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The Sahel

The multifaceted crisis in the Sahel-Sahara region remains high on the agenda of the international community and various strategies are being developed to address the complex regional crisis. A recent international conference in Niger in February 2013 highlighted its importance.

Insecurity—with the rise of radical Islamism and transnational criminal activities—is a serious concern, particularly in northern Mali. Weak governance practices, enduring socio-economic challenges, combined with sporadic drought and flooding also continue to fuel a recurring humanitarian crisis. This has so far resulted in 18.7 million people facing food and nutrition insecurity, and over one million children under the age of five being at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

IPI’s work on the Sahel began following a March 2012 visit to the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The visit aimed to re-engage the AU leadership with a view to renewing the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between IPI and the AU. A major outcome of the visit was an agreement on a new MoU which identifies, among other capacity-building priorities for IPI to support the AU Commission with, the issue of peace and security threats in the Sahel-Sahara Region.

This project of IPI's Africa program aims to contribute to expanding knowledge on, and building concerted responses to, emerging security threats and institutional challenges to sustainable peace in Africa.

Making use of its strategic location in New York, its long-standing partnership with the UN and the AU, IPI will advance the development of an analytical understanding of the peace and security threats facing the Sahel, towards enriching the multiple strategies that have been devised to tackle the political, security, developmental, and humanitarian causes and consequences of the crisis.

The IPI team working on the project is led by Dr. Youssef Mahmoud, IPI Senior Adviser, previously the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative and Head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and former Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Burundi (BINUB). The project also draws on the long-time Africa experience and expertise of IPI Senior Adviser, Ambassador John L. Hirsch, former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone.

To conduct its project on peace and security threats in the Sahel-Sahara region, IPI entered into an MoU with the Mauritania-based think tank, the Centre for Strategies for Security in the Sahel Sahara Region (Centre 4S). The Centre 4S was established in June 2011 with the ultimate objective to help countries in the Sahel take the lead in transforming the region’s daunting security and developments challenges into opportunities. Its ambition is to be a prime partner for governments and other institutions concerned by and interested in current and future developments in the Sahel Sahara.

IPI will benefit from the valuable input of Ambassador Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the President of the Centre 4S. Mr. Ould-Abdallah held several posts with the Mauritanian government, including foreign minister, ambassador to the US, and ambassador to the European Union. At the United Nations, he served as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia; for West Africa and Chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission; and as Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Burundi.

2012 activities of the IPI’s project on peace and security threats in the Sahel-Sahara region include:

  • A research paper commissioned from a researcher at the Centre 4S and to be published in both English and French
    The paper looks at the major threats to peace and security in the Sahel and their impact on development in the region. It sets out concrete proposals and recommendations to overcome the actual conflict, before developing likely evolution scenarios.
  • A roundtable discussion on “Peace and Security Threats in the Sahel-Sahara Region: Assessing the Response, Devising the Way Forward”
    The roundtable meeting was convened by IPI on September 7, 2012, and sponsored by the African Union and the Permanent Mission of Luxembourg to the United Nations. The event brought together fifty-five representatives from the UN Secretariat and Permanent Missions to the UN, international, as well as civil society organizations, think tanks and research institutions with an interest in peace and security in the Sahel-Sahara region. The participants sought to: (a) develop a shared understanding of the problems confronting the region; (b) take stock of the national, regional and global responses underway or being contemplated to address these problems; and (c) explore additional or alternative responses which, if pursued in a concerted and coordinated manner, may enhance the chances of addressing the drivers of instability and lay the foundations for more integrated and sustainable approaches.

News Coverage and Related Documents

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, "Le Maroc et le Sahel-Sahara: Un acteur privilégié pour amorcer le dialogue entre les différents protagonistes." (Le Matin Geopolis, June 20, 2014) (download pdf)

Youssef Mahmoud, "Le Maroc: Une diplomatie tous azimuts." (Le Matin Geopolis, June 20, 2014) (download pdf)

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, "Why the Sahel urgently needs an EU backed security framework." (Europe's World, January 15, 2014)

Mehdi Taje, "Les défis sécuritaires au Sahel: une analyse géopolitique," Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement, Tribune Libre N°39. (December 2013) (download pdf)

IPI Meeting Brief, "Peace and Security in the Sahel: The Role of Civil Society." (September 23, 2013) (download pdf)

"Ministerial Round Table Discussion on Peace and Security in the Sahel: The role of Civil Society." Co-Chairman’s Summary by the Government of Denmark, the African Union, the International Peace Institute and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. (September 23, 2013) (download pdf)

Centre 4S Sahel Conference Coverage in Tunisian Press: Quelles solutions pour une paix durable? (RéAlités, September 13, 2013)  (download pdf)

IPI Meeting Brief, "The crises in Mali and the Sahel-Sahara region: A critical review of the realities and the responses." (Tunis, September 10, 2013)
(download pdf in English or in French)

Program Staff

Maureen Quinn
Director of Programs
John L. Hirsch
Senior Adviser>
Youssef Mahmoud
Senior Adviser>
Arthur Boutellis
Non-resident Adviser
Priscilla Nzabanita
Research Assistant