A letter from African intellectuals on the Sahel crisis

We call on the AU to enhance engagement in the Sahel and appoint a new High Representative for Mali.

A United Nations vehicle patrols at the Independence square in Timbuktu on March 31, 2021 [File: AFP/Michele Cattani]

Your Excellency, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission:

We write to you as African citizens who have dedicated our lives to a vibrant, self-determining African continent and to the fight for the improvement of the welfare of African peoples all over the world. We are deeply concerned about the worsening security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel Region especially following the killing of President Idriss Deby of Chad. Now, more than ever, is the time for the African Union to step up its actions to help end the tragedy in the Sahel.

The central Sahel, including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, faces some of the greatest challenges to peace and development. These three Sahelian countries are some of the world’s poorest. The conditions people in the region face are aptly captured in a recent report by the People’s Coalition for the Sahel, The Sahel: What needs to Change.

The year 2020 was the deadliest year for civilians, due to several security related crises. More than 2,440 civilians lost their lives in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. More innocent civilians and suspected criminals were killed last year by state security forces than by jihadist groups. Nearly two million people were forced to flee their homes, a figure that has increased 20-fold in just two years. Close to 13 million girls and boys are denied access to education.

Your Excellency, behind these statistics are African citizens driven to new levels of desperation by the unprecedented surge in violence in the last six months. A multitude of different armed groups have burned villagers alive, killed others with bombs and pulled men off buses to execute them by the side of the road. The violence is making the already severe humanitarian crises, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, even worse.

As the front-lines are constantly changing, many families have been forced to flee their homes, traveling for weeks or even months, leaving everything behind and risking their lives to find safety in other areas, multiplying their vulnerabilities. Our concern as African citizens is that these vulnerabilities risk becoming irreversible; each time people are displaced, social cohesion fractures, communities collapse and nations are disintegrating. The immediate victims of this unfolding tragedy are Sahelian women and youths who have little opportunity to receive an education or secure a livelihood. The hope of a future is vanishing for millions of young people right in front of their eyes.

Sahelian public opinion is questioning French involvement in the subregion, in particular the French military presence, as a deeply political issue over their country’s sovereignty. The mantra “African solutions for African problems” requires that the African Union promote actions and approaches which build the legitimacy of Sahelian states in determining their own affairs, albeit with the support of partners.

Your Excellency, the Sahel region cannot count on military solutions alone to ease tensions. In this regard we affirm the recommendation by the People’s Coalition that the AU’s strategy for the Sahel should be an integrated, people-centred approach that is based on the idea that security, development and governance are inherently intertwined.

The AU should act in support of improved governance at different levels (local, national, regional, and global) and support inclusive dialogue, with a view of attaining durable and sustainable solutions for lasting peace, security and development.

In line with its mandate, the AU should provide leadership through support to regional and sub-regional frameworks and coordinate the many interventions undertaken by governments and development partners. We believe that through such an approach, the AU’s Agenda 2063 vision could be modelled in the Sahel, stabilising the region to head off irredentism.

Your Excellency, the dire security conditions in the Sahel require the AU to respond more decisively. Re-establishing stability throughout the Sahelian countries should remain a priority, and in that context, it will also be important for the AU and ECOWAS to engage more on fundamental reforms, especially in good governance and security sector reform, as a way of restoring the population’s trust towards government institutions and recapturing control in local agro-rural communities. Access to justice should be part of long-term national security strategies.

We look forward to the AU’s enhanced engagements in the sub-region and more importantly, that you urgently appoint a High Representative for Mali and the Sahel to spearhead the required leadership by the AU.

Your Excellency, millions of citizens of the Sahel, especially women and youths, are looking up to your leadership to defend their interests and safeguard their human rights.

For our part, we are dedicated and ready to support AU efforts to promote Africa’s shared values, the consolidation of peace, security and development in Africa, of which the Sahel is a critical part.

Your Excellency, we wish you good health as you steer the African Union Commission, this great instrument for peace, stability and development on the continent.


Yours sincerely,


Alioune Tine (Mr), Founder, AfrikaJom Center, Dakar, Senegal

Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga (Mr). Chairperson Ad Interim-African Union Watch, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Coumba Toure (Ms). Writer, storyteller, human rights activist, Accra, Ghana

Fidon Mwombeki (Rev. Dr). Secretary-General, All Africa Council of Churches, Lomé, Togo

Kumi Naidoo (Prof). Global Ambassador, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity, Johannesburg, South Africa

Lamin Saidykhan (Mr). Award winning Pan African Advocate and Human Rights Activist, Banjul, The Gambia

Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba (Prof). PLO Lumumba Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.