The Sahel region is an arid area situated between North African countries and those of sub-Saharan Africa.
“In the Sahel, fundamental human rights are violated every day: The right to life, to religious freedom, to education, to property, to security,” denounce the Bishops of Burkina Faso, Niger, Ghana, Mali and Ivory Coast, in a statement released at the end of a meeting held in Ouagadougou, on the crisis that is devastating the region.
Islamist groups aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State
Western African countries are particularly concerned that the violence perpetrated by armed jihadist groups assaulting vast areas of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso is getting out of hand.
Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are particularly affected with minority Christian communities singled out for attack. Burkina Faso, for example, has recorded more than 700 deaths and 500,000 internally displaced persons and refugees as a result of incursions by armed groups since 2015.
Most of the Islamist groups are aligned with either Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.
Jihadists are a concern for all countries
“The epicentre of insecurity was first in Mali. Now it is Burkina Faso that is at the heart of the conflict,” said Patrick Youssef, the Deputy Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Africa. He was speaking recently at a press conference held in Dakar, Senegal.
Even Countries so far marginally affected by jihadist terrorism have expressed concern about the situation in which neighbouring states live.
“One must never think that the threat of terrorism affects only others. All countries in the world are currently affected by this threat, including the Ivory Coast,” said the foreign ministry of the Ivory Coast.
On 13 March 2016, three gunmen opened fire at a beach resort in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, killing at least 19 people and injuring 33 others.
Porous borders of the Sahel favour activisties of extremists
As the Islamic State and other Jihadists lose ground in the Middle East, they have found the porous borders of the Sahel region easy for their nefarious attacks -usually on defenceless and vulnerable communities.
The Sahel region itself is beset with not only porous borders but also poverty, food insecurity and frequently extremist groups seem better equipped and armed than government security agents. High youth unemployment also means there is no shortage of young men available to join the ranks of terrorist groups. Forced recruitment also plays a significant role.
In 2013, French forces managed to dislodge the Jihadists from Mali. However, as the international community commits less attention to the region, there is a noticeable build-up of activities by the extremists who have now spread into Central Mali, Burkina Faso and parts of Niger.