The Sahel in flames

The Sahel in flames. Violence rips through West Africa causing crises in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso The New Humanitarian May 31, 2019

Photo: Barsalogho camp in Burkina Faso Credit: Philip Kleinfeld/The New Humanitarian

Five takeaways on the growing violence and its civilian toll:

Jihadist groups are manipulating inter-communal conflicts. They are exploiting the region’s ethnic fault lines to stir violence that can be far deadlier than anything the militants are doing directly themselves. In central Mali, the level of violence may now qualify as ethnic cleansing.

Governments have helped local militias thrive. Central governments have allowed and in some cases encouraged the proliferation of communal militia groups – decisions that are now coming home to roost as intercommunal conflicts rise.

Civilians look to jihadists for support the state doesn’t provide. Jihadist groups often understand the social grievances of local communities. A recent study by the peacebuilding charity International Alert attributes the rise in violent extremism in the Sahel to weak states rather than religious ideology.

Civilians are becoming casualties of security forces. These forces add to the insecurity by killing civilians during counter-terrorism operations. In Burkina Faso, military forces are killing three times more civilians than jihadists.

Displacement, food insecurity, and other humanitarian crises are escalating, but resources to respond are lacking. Some 5.1 million people require humanitarian assistance, and the new violence is “compounding” already existing needs and “threatening civilians’ lives and livelihoods”, a UN official said.

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