The Global Terrorism Index is out and its depressing news for the Sahel.

The Global Terrorism Index is out and its depressing news for the Sahel.
kieran Baker

According to the Australian-based Institute for Economic and Peace the Sahel now accounts for 43 per cent of the world’s terrorism deaths- that’s more than South Asia and Middle East North Africa combined. Of particular concern are two countries, Burkina Faso and Mali, which accounted for 73 per cent of terrorism deaths in the Sahel in 2022 and 52 per cent of all deaths from terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa. The increase in terrorism in the Sahel has been dramatic, rising by over 2,000 percent in the last 15 years. The political situation in the Sahel compounds this increase, with six coup attempts since 2021, of which four were successful.  

So, what are the underlying drivers and what can neighboring countries – particularly in the Maghreb do to help? Morocco has been involved in security cooperation efforts in the Sahel, particularly in the fight against terrorism and extremism. It has provided military assistance, training, and intelligence sharing to Sahelian countries to combat threats from groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), ISIS-affiliated militants, and Boko Haram. Most recently, as Maghreb Insider, reported this week Turkey, Iran and Morocco are vying for a greater economic and military role in Africa's Sahel after former colonial ruler France's forced withdrawal from the region.

Morocco said in September last year it was ready to make "its road, port and rail infrastructure" available to landlocked Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. And in November Morocco's King Mohammed VI called for helping Sahel countries access the Atlantic, noting this "hinges on upgrading infrastructure in the Sahel countries and seeking to connect them to transport and communication networks existing in the region."

Niger has had "excellent relations with Morocco since independence" and especially in terms of economic development, a Niger government source said.

External players such as Turkey and Iran may well help provide solutions; Iran has signed several cooperation agreements with Burkina Faso in energy, urban planning, higher education, and construction.

In late January, Tehran announced the creation of two universities in Mali and inked various cooperation agreements However it seems more likely that Morocco becomes a key player to facilitate growth opportunities to help with everything from poor water utilization to lack of food and infrastructure. Morocco is also increasingly a diplomatic player in the region – noted for its opening of more consulates and embassies than other Maghreb countries. It will be telling for any nation that looks to assist the Sahel; it is a complex situation only becoming more volatile it seems given these recent terrorism numbers. 

Kieran Baker is an Emmy award winning journalist who has started up various networks including Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg TV Africa and TRT World. 

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