Africanistan - Is the Sahel on the Road to Becoming Another Afghanistan?

Serge Michailof is author of the French best-seller Africanistan: l’Afrique en crise va-t-elle se retrouver dans nos banlieues? (2015), Associate Researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), and a board member of both the Conseil des investisseurs en Afrique (CIAN) and the Groupement de Recherche e d’échanges technologiques (GRET). He was formerly a head of operations of the French Development Agency (AFD), a country director for the World Bank, and an associate professor at both the Sorbonne and Sciences Po.

The recent French intervention in Mali made obvious to the world the immense fragility of the entire Sahel zone—a sub-Saharan region covering some seven million square kilometers. This area includes 10 countries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, but also the northern areas of some countries on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. 

The four land-locked countries of French-speaking Sahel—namely Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Chad—form a sub-group of still enormous proportions, covering an area of four million square kilometers, eight times the size of France. This region is the central object of my analysis, with comparisons made to Afghanistan where appropriate. 

Everyone Should Be Worried

Figures tend to be stubborn. If the solution to the demography vs. job-creation conundrum is not found in the coming years, this will not only be a problem for the people of the Sahel region themselves, but for the whole of Europe as well. One of the problems we face looking forward is the fact that these issues are still not garnering enough interest across much of the Old Continent: the Sahel remains under the radar.

By casting a glance at the causes of the collapse of Mali in 2013, we gradually begin to understand that even stellar economic growth is not, in and of itself, sufficient to solve all the region’s problems. In particular, such growth cannot provide jobs for the masses of young people entering the job market throughout the Sahel.

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