exclusion, and lack of access to basic services create fertile ground for violent conflict, organised crime and increased irregular migration flows. To break the vicious circle of conflict and low development, we need to adopt a different development approach, putting security at the top of the agenda. Continue reading