INTERVIEW – Despite multiple crises, the Sahel must be seen as a region with opportunities

The Sahel is a vast, underpopulated region stretching across Africa from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, an area destabilized by conflicts linked to terrorism, the effects of climate change and lack of development.

UN news discussed with Mr Annadif solutions to the problems facing the region.

What is the historical context of the Sahel region?

The Sahel people are far removed from the decision-making centers of the countries that make up the region and therefore live on the margins. But they are resilient and self-sufficient, living off trade and nomadic farming.

Following the political turmoil in Libya and before that in Afghanistan, this region has become a haven for terrorist groups who use religion to incite hatred. It is not Islam, it is corrupt Islam that these groups want to propagate to serve their schemes, taking advantage of the fact that most people in the Sahel are very sensitive to religious issues.

Due to the lack of basic services and infrastructure, some people may be tempted to participate in the discourse of these groups, who in certain situations play the role of the state by providing services such as education, health and righteousness.

Can you describe the situation today?

UN news/Daniel Dickinson

Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh, Special Representative of the Secretary General for West Africa and the Sahel.

Today the Sahel is ravaged by terrorists. With the fall of Gaddafi in Libya, the region has become an open-air arsenal, where weapons circulate like bread; anyone can get a gun, which causes violence.

The region is also suffering from the effects of climate change. In the past, nomadic herders and farmers coexisted, but climate change means there is less land to cultivate and less pasture for herders, leading to more conflict between communities.

In the past, local leaders helped to appease these conflicts, but they have been driven out by terrorists who, in some cases, manipulate and escalate disputes between farmers and herders to expand their sphere of influence.

What kind of crisis is the region facing?

The region is facing multiple crises for which the people of the Sahel are not responsible. These are global issues with global effects: we see more illegal migration, more terrorist influence and destabilization of states.

With a little support, the Sahel countries could make progress in combating these overlapping crises and become a bulwark against terrorism. But it is important that the international community remains involved in supporting the efforts of the countries in the region.

A Malian refugee in the Tillaberi region of Niger.

© UNOCHA/Michele Cattania

A Malian refugee in the Tillaberi region of Niger.

What are the solutions to these deep-seated problems?

Investing more in education is essential to articulate sustainable solutions. In a region that is made up of 60 to 70 percent young people, it is crucial to redouble our efforts to ensure young people’s access to education.
It is important that the state and public institutions play their part in ensuring the provision of basic services and setting up infrastructure for development. Without development there is no way out. And this requires a minimum of financial support.

It is also important to see the Sahel as a region of opportunity and not just a problem, and people should be seen as part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Where are these opportunities?

Most people in the Sahel want peace; they are hardworking, resilient and can live on very little. They don’t ask for much. There lies the opportunity to exploit the resources that lie beneath the earth’s surface, for example underground sources of water, minerals and gold.

Terrorists sell gold mined in the Sahel to fund their operations.

If these resources were properly exploited, if the people living in the Sahel benefited from them, it would be a way to stop the illegal flows of drugs, weapons and people through the region.
Even though these people are poor and neglected, they are proud and attached to their region and will not want to leave it.

How does the United Nations support these solutions?

The United Nations is an important partner in the Sahel, working with several partners to support the tireless efforts of governments in the region.

As part of the implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (SINUS), the United Nations contributes to peacebuilding, humanitarian aid and development through the work of agencies, funds and committed UN programs serving the people of the Sahel. , every day, to shape a better future.

Under the leadership of Mar Dieye, the Office of the Coordinator for the Development of the Sahel is actively working to mobilize regional and international partners to accelerate the implementation of development programs and projects under the Strategy.

The governments of the Sahel countries are doing what they can and we must continue to support them. Their efforts are necessary but insufficient to put an end to the various challenges.

Given the changing global situation caused by the Ukrainian crisis, I call on the international community not to neglect the Sahel region and to maintain its financial support and political commitment to the region. We all need to remain mobilized at this critical time in the countries of the Sahel.

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