The Sahel Region: One of Europe’s Biggest Headaches in the Coming Years

Acacia trees fill the plains near Wadi Archei in the Ennedi Mountains, Chad, Central Africa (Photo: David Stanley / Wikimedia Commons)

Recently there has been a very complicated situation in the Middle-African Sahel region, reminiscent of the Arab spring, albeit luckily at least in a less violent way. Major political changes in more countries are happening day-by-day. It is getting challenging to be able to count the number of coup d’états that have happened in the Sahel region in the past few years.
While military juntas are taking control in some countries in the Sahel, on the Eastern part of the continent, an escalating civil war is tearing Sudan apart. Additionally the war has had direct impact on the region first by foremost causing an unseen humanitarian crisis. The European Union doesn’t care much about the conflict but most probably sooner than later it will have to face the enormous challenges coming from the Sahel.

Juntas are Taking Power While France is Losing Ground

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are about to form a new military alliance to counter terrorism in the region. This is not the only common thing between these three countries in the Sahel. They have all been gone through military coup d’états in the past few years. The trend is most likely not a coincidence while simultaneously, through the changes in power, the French influence is deteriorating literally on a daily basis. Make no mistake that in the meantime China, Russia and a bunch of other countries are getting prepared to hop in to replace the French. Theoretically the Chinese could overtake the economic interests of France in the region while Russia would be certainly ready to send some “military advisors” to the juntas in need.

And they are all good in feeling the needs of the locals just as well: “don’t lecture us about democracy but give us some real help instead.” If no European country is eager to at least partially replace France in the Sahel, who would blame Beijing or Moscow for taking advantage of the opportunity?

Sahel Region: Suffering from Sudan’s War

The civil war in Sudan has had a devastating impact on the local population as well as directly on the neighbourhood. According to data provided by UNHCR, over 4.6 million people are estimated to be internally displaced and about 1.1 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The Darfur region has once again become a place of a humanitarian catastrophe that puts huge burden on the other states of the region as well.

Take Chad: one of the world’s poorest countries has been facing extreme challenges since the war in Sudan escalated in 2023. Already more than 700,000 refugees crossed the border leaving the Darfur region to arrive in Chad’s eastern parts. The rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis is one of those sadly forgotten problems the rest of the world (including Europe) does not care about too much.

Kalait is one of the few supply centers between Abeche and Fada in northeastern Chad, Central Africa (Photo: D-Stanley / Wikimedia Commons)
Kalait is one of the few supply centers between Abeche and Fada in northeastern Chad, Central Africa (Photo: D-Stanley / Wikimedia Commons)

Not a wise policy when there is an actual threat of another huge wave of migrants slowly leaving Africa (from Chad via Libya first of all) towards Europe. Southern states of the EU are probably monitoring the situation much closer than those only worried about the outcome of the war in Ukraine or the question of democracy in some EU countries.

Moscow’s Modest Interests

While France has been withdrawing from the region and the rest of Europe is rather effortless to make an impact in the Sahel, Russia has also reconsidered its policy on Africa. While the Kremlin’s primary aim remains to focus on Ukraine, Moscow also wants to portray itself as a global player. Therefore they cannot simply afford to let the African continent completely go out of their influence. Especially recently as they see an opportunity in the decline of the French presence in the region. The rebranded Wagner – operating now as Africa Corps – continues to be present in some African countries. They have just sent some troops to Burkina Faso and started negotiations with some others.

It is surely not easy to deal with these countries in the Sahel. In the recent years they just discovered their own identity, they do not want to live under the protectorate of Western countries anymore. They don’t want to be told how to run their countries based on Western principles. But at the same time they desperately need help because of the multiple challenges they face starting from the climate change through the constant migrant crisis to the fight with rebels and terrorists. There is no such a thing as “enough” when it comes to humanitarian aid in this region. There is an overall need for agricultural development to help the local production of the necessary goods. Countries that take these areas as a priority will be much more welcome in the Sahel than those insisting on holding democratic elections.

Brussels’ Homework

Europe should care more about the Sahel region especially when it comes to the security situation. If the local conflicts deteriorate it will sooner or later have a direct impact on Europe’s security as well.

The buiding of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium (Photo: Sebastien Bertrand /
The buiding of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium (Photo: Sebastien Bertrand /

Unilateral approach has always been a major problem of Brussels. When there was Covid pandemic they have forgotten about other problems in the EU, when there is a war in Ukraine they tend to forget about other armed conflicts that are sometimes even more devastating and bloodier than the one in Ukraine. As conflicts in the Sahel region erupt the EU should act quickly to prevent another crisis of migrants like the one we saw in 2015. It would be good to say that Brussels has learnt from that experience.


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