Fact Sketching

Cartooning for Peace and the Sahel and West Africa Club present

Fact Sketching


The Fact Sketching series is produced in collaboration with Cartooning for Peace. Each month, a drawing accompanied by a text offers an alternative look at what is at stake in the Sahel and West Africa. 

Created in 2006 at the initiative of Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize and former General Secretary of the United Nations, and press cartoonist Plantu, Cartooning for Peace is an international network of cartoonists committed to the promotion of freedom of expression, Human Rights and mutual respect among people upholding different cultures and believes, using the universal language of press cartoons. 

Food and nutrition security

Recurrent food crises

Glez (Burkino Faso) 

Recurrent food crises

For many decades, the absolute number of people suffering from chronic or occasional malnutrition has been increasing in the Sahel and West Africa, even if their proportion of the total population is decreasing. Since the famines of 1972-73 and 1984-85, the prevalence of undernutrition has declined overall in the region, from 24% in 1990-92 to 14.7% in 2017-19 according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. Fast population growth is masking the efforts made and the good results achieved in this area.

Since the 2010s, the security factor has been added to the complex hunger and malnutrition equation. Civil insecurity is a major reason why Sahelian populations having experienced one of the worst food crises in decades in 2020 (16.9 million people in need of immediate food assistance in June-August 2020, 7.2 million more than in the same period in 2019). The April 2021 meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) warned the region to prepare for the second consecutive year of a major food and nutrition crisis that, without appropriate measures, could affect up to 27.1 million people during the 2021 lean season (June-August). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the prevalence of global acute malnutrition already exceeds the high threshold of 10% in several Sahelian countries. An estimated 67 million additional people, currently under food pressure (Phase 2), could fall into crisis during this lean season — a new peak for the region.

The cross-border areas of Liptako-Gourma and the Lake Chad Basin, which are particularly affected by insecurity, have a concentration of people in need of food assistance. In the tri-border zone (between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), 2.7 million people were in crisis and beyond in June-August 2021; food and nutrition insecurity is chronic: 1 in 4 people depend on food aid. It was predicted that in June-August 2021, northern Nigeria, which is heavily affected by civil insecurity, would have around 12.8 million people in need of immediate food assistance, i.e. almost half of those in the region (47.4%).

Regional nutrition paradoxes

Yet the region has seen steady increases in agricultural production. West Africa has recorded a good agropastoral season in 2020-21, with increased cereal and tuber production (estimated at 74.3 million and 194.9 million tonnes, respectively) and good fodder production. However, these results are likely to be undermined by: insecurity that hinders access to fields and pastures; economic shocks, notably inflation leading to high prices in Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone; measures taken to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic that prevent the normal functioning of markets and restrict pastoral mobility; and climatic hazards that affect harvests, such as the heavy flooding that occurred during the 2020 and 2021 rainy seasons.

Food and nutrition insecurity, which is no longer limited to the rural world, is gaining ground in cities. In 2018, 110 million people in West Africa were not adequately nourished, of whom 52 million were overweight or obese (mainly in cities). In Burkina Faso, the obesity rate rose by 1 400% over the last 36 years. This dietary imbalance, caused by new eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle, is leading to an "epidemic" of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The latest figures from the Global Nutrition Report show that 50% of West African women of childbearing age are anemic and 13% of women in the region are obese, causing what is known as a “double burden” of malnutrition.


Affected by various ecological fragilities (climatic uncertainties, degradation of natural resources, locust threats, etc.), the evolution of the food and nutrition situation in the region remains uncertain. It may experience peaks of crises or lulls according to the changes caused by the various factors mentioned above, to which are added socio-economic shocks (volatility of food prices, inflation, security and health crises, etc.). The resilience of populations, i.e. their capacity to resist and bounce back from a shock and adapt to change, is an imperative that must be placed at the heart of long-term public policies. To achieve this, a number of levers have already been implemented at regional level, including the Charter for the Prevention and Management of Food Crises (PREGEC Charter); the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR); instruments of regional solidarity in the face of food crises such as the ECOWAS Regional Food Security Reserve; information systems on food and nutritional security facilitated by the RPCA; instruments for strengthening the leadership of states in the governance of food and nutritional security; as well as tools for analysing the transformations of food systems in the Sahel and West Africa and their implications for public policies. 


