From 1991-1995, the Sahel region of West Africa has been the scene of serious civil armed conflict and extreme violations of human rights. The conflict is rooted in policies that were designed to exclude the nomads from the management of public affairs and government decisions.
The current situation is fluid with a significant stabilization in Niger, administrative decentralization and participation of Tuareg and other pastoralists in the administration of Agadez Region and also in the government and the National Assembly. The election of Mahamadou Issoufou in Niger has greatly stabilised that country and brought all communities into the national political economy.
In Mali, the north-south conflict remains very sensitive to the strong presence of armed Islamists (MUJAO and Al Qaeda), and insufficient process between the Bamako government and the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA) - Tuareg rebel forces North. European Union, US and Gulf interests have fuelled oil related strategies in Mali, promoting instability and discouraging any reference to human rights in the peace negotiations. The so-called Islamicist armed movements are allegedly involved in drugs and arms smuggling and are heavily funded by foreign interests. Fighting has become more serious in the second part of 2015, threatening peace throughout the region.
Droughts and food insecurity
The contemporary political-economy of the Saharo-Sahelian region has been greatly influenced by fluctuations of its climate and declining biodiversity which previously has sustained human civilisation for millennia.
In the early 1970s, a series of droughts devastated the pastoralist north, destabilising the rural economy and pushing herders into the urban areas. The cycles of drought and conflict have exacerbated the decline of biodiversity including placing a number of species on the verge of total extinction. These shocks also contributed to stress amongst the pastoralists, loss of livestock and urban migration.
Conservation of biodiversity is critical for all pastoralist peoples. The Tuareg of the Aïr region of northern Niger have adapted their traditional systems of governance to promote conservation and to merge with the overhaul of the political system which presented opportunities for an emerging decentralization. The much of the region is now under the Aïr & Ténéré World Heritage Site.
Exploitation of natural resources and pollution
The Sahara has been targeted as an important site for uranium and coal mining, as well as fossil fuel extraction. Mauritania has become an important site for Western oil companies which impacts on regional military dynamics. All of the countries experience serious mining related pollution as well as over-use of scarce wood and water resources. The most serious crisis has been radioactive infection of underground water by French uranium companies.
The Sahara relies on underground water supply and its network of oases to support both human and migratory bird and animal life. Over-extraction of water from aquifers, combined with wood extraction and wildlife poaching could lead to the total collapse of the Saharan ecosystem. Niger has recently prosecuted military for poaching rare antelope species on behalf of Chinese companies in that country.
IPACC’s Sahelian and Saharan Agadez Congress of 2006 organized a special commission on environmental issues. Among the problems mentioned include: pollution from oil exploration off the coast of Mauritania, siltation of the Niger River in Mali, the surface mining of a uranium mine in Niger, dumps of toxic materials Algeria and other countries and the pipeline that runs through Mbororo territories in Chad and Cameroon.
Most recently, artisanal gold mining in Niger near the Libyan border is said to be creating new environmental threats and a health crisis.