The Sahel

Islamist fighters race near the Mauritania-Mali border

Islamist fighters in Mali. (Photo: Magharebia)

The Sahel has seen the most rapid growth in violent extremist activity of any region in Africa over the past 2 years. The region is also a nexus of criminal networks and illicit trafficking and has experienced a rise in farmer-herder violence. The Sahel, moreover, has the fastest population growth rate on the continent, despite being among the poorest and facing some of the most fragile environmental conditions. Consequently, migrants from the Sahel constitute a significant share of those trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. All the while, emerging democratic institutions are trying to gain traction in the region. Here is a selection of Africa Center work on the region.

Russia's Wagner Play Undermines the Transition in Mali

Spotlight

Russia’s Wagner Play Undermines the Transition in Mali

By Joseph Siegle and Daniel Eizenga
September 23, 2021

The prospective deployment of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries should not be confused with addressing Mali’s security situation but is a means of expanding Russian influence while propping up the military junta.

Spotlight

Walking Back the Coup in Guinea

By Joseph Siegle and Daniel Eizenga
September 17, 2021

Recognition of the coup in Guinea would incentivize future military interventions. Yet, simply reinstating President Alpha Condé would not restore democracy. Several possible paths could be followed to return Guinea to constitutional order.

The Growing Complexity of Farmer-Herder Conflict in West and Central Africa

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The Growing Complexity of Farmer-Herder Conflict in || West and Central Africa

By Leif Brottem
July 12, 2021

The rise of farmer-herder violence in Africa is more pernicious than fatality figures alone since it is often amplified by the emotionally potent issues of ethnicity, religion, culture, and land.

Chad’s Ongoing Instability, the Legacy of Idriss Déby

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Chad’s Ongoing Instability, the Legacy of Idriss Déby

By Daniel Eizenga
May 3, 2021

Idriss Déby’s death is an outcome of the ongoing instability perpetuated by his regime. The subsequent military coup d’état led by the late president’s son risks deepening political violence in this geographically strategic country.

Spike in Militant Islamist Violence in Africa Underscores Shifting Security Landscape

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Spike in Militant Islamist Violence in Africa Underscores Shifting Security Landscape

January 29, 2021

A surge of violent events by militant Islamist groups in Africa, led by escalations in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, sets record and widens instability.

Islamic State in the Greater Sahara Expanding Its Threat and Reach in the Sahel

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Islamic State in the Greater Sahara Expanding Its Threat and Reach in the Sahel

December 18, 2020

Violence linked to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) more than doubled in the past year. Concentrated along the Burkina Faso-Niger-Mali border areas, ISGS events target civilians nearly half the time.

The Puzzle of JNIM and Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel

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The Puzzle of JNIM and Militant Islamist Groups
in the Sahel

By Daniel Eizenga and Wendy Williams
December 1, 2020

Composed of distinct operational entities, the militant Islamist group coalition Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen serves the role of obscuring the operations of its component parts in the Sahel, thereby inhibiting a more robust response.

The Legacy of Military Governance in Mali

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The Legacy of Military Governance in Mali

September 25, 2020

After leading a coup against a democratically elected government, junta leader Colonel Assimi Goïta has attempted to rehabilitate the image of military government in Mali.

Keeping Terrorism at Bay in Mauritania

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Keeping Terrorism at Bay in Mauritania

By Anouar Boukhars
June 16, 2020

Mauritania’s security reforms, including training, enhanced mobility, Special Forces, prudent procurement, and community engagement have strengthened its capability to confront violent extremist groups.

Understanding Fulani Perspectives on the Sahel Crisis

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Understanding Fulani Perspectives on the Sahel Crisis

By Modibo Ghaly Cissé
April 22, 2020

The disproportionate representation of Fulani in militant Islamist groups in the Sahel has led to the stigmatization of the entire Fulani community. Reversing this will require renewed outreach and trust-building between Fulani leaders, government authorities, and neighboring communities.

Chadian soldiers in Bosso, Niger

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Chad’s Escalating Fight against Boko Haram

By Daniel Eizenga
April 20, 2020

A rise in Boko Haram and ISWA attacks in Chad has been met with a military surge to clear the area. Enduring success will require a sustained presence and an intensified regional commitment.

Spotlight

How Violent Extremist Groups Exploit Intercommunal Conflicts in the Sahel

By Laurence-Aïda Ammour
February 26, 2020

Rising violence by militant Islamist groups in the Sahel is straining intercommunal tensions, threatening the foundations of social cohesion in the region.

Mali soldiers in Gao

Publication

Responding to the Rise in Violent Extremism in the Sahel

By Pauline Le Roux
December 2, 2019

Reversing the escalating violence of militant Islamist groups in the Sahel will require an enhanced security presence coupled with more sustained outreach to local communities.

Video

Strategies for Peace and Security in the Sahel

September 27, 2019

The Sahel is the African region that has seen the most rapid growth in violent extremist activity over the past 2 years. Ambassadors of the G-5 Sahel countries and leading experts examine the drivers and responses to the region's security challenges.

Réduire la violence entre agriculteurs et éleveurs au Mali

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Mitigating Farmer-Herder Violence in Mali

August 8, 2019

The confluence between farmer-herder violence, ethnicity, and extremist groups requires a multitiered response emphasizing a people-centric approach.

