Crisis in the Sahel

Updated: 2 days ago

The Sahel is made up of many African countries, stretching from East to West Africa, facing many complex and interconnected challenges. The escalation of violence inflicted by various militant groups has led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis deepening the political instability and insecurity that have plagued some of the Sahel’s countries for years.


Facts about the Sahel


The #Sahel today encompasses parts of #Algeria, #BurkinaFaso, #Cameroon, #Chad, #Mauritania, #Mali, #Niger, and #Senegal – ex-French colonies. Also, some regions fall outside the “francophone” Sahel – in parts of #Nigeria, #Sudan, #SouthSudan, and #Eritrea. The region is fast becoming the world’s newest terror hot spot since it's faced with the upsurge of #terrorism, extreme #violence, and organized #crime.


The security situation has deteriorated in recent years across the West African Sahel region, a semi-arid strip of land south of the #Sahara. Libya’s meltdown after dethroning dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, accelerated the process of instability. Now, at least ten Islamist #terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda and Islamic State operate in the West African Sahel.


The Sahel contains ancient routes that haven't changed over the centuries and been used for the movement of people, goods, #weapons, and #drugs. The rise of migration, illicit trade of drugs and arms, human trafficking, and the heightened threat of terrorism have sparked a new interest in the Sahel. Various terrorist and criminal groups are interested in expanding their power across the remote and poorly governed areas. The #narcotics from South America are distributed through the Sahelian routes to the European continent. Terrorist groups profit from illicit trafficking, carving out even more space to operate, becoming wealthier, and more capable. On the other hand, international organizations are concerned about the potential spreading of terrorism across other parts of the world.


Sahelian countries in West Africa are on the front line against various armed groups, trying to contain the spread of violence that shows no signs of weakening in the region, where #jihadist groups have gained ground and displaced millions of people across a large swathe of the troubled area.


Consequently, the #G5 Military Joint Force was set up by the five Sahel countries – Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger – in 2017, but a lack of finance, training, and equipment has limited the group's effectiveness. The increased terrorist threat is spreading beyond the region, coming to the borders of West African countries, #Ghana, #Benin, #Togo, and #IvoryCoast.


The current security situation in Mali


Mali, an ex-French colony, gained independence in 1960, it's a poor, heavily indebted, and landlocked country in Sub-Saharan Africa with great potential wealth in #bauxite, #ironore, base #metals, and #phosphate deposits. The country's major natural resource is #gold, representing 95% of national mineral production. Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold producer with a large scale exploration ongoing, and it currently has seven operating gold #mines. Political instability and militant activities in many regions have harmed Mali’s economy.


Mali has been in a complete deadlock since Tuareg-led #rebels and radical #Islamist militants seized control of the north in 2012. This is directly linked to the collapse of Libya in 2011. Much of the region remains chronically unstable. The political crisis that unfolded throughout 2012, pushed the country into unprecedented turmoil, deterioration of the economic situation, and uncertainty in the investment climate.


A rebel-held town #Kidal, located in Mali's north, is a base for militants to launch terrorist operations. The town is a desert outpost that has been mainly ruled by #Tuareg separatists since a 2012 rebellion. Although the rebels signed a peace treaty in 2015, they have remained resistant to handing back full control to the government.


The state's weak presence in northern Mali has allowed jihadist groups, including a local branch of the #IslamicState group, to establish a foothold in this vast, arid domain. With Niger to the east and Algeria in the north, the area has also become a hub for people and weapons smuggling, with border clashes regularly claiming lives.


Since 2015, violence has spilled over into the center of the country. Armed groups have carried out dozens of hit-and-run raids, attacking both military and civilians. The fighters –  including #alQaeda and Islamic State affiliates – have also inflamed tensions between rival communities by stepping in and taking sides in the conflict between nomadic #Fulani herders and #Dogani farmers. Clashes between tribes competing over resources are growing. Hundreds of lives have been lost in reprisals. The violence is not limited to Mali, either. Fulani is a huge tribe spread across 21 countries, involved in conflicts in various Sahel countries.


As a result, the security situation in Mali is very volatile. Thus, all visits to the country's north should be avoided since terrorists and armed groups continue plotting #kidnappings and attacks. If traveling to other regions of the country, one has to be extremely careful since Mali suffers from periodic episodes of violence related to inter-tribal politics. All essential and #business visits to Mali should be properly planned, including developing a #contingencyplan for an #emergency.


