Thursday, September 22, 2022

What's the Sahel? And why do I care?

 The deadliest terrorist actions right now are happening in an area called the Sahel in Africa. If you don't know what it is, then you don't know why it is a hot sport.  And is it important to us Americans? 

Answers abound, but let us start with the last question first. Is it important to us Americans? 

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As moral human beings, kinda - but it is just another place where war and history combine to kill 8,000 people due to terrorism so far this year. While it is sad, over 32,000 people in the United States during the same period due to gun deaths - breaking down to about 15,000 via homicide, murder and crime, and another 17,500 by gunshot suicides. So on big world scale of death, not so much.

As political Americans, yes.  More than 1/3 of all terrorism deaths are from this region. The three countries governments have all fallen repeatedly to be replaced by more authoritarian regimes - which leads to more people disenfranchised, which leads to more terrorism which lead to more authoritarian measures and on and on. As we have learned, expanding terrorist networks are not good for America in the long run - no matter where they are.

So, what is the Sahel? The Sahel is an area south of the Sahara Desert in Africa. It is where the emptiness of the Sahara begins to grow, mainly via sporadic rain and the great river that runs through it - Niger - bringing water to the area. 

Depending on the year, the Sahel shrinks and expands across the Sahara region based on rainfall. At least historically. During the late 1960 / early 1970s, the Sahel contracted due to prolonged drought. Drought lead to over grazing by farmed animals. Overgrazing lead to desertification. 

But this was a periodic weather change and while a humanitarian issue, it was not terribly abnormal. In good news from that period the medical and sanitary strides meant increased lifespan and lower infant mortality rates for the people of the Sahel. In the side-effect news, the Sahel suddenly had many more people than in the past, and had them at the time the desert was growing. Smaller wars and skirmishes occurred for decades over more and more scarce resources.

Decades later, more rain, less dependence on subsistence farming, and stable populations brought some stability to the region.

And then (always an "and then") came the long term climate that increased desertification through the region. With less wealth and goods to share among a larger populace, local leaders and warlords directed more wealth to their friends, supporters, and armies. This makes the people grow restless and therefore can be more easily be recruited by opposition, of which Islamic fighters are the most powerful.

For a decades or so, the political changes were held in abeyance by French "peacekeepers" who came at the request of the countries - they were french colonies until the 1960s. American elite anti-terrorism troops and logistic centers went in in the 2000s. When these foreign troops were killed, the home countries discovered that these wars were not popular when the public found out. And so they left.

Since the French and Americans pulled out civilian deaths, terrorist killings and civil wars have increased yearly. From a few hundred in 2014 to over 7,500 so far this year.

So the Sahel shrinks, the population suffers, terrorism grows and people die. The constant low level terrorism of the early 2000s has grown in both area and deaths.

Climate change did not cause this, but has exacerbated the situation politically. 

It is a problem that will only spread. The "it", in this case, being increased competition over fewer resources.

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