Women and conflict in West Africa and beyond

By Dr Diene Keita, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director (Programme), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Photo: Fred Marie

Women are deliberately targeted in conflict

When conflict happens, the rule of law breaks down, freedom of movement is restricted, institutions and services are weakened, creating a lack of access to social services and information, and to food and livelihoods. This situation affects the entire population, but it disproportionately affects women. Research has shown that female-headed households are more vulnerable to stress and less capable of absorbing shocks, due to gender inequality, cultural restrictions and the feminisation of poverty. Conflict affects women and men differently and existing gender inequalities are compounded in times of conflict. Women and girls make up a large proportion of internally displaced populations (IDPs) and refugees. In Burkina Faso, 51% of IDPs are girls under the age of 14. Moreover, gender norms that associate masculinity with aggression make men more likely to perpetrate violence against those over whom they have power – usually women and children.

Overall, conflict increases women’s exposure and vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence. The Sahel and West Africa Club’s publication on Women and Conflict in West Africa, shows that Islamist organisations and militias deliberately target women. In north-eastern Nigeria where Boko Haram has its roots, women are victims of systemic attacks and kidnappings, and are forced into slavery as sex slaves, informants and even fighters. Additionally, women in conflict are victims of rape and forced prostitution, pregnancy, abortion, sterilisation and marriage, as well as many other forms of sexual violence. The higher risk and exposure to sexual and gender-based violence during conflict leads to increased reproductive health problems, which, compounded with the lack of access to health services in particular in conflict settings, have a severely detrimental effect on women and girls. Age compounds gender discrimination and disparities: in conflict and post-conflict contexts, adolescent girls and young women face even higher risks. Moreover, conflict widens the gender gap in school enrolment and retention.

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COVID-19, révélateur de la valeur de la vie humaine pour la société ?

Par Joseph Brunet-Jailly, Économiste, Paris School of International Affairs, SciencesPo Paris


Ce blog fait partie d’une série sur la lutte contre le COVID-19 dans les pays en voie de développement. Visitez la page dédiée de l’OCDE pour accéder aux données, analyses et recommandations de l’OCDE sur les impacts sanitaires, économiques, financiers et sociétaux de COVID-19 dans le monde.


COVID-19-sahelLa pandémie que nous vivons marque l’apparition inopinée d’une valeur de la vie humaine dans les préoccupations de l’humanité.

Certes, nous étions habitués aux proclamations solennelles selon lesquelles la valeur de la vie humaine serait absolue. Mais de là à considérer que la vie humaine devrait être l’aune à laquelle tout progrès se mesurerait, il y avait un grand pas qu’on ne voulait pas franchir. Il était tellement plus important de s’enrichir en biens matériels que la vie humaine elle-même y a été asservie : esclavage, servage, misère ouvrière, guerre, racisme, phobie des migrants, etc., autant de termes pour dire des vies humaines méprisées. Continue reading

The impact of coronavirus on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Simi Siwisa, Absa Group Head of Public Policy


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


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Lagos, Nigeria – First Gate Market during the lockdown in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, April 2020. Photo: Shutterstock

The IMF anticipates that the “Great Lockdown” will have a more devastating impact on the global economy than the Global Financial Crisis. For the African continent, it is forecasting “an unprecedented threat to Africa’s development with a decline projected at “1.6% in 2020, and real per capita income to fall by even more – 3.9% on average.” This is because many African economies are disproportionally affected by sudden stops in the global economy. A collapse in global demand and supply has resulted in a sharp decline in key commodity prices and export volumes. Related to this, flight to safety has resulted in tighter financial conditions with more than $4.2 billion outflows from African countries since February 2020. Less optimistic, the World Bank forecasts that Sub-Saharan Africa will “contract 2.1% to 5.1% from growth of 2.4% last year, costing the region $37 billion to $79 billion in output losses’. Under any scenario, the outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa remains bleak, and urgent interventions are required to prevent unmitigated health, social, economic and political crises. Debt relief is an important component of the crisis-response package. As David Pilling put it in the Financial Times, debt relief to Africa is in the self-interest of the rest of the world. However, for these efforts to work and not sow the seeds of future financial problems, the lessons from past debt relief initiatives and the changed nature of Africa’s debt must be taken into account. Continue reading

COVID-19 in West Africa: Multiple crises demand a new approach to co-operation

By Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer, African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and Honorary President, Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC)


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


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Healthcare workers in Senegal. Photo: RTI International/Sam Phelps

West Africa is in the midst of a food crisis of exceptional magnitude. The recent meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network — which monitors the food and nutrition situation in the Sahel and West Africa — reported that the crisis is expected to affect 17 million people in the coming months; twice as many as the average of previous years. This worsening situation is mainly due to a high level of insecurity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is already hitting the region hard as a result of the collapse of world commodity prices, the devaluation of some currencies, inflation and difficulties in importing agricultural inputs. Moreover, some policy responses, such as limiting mobility, closing or restricting market activity — are de facto threatening the livelihoods of the majority of the population. It is feared that the spread of the pandemic will be rapid and massive, especially since — despite a young population — the immune systems of millions of people are weakened by malnutrition or chronic illnesses. Continue reading

Energising Africa’s productive transformation: how intermediary cities can be a game changer

By Bakary Traoré, Economist, OECD Development Centre, and Elisa Saint-Martin, Junior policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre 

Electricity-in-Africa-shutterstock_563620138A review of on-going industrial strategies (Africa’s Development Dynamics 2019 report) shows that most African countries have the ambition to expand processing activities in sub-sectors such as agro-industries, fertilisers, metals and construction materials. To achieve this, it is urgent to improve the quality of energy supply across the continent. Regional co-operation for energy among Africa’s cross-border intermediary cities can be a game changer.