The current security situation in Niger


Niger, the drought-prone country, has gone through a series of coups and political instability following its independence from France in 1960. The natural resources of Niger include #uranium, #coal, gold, iron ore, #tin, phosphates, #petroleum, #molybdenum, #salt, and #gypsum. Niger has some of the largest uranium reserves in the world. It also has a good amount of #oil reserves. The activities of #BokoHaram rebels continue to be a major economic, security, social, and budgetary challenge.


Various armed groups operate in Niger's west and north, while Nigeria's Boko Haram is active in the southeast. Jihadist loyal to Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi, the #ISIL leader in the Greater Sahara, operates along Mali's border with Burkina Faso and Niger.


The #Gueskerou area between Niger and Nigeria has been exposed to years of murders and kidnappings at the hands of Boko Haram. Some 30,000 people have been killed and more than two million displaced since Boko Haram launched its armed campaign in 2009. The fighting has since spilled over into neighboring Niger, Cameroon, and Chad.


Niger is part of the G5 Sahel group formed to manage a coordinated response to the armed group. Aside from #France, the #UnitedStates has deployed thousands of troops to the region. The US has a big base for drones in the northern city of #Agadez, and Niger has recently given Washington permission to arm their drones. The French also have a military base near #Niamey airport and another at #Madama in the north. Also, there is a major base in #Inates, where soldiers are trained to serve in a #UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.


For this reason, Niger's security situation is very unstable. So, you should avoid all visits to the country since terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting foreign and local government facilities and areas visited by Westerners. Terrorists operate in the areas bordering Mali, Libya, Burkina Faso, and throughout northern Niger. You should avoid traveling to Niger’s border regions, particularly the Malian border area, the #Diffa region, and the #LakeChad region. Mali-based extremist groups and Nigerian Boko Haram have crossed the border and conducted multiple lethal attacks on security forces in Niger. For essential and business visits to the country, it is highly recommended to plan the trip thoroughly and have a contingency plan in place.


The current security situation in Sudan


Sudan is located in north-eastern Africa between #Eritrea and #Egypt. The nation gained its independence from the British in 1956. Devastated by two major civil wars that left millions of people homeless, the country faced severe famine and ethnic conflicts. The North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (#CPA) formulated and signed in January 2005, paved the way for autonomy for the southern rebels. In July 2011, South Sudan became an independent nation.


Conflicts harmed the economic growth of the country. The natural resources of Sudan include petroleum and small deposits of gold, iron ore, #silver, #copper, #tungsten, #mica, #chromium ore, and #zinc. Three-quarters of the oil reserves being in South Sudan, while North Sudan struggles to maintain its economy and has recently started promoting its gold mining sector.


Since the increased insecurity throughout the country, you should avoid travel to Sudan. However, if you are planning for essential and business visits, it's highly advisable to take into consideration contingency and emergency response planning.


The current security situation in South Sudan


South Sudan is a landlocked country in east-central Africa. The Republic of South Sudan became independent from Sudan on July 9, 2011, after a referendum in January that year, which was secured as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


Since independence in 2011, the Republic of South Sudan has continued to be preoccupied with both internal and external threats to sustainable peace and stability. Experts from the international mining sector believe that South Sudan is most likely to have several untapped mineral and metal resources such as gold, copper, uranium, and iron ore.


The security situation in the country is quite volatile, and all visits should be avoided. However, if you are about to take essential and business trip, you need to monitor the security situation to keep safe. If you travel outside of #Juba City, you should travel with a minimum of two vehicles, and appropriate recovery and medical equipment in case of mechanical failure or other emergencies.


The current security situation in Burkina Faso


Burkina Faso, a landlocked country, lies between central Mali and western Niger, which are the two of the most unstable areas in the Sahel. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the impoverished country has had to deal with several military coups resulted in political instability and lack of proper governance. Burkina has been battling a rising wave of violence over the past four years, which began in the north but has since spread to eastern borders with Togo and Benin. The country is also plagued with ethnic conflicts largely between farming and herding communities, which is fueled by militants.


