research in the sahel

The big topic and the big worry at the moment among West Africanist researchers is the security situation  in the Sahel, which has led many organisations and research institutions to cease activities there. The Tuareg rebellions of the 1990s have now been replaced by the threat of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM/AQMI), founded in 2007 and described as a franchise outfit of al Qaeda.

As a result, most European research institutions have stopped active fieldwork in the countries of the Sahel, most especially Mali, Niger and Mauritania.

Obviously, though, the cessation of international, collaborative research will make it difficult for Sahelian colleagues to bring to an international audience the past of their region – and thus the Sahel’s contribution to world history remains little known (see e.g these responses to an event a few years ago: blog and book). These are some of the points made in a recent petition, Non au gel des missions de recherche françaises au Sahel (unfortunately with just 741 signatures so far – add yours):

“[Ce gel] a surtout pour effet déplorable de mettre brutalement un terme aux collaborations engagées et aux relations patiemment construites avec les chercheurs et enseignants-chercheurs de ces pays, dans le cadre de différents programmes scientifiques innovants sur des questions de santé, de lutte contre la pauvreté, de développement durable, de migrations, etc. Elle pénalise avant tout les institutions et les enseignants-chercheurs des pays du Sud, dont l’implication dans ces programmes peut constituer une ouverture importante vers le reste de la communauté scientifique internationale. Elle fait enfin le jeu des groupuscules extrémistes”.

On this see also the interview by Dr Pierre B, director of the Centre d’études des mondes africains of the CNRS), and the report from our UEA colleague Dr Yvan G. So, as researchers from the West shift their research programmes out of the Sahel, local research institutions (here is one example) lose out on international profile and, thus, once again West Africa loses its chance for a say on the global scene. Ironically then AQIM plays into the hands of the eurocentrics.


2 Responses to “research in the sahel”

  1. 1 Dr Oumarou Idé, Directeur de l'Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines de Niamey
    August 15, 2011 at 17:38

    Bonjour Anne,
    ravis d’entendre un cri de coeur par rapport à la situation d’insécurité qui caractérise malheureusement une partie du Sahel dont le Niger. Oui je suis tout à fait d’accord avec toi car la suspension des missions étrangères ne favorise pas du tout la progression de la recherche qui en grande partie est soutenue par la coopération entre les institutions. Aujourd’hui tous les programmes de recherches sont suspendus, nos institutions de recherches fonctionnent mal, à quand un lendemain meilleur ? En tous cas la psychose Al Qaïda est toujours là et nos responsables cherchent toujours des solutions pour sécuriser les populations. Mais je fonde l’espoir que la solution ne tardera pas à venir.
    NB. A bientôt à Genève j’espère.

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About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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