Mapping violence in the Sahara-Sahel

Zapiro (South Africa) 

Mapping violence in the Sahara-Sahel

In North and West Africa, violent extremist organisations, militias and secessionists rebels have recently thrived on the inability of states to fully control their own territories. Political insecurity has reached unprecedented records, with nearly 112 000 people killed in the last decade. Few states in the region have been spared from the wave and many are confronted with violence that continues to spill across state borders.

While there is no doubt that violence is on the increase in North and West Africa, it is important to know whether violent organisations are intensifying their efforts in particular localities, spreading insecurity to other regions, or relocating under the pressure of government forces. The programme Securities and Borders of the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD) aims to map this changing geography of violence in the region.

In February 2020 at the Munich Security Conference, SWAC/OECD launched the report The Geography of Conflict in North and West Africa that builds on more than 30 000 violent incidents recorded in 21 countries since the late 1990s to map the long-term evolution of violence across the region. This work relies on a new Spatial Conflict Dynamics indicator (SCDi) that scrutinises two fundamental dimensions of political violence: intensity and concentration.


Political insecurity and military interventions

Over the last 22 years, the number of regions experiencing political violence has multiplied by 5. In 2018, the number of violent events and fatalities was higher than the 20-year average in more than half of these conflictual regions. Wherever a conflict was present, it was likely to worsen. In Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger), new clusters of conflict have emerged in regions previously unaffected by political violence, such as in the Gourma and the Inner Niger Delta. In these regions, political violence is both very localised and intense.

The number of civilian casualties in West African conflicts now exceeds that attributed to battles between governments and armed groups. The control of  populations has become one of the major challenges of insurgencies. This development is leading to an increase in violence against civilians. Women pay a heavy price for these armed struggles, in addition to the structural discrimination that weighs on their social emancipation, their economic activity and their political representation. In conflict areas, they are explicitly targeted for attack, abduction, rape, and sexual exploitation by some extremist organisations. Women can also be sympathetic to the latter, mobilised in recruiting new members and promoting the goals of their organisations, or even involved in the prosecution of acts of violence.

The region’s foreign military interventions have rarely led to long-term stability and are usually followed by a resumption of insurgent activities. In Libya and Mali, violence surged as part of these interventions, and then rapidly decreased as the interventions progressed only to re-emerge again, returning to levels similar or worse to those that triggered the interventions. In the Lake Chad region, the offensive launched by Nigeria and its neighbours in 2015 was a turning point in the war against Boko Haram, initially reducing the intensity of violence and limiting it to remote areas. Since then, however, violence has proven to be persistent, increasing in intensity over time as well as expanding across space.

Policy lessons learned from the geography of conflict

First, the deterioration of the security situation demonstrates that political solutions must be found and applied at a regional level as military interventions focused on individual countries have not yielded permanent stability. Second, long-term conflict resolution entails restoring states’ legitimacy and their ability to control borders to stop the spread of violence between countries. Countering violent extremism also requires strengthening national cohesion by better connecting capital cities with peripheral regions. Particular attention should be given to border cities: 10% of the victims recorded since 1997 were killed within 10 kilometres of a land border. Third, the fact that civilians pay such a high price in the current conflicts should encourage authorities to use the minimum necessary force in their military operations. Protecting civilian populations in general, and women in particular, from violence and gaining their support is an effective way of countering the strategies of extremist groups based on fear and exclusion.

Finally, military interventions are initially effective in reducing the intensity of violence and, in some circumstances, in temporarily limiting the spread of violence. However, these interventions alone have not yet improved the long-term stability of the region. Insurgencies continue to emerge because of grievances, real or perceived, and these must be addressed through civil means rather than military ones. External forces can only reduce conflicts to a manageable problem to allow political resolution efforts to be deployed by the decision makers of the states where they develop.


Women and food and nutrition security in the Sahel and West Africa

Glez (Burkina Faso) 

Women and food and nutrition security in the Sahel & West Africa

Women play a pivotal role in a wide range of activities supporting food and nutrition security. They are the powerhouses of the Sahel and West African food economy. Two-thirds of all employed women work across the food economy, accounting for 51% of the labour force. They dominate off-farm segments of food value chains including food processing and selling as well as food-away-from-home. They are also important actors in cross-border trade.

