While instability has been a recurring theme in the Sahel and West Africa, violent events have become more frequent and deadly in recent years and their underlying dynamics have grown increasingly complex. Regional co-operation dynamics, trade, and free movement are therefore played out in a more precarious and unstable context, to which policymakers must adapt. They require accurate information to better understand these volatile dynamics and their geographical dimensions, in particular how decisions made at different levels of governance can impact events across different territorial scales, whether local, national or regional. To support the region’s policymakers, SWAC will continue to produce innovative spatial analyses that provide novel insights into regional security challenges.
African governments are increasingly confronted with new forms of political violence. The situation is particularly worrying in the Sahara-Sahel where violence is on the rise. This degrading security situation has prompted African countries and their partners to intervene militarily to stabilise the region and to prevent the spread of extremism and violence against civilians. However, these initiatives face many obstacles due to the transnational nature and geography of violence. The Geography of Conflict in North and West Africa maps the evolution of violence across North and West Africa, with a particular focus on Mali, Lake Chad and Libya. This work is based on a new spatial indicator of political violence designed to assess the long-term evolution of conflicts and provide policy options. It is carried out in partnership with research centres, notably through a memorandum of understanding with the University of Florida’s Sahel Research Group, as well as with researchers at the University of Idaho.
At the invitation of the Munich Security Conference, the SWAC/OECD Secretariat hosted a side event on 14 February dedicated to the launch of their new report The Geography of Conflict in North and West Africa. The launch was the only event organised by the OECD as part of the Conference. Thirty-five leaders with various profiles (United Nations, NATO, government, private sector) attended the event. In his remarks, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría set the stage for the security situation in North and West Africa. The last five years were the most violent ever recorded in the region with over 16 000 violent incidents and 60 000 fatalities through to end 2019. Such a rise in violence calls for regional policy responses to pay more attention to the geography of conflicts, to the unpredictable dynamics of political violence, and to the complex interactions between all the actors involved.
The new Spatial Conflict Dynamics indicator (SCDi) maps the changing geography of violence in North and West Africa and assesses its evolution over time (from 1999 until today). It incorporates two fundamental spatial dimensions: intensity, or the amount of violence within a region, and concentration, or how violent events are distributed within the region. A focus is made on three areas: Libya, the Central Sahel and Lake Chad.
The number of civilian victims of West African conflicts now exceeds the number attributed to battles between the government and armed groups. This development is leading to an increase in violence against women, who are often the first victims of identity struggles. Women also participate in acts of violence, particularly through suicide attacks in the Lake Chad basin. Of the 395 suicide attacks that occurred from June 2011 to August 2019, 80 were carried out by women. However, this phenomenon has been declining sharply due to the loss of territorial control of Boko Haram since the mid-2010. This West African Paper underlines the need to implement counter-insurgency strategies that protect populations, especially women.
The stability of Sahelian countries and the capacity of their governments to manage social change and resulting tensions have major security implications for migration flows, economic development, and health concerns both for local people and for the broader international community. This paper offers a broad overview of the current situation in the Sahel paying attention to the intersecting and overlapping issues of security and development. It aims to contribute to contemporary policy discussions by offering evidence of how these dynamics have either changed or persisted across this centrally important region during the last several decades.
Find out more
- Contemporary Civil-Military Relations in the Sahel (working paper)
- Political Settlements with Jihadists in Algeria and the Sahel (working paper)
- The unstable foundations of political stability in Chad (working paper)
- Defying the odds? Nigerien responses to foreign and domestic security challenges (working paper)
- An Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel:Geography, Economics and Security (publication)