Politics at the Heart of the Crisis in the Sahel

The international community has become seized with the spiraling crisis in the Sahel. In September 2019, UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres warned that “we are losing ground in the face of violence.”1 There has been a rapid expansion of extremist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger,2 from 180 incidents in 2017 to approximately 800 violent events in the first 10 months of 2019.3 There has also been a sharp increase in displaced persons. In Burkina Faso, for example, the United Nations reports that 486,000 people have been displaced in 2019, compared to just 80,000 in all of 2018. The deteriorating situation in the Sahel and its implications for regional security, migration, criminality, and corruption have spurred foreign partners—including the United States, European capitals, Gulf states, and some West African governments—to throw soldiers, diplomats, and development experts at the problem.

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