Sahel: the search for security

Insecurity and conflict hinder human, and economic development. The Saharo-Sahelian region today presents some of the most daunting global security threats, which seriously undermine the stability and development of the region. The 2012-2013 crisis in northern Mali, though centred in one nation, epitomises the wider, cross-border dimension of these challenges. Here we point to some of the available policy responses towards their resolution.

The newly elected president of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was sworn into office on 4 September 2013. His election represents the hope that northern Mali’s instability, violence and extremism might be reversed and turned towards democracy and development. In the 18 months before his election, Mali experienced a secessionist uprising, a military coup, the investiture of Islamic Sharia Law in the north of the country and, finally, an international military intervention to oust the jihadists in August 2013.

How is the Malian situation symptomatic of the challenges of the region as a whole?

The difficulty of fostering development and imposing state authority across vast and sparsely populated areas, in weak institutional contexts, is characteristic of the Sahel region in general. The region of northern Mali that encompasses Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao, often referred to as the “Septentrion”, occupies a territory twice the size of Germany. With 1.6 inhabitants per km2, its population density resembles that of Mongolia, the least densely populated country in the world. The area has long suffered from economic underdevelopment and insufficient investment, leading to the marginalisation of populations and territories.

The development of criminal networks in the Saharo-Sahelian area has fed corruption and permeated the legal–albeit often informal–economy. Since the early 2000s, the state’s absence has provided an ideal context for the region’s transformation into a major hub for international smuggling of Latin American cocaine and other drugs, arms, cigarettes, and people. Criminal networks have most visibly raised funds by kidnapping foreign nationals.

The expansion of terrorist networks in the area has further oppressed local populations, and discouraged the flow of legitimate currency, whether from investors or tourism. The spread of activities by Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) from Algeria into neighbouring countries, as well as the proliferation of other terrorist and criminal groups in western Africa and the Sahel, motivated the US military to refer to the region as “the new front in the war on terrorism”. And since the toppling of the Gaddafi regime, an influx of arms and fighters from Libya into northern Mali has aggravated an already explosive environment.

The only available solution to these quandaries is long-term investment in development and security mechanisms in northern Mali, and the wider region. Traditionally, given the largely rural population, livelihoods have relied on agro-pastoral activities. Irrigated plains south of Timbuktu provided 20% of national rice production in 2010, and, given the potential for irrigated agriculture, along with stability and investment, the production could be enhanced considerably and northern Mali could reach its potential as food producer for the rest of the country.

For stability to take root, the Saharo-Sahelian areas need to be valorised and inhabited. Pastoral livestock must be placed at the centre of stabilisation strategies. Indeed, pastoralism offers the double advantage of being adapted to the environment and compensating for the weak population density. Itinerant pastoralism does not stop at the frontiers of the Sahel region. Mobility creates complex connections within a much larger zone, including northern and central Africa. It also plays a role in trade relations between the coastal countries and northern Africa, which have considerable economic and political potential.

Trade agreements–such as the one pursued by Morocco with the West African Economic and Monetary Union–can generate more trade in agricultural goods and facilitate North African investments south of the Sahara. They also contribute to the development of infrastructure such as trans-Saharan roads and create a more durable presence and more stable communities. People living in North Africa are on average wealthier than those in Sub-Saharan Africa, but they have infinitely less water, arable and pastoral land. Such agreements are a win-win situation that should be exploited.

Of course, more traditional security-apparatus responses will also be of essence–as long as they are regional in scope and equipped to deal with non-state actors. The Joint Military Staff Committee for Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, as well as several Economic Community of West African States mechanisms already foster co-operation and help share resources. The existing systems will need to be built on and strengthened.

Finally, more stringent international control and scrutiny of money-laundering are needed to track and stifle the flow of funds to and from trafficking. Without access to financial services, criminal networks will necessarily be weakened, thereby posing less of a threat to regional and global stability.

