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Deciphering the complex web of the Sahelian region

Nigerien/French scholar Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan revolutionized traditional European anthropology by involving local researchers in his projects. This approach led to a more authentic representation of African societies. At 82 years old, he is a respected Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Marseille, as well as an Emeritus Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Additionally, he is an associate professor at Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey, where he established the master of socio-anthropology of health program. With extensive research on the Sahel region, he is considered the foremost expert in the field.

De Sardan’s work, including his recent book titled “The entangled crisis in the Sahel: Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso,” sheds light on the root causes of the ongoing crisis in the region. He traces it back to the agro-pastoral crisis, which has strained the agricultural and livestock systems to their limits. This crisis has led to widespread unemployment among young people, creating a fertile ground for recruitment by extremist groups. The inability of national governments and international institutions to address these issues has further exacerbated the situation.

The scholar’s research methodology emphasizes collective observation and collaboration with local researchers, breaking away from the individual-centric approach prevalent in anthropology. By establishing a social science laboratory and conducting collective surveys in Niger, De Sardan aimed to elevate African researchers to an international level. His work delves into various aspects of Nigerien society, from religion to colonial history, offering a comprehensive understanding of the region’s diverse crises.

Reflecting on the historical significance of the Sahel as a crossroads of civilizations, De Sardan laments the impact of colonialism on the region. He highlights the failures of colonial administrations and subsequent military dictatorships, which have perpetuated societal shortcomings and hindered development efforts. The scholar criticizes development strategies that have failed to address poverty, unemployment, and the deterioration of public services, leading to a cycle of dependency on foreign aid.

Regarding the rise of jihadism in the Sahel, De Sardan points to the pervasive influence of extremist groups in the region. He attributes their recruitment success to the failures of education systems, public services, and governance, which have left vulnerable populations susceptible to radicalization. The scholar underscores the urgent need for holistic solutions to root out jihadism, emphasizing the importance of addressing underlying social, economic, and political challenges to prevent further destabilization.


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