No End in Sight for Violence in the Sahel Region

The Sahel region is Africa’s biggest and most concerning problem. Violence has become a daily norm in the countries that make up the Sahel region. This 5,000 kilometer stretch of land just below the Sahara Desert crosses from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea on the eastern edge. There are many countries which make up the Sahel region. These include: Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria – along with Gambia, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal.

The problem that this region faces is one that has been hard to cope with and difficult to prevent. The region is primarily sustained through agriculture. However, global climate changes have hit this particular stretch of land the hardest. This has allowed small and large armed groups to thrive, taking over what’s left of the resources through rampant killings and bloodshed. The lack of necessities such as food, water and shelter has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their countries and move into neighboring areas where they think a future could be sustained. That move also seems highly unlikely.

West Africa’s semi-arid region is a problem that hasn’t seen much attention. Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are facing the brunt of the problems. The crisis level in these countries has reached a boiling point. One-third of Burkina Faso is now a conflict zone with violent extremist attacks taking place daily. To identify why attacks are taking place and why they’re not being tackled is another complex story in itself. Starting in 2012, when the unrest first began, many opposing groups emerged in these countries, the majority of them in Mali. These groups are now being dominated by other groups that have associated themselves to either ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

The uprisings particularly in Libya and Algeria have also sent the security situation in the region tumbling down. Armed groups primarily emerged in this region due to lawlessness, poverty and unemployment. The lack of state presence has allowed these rebel groups to form strongholds and fight state authorities if they try to encounter them. Over 4,000 people lost their lives just in 2019 alone. The number continues to increase but there have been no measures put in place considering the vast swathes of land that terror and armed groups occupy in this region.

In Nigeria, the Boko Haram has been the main source of problems occupying the country’s northeastern region. This has also dragged countries like Chad, Cameroon and Niger into the bloody conflict. What these terror groups want is the basis of these problems. Armed rebel groups are fighting against the government to obtain what they call ‘legitimate rights,’ those that have been neglected by their governments. Another issue is of food scarcity. Armed groups and militias have underlined that the ‘control over resources’ in their case is the main priority. However, for groups like Boko Haram and those pursuing a more extremist Islamist approach, they are seeking to overthrow ruling governments, have a more religious direction in the workings of the government and force extreme laws. For example, the kidnappings and killings of young girls and boys by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria over the last year and earlier years.

What makes this situation graver is the fact that these terror groups have continued to multiply and intensify attacks despite the presence of the United Nations, nearly 4,000 French forces and the G5 security force. Unless fragile governments don’t pick up pace and initiate measures which protect their citizens, a move to resolve these conflicts would never appear.

The Sahel region is well-known for its routes for drug trade, human trafficking and ethnoreligious tensions. With the start of the new year, the violence did not cease. On January 5, a roadside bomb killed 14 people in Burkina Faso. Armed groups with links to Al-Qaeda and ISIS claimed responsibility. Another similar bombing was seen in Mali’s central region of Altona.

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to send additional troops to the region to safeguard civilians but how effective that might be, only time will tell. In a meeting on January 13 in Pau, France, President Macron hosted leaders of Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The leaders committed to greater action in the region and also agreed on the Coalition of Sahel, a command structure which will unite France’s 4,500-man operation Barkhane and the G5 force of West African nations.

The ever-increasing violence can only be stopped when extremist groups are tackled, the government initiates quick action and people are informed of how to end problems and bring in more resources for the development of individual lives. The region remains a hotbed for continuous terror activities but if the governments that are involved act promptly, many future deaths will be avoided. Lastly, more action is needed by major world powers to limit the ever-growing threat that terror groups pose. The involvement of the European Union would make the situation slightly better, if not completely.