First, let’s take a look at the main challenges

Today, industrial processing activities and transport services account for no more than 35% of total energy consumption in Africa (see Figure 1, based on the OECD/IEA 2019 database). Africa’s electrical networks are struggling to cope with current needs: on average, firms in sub-Saharan Africa face 8.5 electricity outages a month (World Bank, Enterprise surveys, 2019), and 40.5% of them consider insufficient access to energy to be a major constraint to their growth and competitiveness.
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Et si la crise sécuritaire du Sahel était aussi (voire avant tout) économique ?

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Par Maman Sambo Sidikou, Secrétaire permanent du G5 Sahel[1]


Ce blog fait partie d’une série marquant
le 19e Forum économique international sur l’Afrique


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Femme tirant de l’eau d’un puits en Natriguel, Mauritanie. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam/Flickr

Le Sahel vit un tournant, une accélération de l’histoire dont le coût humain est élevé. Nos jeunes pays connaissent une croissance démographique sans précédent. Notre population est de plus en plus jeune et de plus en plus urbaine. Même si elle est élevée, la croissance économique ne permet pas de répondre aux attentes des habitants de plus en plus nombreux. Sur nos vastes territoires, certaines interrogations se font aujourd’hui pressantes. Pourquoi, alors que la « frontière » est la marque de l’État, sa présence y est-elle si discrète ? Quelle attention est accordée aux citoyens vivant loin des capitales ? Comment, lorsque l’on est absent, être perçu comme « légitime », digne de confiance et capable de changer le cours des choses ? C’est à ces questions que nos États et sociétés doivent répondre. Continue reading

Bassin du lac Tchad : la riposte militaire ne suffira pas contre Boko Haram

Par Seidik Abba, journaliste et écrivain

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La paix définitive passe par la lutte contre la pauvreté : ici des femmes récoltant du poivron sur les rives de la Komadougou-Yobé. Crédit photo : Ado Youssouf

La stratégie du tout militaire et sécuritaire semble avoir montré ses limites dans la riposte contre le mouvement jihadiste nigérian Boko Haram. Désormais, il faut passer à une approche holistique associant les défis du développement et la prise en charge de l’urgence écologique autour du lac Tchad.

Depuis 2009, Boko Haram [qui signifie l’école occidentale est un péché en langue hausa] a basculé dans la violence armée au Nigéria, pays de naissance de ce mouvement qui se réclame du jihad, mais aussi au Cameroun, au Niger et au Tchad. En dix ans, selon l’ONU, près de 27 000 personnes ont été tuées par Boko Haram, ce qui a provoqué les déplacements internes ou externes de près de 2 millions de personnes. Face à la violence inouïe de ce mouvement jihadiste, les États concernés ont choisi l’option du tout militaire et sécuritaire. Continue reading

Mapping the Geography of Political Violence in North and West Africa

By Olivier J. Walther, Assistant Professor in Geography, University of Florida and consultant for the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD); Steven M. Radil, Assistant Professor in Geography, University of Idaho and David Russell, consultant for SWAC/OECD

A worrying turn

The security situation in North and West Africa has taken a worrying turn. Within the span of a few years, Mali has faced a military coup, a secessionist rebellion, a Western military intervention, and several major terrorist attacks. In the Lake Chad region, Boko Haram is attempting to revive an Emirate, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring countries. In Libya, the bombing campaign by NATO in 2011 hardly put an end to the civil war that continues to oppose rebels and militias. If the trend observed so far continues, this year will be the deadliest recorded in the region since 1997, with more than 8 300 killed through June.

Despite the multiplication of security studies, the geography of conflict throughout the region is obscured by the large number of belligerents, their divergent political strategies, and a focus on individual countries as the primary context of the continuing violence. While violence remains on the increase, it remains unclear whether violent organisations are intensifying their efforts in particular localities, spreading insecurity to a growing number of regions, or relocating under the pressure of government forces. Continue reading

The Sahel: responding to emergencies with efficiency

By Abdoul Salam Bello, Senior Fellow, Africa Center, Atlantic Council

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Image by Anton Wagner/Pixabay

The situation in the Sahel is concerning as community conflicts add to existing security, humanitarian and development challenges. What is now at hand is an emergency requiring the Sahel countries to respond with a sense of urgency. And not only is a greater and effective State presence necessary, but also improved synergies and coordination amongst stakeholders, including beneficiary communities and the private sector whose role is often overshadowed and underleveraged.

Here’s what we know: security challenges in the Sahel region put additional pressure on governments’ budget. This consequently generates significant macroeconomic and fiscal costs. Mali, for example, almost quadrupled its military spending from USD 132 million to USD 495 million from 2013 to 2018 according to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Over the same period, Niger increased its military spending by 2.5-fold, from USD 91.6 million to USD 230 million, while Burkina Faso doubled its expenditures from USD 142 million to USD 312 million. Mauritania spent 4.1% of its GDP on security spending in 2016, while Chad spent the equivalent of 5.6% in 2013. Such security expenditures often crowd out social investments. In 2018, for instance, Niger spent 17% of its total budget on security compared to 11% on health. If this trend persists, it would hinder the States’ ability to implement critical social programmes needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Continue reading

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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