Peace in the Sahel: Demography, Peace and Security in Focus at High-Level Symposium

On December 2nd, the United Nations Population Fund West and Central Africa Regional Office (UNFPA WCARO) and the Government of Niger hosted a virtual symposium on Demography, Peace, and Security (DPS) in the Sahel. The primary aim of the event was to engage in high-level policy and advocacy dialogue on the links between demography, peace, and security, and develop a new narrative on the Sahel region. To do so it is imperative to refocus and mainstream interventions that facilitate tangible and long-term solutions that are all inclusive and offer a sustainable roadmap to achieve stability, lasting peace and a conducive environment for development. Find key scientific publications on the DPS initiative here.

About the symposium

The symposium marked a major step in the broader DPS initiative led by UNFPA WCARO, which aims to build on the evidence of the links between the demography, peace and security, and present a strong case to address the root causes of insecurity to bring peace to the region – holistically addressing the current fragility of the Sahel. Prominent figures from African governments, the private sector, researchers, United Nations agencies, multilateral and bilateral organizations, civil society groups, and development partners came together to explore and discuss data-driven and evidence-based interventions that can lead to a more effective and sustainable response to the crisis in the region. 

Organized under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Niger, His Excellency Mouhamadou Issoufou, the symposium was a culmination of a series of studies on the links between demography, peace, and security in order to achieve a lasting peace in the Sahel. The Chief of Staff of President Mouhamadou Issoufou, Mr. Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou represented the President and spoke about reconciling demographic growth with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “It is with good reason that some analysts speak of a demographic explosion; now is the time for action,” he said. 

The presentation of studies and statistical models by high-level speakers were followed by two panels; one on the results of national consultations and the G5 Sahel perspective, while the second focused on perspectives from development partners. During the second panel, GBCHealth’s President Nancy Wildfeir-Field highlighted several examples of how the private sector can help to realize the potential of young Africans in the Sahel by providing avenues for entrepreneurship, skills acquisition, and employment. She called on business leaders and civil society to work collectively to ensure that talk leads to action and impact; impact that not only saves lives, but also improves livelihoods and business productivity, stimulates economic growth, and improves peace and security in the region.

In his closing remarks, Mabingue Ngom, UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa, and lead coordinator of the DPS initiative, highlighted the importance of sustainable interventions to reduce instability in the Sahel. According to Mr. Ngom, “Security stabilization, development action and humanitarian assistance are invaluable and indispensable in confronting and diffusing the inner core of the Sahelian crisis. The end goal is reclaiming the Sahel as Africa’s oasis of peace.”

The symposium provided a space for networking and constructive exchange among government representatives, development stakeholders, the academic and research community, policy makers, civil society organizations, technical and financial partners, the private sector, and opinion leaders. It led to the outline of a framework for action, based on evidence and experience, that provides concrete measures to promote the inclusive and harmonious development of the Sahel to achieve the SDGs and Africa’s 2063 Agenda, in the context of fragility and conflicts.

The symposium was preceded by research conducted in the form of a comprehensive literature review on the relationship between demography, peace and security, followed by a statistical modelling of the relationship as well as the production of case studies in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The structural similarity that we see across the region is a very young population. The studies indicate that high dependency levels, low-school enrolment rates, general inequalities, increasing demographic pressures, and strained governmental services are the main contributors to the Sahel’s intractable conflict puzzle. 

Symposium outcomes are being translated into policy briefs that will contribute to the implementation of the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the implementation of the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development, and the African Union Agenda 2063.  Attendees agreed on the importance of developing policies that make it possible to tackle the root causes of insecurity in the Sahel, primarily by reducing demographic dependence. 

Find more information on the symposium from UNFPA WCARO here

About the DPS initiative

The real enemies to peace – ignorance, disease, hunger, poverty and exclusion – can only be fought with shared and widespread development. The DPS initiative will contribute to strengthening security and stability in the Sahel region through interventions that address the causes of conflict, including demographic challenges and their effects on health, education and job creation. It provides an opportunity to develop an inclusive strategy through actionable research, to go beyond the symptomatic treatment, to both fill the gaps identified in the studies and to build upon current achievements, supporting the practical implementation of ongoing initiatives such as the Sahel Women’s Empowerment & Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project and the G5 Sahel Strategy, not only in the coming years but for decades to come. 

Complementing the symposium, on December 3rd Mabingue Ngom shared a new publication with the media, “Demography, Peace and Security: Perspectives for a Resilient Central Sahel.” The book is a synthesis of the consultations, discussions and work that have taken place over the course of this year. There is strong conviction that an empirical approach will enrich a dynamic co-creation process on the DPS agenda, and widen the frontiers of knowledge and understanding, helping Sahelians and non-Sahelians to reflect on the demography, peace and security nexus in the central Sahel, the subject of this book.

Every picture book tells a story

It’s said that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and it is in that vein that UNFPA and GBCHealth are pleased to share their collaboration on a new photo book, “The Promise of Youth: Demography, Peace and Security in the Sahel,” which provides a pictorial journey into the complex issues in the Sahel and UNFPA’s work helping to address these critical issues. 

For more on the rationale behind the DPS initiative, please see GBCHealth’s overview of the DPS context of the Sahel, a perspective from Mabingue Ngom on what it would mean to achieve peace in the Sahel, and additional articles from Inside Politics, Le Point Afrique, and New Business Ethiopia. The DPS initiative also integrates the reflections made to date by the UN system (through resolutions 1325 and 2250) and the Governments of the Sahel region.

Collaboration with GBCHealth and the private sector

GBCHealth is supporting this initiative as part of its ongoing partnership with UNFPA, which began in 2017. Our collaboration aims to encourage partnerships and private sector investment in health systems, reproductive health, women’s empowerment, basic literacy, financial education, entrepreneurship and to support the demographic dividend. 

The private sector can bring innovative and creative contributions to sustainable action in the Sahel through multisector partnerships to address supply chain issues; improving access to products and services that support both urban and rural communities; strengthening health,  water and sanitation systems; investing in education; and much more. The coming years will be a period of great opportunity for the private sector to contribute to a rapid acceleration of progress in these critical efforts. Success will require joint action and investment – in health systems, gender equality, education, entrepreneurship and more. 

If you’d like more information on the program and would like to discuss opportunities to get involved, please contact Nancy Wildfeir-Field via mromney@gbchealth.org.

Matt RomneyPeace in the Sahel: Demography, Peace and Security in Focus at High-Level Symposium