The wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region put together.
Unequal access to wealth is one of the main causes of receding violence in West Africa’s Sahel region. Violence which has forced millions to flee their homes, according to conflict analysts.
Islamist groups are active in the troubled region, just south of the Sahara desert while the commotion is driven more by wealth imbalance than poverty or religious beliefs.
“Community members are saying, ‘We see people in the capital cities who have all this wealth but in these rural areas we don’t have any of this’,” Patrick Williams, CRS programme manager for the Sahel Peace Initiative said.
“It’s not that people are poor, it’s that the wealth, the resources that are there, aren’t equitably managed and shared,” Williams explained.
Conflict in the Sahel has caused one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises, with 24 million people in need of aid this year and 13 million going hungry, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
With its vast, loosely controlled desert strech and porous borders, the Sahel has proven to be fertile ground for the rise of Islamist militancy in one of the world’s poorest regions, while climate change has worsened competition for diminishing resources.
CRS spoke with hundreds of people in the tri-border zone of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in April, many of whom complained of youth unemployment and lack of economic opportunities being the main causes of violence, driving many to join armed groups.
The wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined, and their governments are doing the least in Africa to reduce inequality through policies like taxation and social spending.
Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State are expanding across the region, while local militias and defence groups also wage attacks. Some community members claim they do not know why people were fighting or who was attacking them.
In Mali, where France intervened in 2013 to drive back jihadists who seized much of the country in 2012, frustration over insecurity, corruption and economic hardship led to mass protests and a coup in August.
To the south in Burkina Faso, grazing areas and water resources are depleting. Locals also feel aggrieved over restrictions on access to national parks.
“Unequal access to wealth and resources is one of the drivers of conflict in the region,” said Adam, African think-tank worker in Mali.
Although economic and social grievances are one factor, religious beliefs must not be neglected, Jean-Herve Jezequel, Sahel project director at the International Crisis Group started
“It does make a difference if you fight for jihadi groups or if you fight for local militia,” he said.
“Let’s not underestimate the role of religion in recruitment, in explaining how people fight.” He concluded.