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Understanding the Sahel through its history, geography and socio-demographic and security challenges: White paper

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There is growing interest in population issues in the Sahel because of the relationship between population growth, the environment and its various components, political governance and economic and social development.

Setting aside the chatter generated by current events and agreed institutional stances, beyond popular opinion and theoretical or even ideological positions, what exactly is the situation in the Sahel? It is this, among other questions, that this documents attempts to answer.

Origin and nature of the study

Dealt with separately, demography, peace and security are problematic notions because there are so many different possible interpretations of them. And yet even more questions arise when they are approached together as a whole; the meaning and intensity of the interrelationships between the three notions are then a vast subject for debate. These problems are amplified in the context of the Sahel because there are several approaches in play that focus on demographics, economics or political relationships, as well as a holistic approach.

Regardless of the prevailing trends, however, the issue of demography, peace and security is crucial for several reasons, three of which are worth highlighting.

(1) First, and as indicated in the preceding paragraph, because of the different interpretations of the constituent notions, a certain ambiguity surrounds their uses and meanings;

(2) Second, because this issue is the Achilles heel of African development today. Africa is now a continent where peace has become an issue as well as a major challenge, judging by the presence of United Nations peace missions; as such, the problems of governance, and therefore of peace and security are, in the opinion of many Africans,3 among the most urgent to tackle because they hinder development.

(3) This issue will be even more crucial in the years to come because, if the trends observed in the Sahel continue, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pursued by the international community will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Indeed, sustainable and inclusive development cannot be expected if disparities and inequalities, far from diminishing, are actually growing, and if the political economy is dominated by short-term considerations and interests.

Clearing the ground and better understanding the problem is therefore an imperative for those who wish to act as strategists, i.e. to participate in the construction of a future which, in accordance with the ambitions of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and other frames of reference, focuses on development that is “centred on citizens, reliant on people’s potential, especially with regard to women and young people, and taking care of children”.

Against this background, UNFPA has decided to embark on a process of reflection, the aims of which are set out in the attached terms of reference.