The Sahel is a transition zone for the climatic zones of Africa. The Sahel is a dry mid latitude (BS) climate, a grassland. This grassland separates the Sahara desert to the north from the wetter areas including savanna to the south. While the Sahel is technically just a climactic buffer zone it also acts as a dividing line between religions. The area to the north of the Sahel is predominantly Muslim, and the area to the south is predominantly Christian and Animist. The Sahel splits Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan, but the Sahel is not the only division that these countries have to deal with. This area of Africa is defined by natural, religious, national, and tribal divisions that are the driving force of violence and resentment.
The Berlin Conference of 1885 set up national boundaries within the Congo River Basin in an attempt to avoid a war between the colonizing nations of Europe (Jim Jones 1). The “International Association of the Congo” was created as the government for this area. However, the African peoples that lived within these boundaries were not consulted or even considered. Because of the Berlin conference, the many and varying tribes of Africa were lumped together within these artificial boundaries and expected to be able to create a cohesive and prosperous nation.
Not only did The Berlin Conference lump together the African nations without regard to tribal differences, but also natural and religious differences were ignored. Within the countries split by the Sahel, the contrast between arid and non-arid areas created a climate for aggression. The desert areas in the north of these countries and the wetter areas in the south set up a dynamic of haves and have-nots. To make matters worse the haves and the have-nots were divided almost perfect along religious lines. The Christians in the south had access to irrigation and fertile lands and the Muslims of the north were living a harsh life in the arid environment. Traditionally, the two groups have been able to work out problems with the help of judges and mediators, but the drought of the 1970s and 1980s served to make matters worse (Marissa Larson 1).
The extended drought caused the desertification of the Sahel grasslands. The expansion of the deserts led to a shrinkage of usable land and more conflict over who has rights to the fertile lands. Because of the unique religious make up of this region these skirmishes over property tend to look like religious squabbles. According to Larson, “On the surface, the fighting is over differences in culture and religion, but at the core, the disputes are over the dwindling supply of water and land” (Larson 1). However, if these seemingly religious conflicts are truly about land and water, the problems may be on the verge of resolution. According to Karen Lange, the lands that had been turned to desert by the extended drought are becoming green again. “Besides soil and water conservation, more rain is falling and land in drought-ravaged places such as Sudan has been abandoned, allowing grasses, shrubs, and trees to return. Increased vegetation can mean increased rainfall, which in turn means more green…” (Lange 1). So for these troubled areas of the Sahel, better days could lay ahead.
Jones, Jim. “The Congress of Berlin.” The Congress of Berlin. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2013. <http://courses.wcupa.edu/jones/his312/lectures/ber-cong.htm>.
Lange, Karen E. “The Desert in Retreat.” National Geographic Magazine – NGM.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.
Larson, Marisa, and Emily Krieger. “National Geographic Magazine – NGM.com.” National Geographic Magazine – NGM.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.