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Sahel Research Group

Center for African Studies & Department of Political Science



The Sahel Research Group at the University of Florida is a collaborative effort to understand the political, social, economic and cultural dynamics of the countries of the West African Sahel. Our focus is primarily on the six Francophone countries of the region—Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. We are also interested in developments in neighboring countries, to the north and south, whose dynamics frequently intersect with those of the Sahel. The Sahel Research Group brings together faculty and graduate students from various disciplines at the University of Florida, in collaboration with colleagues from the region.

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Recent Research Group Activities

Fiona McLaughlin has been awarded a Residential Fellowship from the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France. She will be in residence from September 5-October 31, 2017 where she will be working on her book project, Language and urban life in Senegal: A critical sociolinguistics of the postcolony.

Fiona McLaughlin spent two weeks in Ghana, from July 16-29 running a Summer School on Endangered Language Documentation and Data Management with colleagues James Essegbey (UF) and Felix Ameka (Leiden University.) Twenty-five of the thirty students came from across West Africa, while the remainder came from US universities. Students got hands-on training in documentation and archiving techniques as well as on grant writing. They worked with six speakers of the highly endangered language, Animere, a Ghana-Togo Mountain language that has approximately thirty remaining speakers. Data will be archived in The University of Florida Language Archive (TUFLA). The summer school was held at the University of Education, Winneba and was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

group of smiling people The UF Sahel Research Group is pleased to announce that we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sahel and West Africa Club of the OECD in Paris. We look forward to collaborating with the SWAC Secretariat in its mission to support the effectiveness of regional policies. In the initial phase of our collaboration, the project will explore urbanization in border areas and women’s trade networks at the local and regional scale. Learn more about this exciting collaboration.

Leonardo A. Villalón introduced the work of the University of Florida Sahel Research Group: Watch Video
Laurent Bossard talked about the new partnership with the Sahel Research Group (French): Watch Video

Oumar Ba presented “Contested Meanings: Timbuktu and the prosecution of destruction of cultural heritage as war crimes” at the International Studies Association’s Global South Caucus workshop in Havana, Cuba, 6-8 July 2017.

Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim presented, “Insurrections Djihadistes en Afrique de l’Ouest: Ideologie Djihadiste, Contexte Locale, Motivation Individuelle,” at the Sahel and West Africa Club’s annual meeting, OECD Conference Room in Paris, France, June 16th 2017.

Leonardo A. Villalón made and an invited presentation on “Religion, politics  and education in Senegal,” at the Executive Analytical Exchange on Senegal organized by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research to brief the new US Ambassador Tulinabo Mushingi, Department of State, Washington D.C. 6 June.

Sebastian Elischer and Leonardo Villalón were invited participants at a conference on “Post-Intervention Governance and Security in the African Sahel,” held at Northwestern University, and co-sponsored by Sciences Po, Paris. 19 May 2017. Elischer presented “Strong societies, weak states: Nigerien answers to a perennial African problem.” Villalón presented “Variations in State Resilience and Capacity in the Sahel.”

Leonardo Villalon, Daniel Eizenga and Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim participated in the conference: “Quel Avenir pour la résolution des conflits en Afrique de l’Ouest,” co-organized by the Centre FrancoPaix of the Chaire Raoul-Dandurand at the Université de Québec à Montréal, and the West Africa Peace and Security Network, in Montreal on 4-5 May 2017. Villalón chaired a panel entitled “Crises dans les Sociétés Saheliens” on which Eizenga presented “Guarding Stability: Chad and the Politics of Security in the Sahel.” Ibrahim presented “Jihadism in the North, Islamism in the South: Why has Islamic Activism in Mali Taken Different Forms?”

Fiona Mc Laughlin presented a paper entitled  “The relocalization of French in urban Senegal” at a conference on  African Linguistic Landscapes and Language Interaction in Traditional and Global Contexts in Rabat, Morocco on May 4. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies and Université Mohammed V.

Leonardo Villalón gave an invited presentation entitled “Political Reform and Social Dynamics: What Future for the Countries of the Sahel?” at the Institut de Diplomatie et de Relations Internationales of the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Algiers, 11 April 2017.  The event was cosponsored by the Centre d’Etudes Maghrebines en Algerie (CEMA).

Leonardo Villalón has been elected to a three year term as Chair of the board of directors of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. CAORC is an association of 24 research centers located around the world, and is based at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Mamadou Bodian participated in a panel titled “L’Islam à la Sénégalaise est- il toujours un régulateur social et politique ?” held in the French Institute of Dakar on 26 January 2017. View the panel poster and video here.

For more news on our activities visit Sahel Research Group News.

About us

Over the past couple of decades the Sahel has been characterized by significant efforts at reform and experimentation with democracy, with some successes. Yet the region still presents some of the most difficult governance challenges in the world, and these have been complicated in recent years by pressures emanating from events in North Africa and by developments in the Sahara. Our goal is to attempt to understand the complex dynamics of these quite understudied countries.

A major focus of the Sahel Research Group has been the effort to understand factors affecting the development of democratic institutions in the region, and particularly electoral systems. The Trans-Saharan Elections Project (TSEP), funded by a the grant from the United States Department of State, made possible a number of exchanges with elections specialists in all six countries of the region. It also allowed us to develop the TSEP website that you will find linked on this page, providing information on the electoral systems and processes of each country.

The development of democratic institutions has been complicated and at times undermined by the destabilizing pressures on the region. With a major three-year grant from the Minerva Initiative, a core effort of the Sahel Research Group is to study the intersection of processes of political reform with socio-religious change in affecting the prospects for stability in the countries of the region. More information on the Minerva research project as well as downloadable working papers can be accessed directly on the project page here.

Other research projects featured here, by both faculty and graduate students, complement these efforts by focusing on social, cultural, linguistic and economic issues in the region. News of recent publications, presentations, and other activities by the research group are available on our Research Group News page. We welcome your feedback and interest, and are happy to correspond with other scholars working on the region.

TSEP countries  Senegal    

Population: 14.3 Million
Capital: Dakar
Land Area:196,722 sq km

Population: 3.6 Million
Capital: Nouakchott
Land Area: 1,030,700 sq km
Population: 17.5 Million
Capital: Bamako
Land Area: 1,240,192 sq km
Population: 19.5 Million
Capital: Ouagadougou
Land Area: 273,800 sq km
Population: 18.6 Million
Capital: Niamey
Land Area: 1,267,000 sq km
Population: 11.9 Million
Capital: Ndjamena
Land Area: 1,284,000 sq km


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