Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Instability in the Sahel community

The Sahel Community or “The Sudan Region” is composed of Sudan, Chad, Eritrea, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Guinea-Bissau. It is the partially dry and wet transitional middle zone in Africa; from the Sahara northwards to the South Sudan Savanna and from Eretria East to Mauritania West. There are some other countries whose regions are partially in the Sahel zone such as Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Northern Central African Republic, Northern Ethiopia, Southern Libya and Southern Algeria. The instability in these countries is resulting from poverty, diseases, terrorism, environmental crisis, hunger, economic crisis and war. Jihadist insurrections, coup d’états, protests and rebellions; which have been counteracted by the various governments with violent military crack downs are also a major cause.

Recently, it has been quite difficult to extend aid and initiate dialogue between the rebels and governments in the Sahel thus creating a political or leadership vacuum which is now being filled by terrorists and other criminal groups.

What is causing the Instability?

The United Nations’ (UN’s) Secretary General’s Special Adviser for The Sahel Community, the Mauritanian Ibrahim Thiaw highlighted that,

“The sub region is at a turning point, ensuring peace means tackling the causes of instability.”

Climate Change

The climate of the Sahel zone is characterized by heavy wind, periodic drought and floods. The temperature of this region is rising 1.5 times faster than the rest of the world. Since most of the inhabitants of this zone depend on livestock for feeding, intensive droughts due short wet seasons as a result of erratic rainfall are making grazing land less available for animal rearing especially towards the West. Herdsmen are forced to move in search of grazing land which is causing a lot of conflict especially around borders. According to the FAO in 2018, there are about 33 million food insecure people now in the Sahel.

Spill over across porous National Borders

There is a difficulty of restricting border entry and exit due to the severity of the conflicts making it easy for extremists and traffickers to easily move from one country to another circulating weapons and spreading bad ideas. Islamist armed groups migrated from Eastern Niger and Southern Algeria into Northern Mali and later moved towards the Centre while attacking and killing innocent civilians. In the process of the counterterrorism intervention by the State Militia, many contra human rights atrocious acts were carried out. About 300 people were killed in different circumstances, foreign aid organization agents inclusive. Afterwards, some ethnic groups formed communal defense forces and attacked other civilians accused of supporting the Islamist armed groups.

The Boko Haram Islamic sect that operates in from the Sambisa forest in Borno State in Northern Nigeria keeps on perforating the borders of Cameroon, Chad and Niger to loot, seize food stuff, kidnap women and children to be used for sex and militias respectively.


Terrorist activities are infrangibly carried out by Al-Qaeda linked Muslim groups who aim to spread Islam. These attacks were stepped up early 2019 as Malian forces and United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (UN-MINUSMA) were attacked with sophisticated heavy arms by the rebels.

Boko Haram is inflicting fear in the Northern Nigerian communities where suicide bombing, kidnappings and man slaughter are frequently reported. Their aim is to foster the harnessed idea of the Al-Qaeda Muslim to spread Islam for their own purposes.

Volatile and frequently transmuted Alliances

Rivalries in the Sahel are characterized by continuous switching of sides, aims, plans and actions. In Mali, Iyad Ag Ghaly who founded the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad a breed of the Touareg Movement later formed the Ansar Dine Islamic group allying with the latter but suddenly differed in ideas which led to violent confrontations. Politicians, leaders of State militias, rebels and religious extremists often switch sides depending on who is in control and the advantages involved. General El Hadj Ag Gamou who defended late President Gaddafi’s Libyan Islamic Legion also joined the Northern Malian rebel group and later on found himself in the Imghad Self Defense Group and Allies (GATIA) that supports the government.

Identity Politics

The Sahel zone instability is far from being caused by the usual leadership friction, unemployment or fight for natural resources. Instead, it is more of an identity, religious and cultural based insurgence. Within the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle, there exists a normal inter-boundary market for arms and other weapons that are sold the rebel groups identify with in their course. Rebel militias here are often seen breaking into religious structures to destroy and desecrate holy objects which they believe are unorthodox and thus a religious belief. This has been perpetrated by the Ansar Dine rebels in Timbuktu for the last 6 to 7 years. Apart from Boko Haram, The Teda or Tebu ethnic group occupying the Tebesti Mountains in the Northern part of Chad since post-independence and the Southern part of Sudan is still a nuisance in Chad.


Each country should establish institutional solutions and execute them internally.

The unrecognized legitimacy of governments should be rekindled by reforming the prolific rebel militias and bringing them under State control through treaties, agreements or accords.     

The legitimacy of the different governments of Sahel countries should ensure that the humanitarian organizations collaborate and follow state numbs when performing their duties. These NGOs end up experiencing the violence.

The problems resulting from the hash climatic changes should be addressed and afforestation/reforestation encouraged.

However, considering the fact that many civilians have paid the price for this instability with their lives, peace negotiators in collaboration with the different governments should use the most calm and non-violent approaches.

Article from AFRIC editorial.

Credit image/google images




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