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If a pastoralist does not move, he dies.”  El Hacen Ould Taleb

People try not to think about what’s going on in sub-Saharan Africa. They edit it out of their daily lives. Especially Americans. We prefer a fantasy version of Africa.” Robert Lopez

“It is far easier to kill a terrorist than to slay an ideology.” Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In this week’s edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” I would like to discuss the importance of understanding the massive population growth-explosion in the continent of Africa today, along with its implications. I have touched on this subject before. It continues not to be discussed in the open press or mainstream media. (You can follow up by reading my previous article from about half a year ago: ISIS 2.0 Franchising Terror.)

I cannot overstate the significance of what is happening in Africa, right before our eyes. The massive demographic shift, the gross levels of poverty, sickness, and violence will simply not rest in the Sahel. They will spread like a rapidly growing cancer across the entire world if something is not done now to stem the tide of its fester.

As I stated in my previous article in December 2020, these problems will not be solved through the kinetic use of military force. They will only be stemmed and rolled back by the multi-lateral implementation of an international initiative through investment, assistance, and partnership. Africa is not a poor continent when it comes to intellectual capital, natural resources, and desire. It is one that has been held back through corruption, strong-arm governments, religious manipulations, and force. 


Sahel Africa is a wide stretch of land running from the Atlantic ocean to the African “Horn,” an area that contains the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. The name, Sahel accurately describes where this area is located because it is an Arabic word for “border” or “margin.” The southern border of the region is the Sahara Desert (Sahara being an Arabic word for “desert.”) It is a transition zone between the arid Sahara to the north and the wetter, more tropical area to the south. The areas primarily affected are Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and the “Horn.”

The climate of the Sahel area is typically arid and unstable. This is a most problematic environmental zone because it is difficult to operate agriculture with very little precipitation. The Sahel area is a predominately sparse, savanna vegetation of grasses and shrubs. It receives only between four and eight inches of rainfall a year, which is slowly decreasing. The rainfall that it does receive falls mostly between the months of June and September.

Life on the Sahel is difficult and precarious. A majority of the people in the Sahel area are involved in nomadic herding. The people and their livestock move in herds according to the rain. Unfortunately, the large number of livestock have overgrazed during the rainy season causing excessive desertification of the Sahel. There are, however, a minority of people involved in limited peanut and millet farming. During the 1970s there was a multi-year drought that contributed to the death of over three hundred thousand people and five million livestock. 

Most regions of the world have experienced gradually declining rates of population growth. However, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is still growing rapidly because the region has not yet embarked on its “demographic transition” from high to low birth and death rates.

The countries in the area are large and durable, yet the vast desert of the Sahara and the unstable climate of the Sahel make it difficult for them to support larger populations. Ethiopia has the largest population with 57.2 million. It is by far, the largest in population. The country of Sudan has the next largest population with only 28.9 million people. After these two countries, the populations of Somalia, Mali, and Niger are all nine and a half million, with Chad at the bottom with only 6.5 million. Populations in these areas are growing rapidly though, with some of the highest rates of natural increase in the world, many of them above the 3.0 mark.

The region’s GDP per capita in purchasing power parity is relatively low, ranging from approximately US $900 to less than US $3,000 per capita, with the only significant income coming from natural resources like oil and minerals. The World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business report ranks these nations among the least business-friendly, due in large part to their history of political instability. Moreover, the World Bank lists half of the nations of the Sahel as fragile states (low-income countries with weak state capacity).

Here are a few of the significant states in the Sahel. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopia is part of the “Horn” of Africa and is centered on the high plateau capital of Addis Ababa. The capital has 3.2 million of the country’s total population of 57.2 million. It has long been ruled by the Christian minority of the Amhara. The Sahel becomes spatially narrow along with Ethiopia, however it is a deep cultural chasm. Two major events happened in the 1980s: 1) It became the “Balkans” of Africa and; 2) a drought-hit. The first event created more than two million refugees, in a struggle that put Muslim Eritreans against non-Muslim Ethiopians. The second event was a devastating drought that caused a countless number of deaths, but also helped collapse the regime in Addis Ababa. Finally, in 1991 the dictatorship collapsed. Then in 1993, the country became landlocked due to Eritrea’s granted independence. At this point Ethiopia’s future in the 21st century is questionable.

Sudan: Sudan has a total population of 28.9 million people, and 70% of that population is Muslim. In 1956 the country was granted independence, and almost immediately war broke out due to constant strife between the Muslim North and non-Muslim South. The first war was from 1956 to 1972 and cost over half a million lives. After a brief period of peace, the war renewed in 1983 and cost more lives than the first.

Somalia: Somalia had rapidly disintegrated in a civil war which was not between cultures, but rather between Muslim clan and Muslim clan. It has a population of only 9.5 million. About 90% of the population in Somalia is Islamic.

Niger: Niger was originally an administrative division of the French colonial empire that achieved independence with few economic opportunities. It contains too much of the Sahara and Sahel to sustain a population like Nigeria, Ghana, or the Ivory Coast. The population is slightly smaller than Somalia at just 9.5 million.

Chad: Chad has the smallest population in this region at only 6.5 million. Conflicts that occur often in this area are because of the ethnic break-up of the population and the Sahel area. The country is 45% Muslim in the North, 35% Christian, and 20% Animist.