Nevertheless, access to affordable and nutritious foods is beyond the reach of many women and girls. Low income and education levels, social norms, discriminatory laws and practices such as those revealed in the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), drive food insecurity among women by curbing their ownership over assets such as land, water and energy; access to financial services, social capital, information and technology; as well as agricultural inputs and services. The double burden facing women to balance the demands of agricultural production, unpaid care and domestic work compound these inequalities.

In the Sahel and West Africa, more than 40% of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia across 14 countries, driving maternal and child morbidity, and in fine undermining women’s economic empowerment. Stunting, a measure of chronic malnutrition, often has its origins in utero due to poor maternal nutrition. Obesity, which was practically unheard of in the past, affects more women than men. Women who are overweight are at a greater risk of giving birth to heavier babies, putting them at a higher risk of being overweight or obese as adults.

Climate change and climate variability exacerbate the occurrence of extreme weather events, which disrupt food production cycles. While this impacts all populations, the poor, and particularly women, are hit hardest. The marginal lands they tend to cultivate are likely to be more affected by desertification and soil erosion. Collecting water and wood takes additional time and requires walking longer distances, often in adverse or unsafe conditions. The health and nutrition of women and girls are jeopardised in this setting.

In conflict areas, like Liptako-Gourma, women are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Food scarcity fuels tensions and sometimes violence within the family. Women’s vulnerability to violence has implications beyond the individuals themselves; their economic status and decision-making power are directly related to indicators such as child survival and malnutrition. There are also long-term and inter-generational implications. Conflict often disrupts schooling for young women and girls, and through this, produces cascading effects. Better access to education for girls is not only correlated with major reductions in child malnutrition; it also delays a woman’s first pregnancy, a key factor for mother and child nutrition.

The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action recognised gender-sensitive programming as an indispensable strategy for achieving gender equality, including in the area of food security. 25 years later, many responses still tend to operate in silos and focus narrowly on improving women’s agency or access to information for example, instead of addressing the social, structural, and institutional barriers that hamper food and nutrition security among women and girls. Policies also often fail to include men and boys, yet understanding the drivers behind their motivations and behaviours is key to addressing unspoken societal barriers to gender inequality. The major challenge lies in developing inclusive policy responses that address these barriers. A gender-responsive approach to food and nutrition security could help pave the way towards a more sustainable and transformative change within the West African food system and fuel progress towards achieving not only the “zero hunger” goal (SDG 2) but also “gender equality” (SDG 5) and the other SDGs.

Africa and COVID-19

When a global virus meets West African local realities

Gado (Kenya) 

What happens when a global virus meets West African local realities?

West Africa and the Sahel were already grappling with conflict and a serious food and nutrition crisis prior to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. With the spotlight now on Covid-19, pre-existing crises run the risk of being neglected. In this context, the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD) prepared a policy brief taking stock of some of the potential impacts of the pandemic and outlining a number of policy implications to help support government action. It highlights the importance of putting the informal economy and local initiatives front and centre of response strategies, increasing synergy and co-ordination in the face of multiple crises, accelerating continental integration and reaffirming the centrality of food systems for the region.


The debt conundrum

African finance ministers called for a co-ordinated emergency economic stimulus to the tune of USD 100 billion, including the waiver of all interest payments on public debt and on sovereign bonds, to provide immediate fiscal space and liquidity to governments during the crisis. Following suit, the Paris Club and the G20 Finance Ministers agreed on a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries, for which all West African countries qualify. Notwithstanding, certain countries are breaking with the initiative over the terms of the deal that some deem too restrictive, while others are pushing for the reintroduction of special drawing rights as a way to create the needed liquidity.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a six-month debt relief for 25 poor countries, 11 of which are West African, to enable them to channel more resources in the fight against Covid-19. The question remains about how to treat Africa’s “Covid-contaminated” debt as it appears that temporary relief leaves long-term issues on the table.

Calls for debt relief for African countries (cancellation of public debt and restructuring of private debt) have been echoed by G5 Sahel foreign affairs ministers as well as by the heads of state and government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), for their part, have agreed on a method for reporting debt relief as official development assistance (ODA).


Tokens of solidarity

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) released the Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the Socio-economic Impacts of COVID-19 report and launched a UN Response and Recovery Fund to support low- and middle-income countries. In order to curb the “hunger virus” that harms particularly fragile states and vulnerable populations, the African Development Bank, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the G5 Sahel pledged USD 20 million in aid to forcibly displaced people and their host communities in the Sahel.

