Senegal has been suffering from widespread protests that are beginning to take on a religious identity.
The increasingly tense atmosphere on the ground has many concerned that there may be worse unrest if Wade is declared the winner of next Sunday’s vote. In power for 12 years, Wade oversaw a 2001 revision to the constitution which imposed a two-term maximum, a move that at the time was hailed as proof of Senegal’s democratic maturity. He disappointed many when he argued that the new constitution was not retroactive and so should not apply to him.
Senegal is unique among African countries in that it has never had a military coup and for the most part maintains a democratic government, until now that is.
It’s uncertain how this will turn out. However unrest in Senegal, along with other countries, threatens to destabilize the Sahel in another capacity: losing the fight to desertification.
The project’s aim is to build a tree barrier across the Sahel region where desertification is rampant. The UN food and agriculture organisation (FAO) estimates that about two million hectares of forest (7,700 square miles) are being destroyed each year in the Sahel.
The FAO has also given warning that global warming will merely worsen the problem, leading to major migrations of people in countries that are already very poor and often unstable.
Eleven countries are associated with the great green wall scheme, which was initially dreamed up by Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005, then adopted by Wade.
If all those nations took part, the wall would be 7,000 kilometres (4,340 miles) long and 15 kilometres wide.
The forest would also include catchment sinks to collect rainwater, which would be stored in reservoirs.
This was a promising project that, while moving slowly, had a lot of potential to stop the encroachment of the desert into active agricultural areas, particularly when coupled with international efforts (the Peace Corps’ mission in Mauritania and elsewhere comes to mind).
With revolt sweeping across the Sahel regions, and an active US presence fighting terrorist groups, projects like this are going to be on hold. This despite the very real threat of global warming to these areas. Putting a project like this on hold in favor of fighting this or that ethnic group is a very short term look at the issues there, as having agriculture literally dry up in the hinterlands of these nations will beget famine and further instability.
This would be a great time for the African Union to take a stand.