The Sahel region of Africa is a wide band that marks the transition from the Sahara Desert in the north to the wetter, sub-tropical regions in the south. The Sahelian countries have some of the most rapidly growing populations in the world and have faced significant environmental change over the past century. In recent years, insurgencies have surged in several countries, new terrorist groups have become active, there have been several droughts, and migration has increased.
“We firmly believe that without development, the security situation in the Sahel will worsen, generating enormous human and financial costs for countries in and around the region as well as in Europe,” says Christophe Angely of the France-based Foundation for International Development Study and Research (FERDI) in this week’s podcast.
FERDI recently completed a two-year transdisciplinary research project of the region, pulling information from researchers on the ground and from France’s military intervention in Mali. “We got a very alarming message about what was happening,” Angely says – and about people’s outlook.
There are major demographic, economic, social, environmental, and institutional challenges, but they are not insurmountable, he says. “Our plea seeks to overcome the prevailing pessimism about the Sahel’s economic potential, which leads some to believe…that the only solution for people is to migrate outside the Sahel zone.”
Angely’s first proposal? Reinvest in education. The international community has dramatically reduced aid for education in the Sahel since 2009, says Angely. In 2014, France allocated just 13 percent of its programmable aid to the education sector, and the United States and other multilateral donors allocated only 2 percent. Combined with rapid growth in school enrollment, thanks to youthful and growing populations, this has left Sahelian states unable to fund education alone.
Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive, equitable, and quality education for all, “demands…a rethink of the funding strategies of education, given that national government, private funders, and international donors are increasingly difficult to coordinate,” Angely explains. He calls for not only more schools, but better training for teachers and supervision that can protect girls from the kind of violence that has played out in northern Nigeria and discourages many from attending.
FERDI also recommends a new approach to agriculture. Instead of sticking with historic patterns of expanding surface area to increase production, Angely argues that policymakers should encourage farmers to improve yields on existing plots. He also calls for selecting more diverse crops, encouraging young people to get involved in the industry, smoothing price variability for exporters, and promoting better coordination in the sector generally.
These solutions not only promote food security, they provide benefits to local economies. “Small-scale processing food or agriculture is probably where you get the most reserve of jobs,” Angely says.
Angely’s final recommendation is to strengthen national administration capacities. The Sahel countries need better democratic models, he says; in many, democracies are “more formal than real.” Elected officials tend to focus on reelection and capitalizing on differences between groups instead of responding to the needs of all citizens. Donors should work to create long-term programs that not only support key ministries such as education, but are also able to manage pressures such as food insecurity without creating conflict or triggering violence, he says.
“People need to rediscover their face in progress and feel more confident about the rule of their states. This is why it must be the objectives of all actions in the region to favor a balance between quick impact activities and actions that are effective over the long term.”
Christophe Angely spoke at the Wilson Center on April 25. Download his slides to follow along.
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