There has been significant democratic backsliding in the Sahel, including recent coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and now Niger.
There are several drivers of political instability in the Sahel, said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee in recent Congressional testimony:
“The primary problem is weak governance. Every country where a coup has taken place had previously experienced military takeovers. Many of these governments had engaged in corrupt practices, failed to provide basic services and ignored democratic values by extending term limits or disregarding human rights. Such practices tested the presumption that democracy delivers.”
“Atrocities by the Islamic State and the branch of al-Qaida known as JNIM and predations by criminal armed groups have placed unrelenting pressure on governments and civilians,” said Assistant Secretary Phee.
“Military rulers point to the supposed failure of democracy to justify their actions. But ... military rule does not improve people's lives,” underscored Assistant Secretary Phee:
“In fact, military rule leaves populations poorer and less secure. The number of deaths from political violence increased by 150 percent in Mali and 77 percent in Burkina Faso in 2022. Violence targeting civilians in Mali increased by 38 percent this year. Nearly a third of these incidents perpetrated by Malian security forces or the Wagner Group. Violent incidents in Niger ... rose by 42 percent in the month after the coup.”
The United States is working to foster a return to democracy in the region, said Assistant Secretary Phee:
“In the case of Niger, we are working closely with ECOWAS. The African Union and Africa's regional economic commissions are essential partners in advancing peace and democracy. ... Secretary Blinken met with ECOWAS foreign ministers at the recent U.N. General Assembly to propose a phased approach to resuming U.S. assistance based on concrete actions to return the country to democratic rule. Committed to the Nigerian people, the United States has maintained humanitarian and basic health and food assistance.”
“The Sahel is integral to our relationship with the [African] continent,” declared Assistant Secretary Phee. That’s why the United States will continue to support a return to democracy throughout the region.