Map of the Sahel

This map is very disorienting. I’ve been looking at it, on and off, for the last 9 months, and it’s all the more relevant since the French military intervened in Mali and terrorists attacked a gas plant in Algeria last week.

It takes a while to focus on the map without mentally zooming in on the political boundaries, but give it a shot.

Look at the arrows indicating resource routes. Look at where the oil and gas lie. Think about the unstable regions and see how they all hug or lie within the Sahara: Algerian gas fields, Northern Mali, Northern Nigeria (land of Boko Haram), Darfur, South Sudan…not to mention the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

Now think a little bigger: refugee boats trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, xenophobic riots in Greece, Libyan weapons in Gaza and Mali, etc.

No one is yet equipped to respond to these challenges. Scholars like Jeffrey Herbst and Igor Kopytoff have identified the central challenge to political order in Africa as “the projection of power over distance.” Western countries are coming up squarely against this problem, too, and this time we feel our citizens’ lives – and our countries’ energy security—are at stake.


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