Chinese mogul Jack Ma and the Alibaba Foundation, with the help of Ethiopian Airlines, delivered Covid-19 prevention materials, including 1.5 million testing kits, 6 million masks and 60 000 protective suits to be distributed throughout Africa. In a second donation to all African Union (AU) countries, Jack Ma announced the shipment of 500 ventilators, 200 000 suits and face shields, 2 000 thermometres, 1 million swabs and extraction kits, and 500 000 gloves. This was followed by a third donation including 4.6 million masks, 500 000 test kits, 200 000 clothing sets and face shields, 2 000 thermal guns, 100 body temperature scanners and 500 000 pairs of gloves. This equipment was dispatched by the UN Solidarity Flight, which distributes World Health Organization (WHO) cargo transported by the World Food Programme (WFP). The deliveries were directed in accordance with the continental response plan laid out by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), to which Korea donated 2 million masks. The European Union (EU) has made an initial contribution towards the implementation of the joint continental strategy for the Outbreak with a EUR 10 million grant and Japan has also contributed with a USD 1 million grant. Many other foreign governments have sent funding, supplies and doctors directly to sub-Saharan African countries. Cuban medical brigades stand ready to help African countries upon request as they did during the Ebola outbreak.

The demonstration of South-South solidarity and global support is complemented by reverse linkages, with some 20 Somali doctors sent to Italy to help contain the spread of Covid-19 or with Egypt supporting the United States.

Within Africa, Morocco showed pan-African solidarity by delivering medical aid to several countries. Francophone and English-speaking intellectuals of the continent mobilised around a more participative public debate on Covid-19, strengthening the continent’s agency, as well as the importance of articulating an endogenous narrative.


An interdependent world

The AU Deputy Chairperson declared that “nobody is safe if one person is not safe.” Africa is part of a fully fledged solution that includes scientific researchers experienced in managing infectious diseases and a rich biodiversity. From this standpoint, it can make important contributions to the process of developing vaccines and adapted therapies. Controversy has broken out over a traditional Malagasy remedy (Covid-Organics) being used to treat the virus, raising questions on validation processes, from clinical research to patenting to overall intellectual property rights, especially when applied to traditional knowledge.

Finally, several African presidents and the Chairperson of the AU signed the call for uniting behind a people’s vaccine against Covid-19 to be available to all, in all countries, free of charge.

Continental responses

Brandan (South Africa) 

Continental responses

The African Union (AU) and its Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) are leading the continental response to Covid-19. After a meeting of African Health Ministers on 22 February 2020 (the first case of Covid-19 in West Africa was detected in Nigeria on 27 February), the AU set up a Task Force for Coronavirus (AFCOR), developed a joint continental strategy for the outbreak, established a continent-wide anti Covid-19 fund for AU member states and individuals from the continent and beyong to contribute to, and put in place a framework to engage youth in the response to the pandemic. The AU Chairperson appointed a group of special envoys to mobilise international economic support. The AU Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) released a white paper emphasising the impact of the many “known unknowns” of the pandemic. The pan-African organisation also launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform to pool procurement and purchase certified medical equipment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all African countries now have Coronavirus lab testing capacity.


The West African responses

Regional organisations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), are providing strategic plans, co-ordination platforms, and watch committees. The West African Health Organization (WAHO), which is ECOWAS’ specialised institution responsible for health issues, has conducted regional training for healthcare workers and distributed diagnostic testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as medicines including chloroquine and azithromycin, to its 15 member states. It also displays daily online Covid-19 regional updates. An extraordinary summit of heads of state directed WAHO to implement the Regional Plan of Action for Response to Covid-19, decided to support the local production of agricultural products as well as pharmaceutical and protective health equipment manufacturing, and to waive import restrictions across ECOWAS countries for essential goods.


