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 “Mapping the Geography of Political Violence in North and West Africa”

The Sahel: responding to emergencies with efficiency

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

sahel-burkina-faso-women-pixabay
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 Sahel: responding to emergencies with efficiency”

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.
Continue reading “The blurred boundaries of political violence in the Sahel-Sahara”

Nourrir sa population constitue le principal secteur d’activité de l’économie de l’Afrique de l’Ouest

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

(English version follows)

Cover image FREn inaugurant la nouvelle collection  « Notes Ouest-africaines » du Secrétariat du CSAO/OCDE, T. Allen et P. Heinrigs nous proposent une réflexion sur les opportunités de l’économie alimentaire de la région. Une occasion utile et nécessaire de se tourner vers le passé pour mesurer l’ampleur des mutations du monde réel… et de celles des idées.  

Je fais partie de ceux qui ont l’âge de se souvenir de l’agriculture ouest-africaine – sahélienne en particulier – au milieu des années 1980. Nous constations – déjà – la puissance de la croissance démographique. Entre 1960 et 1985, le nombre de sahéliens avait doublé et la population urbaine avait été multipliée par cinq. Et l’agriculture ne suivait pas le rythme. Abstraction faite des aléas climatiques (on sortait de la grande sécheresse de 1983), la tendance sur 25 ans était à l’augmentation des importations à un rythme de l’ordre de 8% par an. Jacques Giri dans son livre « Le sahel face aux futurs » paru en 1987, tirait la sonnette d’alarme : « Le système de production alimentaire sahélien est demeuré très traditionnel dans son ensemble, très vulnérable à la sécheresse et peu productif : il ne s’est adapté ni en quantité, ni en qualité, aux besoins (..). La région est de plus en plus dépendante de l’extérieur et en particulier de l’aide alimentaire. Le retour à des conditions climatiques plus favorables n’a pas fait disparaître cette dépendance ».  Continue reading “Nourrir sa population constitue le principal secteur d’activité de l’économie de l’Afrique de l’Ouest”

Entretien: Sahel, Plan d’action pour un engagement renouvelé 2015-2020

Entretien avec M. Jean-Pierre Marcelli, Directeur du Département Afrique, Agence française de développement (AFD) L’Agence française de développement (AFD) a élaboré un plan d’action pour opérationnaliser sa stratégie au Sahel pendant la période 2015-2020.1 À travers ce plan, elle développe des propositions pour une action plus lucide, plus ambitieuse et plus adaptée aux contextes sahéliens en pleine mutation. Dans une logique de stabilisation d’ensemble, le … Continue reading Entretien: Sahel, Plan d’action pour un engagement renouvelé 2015-2020

Why have they chopped Africa in two?

By Laurent Bossard, Director, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD) Read this post in French The word continent comes from the Latin phrase “continens terra” meaning a vast continuous stretch of land. It is based on this concept that the five continents were defined – not without some difficulty – and which make up, with Antarctica, 150 million square kilometres of land or 30% … Continue reading Why have they chopped Africa in two?

Together in Milan

The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) is taking part in the Expo 2015 upon the invitation of the European Union and within the framework of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s participation. Sharing ideas and learning from experiences through this website will be a six-month journey that will take us to Milano to celebrate our annual Sahel and West Africa Week (26-30 October 2015). Beyond the Expo, we hope to strengthen a global engagement for better food security and resilience, widen our partnerships and collaborations to achieve this goal in West Africa, and reach a large number of people around the world who are less familiar with the challenges of this African region. Continue reading Together in Milan