West African Futures 2013-14: The Sahara-Sahelian areas


The 2013-14 West African Futures (WAF) programme focuses on the Sahara-Sahel areas. The analysis highlights that mobility and fluidity have characterised the social and economic environment of the Sahara-Sahel over centuries. It also shows how actors, networks and challenges need to be considered from several geographic scales: from local, to cross-border and regional. It argues that these features, mobility and varying geographic scales should receive more attention in the short- and long- term security and development strategies for these areas shared by North, West and Central Africa. Stronger co-operation between these areas is a key factor to short- and long-term security and development. Initial results provided inputs for the SWAC Forum 2013The SWAC Secretariat is currently preparing the launch of the Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel which proposes a new reading of the security-development challenges, based on a spatial and regional analysis. In partnership with a number of stakeholders, it has also positioned pastoral livestock, as a tool for stabilising and developing the region, and has provided inputs for a reflection on aid effectiveness


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Geographic scale

The area studied encompasses Algeria, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. It covers almost half of West Africa’s territory, 80% of the Maghreb and almost all of Mauritania. It shares a set of ancient civilisations united by a long tradition of trans-Saharan trade, and cultural and social exchange. The debates of the Forum highlighted that this area is increasingly connected to global networks of instability, requiring a broadening of the analyses to include countries of West, Central and North Africa.


Key questions

Forty years ago, drought put the Sahel in the spotlight of international attention. Emergency aid flowed in, creating the need to better understand the region to prevent future crises. Today, the Sahara-Sahelian region has yet again regained global attention, due to the insecurity threatening the area. The Sahel is perceived as a threat to the region’s states and against international security. The crisis in Mali in 2012-13, and frequently recurring manifestations of terrorist activity in the region, epitomise these risks and challenges. Long-term and multi-dimensional development solutions must be sought, built on collaboration and dialogue between North, West and Central Africa. 

The following questions were addressed:

  • Which responses fit which geographic scales in terms of stability of Sahara-Sahelian areas? What is the role of borders?
  • What role do networks play in the development of mobility and how does mobility shape territories (structuring or destructuring)? 
  • Are the political dialogue and action mechanisms of the “Sahel strategies” and “security and development” initiatives in the region adapted (temporally, geographically and operationally) to current challenges? 
  • What is the political outlook for trans-Saharan co-operation? How should coherence of policies for sustainable peace be supported?
  • How can economic relations between Sahara-Sahelian countries be strengthened?
  • How can development co-operation in the Sahara-Sahel become more effective?


Further reading

Sahel strategies & Documents


Boko Haram


Useful links

High-level Meetings