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The ecologically vulnerable zone of the sahelian countries

This series of the Atlas examines the ecologically vulnerable zone of the sahelian countries in a West African regional context. In the following text, this zone will be referred to as the Sahel’s vulnerable zone.

Work carried out on the Sahel’s vulnerable zone is based on close collaboration with the CILSS and its Agrhymet Regional Centre (CRA) to capitalise on their expertise and knowledge. CILSS member-countries often have to grapple with food shortages although the zone also defined as “agropastoral” undoubtedly suffers the most and its inhabitants are usually considered the region’s poorest and its children the most vulnerable. Based on available data, this survey describes from a macro regional perspective this zone, its people and how they live. It shows how structurally vulnerable their pastoralists and agropastoralists are. We hope that this series will encourage strategic thinking on structural regional solutions to this vulnerability, quite apart from the emergency aid this area frequently requires.

Growing population

The intensity of the relations and trade and consequently the need for transport and communication infrastructure are linked to population density.

Some of the greatest concerns of regional strategies regarding transport and telecommunications are: supporting the development of towns, linking them to the economic centres, promoting the settlement and the growth of high potential areas by making them accessible. It is even more important to take into account the population dynamics of Sub-Saharan Africa as this region is the last on the planet to complete its demographic transition (The demographic transition is the passage from one traditional demographic system, with high fertility and high mortality, to a low fertility and low mortality system.)


Studies show that the use of mobile telephones is strongly linked to trade: the more trading is done, the greater the need to communicate in real time. Access to this technology will take on more strategic importance. The population’s youth and the increasing number of urbanites will intensify this phenomenon. Internet access demand should also become a significant component, therefore satisfying this demand will find the fixed telephone sector becoming a higher priority.


The aim of the "Transport" section is to present a regional analysis of the major stakes linked to the movement of people, goods and information within the region.

Keeping in mind the notion of scale is important. A map of the West African transport network cannot, by definition, take into account the complexity of local realities. This approach is decisively macro-regional and should be complemented by an understanding of the national and regional levels. As much as possible, a retrospective analysis was carried out on all of the themes examined in order to evaluate the region’s evolution. The objective is less to present the exact situation in West Africa today but rather to illustrate past evolutions. Because of lack of information river transport and coastal navigation are not looked at. The reader will also not find information concerning naval fleets or regional trade flows.

Rural Areas and Agricultural Changes

The West African rural environment was long considered to be unchanging. But it is in fact at the heart of powerful transformations. The most important of these changes concerns the population and settlement.

The region will certainly be mostly urban in 2020. According to United Nations’ figures, in 2005 the urban population was 120 million or 43% of the total population. However, the rural population continues to increase; it more than doubled between 1960 and 2005, growing from 70 to 155 million people. It is expected to rise to almost 180 million people in 2020.

Defined as all people making their living from farming, hunting, fishing or forestry (including all people conducting agricultural activities, along with their inactive dependants), the agricultural population of West Africa fell from 80% of the total population in 1961 to less than 50% in 2005. The rural environment is no longer exclusively agricultural and some urban areas are still used for peri-urban agriculture and livestock farming.

Transboundary River Basins

The topic of transboundary waters clearly illustrates the necessity to address West Africa beyond the limits of regional integration organisations.

The three largest river basins  of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Niger, the Lake Chad and the Senegal, map out a geographical situation in which Mauritania, Chad and Cameroon stand together with institutional West Africa. However, this de facto regional solidarity is not exclusive as southeast Cameroon depends on the immense Congo Basin that irrigates Central Africa.

Hence, the term “West Africa” here refers to the region covering the Economic Community of West African States, Cameroon, Chad and Mauritania. These 18 countries cover an area of 7,800,000 km2 and had a total population of 290 million inhabitants in 2005.

For various reasons and at various levels, West African countries are dependent on one another. Over the past few decades, this interdependence has not only generated tension, but has also led to a dialogue and cooperation process. An analysis of these regional cooperation processes is the main issue addressed in this chapter of the Atlas. It is by developing these processes that the region will be better prepared for the future in which many people believe water will be one of the major stakes.

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Cotton is at the heart of West African development stakes.

West African governments are ardent about the "white gold" as it is a source of revenue. Farmers who are lucky enough to cultivate cotton have seen their livelihoods improve and have become the main cereal producers of the region thanks to cotton. Some observers even speak of the "agricultural revolution".