Burkina Faso has significant gold resources. The country's mining sector is currently undergoing a big change as nearly 60 international companies, including Australian, Canadian, and British companies, are conducting various mining activities in Burkina Faso. However, strengthening security to combat jihadist threats is still a major challenge to an economic revival, especially after the January 2016 terrorist attack.


Since former President Blaise Compaore was toppled in a national uprising in 2014, the security situation in the northern and eastern parts of Burkina Faso has worsened. This was fueled by a Libyan #crisis that had begun in 2011 when its late president Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown. Armed groups have crossed the Sahara desert and started a campaign in northern Mali, which has since spread across the Sahel region to Niger, Chad, and other countries.


Up to 500 people have been killed in Burkina Faso in the recent few years, including in the capital, #Ouagadougou, where hotels have come under attack. Also, attacks on churches, violent crimes, and kidnappings are common. The escalating violence has forced approximately 270,000 people to flee to neighboring countries, such as Ghana, while schools and health facilities have been shut down.


Most attacks in the country are attributed to the #AnsarulIslam group, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to the #JNIM (Group to Support Islam and Muslims), which has sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda in the #Maghreb (#AQIM). Moreover, the violence is causing a major food crisis affecting nearly 1.5 million people.


Former colonial ruler, France, has deployed 4,500 troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad in a mission codenamed #Barkhane to help local forces flush out terrorists. However, despite the presence of French and UN troops, the security situation remains volatile.


Regarding traveling to Burkina Faso, all visits to the country's north should be avoided. Also, avoid all non-essential travel to the rest of the country, including the capital Ouagadougou. For essential visits to Burkina, it is highly advisable to plan the journey well and have developed a crisis response plan.


The current security situation in Nigeria


Nigeria is the most populated country of Africa, a former British colony, gained independence in 1960. The country has enormous resources that include #coal, tin, iron ore, oil reserves, agricultural products, and leather among others. The oil and gas sector accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product, and petroleum export revenue represents around 86% of total export revenue.


Despite the unstable security situation, the country has a stable political environment. However, security remains a major challenge in the northeast part of the country caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. Security and other measures have been put in place to contain the security threats and improve the living conditions of internally displaced persons estimated at over two million.


Boko Haram has been waging an armed campaign in the country's northeast since 2009, and the conflict has since spread to neighboring countries, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Between June 2011 and 2018, an estimated 37,530 people had been killed in incidents involving Boko Haram, including at least 15,000 civilians. The battle against the armed group has displaced approximately two million people in Nigeria and driven more than 24,000 into neighboring countries as refugees.


At the end of July 2009, #MohammedYusuf – a founder of the Boko Haram armed group – was died under unclear circumstances (killed) in police custody in #Maiduguri, Nigeria. By 2002, Yusuf had established a group he called the Jama'at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da'wah wa'l-Jihad, consisting mostly of young men incited by unemployment, government negligence, and inequality. The group continued to grow, especially in northeastern Nigeria where #Borno state is. Yusuf's successor, #AbubakarShekau, vowed to exact revenge on the Nigerian government, and a cruel campaign has been launched.


By 2016, a split had formed in the group, which had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (#IS #ISIL #ISIS) group a year earlier. While one faction remained under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf's trusted lieutenant and successor, another faction known as the Islamic State West Africa Province (#ISWAP) formed under Abu Musab al-Barnawi, one of Yusuf's sons. ISWAP tends to carry out more surgical strikes against military-aligned targets and installations in Borno and #Yobe states, demonstrating a more acute capability. The Shekau faction, Boko Haram, has moved towards softer targets, inflicting less sophisticated violence characterized by armed ambushes and suicide bombers against civilian convoys, buildings, and people.


Despite multiple claims that Boko Haram has been technically defeated, the army still struggles to contain the escalating violence. The fight against the armed group has suffered from many drawbacks, including delays to military funding and reports of extrajudicial killings by the army, which has led to the US government refusing to sell weapons to Nigeria. A coordinated response among neighboring countries also facing the rebellion has been less than effective. According to analysts, the war against Boko Haram is far from over.