Ansaroul Islam militants in northern Burkina Faso, date unknown. (Image: Screen capture from video obtained by Héni Nsaibia from source in Mali)

Spotlight

Ansaroul Islam: The Rise and Decline of a Militant Islamist Group in the Sahel

By Pauline Le Roux
July 29, 2019

Burkina Faso’s first militant Islamist group, Ansaroul Islam, has faced setbacks, pointing to the weaknesses of violent extremist organizations lacking deep local support and facing sustained pressure.

Spotlight

Exploiting Borders in the Sahel: The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara

By Pauline Le Roux
June 10, 2019

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has pursued breadth rather than depth of engagement in its rapid rise along the Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso borders.

EU Security Strategy in Sahel Focused on Security-Development Nexus

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EU Security Strategy in Sahel Focused on Security-Development Nexus

March 7, 2019

EU Special Representative to the Sahel Angel Losada Fernandez discusses Europe's security strategy in the region, which focuses on integrating development, security, and governance in coordination with African actors on the ground, in this interview with the Africa Center.

Security Responses in Sahel Map

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A Review of Major Regional Security Efforts in the Sahel

March 4, 2019

Increased attacks from militant Islamist groups in the Sahel coupled with cross-border challenges such as trafficking, migration, and displacement have prompted a series of regional and international security responses.

Confronting Central Mali’s Extremist Threat

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Confronting Central Mali’s Extremist Threat

By Pauline Le Roux
February 22, 2019

The Macina Liberation Front has opportunistically played on perceptions of ethnic, economic, religious, and political marginalization to become one of the most active militant Islamist groups in Mali.

The Complex and Growing Threat of Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel

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The Complex and Growing Threat of Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel

February 15, 2019

The escalation of violent events linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel reflects an array of diverse actors operating within distinct geographic concentrations.

Progress and Setbacks in the Fight against African Militant Islamist Groups in 2018

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Progress and Setbacks in the Fight against African Militant Islamist Groups in 2018

January 25, 2019

Declines in violent activity linked to Boko Haram and al Shabaab are balanced by increases in the Sahel, generating a mixed picture of the challenge posed by militant Islamist groups in Africa.

The G5 Sahel Joint Force Gains Traction

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The G5 Sahel Joint Force Gains Traction

February 9, 2018

The G5 Sahel is ramping up its joint security force in order to address the growing threat posed by militant Islamist groups in the Sahel. The Force is emerging as a focal point for transnational security efforts in the region.

A Fulani man herds cattle in northern Cameroon

Spotlight

Africa’s Pastoralists: A New Battleground for Terrorism

By Kaley Fulton and Benjamin P. Nickels
January 11, 2017

Islamist terrorist groups in the Sahel and Sahara are attempting to exploit pastoralist grievances to mobilize greater support for their agenda, write Kaley Fulton and Benjamin Nickels.

Video

Militancy and the Arc of Instability: Violent Extremism in the Sahel

September 28, 2016

Violent extremist organizations have expanded their ambitions, capacities, and geographical reach into the Sahel and West Africa, creating an arc of instability across the region. The Africa Center’s Benjamin Nickels joined a panel experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies to discuss the continuing challenges facing the Sahel.

Sahrawi Insurgency Could Provide an Opening for AQIM

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Sahrawi Insurgency Could Provide an Opening for AQIM

By Wendy Williams
June 15, 2016

The unfolding events between Morocco and Western Sahara could provide a sought-after opportunity for AQIM to reassert its relevance in the region.

Place nations unies, Ouagadougou

Spotlight

Terrorists Strike Burkina Faso: What are the Implications?

January 25, 2016

The terrorist attack on a luxury hotel in Ouagadougou is the second time in recent months that groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have conducted attacks of this type outside their base area. Benjamin Nickels assesses the significance of these attacks and steps that might be taken by Burkinabé authorities and their partners to address future threats.

Regional Security Cooperation in the Maghreb and Sahel Algerias Pivotal Ambivalence

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Regional Security Cooperation in the Maghreb and Sahel: Algeria’s Pivotal Ambivalence

By Laurence Aïda Ammour
February 28, 2012

Despite growing security concerns across the Sahel and Maghreb, regional security cooperation to address these transnational threats remains fragmented. Algeria is well-positioned to play a central role in defining this cooperation, but must first reconcile the complex domestic, regional, and international considerations that shape its decision-making.

Sifting Through the Layers of Insecurity in the Sahel: The Case of Mauritania

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Sifting Through the Layers of Insecurity in the Sahel: The Case of Mauritania

By Cédric Jourde
September 30, 2011

Increasing narcotrafficking and a more active Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are elevating concerns over instability in the Sahel. However, the region’s threats are more complex than what is observable on the surface. Rather, security concerns are typically characterized by multiple, competing, and fluctuating interests at the local, national, and regional levels. Effectively responding to these threats requires in-depth understanding of the multiple contextual layers in which illicit actors operate.

Publication

West Africa’s Growing Terrorist Threat: Confronting AQIM’s Sahelian Strategy

By Modibo Goïta
February 28, 2011

Counterterrorism efforts among Sahelian governments remain uncoordinated and too narrowly focused to contain and confront AQIM’s long-term and sophisticated strategy in the region. To prevent AQIM from further consolidating its presence in the Sahel, regional policies must be harmonized and security forces refocused so as to minimize collateral impacts on local communities.