References

The Sahel and West Africa Club will devote its Annual Forum (28 November 2013, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire) to the future of the Saharo-Sahelian Areas. The Forum feeds into the elaboration of the 2014 edition of the West African Futures report on this topic. http://www.oecd.org/swac/westafricanfutures/poaess.htm

Past work by the Sahel and West Africa Club on the topic includes:


© OECD Observer No 296 Q3 2013






Economic data

GDP : +0.5%, Q4 2014
Employment rate: 65.9%, Q4 2014
Annual inflation : 0.57% Feb 2015
Trade : -3.0% exp, -3.7 imp, Q4 2014
Unemployment : 7.022% Feb 2015
More moderate expansion ahead? Composite leading indicators
Updated: 23 Apr 2015

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Today, after three years of drought, California is in the midst of a full-blown political and environmental crisis, with restrictions imposed across the state, reports the Financial Times.
  • Why is the gap between rich and poor growing despite rises in GDP? Do benefits help? Does aid work? (The Guardian)
  • Lack of water holding back Asian growth In Asia, the world’s most dynamic region with the fastest economic growth, 75% of countries face serious water shortages.
  • ADB water
  • Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis expressed its scepticism towards the Eurozone’s institutions and gave ideas for ways forward. "Greece must become reformable again", Yanis Varoufakis said.
  • Business brief: Israel's water
  • #OECD360: Your country in figures.
  • How to ensure transparency in public procurement? Read Cobus de Swardt's article on OECD Insights.
  • Asia to maintain a strong 6.3% growth rate in 2015 and 2016, according to the Asian Development Bank
  • After three decades of extraordinary economic development, China is shifting to a slower and more sustainable growth path, according to the OECD's latest Economic Survey of China.
  • In pursuit of the American Dream
  • Iceland's strong recovery stems from the good use of its natural resources, the energy sector and tourism according to Peter Dohlman, IMF Mission Chief for Iceland.
  • cyclone
  • Government representatives and experts from around the world are gathering in Japan this week to develop a post-2015 framework for global disaster risk reduction. The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) will share expertise at the conference.
  • Switzerland’s recent moves towards greater tax transparency were welcomed by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, based at the OECD, as a boost to international efforts to end tax evasion. Work will continue with Switzerland, notably on implementation, in 2015.
  • Help bridge the gap between business integrity policies & practices:participate in this new OECD survey by clicking on the image.
  • What can we do to promote better literacy skills for all? Read Andreas Schleicher's latest blog on oecdeducationtoday.
  • pisa
  • Secretary General Angel Gurría describes the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as a useful tool to enhance educational systems but states that improving a country's ranking should not be a goal per se. Article in Spanish by El País.
  • [VIDEO] Although many countries have made great progress in narrowing gender gaps in education, new challenges are looming.
  • 5 things you might not know about the state of Amazonas. The World Bank identifies the main colossal challenges Brazil's biggest state is facing.
  • Gender mainstreaming: young French lady working in an engine assembly plant. Women and men in the same boat when it comes to job insecurity. © Raphaël Helle / Signatures / La France VUE D'ICI
  • The Asian Development Bank together with the International Labour Organization challenge the concept of women's work in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.
  • The 5th Anti-corruption conference for G20 governments and business in Istanbul on 6 March will address how all businesses can play their part in contributing to growth and investment, and can operate with clean hands in a safe environment.
  • Success story. Discover the story of this young Ethiopian woman who launched a successful business in the footwear industry and became a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Entrepreneurship.
  • Transports in Asia. The Asian Development Bank advocates sustainable transport in a continent where vehicle ownership is perceived as a sign of social success.
  • Vote for your favourite photograph! This World Bank #EachDayISee photo contest aims to display visual stories from all over the world through which people express what they would like to see changed and improved.
  • Why is investment so low in the euro area? This short IMF blog post gives you an insight into the causes of the euro-zone's drastic decline in investment.
  • Have your say! The UN wants to know what matters most to you: pick six global issues in the list and send it to the United Nations.
  • Tim Harcourt Video
  • G20 and Australia: Bestselling economist Tim Harcourt speaks to the BBC about how Australia has gone from "Down Under to Down Wonder".
  • Clear air and healthy lungs: how to better tackle air pollution. From New Delhi to Accra, millions of people breathe polluted air. A new report examines the World Bank’s experience working to improve air quality.

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Unemployment
Global warming
International conflict
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015