Recently, the debate on West African cotton has been marked by the issue of wealthy countries providing subsidies to their cotton producers. What will be cotton’s future? Of course, the Atlas does not address this issue, but hightlights the interest of a regional approach to the stakes of West African cotton.


In 1956, 50 years ago, the first commercial quantities of oil were found in West Africa, in the Niger Delta basin of Nigeria. It did not take long before the region became known for holding some of the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world. In the short span of twenty years, Nigeria became Africa’s top oil producer.

During the 1980s and 90s, under the effect of the oil price shocks and ensuing low world prices and significant political transformations (outside and inside Africa), interest in African oil declined.

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Even though it may be useful, a global approach to migration is not sufficient as the nature and challenges of this phenomenon are not the same in North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa. In this light, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) intend to contribute to strategic thinking on the region through this chapter of the Atlas on Regional Integration in West Africa.

International migration is a politically sensitive issue in the North, as well as in the South. The debate it raises is often passionate, even extreme and dangerous. We feel that the best approach is to place observed facts at the centre of the debate. Hence, we have requested that facts should be presented here on the basis of available knowledge, and that the challenges be summarised in light of scientific literature. The result, which of course is never perfect, will require regular updates, since movements of populations and migration policies are often changing.

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There is no getting around the fact that there are some pretty serious health risks to visiting West Africa. With a tropical climate there are quite a few diseases that you don't have to deal with at home. Things are made even worse by the fact that medical care in most countries in the region is almost non-existent. There is no reason to be paranoid but you do have to take certain medical precautions to keep yourself safe.

The most important precautions that you can take when visiting West Africa is to make sure that you get all of the necessary vaccinations. There are quite a few of them that are worth considering so you will want to talk to your doctor. He should know what vaccinations you will need during your visit. The ones that you absolutely need to have are for malaria, yellow fever and hepatitis A. It is also a good idea to get a vaccination for typhoid and meningitis but these are not absolutely required. In addition it is a good idea to update your shots for things like tetanus, diphtheria and polio although these are not specifically related to West Africa.

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Anytime that you take a trip overseas you are going to have to bring certain documents with you. This is as true of West Africa as anywhere else. The documents that you will need are not any different from what you would need in any other country although acquiring them can be a challenge.

The most obvious document that you are going to need to have in order to visit West Africa is a passport. This is something that you should have long before you decide to make the trip; West Africa is not really a good option for people going abroad for the first time. In many of the countries that you will visit you will be expected to have your passport on you at all times. This is not really a good option since you do run the risk of losing it. In most cases it is acceptable to carry a certified photocopy of your passport which is what you should do.

The other document that you are going to need no matter where you go in West Africa is a visa. These can be a challenge to obtain. In some cases things are fairly straightforward but few if any countries will allow you to get a visa at the border so you will need to apply in advance. In some countries getting a visa can be a nightmare, the embassy staff are not exactly known for their efficiency. With enough patience you should be able to get a passport for all of the countries in West Africa, just make sure that you give yourself plenty of time.

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The idea of a trip to West Africa fascinates a lot of people, and well it should. Unfortunately the realities of making the trip scare off a lot of people and they never go. There are certainly challenges that you are going to have to face if you travel to West Africa but they are not insurmountable if you make the effort. It is definitely a trip that is well worth taking.

Traveling in West Africa is not easy; this is something that you will find out long before you even get there. In almost all cases you will need a visa to enter each country and they are not easy to get. This is not so much because they don't want you to visit but simply because the office that administers these things is not very efficient. Get used to it; you will encounter a lot of other similar things on your trip. If you are going to take a trip to West Africa you are going to need a lot of patience.

The other big thing that you are going to have to deal with while you are in West Africa is that there is virtually no tourist infrastructure. There are few if any hotels outside of the big cities and the ones that do exist are not good. An even bigger problem will be transportation; the buses that exist in most countries are very old and unreliable. You are going to have to be very flexible with your travel plans if you are going to get around in West Africa. You will also have to get used to people asking you for money everywhere that you go.

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One of the features that you will notice if you travel to West Africa is the huge number of languages that are spoken. Or maybe you won't as it is easy to assume that they are all the same. While the languages do have a lot of similarities they are very different languages. This has created no end of problems for the countries of West Africa since the end of colonialism.

Given the size of West Africa there are an extraordinary number of languages that are spoken. The vast majority of them come from what is known as the Niger Congo family of languages. This is widely believed to be the largest family of languages in the world. This is a family of languages that has a similar basis and probably developed from one original language. However as of now researchers are not sure which language that was. In fact it has only been recently that it came to be understood that the language of West Africa were related and came from the same family.

