The Sahel: Focus of Hope, Focus of Fear

Edited by Marcel Kitissou and Pauline E. Ginsberg

The Sahel is a critical zone of convergence. Geographically, it links two oceans and three seas. Itself a semi-arid corridor, it functions as a giant dry river that traverses the central-north of Africa from coast to coast, demarcating the transition between the Sahara desert and the savannah. Across the land and the water came traders and adventurers seeking goods and power, bringing ideas, opportunities and challenges, sometimes, as with slavery, inflicting heavy damage upon flourishing institutions. 

Always rich in human diversity, bringing into contact North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans, West Africans and East Africans long before others came from outside the continent, in the Sahel cultures mixed, not always comfortably. And so they continue to mix even now. Indigenous religions met Islam, imported from the Arabian Peninsula, and Christianity from the Middle East by way of Europe.

Often violent encounters across the Sahara between the largely animist indigenous Africans and MuslimArabs from North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula significantly shaped and still animate the socio-political landscape of the region. The Sahel has been the focus of dreams of wealth and power for centuries, during which the objective of overthrowing existing forms of governance to usher out the invader or colonizer and usher in a new order that is solicitous of the welfare of the people has served as the motive for many revolutions and rebellions and is the case of many Sahel countries today.

Against a background of seemingly unending encounters, from the Fossatum Africae (the African Trench) in time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to today’s Mali, with powerful global currents which have often convulsed and created unwelcome dislocations in their society, the people of the Sahara-Sahel […]