Demography, Peace and Security in the Sahel

The Sahel region in Africa is afflicted by a combination of factors including armed conflict, terrorism and economic instability which undermine development prospects in the region. Weak local governance is not the only factor contributing to conflicts and instability; high youth unemployment, scarcity of resources, high levels of inequality, and other demographic factors (such as high population growth, a growing youth population, poverty and lack of education) also play an important role.

This leads to high demand for resources such as land, water, social services (e.g. education and health) and employment, which governments and national budgets cannot fully accommodate. Lack of resources leads to social tensions which can in turn lead to security crises with a large youth population that is increasingly vulnerable to manipulation and false promises by extremists, and to human trafficking.

The growth of armed extremist groups creates a vicious cycle; with each attack, governments are forced to divert funds to defense, thereby weakening investment in jobs, healthcare, education and housing – reinforcing the perceived opportunities that these groups represent to vulnerable communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues, forcing children out of school, increasing strain on households and weakening the existing health and education infrastructure that was itself already being tested by the security crisis.

Investigating in the connection between demography and peace

“At the center of our work are people,” said Mabingue Ngom, regional director of UNFPA’s West and Central Africa Regional Office (WCARO). “The people of the Sahel are not violent by nature. Throughout history they have shown an appetite for life and a thirst for knowledge. It is therefore worrying, and it goes against the history and nature of these same people, that we are seeing a rise in insecurity and in some cases tragic violence in the region.”

While military intervention is often the primary action to tackle the security crisis in Sahelian countries, a growing number of researchers and stakeholders advocate for a more comprehensive and integrated approach, improving policies and programs that tackle the root causes of the conflict, involving the civilian population in the areas of education, health, governance and youth employment. Despite the potential impact this may have, there is a lack of empirical data that demonstrates the clear links between demographics, instability and peace.

To better understand the causes of this insecurity, UNFPA WCARO commissioned a number of studies to look at peace and security with a demographic context. Ngom continued: “Findings from both the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the National School for Statistics and Economic Analysis have brought a number of issues to light, and have been invaluable in highlighting the fault lines but also the areas on which we need to work and double down our efforts. The structural similarity that we see across all the Sahel is a very young population, where the large majority are under the age 20. Unless these youth are productive and have prospects of jobs, some will inevitably be more prone to turn to crime and extremism.”

The results of several empirical studies will provide evidence to support a comprehensive program on population, peace and security that will help address the current fragility of the Sahel holistically by focusing on the structural causes of extremism. A virtual symposium on December 2nd 2020 will bring a new narrative on the Sahel, engaging high-level policy makers in a dialogue based on data and evidence for sustainable solutions and development to address the current challenges regarding Demography, Peace and Security (DPS) in the region. Country consultations are planned, in advance of the December 2020 symposium, to discuss the main findings and recommendations from the scientific papers on demography, peace and security in the Sahel, including national monographies and related policy briefs which are underway; consultations will be completed before the end of November 2020. The outcomes of the DPS symposium will be presented in 2021 at the margin of the next African Union Summit.

The empirical study will also make an essential contribution to the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 1325 and 2250 on the participation of women and the youth in conflict resolution, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

GBCHealth is supporting this initiative as part of its partnership with UNFPA WCARO and welcomes any interest from our corporate and institutional partners. The new initiative offers an opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy and integrated actions to encourage smart health system strengthening, investments in reproductive health, women’s empowerment, basic literacy and financial education as well as entrepreneurship. GBCHealth further supports UNFPA WCARO’s Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) program, which aims to empower women and adolescent girls, and reduce gender inequality by improving access to education, quality maternal and child health and family planning services.

For more information or to request an invitation to the virtual symposium, please contact Rebecca Fishman via email: rfishman@gbchealth.org

Matt RomneyDemography, Peace and Security in the Sahel