A clear winner of the West African crisis is China, which is increasing its commerce with the zone, extracting natural resources for its own benefit but also contributing to the infrastructural and social development of the zone. One example…was the massive transformation in physical mobility enabled by the fact that China is able to produce and deliver extremely cheap Completely-Knocked-Down (CKD) motorcycles to West African shores…


This week, I am in Niamey, Niger Republic teaching in the Summer School of LASDEL, one of the leading independent research institutes for the study of social dynamics in West Africa. The Institute has 31 cutting edge researchers spread across two offices in Niamey, Niger and Parakou in Benin Republic and offers a number of master’s programmes. The two weeks event has two dozen post-graduate students from both African and European universities seeking to improve their theoretical perspectives, empirical knowledge and methodological approaches to the study of contemporary West African societies. The school is focused on the following key themes that are considered the major trends in West Africa today.

The first is the population dynamics of the region, characterised by a very high population growth rate, with Niger and Northern Nigeria having the highest fertility rates in the contemporary world, of 7.5 children for the average woman. Meanwhile, poverty is growing and the provision of social services, such as education and public health, are declining. A significant percentage of families are unable to cater for their children and the trend is to marry off the girls by the time they are about thirteen years old and, in parts of the region, millions of boys are also sent off from home as almajirai (plural of almajiri). As the rest of the world suffers from significant decline of their population, West African faces the challenge of educating and training its youth to benefit from a possible demographic divided in the horizon. Failure to do so can only deepen the on-going crisis.

Related to population dynamics is growing urbanisation and the precarity of life. The majority of West Africa’s population have left their homelands and moved into cities that are marked by intense poverty. The movement to cities, however, are not manifestations of social mobility as was the case in the past. What we are witnessing is the replacement of rural poverty with urban precarity in huge slums on the outer boundaries of urban agglomerations. The cities of West Africa dramatise growing inequality as massive poverty coexists with the stupendous wealth of the nouveaux riche, creating optimal conditions for social explosion, especially as the State is increasing incapable of providing services and infrastructure.

The region is marked by a paradox. The liberal multi-party democratic regimes that emerged in the 1999s have been largely retained but there has been a steady decline of democratic values and processes, partly due to the practices of incumbents who have shown little regard for democratic principles.


Another trend in West Africa is the growing impact of Islam and Christianity on the social scene. Religiosity has grown massively over the past three to four decades and West Africans devote massive amounts of time, resources and passion to religious practice and networks. Religious associations have become the most powerful actors in civil society and they have been using their acquired power to restructure the civic space and impact on political processes. In the new civic space controlled by religious actors, certain policy options relating to birth control, education and early marriage for girls have been “outlawed” from the policy arena. Intolerance has become a major problem and the extremist wings of the new religious movements have engaged the terrain of political restructuring by launching the violent struggle for the establishment of a caliphate.

These processes have collectively led to the expansion and intensification of violent conflicts and political disorder in West Africa. The region is marked by a paradox. The liberal multi-party democratic regimes that emerged in the 1999s have been largely retained but there has been a steady decline of democratic values and processes, partly due to the practices of incumbents who have shown little regard for democratic principles. The poor quality of political parties has also been a fetter on democratic development. The result has been the spread of identity-based political contestations and violent conflicts anchored on the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons. The greatest challenge the region faces therefore is that of consolidating and deepening democracy to create the climate that would favour peace-building, good governance and inclusive development.

West Africa is linked to global trends, processes and doctrines through the widespread use of new communication technologies. The spread of new religious movements – Salafism and Pentecostalism – was the first precursor of the impact of the new technologies in linking the region with global trends. The outcome is that the two new movements have succeeded in converting at least one third of the population to their religious vision, doctrine and practice. Communication has become easier and world events are followed on a minute-by-minute basis. These technologies, especially WhatsApp, have however provided powerful destructive tools for deepening identity-based divides as fake news, fake images and inciting content are spread by millions of people, thereby deepening religious, ethnic and social divides.

Still on smuggling, Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh’s claims that we no longer import rice due to the increase in local production is clearly baseless. Our good neighbour, Benin Republic consumes 100,000 metric tons of imported rice annually. Last year, they imported 800,000 tons, which they shipped to Nigeria using the Igolo route for the Lagos market, Ilaro to Ibadan…


A clear winner of the West African crisis is China, which is increasing its commerce with the zone, extracting natural resources for its own benefit but also contributing to the infrastructural and social development of the zone. One example that was examined was the massive transformation in physical mobility enabled by the fact that China is able to produce and deliver extremely cheap Completely-Knocked-Down (CKD) motorcycles to West African shores at the rate CFA200,000 or 60,000 naira per unit. The quality of the products is not very high but for the people of West Africa, this has completely transformed the ability of the masses to move. It is also bringing new trade as each CKD has 2,000 different parts that young mechanics are able to put together. The session on motorcycles raised interesting issues about smuggling into the Nigerian market. In 2016, for example, Nigerian motorcycle imports from China was worth $83 million, while that of tiny Togo was $208 million for the same year, the target being the Nigerian market.

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Still on smuggling, Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh’s claims that we no longer import rice due to the increase in local production is clearly baseless. Our good neighbour, Benin Republic consumes 100,000 metric tons of imported rice annually. Last year, they imported 800,000 tons, which they shipped to Nigeria using the Igolo route for the Lagos market, Ilaro to Ibadan, Birnin Konni to Sokoto and Jibia to Kano, etc. The combination of port congestion and import tariff policy fuels smuggling into Nigeria. The only challenge to increased smuggling has been the decline in the value of the naira, which has created a slump in the second-hand car market and today Cotonou and Lomé are loaded with large numbers of cars, which Nigerians are having problem buying because the naira has lost much of its value. As the seminars and debates continue, I extend my very warm congratulations to the LASDEL director, Elhadgi Dagobi Abdoua and his team.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.