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News | Jan. 31, 2017

On the Edge: What Future for the African Sahel?

By Leonardo A. Villalón Conference at University of Florida

Leonardo A. Villalón, Abdoulaye Kane, Sebastian Elischer, Sarah McKune,
Fiona McLaughlin, Renata Serra, Benjamin Soares, and Alioune Sow


There is unprecedented interest in the countries of the West African Sahel. Among the very least developed countries on earth, they were long on the margins of both scholarly and policy concerns; yet as the region has attracted world attention as a key battleground in the global “war on terror” there has been a proliferation of writing on the region. The vast majority of this recent attention, however, has been through the prism of security concerns: terrorism, violence, and “radical Islam.” While fully recognizing the immediate challenges that have brought the Sahel into international headlines, a primary goal of this conference is to move beyond this narrow and often superficial focus to provide a multidimensional and interdisciplinary assessment of the region in all of its complexity.

Beyond the security concerns, the region is at an important crossroads, under multiple pressures of diverse kinds: environmental, political, demographic, and economic, as well as rapidly changing social and cultural dynamics. Indeed there is a growing understanding that the security concerns of the region are intricately interrelated with broader socio-economic dynamics, and with the challenges of underdevelopment, population growth, social and religious transformations, climate change, and more.

This conference will bring together an interdisciplinary set of scholars from Europe, Africa and North America to offer perspectives on key issues shaping the region. The focus will be on the six Francophone countries at the heart of the geographic space of the Sahel—Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad—considered in the context of their neighbors, notably Nigeria to the south and the countries of the Maghreb to the north. An important contribution of the conference will be to explore the historical and contemporary interconnections that make this set of countries, collectively, an identifiable sub-region.

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