That's why the overall security situation throughout the country remains unpredictable. There's a significant risk of terrorism, violent crime, inter-communal clashes, armed attacks, #piracy, and kidnappings. All visits to the country's North and #Nigerdelta should be avoided. You should exercise a high degree of caution if traveling to #PortHarcourt, #Abuja, and #Lagos since the heightened risk of kidnappings. Always plan your trip and be prepared for sudden, negative events.


The current security situation in Chad


Chad, a landlocked country, is located in north-central Africa. Chad has suffered repeated coups and crises since gaining independence from France in 1960. The country is currently politically stable and the economy is recovering. The government is focused on improving the investment climate.


Chad’s natural resources include petroleum, gold, #natron, uranium, #limestone, #sand, #gravel, #kaolin, and salt. Its mining sector is yet to develop to its fullest potential. The oil sector provides about 60% of the country's export revenues, and it has attracted several foreign investors including #Glencore, #PetronasOfMalaysia, #ExxonMobil, and #Chevron.


The regional violent extremist organizations pose significant threats to Chad. In 2015, Boko Haram conducted attacks on #NDjamena, continuing to pose serious regional security and economic threat. Chad’s political stability is vulnerable since heightened social tensions, a regional spread of Islamist activism, and conflicts from neighboring countries.


A state of emergency has been declared in Chad's regions #Ouaddai, #Sila, and #Tibesti since a deadly conflict is – between cattle herders from the #Zaghawa ethnic group and farmers from the #Ouaddian community – raging in the country's east. Clashes are getting worse because of the large number of weapons flowing in from Libya, the Central African Republic, and Sudan.


The Union of Resistance Forces (#UFR), an armed group opposed to Chadian President Idriss Deby, is based in the desert of southern Libya. #IdrissDeby also seized power in a military coup back in 1990. France sees Deby as key to a wider regional fight against armed groups and has based its 4,500-strong  Operation Barkhane forces in N'djamena.


Fighters in the Lake Chad region have often ambushed soldiers, opened fire on markets, and kidnapped women and children, including nearly 270 schoolgirls in the village of #Chibok in 2014, a hundred of whom are still missing. The vast Lake Chad region, shared by Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria, is a stronghold for Boko Haram itself and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) splinter group. Boko Haram has carried out at least 10 cross-border attacks in Chad since 2018, mainly targeting army positions. In 2015, the four Lake Chad countries, together with Benin, set up a combined force to fight Boko Haram with the help of local groups of armed citizens.


Since the likelihood of violent-crime and ever-evolving terrorist threat, all but essential visits to the country should be avoided, including the capital N'Djamena and border areas. Anyway, all visits to Chad should be thoroughly planned and include crisis response planning.


The current security situation in Mauritania


Mauritania is a desert country located in Western Africa between Western Sahara and Senegal. The country has an advantageous geostrategic position at crossroads of Northern and sub-Saharan Africa, and major shipping routes in the Atlantic between Europe, the Middle East, West Africa, and the Americas.


Since gaining its independence from France in 1960, Mauritania has had to face political and civil instability. Also, the country is the second-largest producer of iron ore in Africa with extractable reserves of oil, mining, and #gas, and a high potential for exploitation.


The security situation in Mauritania is not quite satisfactory and, therefore, travelers have to take extra care. In this matter, you should avoid non-essential travel to the country due to the threat of terrorism, particularly against Western interests. Additionally, you should avoid all travel to northern and eastern Mauritania since the risk of kidnappings. Apropos this, if you are planning a business trip to the country, it's highly recommended to be well-prepared and to develop a contingency plan.


The current security situation Cameroon


Cameroon is located in Central Africa between Nigeria and #EquatorialGuinea. Since gaining independence in 1960, the country has enjoyed political stability, which has aided economic growth and development of the country’s infrastructure and the petroleum industry. The natural resources of Cameroon include petroleum, bauxite, and iron ore.


The #Francophone-led government faces several challenges such as the inequitable distribution of income, endemic #corruption, a conflict in the #Anglophone regions, terrorism in the Far North, and unfavorable conditions for private companies.


Over the past three years, new threats have emerged in the Northern part of the country with the activities of the radical, militant Islamist group Boko Haram from Nigeria spilling over into the country. Cameroon is host to an estimated 45,000 Nigerian refugees in the North and 131,000 refugees from #CAR in the East. Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, the socio-political turmoil that had begun in October 2016 in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions, evolved into armed #conflict at the end of 2017. Twenty months of clashes have had a substantial social and humanitarian impact in the Anglophone regions, killing 1,850, displacing 530,000, and forcing tens of thousands to seek refuge abroad, in neighboring Nigeria. The situation in the Anglophone regions continues to deteriorate.


