Three years of coups around Africa’s Sahel region — eight of them in six nations, from Guinea on the Atlantic to Sudan on the Red Sea — leave many African and other policymakers frustrated over how to respond. The Sahel’s crises have uprooted more than 4 million people and could add millions more to our record levels of global human migration as Africa’s population grows and its climate destabilizes. Yet the pattern of coups and other evidence — notably from USIP’s Sahel fieldwork, counter-coup research and bipartisan analysis teams — offer guidelines for effective responses by African, U.S. and international policymakers.
This morning’s coup d’etat in Niger only deepens the pattern of instability across Africa’s Sahel and damages what has been a rare process of fairly steady democracy building in the region. Niger’s democratically elected government has been a valued partner for African and international efforts to stabilize the Sahel against its web of insurgencies, extremist movements and military coups. Kamissa Camara, a former foreign minister of Niger’s neighbor, Mali, now an analyst on the region with USIP, says the coup underlines lessons already evident about how to improve international efforts to build democracy and peace.
This month’s coup d’etat in Burkina Faso, the seventh in 26 months around the Sahel region, only extends the Sahel’s long agonies of failing governance, civil wars and violent extremism. Military-led intervention by France and other outside powers has failed to stem the widening destabilization of a landmass and population vastly bigger than those of the recent U.S. wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. U.S. and international security require a policy reset that addresses the Sahel crisis’ causes rather than its symptoms. In Burkina Faso and other states, this means supporting inclusive processes of national dialogue that can mobilize whole of the society to address those causes.
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.
USIP’s Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) program aims to shape national policies and community approaches to countering violent extremism in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. USIP does this by empowering women-led organizations and building local capacity that fosters collaboration between community-level activists and national-level policymakers.
In countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, USIP has pioneered a method to bring state officials, community leaders and citizens together to work out the roots of their problems and cooperatively rebuild security.