The reason that there are so many languages in the area seems to be that people have lived there for so long. Presumably the early settlers all spoke the same language, however as these were nomadic tribes differences set in over the years. The result is that there is now little in common between all of the languages. This has created a lot of problems for many of the nations in West Africa as they may have citizens who speak dozens of different languages. Fortunately they do have a solution to the problem.

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West Africa has a rather tortured history that goes back for centuries. The colonial period was not good for the region but things have hardly improved since the Europeans left. In fact most people would argue that things have gotten much worse. Of course most of the blame for the way things are does rest with the Europeans and the way they managed the countries during the colonial period.

Since the end of the colonial period West Africa has become one of the most violent places on earth with a great many wars having been fought. Interestingly very few of the wars have been between the various countries that make up the region. Rather in almost all cases they have been civil wars. Unfortunately these wars have been some of the most brutal on the planet as the various factions seek to completely wipe each other out. The result is that many people have died in these wars.

The reason for these civil wars is that the countries involved were not really countries until the Europeans arrived. Rather they were tribes that each had their own traditional areas where they lived. The Europeans however drew lines on a map in order to fit their own needs. The result was that after colonialism ended new countries were formed that included people of various different tribes. The result was that each of the tribes wanted to have control over the new country and an endless string of wars have been fought. Things have been made worse by the almost total failure of democracy in most of these countries.

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West Africa has a long history as it has been settled for nearly fifteen thousand years. The first humans to come to the area had migrated from the eastern part of Africa as they needed to expand the area in which they were hunting and gathering. These were the first people to settle the area however they were soon joined by cattle ranchers from Northern Africa who needed more grazing area. At the time what is now the Sahara desert was actually a plain full of vegetation that proved to be ideal for grazing cattle.

Over time these early settlers developed their own empires. The Mali Empire would become the most powerful and would develop trading routes with the rest of Africa. This would make them very wealthy which naturally attracted competitors. In the fourteenth century Mali Empire would be eclipsed by the Songhai Empire. They would take over the trade routes that had been developed by their predecessors allowing them to become wealthy. Unfortunately there time in the sun was short lived as less than a hundred years later Portuguese explorers would show up and everything would start to change.

The early Europeans mostly left West Africa alone. The Portuguese established a trading post but they had actually been looking for a way to reach India by rounding Africa. It was not until after Columbus discovered America that the Europeans took an interest in West Africa. As the Spanish started to colonize the Americas they realized that they would need laborers to do the hard work. This was the start of the African slave trade and the Europeans started to colonize the area. While the British and the Portuguese took position of some of the territory it was mostly the French who colonized West Africa.

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West Africa is one of the most interesting places on earth. One of the reasons for this is the huge diversity of cultures that exist. There are several reasons for this diversity but in large part it comes down to the history of the countries.

It is hard to describe the culture and the religion of West Africa because there have been so many influences on it. Over the years a lot of people have called the area home and they have had a huge influence on both the culture and the religion. In large part this is why the area has suffered through so many wars and other conflicts, all of the different groups that have moved into the area.

The most common group that you will find in West Africa are the black Africans, they come mainly from the Sub-Saharan region. They make up the bulk of the population and they are the ones who have been there the longest. However there are many different tribes that make up this group and as a result there are many different cultures and religions. While there has been some mixing for the most part the tribes all have different religions and cultures which has made it hard for them to live together. In addition many of the people in this group have been affected by colonial influences.

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West Africa is one of the least developed regions in the world. This is largely the result of an endless string of civil wars. However there are currently signs of progress as most of the countries in West Africa are currently at peace and focused on developing their economies. There is however still a long way to go.

AfricaWest Africa is the UN sub-region that covers the area that is made up of the part of Africa that is bordered to both the south and the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north by the Sahara Desert. It basically covers the bump on the western part of the continent that exists below the Sahara and where the content narrows. A sub-region as far as the UN is concerned is simply an area that it grouped together for statistical reasons; there need not be a political connection between the countries, although in this case there is.

There are sixteen countries that make up the area that is considered to be West Africa. All of them except for Mauritania are members of the Economic Community of West African States. This was an organization that was set up to promote economic cooperation between members. It works by reducing trade barriers between countries. In addition several of the countries in the region use the same currency, although there are still quite a few that have not joined the monetary union. Most of the members are also members of the Visa Entente which allows the citizens of each country to travel back and forth without needing a visa.


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