Sanitary measures versus local realities

More than one-third of West Africans have no handwashing facility at home and up to 86% of people across the continent depend on informal labour requiring daily face-to-face interactions. The impact of the measures taken to stop Covid-19 are likely to stall economic activities at all levels: global commodity trade, as it is the case for oil exports in Nigeria or cotton production in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Togo; regional integration, thereby delaying the advent of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA); and local food systems, that are impacted by the disruption of supply chains. As a result, some countries are adopting palliative measures including the distribution of food and basic necessities, the provision of social safety nets and even the introduction of universal income, while others are now backpedalling on the severity of lockdowns initially declared or are attempting to articulate smart lockdown exit strategies in support of the recovery of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and vulnerable households.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa warned that Africa could lose half of its gross domestic product (GDP) growth due to the disruption of global supply chains and failing commodity prices. Other forecasts even envisage a recession for the first time in 22 years. The global dimension of the crisis and its induced travel bans greatly affect remittance flows and international tourism. West Africa’s regional value chains are severely affected, notably in the domains of agriculture and pastoralism, aggravating an already alarming food and nutrition situation. The United Nations has warned of the rapid deterioration of the Sahel crisis that is linked to conflict, food insecurity, inequalities and, now, the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting that, as of 11 May 2020, the Sahel Humanitarian Response Plans have received just 11% of the requested USD 2.6 billion.

Parallel to policies set up by governments, Africa’s financial institutions are proposing assertive responses to mitigate the socio-economic fallout from Covid-19. The African Development Bank has set up a USD 3 billion social bond and a USD 10 billion Covid-19 response facility. The Central Bank of West African States is supporting credit institutions and companies to face the outbreak. The West African Development Bank is providing XOF 120 billion in concessional loans — XOF 15 billion to each of its eight member states — for urgent measures to be taken in dealing with the health crisis and its consequences.

An African exception?

Glez (Burkina Faso) 

An African exception?

Home to a majority of the world’s poorest people (90% by 2030) and many fragile countries, Africa is vulnerable to Covid-19. Its demographics — a median age of 19 years old — might limit the direct impacts of the virus. However, the very large number of people whose immune systems are already weakened by nutritional deficiencies and chronic disease, could accelerate its spread. In arid zones, regular sand storms expose populations to dust-related respiratory diseases.

In addition, the increasing number of dense and often polluted urban agglomerations, with little possibility for social distancing, the dominance of the informal economy, which depends on daily face-to-face contact, and the mobility of seasonal workers, will challenge efforts to fight the virus. Without the buy-in of affected communities, ill-adapted and restrictive measures could expose African coutries to unrest and disorder.

It is true that, for the time being, the pandemic appears to be spreading at a slower pace in Africa than elsewhere in the world and with a lower mortality rate. It is also true that the number of tests carried out is very low (with the exception of South Africa and Ghana) and that “Africa is ill-equipped to respond to the deadly coronavirus outbreak”, according to the World Health Organisation. The “African exception” to the virus is therefore a hypothesis that should be considered with caution.


In the Sahel and West Africa, the pandemic adds an additional layer to pre-existing crises.

The region is currently experiencing both an impending food crisis — 17 million people are expected to need  food and nutrition assistance for the lean season of June-August 2020 — and an increase in political violence as clusters of conflict in Central Sahel, Lake Chad and Libya have claimed the lives of 92 000 people since 2011. The African Union (AU) Bureau of Heads of State and Government warned that the Sahel needs special attention in light of terrorist activities, and has pledged solidarity with the countries in this region “who have to fight the twin scourge of terrorism and Covid-19.” And G5 Sahel foreign ministers have called for increased vigilance on the spread of terrorism at a time when governments are focused on combating Covid-19.

In addition to having a limited health workforce, most West African countries lack hospitals equipped with intensive care units (Burkina Faso has just 11 ventilators for about 20 million people) and, when they do exist, these top-tier health facilities are distributed unevenly across national territories.

African health systems have suffered from severe cuts in social spending imposed by the structural adjustment policies put in place in the 1990s in response to the conditionalities set by the international financial institutions. The state of health in Africa is further weakened by shrinking fiscal space: low tax revenues (as low as 5.7% in Nigeria in 2019, for example) and rising public debt limit countries’ abilities to finance expenditure.

Yet, in April 2001, AU countries met in Abuja, Nigeria, and committed to allocate at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector. By 2014, no West African state had met this target, but the commitment was reiterated during the ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit which took place following the Ebola outbreak in the region and, once again, during the recent Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government on the situation and impact of Covid-19.

The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD Member countries or Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Members. This document, as well as any illustration, data or map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.