Western Sahel

What future for the Western Sahel? (Richard Cincotta and Stephen Smith, Atlantic Council)

The Western Sahel—a region stretching from Senegal and Mauritania to Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, and including the twelve sharia law states of northern Nigeria—is in a demographic impasse. Rather than yielding an economic dividend, the conditions spawned by the region’s persistently youthful, rapidly growing, high-fertility populations overwhelm the capabilities of state-run services, generate extensive urban slum conditions, slow if not stall economic and social progress, and aggravate ethnic tensions. Decades of exposure to these mutually reinforcing conditions have undermined the legitimacy of central governments and rendered the region’s states vulnerable to the spread of Islamic populism and regime instability.

Due to the growth momentum of their youthful age structures, from now through the 2040-to-2045 period (the time horizon of this study), the region’s states will be driven to respond to the urgent needs to build infrastructure, increase agricultural productivity, maintain security, and generate jobs in their attempt to employ and politically pacify young-adult cohorts of unprecedented size who, each year, vie to enter the already underemployed Sahelian workforce. Yet these well-intentioned development efforts can never be sufficient unless the region’s governments prioritize policies and programs that address a key underlying impediment to development: sustained high fertility.

What future for the Western Sahel? – Atlantic Council