The Dilapidated Misery of Sahel

The world’s most unstable regions are undoubtedly knitted in the Middle-East and the Sub-Saharan Africa. On one end a handful of the middle eastern countries account to the most chaotic warfare since World War II. Be it the Syrian war or the Israel-Palestine conflict, the region has all but echoed the spell of violence to the proximate Asia and Africa; Nigeria battered with Daesh-stirred brutality and Pakistan being riddled with terrorism prevailing off Syria and Iraq. Countries on the other side of the metaphorical coin in the African region have been classified as the worst of ranked in the quality of life and living conditions. Ranging from Mali to Niger to Ethiopia, the abysmal realities of life have surpassed each and every level of humanitarian crisis amidst utter oblivion of the global community, rendering the region chaotic on a completely different scale. However, Sahel is one such region that has ventured through extremely rough natural conditions while simultaneously being plummeted by the surge of violence and terror over the past decade; an unfortunate combination of the regional tragedy that continues to lace the region under absolute ignorance of the world around.

Sahel, also known as the ‘Central Sahil’, is a vast region of Africa dividing the renowned Sahara Desert in the north from the Savannahs in the south, expanding a colossal region of 3.053 million km². The area stretches from Senegal crossing Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and Sudan, dipping and ceasing into the Red Sea coast on the border of Eritrea. The Sahel spans the rivers of Senegal, Niger, Nile; enjoying the distinction of holding a shoreline between the Sub-Saharan Africa and Saudi Arabia in the Middle-East.

Historically, Sahel has faced weather extremities like none of the regional counterparts, conditions ranging from droughts to seasonal floods which have rendered the land almost barren to cultivate agricultural and livestock activities, impeding the means of living of the natives leading to excessive competition over limited and increasingly shrinking natural resources of the region. The population, mostly comprising of the semi-nomadic tribes, has faced significant adversities in pursuing a wholesome living that stems from the bleak state of the region along with the upturn of violence over the past decade that has cumulated in issues ranging from food insecurity to mass malnutrition in children to massive outbreak of diseases. While the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) remains active to support the people dwelling the region, the arching humanitarian response remains meagre in the face of the uptick in ethnic terrorism and impoverished state of the region that desperately needs more attention and support.

The violence pulsating in the Sahel has its roots in the Mali crisis dating back to 2011 when the conflict exacerbated between the armed forces of Mali and freedom fighter in guise of Mali rebels fighting to liberate Northern Mali. By the end of 2012, the conflict culminated as the country of Mali bifurcated into two, spreading the rebel groups across the Sahel region; border to border with the backing of Al-Qaeda and ISIS operating from Syria and Libya. The armed fighters stirred terror in the arid lands of Niger then Burkina Faso, displacing over 340,000 natives to seek refuge in the neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia. With the dwindling resources and increasing communal competition over modest resources, the militant-brokered rebels have strategized to incentivise the regional tensions and differences. Thus, the lack of livelihood coupled with perished trust in the local authorities have led many locals to further the divide on ethnic grounds eventually setting premise for copious armed conflicts over the course of the past decade making Sahel an epicentre of both humanitarian disparity and ethno-religious bedlam.

Over the last year alone, the communities in the local counters have been subjected to an array of targeted attacks, sexual assaults and harassment sprees as the local forces are rendered benign in the face of gripping rebellious movements. The yesteryear marked a tally of 5,989 deaths at the hand of armed violence mostly directed towards schools, medical facilities and house-of-worship. More than 1.8 million people have been internally displaced as the armed rebels hinting a pervasive trend towards the coastal countries like Ghana and Togo. Welfare groups like MFS have penetrated the region to offer their services to the persecuted victims of the region yet with lack of support and massive drive of destruction on health faculties; evincing around 150 healthcare centres being ceased amidst escalating violence, locals have been strayed in a war-zone with no medical facilities which has resulted in approximately 7.4 million people suffering from acute malnutrition.

The fatalities and gruesome realities on ground have passed all records of chaos and continue to upswing the pace of violence over regional countries which currently hold the refugees escaping the violence within their own state. Now as Covid has started to meld more misery into the already weathered state of Sahel, the region requires more than just humanitarian support and voiced concern. The region requires de-escalation of terrorism and pleads for peace and nourishment to survive. Ironic to say that the region has hosted every ill-fated tragedy over the brutal history of the terrain yet still awaits a cogent global effort that is yet to show signs of care and concern; the support that is all but limited to the countries with a broader incentive to serve yet remains evasive from the destitute regions like Sahel.

Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi
Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi
The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.