The Sahel as a region faces a very difficult socio-economic situation. It is, therefore, not surprising to see growing human mobility, involving less skilled, as well as highly skilled workers, as people search for greener pastures in Africa and in Europe. In fact, most migration in the Sahel takes place within countries between rural areas, secondary urban centers, and capital cities. But the mobility between Sahelian countries is also very important, and is often a step in the trajectory of West African migration from capital cities to other African countries, and then on to Europe or North America. The globalization process has deeply affected the Sahel; like all major world areas of outmigration Sahelian societies are now connected through continuous flows of people, money, goods, and ideas to major destinations of international migration.

There appears to be an undeclared war happening under the radar in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa. There are significant ideological conflicts between the decreasing numbers of Christians, the Sahelian Sufi Shaykhs. The increasing impact of the Salafi Islamist influences groups like Boko Haram, al Shabaab, al Qaeda, and ISIS. All are vying for the hearts and minds of the Sahelian peoples. Transnationalism is emerging. This transnational phenomenon is stripping away everything that so many ethno-nationalities have depended on for years to maintain their deep-seated cultural need for a national identity. This identity is eroding at a significantly rapid pace. Transnational Sufism, Salafist Jihadism, dire economic realities, and corruption are pushing each of these people groups into a position that can only be described as bordering on extinction as they are having to make choices daily between annihilation and survival.

According to the Population Research Bureau, the region’s challenges are neither simple nor one-dimensional. The obvious question remains of what can be done. Progress in the Sahel can be achieved through five main initiatives:

  1. Accelerating the demographic transition, ie. increasing the movements of youth to the cities to gain education, vocations, and smaller family growth. It is a commonly understood fact that as cities grow, family sizes decrease. This is called the demographic shift.
  2. Strengthening existing infrastructure, ie. healthcare, education systems, clean water and food, and security.
  3. Building human capital (education and health), ie. building on the future of the young of any country, through educational programs and consistent and affordable healthcare.
  4. Improving governance, ie. bringing governance into the light, and exposing corruption and vice.
  5. Creating jobs. This is key. With Africa’s current birth rate, in 20 years there will be another 300 million people looking for work. Twenty-three percent of youth are currently unemployed or underemployed. If this problem is not solved soon, the problems of the Sahel will only compound and will turn Africa into, not only a poor continent but a bastion of violence and corruption as well.

One thing is for certain, there is more than meets the eye unfolding in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa today.


Most regions of the world have experienced gradually declining rates of population growth. However, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is still growing rapidly because the region has not yet embarked on its own “demographic transition” from high to low birth and death rates.

The population of sub-Saharan Africa, estimated at 920 million in mid-2014, will more than double in the next 36 years. These projected demographic changes will have tremendous consequences for many issues, from agricultural production to prospects for socio-economic development, as well as for the political stability of many countries. The Sahel, in particular, will face the most extreme challenges, compounded by the threat of the Salafist Jihadist Islamism, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

There is a global struggle unfolding in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa. This struggle may appear to be moving at glacial speed, but the sheer size of it will overwhelm not only Africa, but Europe, and possibly North America in only a few dozen years. If something is not done to stem this tide, the problem will become unmanageable for the next generations. The generation I am speaking of consists of our children who are graduating from middle school today.


Western corporations need to consider making intensive investments in Africa. Up to this point the African markets have been relatively small and regional, but with the increasing transnationalism, and the globalization of its markets, these markets are proving to border on profitability. 

Western and African partnerships need to be created so that the peoples of both milieus prosper. Gone are the days of ravaging colonialists. Genuine partnerships need to evolve, those that benefit both the investors and the consumers. It is possible, and that may be the largest hurdle. It is understood that there are huge obstacles in Africa due to corruption and legacy forms of government that do not integrate well with global corporations. Genuine partnerships however are backed by consistent international agreements that can serve as platforms on which these developments can be built. 

The follow-up.

Putin’s Shadow Warriors Stake Claim to Syria’s Oil…

As a second wave devastates India, Narendra Modi vanishes…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


Kane, A., Leedy, T. H. (eds) (2013). African Migrations: Patterns and Perspectives. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Kane, A. 2012. “Haalpulaar Migrants’ Home Connections: Travel and Communication Circuits.”. In H.P. Hahn & K. Kastner (eds) Urban Life-Worlds in Motion: African Perspectives, Transcript Verlag: 187-206

Kane, A. 2010. “Global Connections in a Sufi Order: Roots and Routes of the Medina Gounass Tijaniyya.” International symposium on “Religion and Migration.” Institute of African Studies. Rabat, Morocco, 25-27 November.

Carl Haub and Toshiko Kaneda, 2014 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2014).

World Bank, “World DataBank: World Development Indicators,” accessed at, on Nov. 24, 2014.

World Bank, Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency, 12th ed., accessed at, on Nov. 24, 2014.

World Bank, “Harmonized List of Fragile Situations FY14,” accessed at, on Nov. 24, 2014.

Malcolm Potts et al., Crisis in the Sahel: Possible Solutions and the Consequences of Inaction (Berkeley: The OASIS Initiative, 2013).

© 2019 • More Than Meets