In May 2021, USIP created the Bipartisan Senior Study Group for the Sahel comprised of 12 current and former high-level U.S. officials, renowned academics and prominent Africa experts. The senior study group aims to generate new insights into the complex challenges facing the Sahel region, including food security, human rights, security assistance, private sector development and job creation — as well as great power competition. The senior study group will provide original recommendations to the U.S. government and governments in the Sahel region to improve foreign assistance, resolve conflict and support lasting peace.

Map of the Sahel region (Source: Adapted from artwork by Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock)
Source: Adapted from artwork by Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

About the Sahel

The Sahel region stretches from the western shore of Senegal to the eastern shore of Eritrea. However, the senior study group’s work will focus mostly on the western Sahel, which includes the countries of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.

Over the past 24 months, the region has experienced a series of military coups, accompanied by increasingly authoritarian military rule. The rapid surge of the violent extremist threat, coupled with the dangerous involvement of new foreign actors, make the region one that deserves great attention.

The United States continues to invest financial, material and military resources in the region through the Millennium Challenge Corporation program as well as the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

Because there are great opportunities for the United States and its partners in the Sahel to face these challenges in a more effective, strategic and coordinated way, members of the Bipartisan Senior Study Group for the Sahel are working together to better identify endemic issues and inform U.S. policy towards the volatile subregion.

About the Senior Study Group

Between May and December 2022, the senior study group will host a series of expert-level working group discussions on specific subtopics such as the impacts of economic development and job creation on the political stability of the region, as well as the role of foreign powers in the Sahel — particularly Gulf states’ as well as China and Russia’s priorities and engagements in the region.

Final Report

Senior Study Group Members

Ambassador Kamissa Camara, Chair
Kamissa Camara is a senior visiting expert for the Sahel at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute. She is a sub-Saharan Africa policy analyst and practitioner with close to two decades of professional experience. She has served as chief of staff to the president of Mali, as Mali’s minister of foreign affairs and as a senior foreign policy advisor to the president of Mali. She is currently completing a PhD in political science at the University of Oxford.

Ambassador Smaїl Chergui
Smaїl Chergui was the African Union’s commissioner for peace and security from 2013 to 2021. He has over 30 years of experience working with the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including more than 20 years in positions of high responsibility. Ambassador Chergui has vast experience in the management of Pan-African affairs, particularly from his time as ambassador and permanent representative of Algeria.

Ambassador Paul A. Folmsbee
Paul A. Folmsbee was the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Mali between 2015 and 2019. Prior to his appointment as ambassador, he served as executive director of the Bureau of African Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. Known as a talented leader and manager, he has served with distinction in many of our nation’s most challenging postings. Ambassador Folmsbee has spent a significant amount of his career in the developing world. His career focus has been on economic and social development as well as civilian roles in active conflict zones.

Ambassador Jendayi E. Frazer
Jendayi E. Frazer is the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She is the Duignan distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and an adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is also the president and chief executive officer of 50 Ventures, a private consulting and investment company that seeks to elevate Africa's global standing by investing in its governance, education, enterprise and stability sectors.

Michelle D. Gavin
Michelle D. Gavin is the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She has over 20 years of experience in international affairs in government and nonprofit roles. She was formerly the managing director of The Africa Center, a multidisciplinary institution dedicated to increasing understanding of contemporary Africa. From 2011 to 2014, she was the U.S. ambassador to Botswana and served concurrently as the U.S. representative to the Southern African Development Community.

Ambassador J. Peter Pham
J. Peter Pham rejoined the Atlantic Council as a distinguished fellow in March 2021 after concluding public service as U.S. special envoy for the Sahel region with the personal rank of ambassador. He had previously been the Atlantic Council’s vice president for research and regional initiatives and director of the Africa Center. From 2018 to 2020, Ambassador Pham served as the U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa at the U.S. Department of State.

Dr. Alex Thurston
Alex Thurston is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. He previously taught at Georgetown University and Miami University. He specializes in the study of Islam and politics in West Africa and North Africa. He holds a doctorate in religious studies from Northwestern University and a master’s in Arab studies from Georgetown University. From 2013 to 2014, he was an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ambassador Bisa Williams
Bisa Williams is a special advisor on Mali for The Carter Center. Since 2018, she has served as an independent observer for the implementation of the Algiers peace agreement in Mali. She is also a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, where she teaches a course on peacebuilding. Her distinguished career in foreign service includes tenures at the National Security Council in the White House, as U.S. ambassador to Niger, as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, and as acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Ambassador Rama Yade
Rama Yade is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and a senior fellow for the Europe Center. She is also a professor of African affairs at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco and at Sciences Po Paris. Ambassador Yade has over a decade of experience working in French, European and international politics. In 2007, she was appointed as the deputy minister for foreign affairs and human rights of the Republic of France. She is the first ever French minister for human rights and the first woman of African descent to become a member of the French Cabinet.

Dr. Janette Yarwood
Janette Yarwood is the director for Africa and the Middle East at Yale University. She was the chair of sub-Saharan Africa area studies at the Foreign Service Institute until 2018. In that role, she was responsible for all aspects of the program, including regional training for State Department and other U.S. government employees preparing for overseas assignment across Africa or covering Africa from the United States. Before joining the Department of State, she was a research staff member in the Africa program at the Institute for Defense Analysis, where her work focused on U.S. foreign policy and national security issues relating to sub-Saharan Africa.

Senior Advisors

Alexis Arieff
Alexis Arieff is a specialist in African affairs at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), where she supports members of Congress and their staff with independent, nonpartisan policy analysis regarding North, West and Central Africa. In her years at CRS, Arieff has authored reports on U.S. policy responses to security challenges in the Sahel, political change and contestation in the Maghreb, and conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa’s Great Lakes region, among other topics. Arieff has been detailed to policy offices at the State Department and Defense Department and has served as an international election observer in Tunisia and Guinea.

Chidi Blyden
Chidi Blyden is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs. Blyden is an expert and socio-cultural advisor on Africa’s conflicts, security and development issues. She comes to the role with policy, national security and practitioner experience from her career in government, academia and nonprofit sectors. Her work focuses on the impact of culture in developing policy and community-centric approaches to security challenges in African nations, underscoring the role of women and youth in peace and security. Blyden served in the Obama administration as the special assistant to the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs from 2013 to 2017.

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