Cameroon is facing increased security challenges – it's fighting both a separatist movement in its South West and North West regions and the Boko Haram armed group in the Far North. High levels of violent crime in some regions and the tensions that exist in the Sahel region cause unpredictable security conditions. As a consequence, all border-areas with Nigeria, Chad, and CAR should be avoided, and a journey to Cameron should be carefully planned and constantly monitored.


The current security situation Eritrea


Eritrea is located in the #HornOfAfrica, bordering the #RedSea between #Djibouti and Sudan. Eritrea gained independence in 1993 after a prolonged struggle for almost 30 years. Following the end of the Ethiopian-Eritrea #war in 2000, the government focused on maintaining a stable economic situation by expanding businesses in Eritrea and developing many international mining projects. Eritrea’s key natural resources include natural gas, gold, copper, oil, zinc, and #potash.


Security tension is quite high between Eritrea and neighboring countries, and it could engender a conflict at any time. Therefore, visitors are advised against traveling to the border areas with Ethiopia, Sudan, and Djibouti. For business and essential trips to Eritrea, it's advisable to plan well to ensure an appropriate response to emergencies.


The current security situation in Algeria


Algeria is based in North Africa in the Maghreb region, achieving political independence in 1962 after more than a century of colonial rule by France. The country is endowed with significant natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, uranium, zinc, #lead, iron ore, and phosphates.


Algeria is politically stable, but the risk of terrorist attacks and civil unrest remains high. All travel to bordering areas with Libya, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania should be avoided. Thus, you should exercise a high degree of caution in the country and plan a trip properly.


The current security situation in Senegal


Senegal, a low-lying country, is located in Western Africa between Mauritania and #GuineaBissau. Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa, with three peaceful political transitions and four presidents since its independence from France in 1960. The mining industry does not play a significant role in the country’s economy.


The country is safe for travelers except for the #Casamance region of south-western Senegal – between the southern border of #Gambia and the northern border of Guinea-Bissau – remains affected by a small number of armed separatist groups and banditry. Therefore, if traveling to Senegal, you should be vigilant, monitoring the situation all the time.


In conclusion


The Sahel is one of the richest regions in the world in terms of natural resources, including oil, gold, and uranium. The region despite present security challenges offers significant investment opportunities in the extractive industry. The natural-resources-rich region attracts those interested in oil and gas extraction, mining, and removing metals and minerals from the earth.


#Goldmining has started to grow as the industry at the southern end of the continent declines. Investor-friendly policies can help Sahelian and West African countries drive the next gold-mining boom. Low-cost deposits in Mali, Burkina Faso, #Guinea, Ghana, and Ivory Coast offer the long-term investment potential, rather than the five to ten years of lifespan of projects in #SouthAfrica. For example, #AngloGoldAshantiLtd. and #GoldFieldsLtd. have already shifted their production to lower-cost operations in #WestAfrica.


However, the volatile security situation continues to hold back the economic development of the Sahel, paralyzing communities, and preventing regional nations to establish sustainable governance and enforce the rule of law. As a consequence, terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province, and al Qaeda in the Maghreb, among others, continue to expand and terrorize the region.


Taking this into account, Nemesis Protection, as a versatile provider of security and intelligence services, has the knowledge, experience, and ever-expanding capabilities to protect people, businesses, and assets, enabling our clients to carry out projects in the Sahel and West Africa. Our company closely cooperates with governments and organizations across the globe, supporting them in on-going efforts to fight terrorism and cross-border organized crime. The world can't be ignorant of burning terrorism issues since we have already seen what happens when terrorist groups are allowed to occupy remote, poorly governed areas where they can accumulate resources from criminal activities – for example, #Afghanistan. Nemesis Protection can't disregard the current security challenges in the Sahel. Thus, we are there to support efforts against terrorism and crime.


Get in touch with us at africa@nemesisprotection.com to discuss your individual security needs and to find out how we can help your business to prosper.


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