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  • Context (DTH): In the last decade, terrorism, insecurity and trafficking have characterised the region.

Sahel Region

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  • The word Sahel, or Sahil in Arabic, means coast or shore.
  • The Sahel stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
  • The Sahara Desert surrounds it in the north and the Savannah to the south.
  • The Sahel region comprises 12 countries and houses 400 million people.
  • Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania form the G5 Sahel, the core of the Sahel region.
  • A Sahel Security Pact was also signed between the countries recently.

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Foreign interests: Reasons

  • Richness in natural resources such as oil, uranium, natural gas, and lithium.
  • The strategic location of the region in Africa.
  • Economic interests of the countries involved in the scramble.
  • Defence and security cooperation in the form of arms sales.

The Scramble

  • The main actors in the scramble are the European Union, France, Russia, China, and the US.

France

  • Most of the countries in the Sahel region were colonised by France.
  • Now, France is often described as a ‘waning power’ in Africa.
  • Vacuum, created by decolonisation, was taken over by Jihadis and insurgent groups.
  • Operation Serval and later Operation Barkhane were launched to combat insurgents in the region.
  • France declared a withdrawal of troops after anti-French demonstrations in Mali in 2021.
  • Yet, France was reluctant to pull its military out of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
  • Moreover, France has the first right to buy any natural resources discovered in all its former colonies.

Russia

  • The Cold War and colonial era brought Russia and Sahelian countries closer.
  • Overemphasis by Western countries on human rights has pushed Sahelian countries closer to Russia.
  • The invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 necessitated allies in Africa.
  • Wagner Group, the controversial private military company controlled by Russia, cooperates with some countries in the Sahel.
  • Niger has cancelled its defence agreement with the EU and switched to Russia.

China

  • China portrays itself as an alternative to the Sahelian countries’ traditional ally (France).
  • It has depicted itself as a “partner” in the Sahel with “non-interference” and “respecting sovereignty”.
  • Chinese state-owned enterprises operate in Niger, Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso.
  • China is keen to test its arms products in the conflicts in the Sahel.

The United States

  • The US has a strong military interest in the region due to its strategic location, specifically Niger.
  • The US can carry surveillance and reconnaissance operations to cover the Sahel, west and central Africa.
  • In 2019, the US opened its largest African drone base in Agadez, Niger.
  • The U.S. is fulfilling the void created by the exit of France to prevent Russia and China from establishing a further military presence.

European Union (EU)

  • The EU relies on Sahelian countries, especially Niger, to stop mass illegal immigration into the bloc.
  • Niger is a significant transit country in the region.
  • Niger had security and defence partnerships with the EU until recently.

Effects of Climate Change in the Sahel Region

  • Global warming significantly impacts the Sahel, and the region has suffered the worst drought.
  • There has been a staggering 90 per cent decline in the surface of Lake Chad.
  • It also has led to poverty in the region.

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