• The pastoralist populations of the Sahel region are vulnerable to risks such as conflict, the climate crisis and forced migration.
  • An extensive new study of pastoralists in the region identifies the challenges and proposes exit strategies.
  • A multi-stakeholder capitalism approach that enables participation and redistributes power could aid recovery.

At first glance, particularly when viewed from the comfort of European capitals, it may not be readily apparent what multi-stakeholder capitalist approaches and enhancing pastoralist livelihoods in the Sahel have in common. Parts of the Sahel region – area in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the savannas to the south – are experiencing almost unprecedented levels of crisis, stemming from a myriad of complex and intertwined factors: from weak governance to the increasingly severe consequences of climate change and conflict.

As we witness greater emphasis being placed on inclusivity and multi-stakeholder processes in pandemic recovery discussions in Europe, key stakeholders in the Sahel – especially pastoralist populations – continue to be underrepresented or excluded from identifying and implementing solutions to the challenges in the region. An extensive, participatory research study of 1,700 pastoralists in the region conducted by Réseau Billital Maroobé (RBM), which my organization SNV Netherlands Development Organisation had the opportunity to support, aims to change this.

What are the risk factors for pastoralist populations?

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 2 million people are currently displaced across the Sahel region. While the health impacts of the pandemic today have been less devastating than elsewhere on the continent – despite less than 2% of the region having been vaccinated – disruptions to trade, together with the subsequent economic downturn are having substantial negative impacts on employment, food security and household incomes. With the livelihoods of some 125 million people dependent on pastoralism across the drylands of Africa, and conflict, instability and the pandemic constraining mobility in the Sahel, it is this widely marginalised group that stands to increasingly bear the brunt of the impacts.

Before the pandemic, the Sahel was already receiving significant international attention, with both military and development assistance interventions on a progressively large scale. Now, there are more widespread discussions around new green deals, building back better and debt relief – all of which are welcome and much needed in the Sahel and across the African continent. But just as discussions around the move from shareholder to stakeholder capitalist approaches are gaining ground in Europe and the US, we in the aid and development community must also accelerate a shift in how we engage in our response to this confluence of crises in the Sahel.

Stakeholder capitalism gives power to the people

As Professor Schwab has written, stakeholder capitalism inherently implies a shared ownership of outcomes and an emphasis on the three Ps of “progress, people and planet”, with recognition of the interconnectedness of all three and the additional need to redistribute value. At its core though, an effective multi-stakeholder approach requires inclusion of a fourth “P” – participation; and equitable distribution and transfer of power (the fifth “P”) to ensure that this participation is inclusive across all stakeholders.

Talks around responses to the crisis in the Sahel and building back better are invariably missing commitments to ensure the inclusive participation of those – such as increasingly marginalised pastoralist populations – who will be most impacted by such interventions. Yet, despite being better equipped than ever to enable the participation and empowerment of others, we are still falling far short of what we could and should be doing to listen to the voices, and harness the ideas, talents and capacities of those whose lives we state we are striving to improve.

How is the World Economic Forum helping to improve humanitarian assistance?

Fragility and conflict in one country often has consequences around the world. This has been evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous climate emergencies as well as the war in Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis. Regions affected by conflict are particularly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of these crises.

Urgent relief, supported by public-private partnerships, remains necessary in acute crises but it is essential those efforts are supplemented by long-term investments that help affected communities recover and rebuild.

The World Economic Forum is working with partners to identify and scale solutions in fragile parts of the world. The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing (HRI) Initiative seeks to unlock private capital so it flows into financially sustainable opportunities that benefit vulnerable communities. The Global Future Council on the New Agenda for Fragility and Resilience provides guidance to humanitarian and development actors as well as the private sector to improve support to local actors and facilitate responses that strengthen community resilience.

To learn more and get involved in initiatives that are improving millions of lives, contact us.

Even within the more powerful echelons of our increasingly inter- and hyper-connected world, we continue to revert to simplistic, broad-brush terminologies such as Global South, enabling the avoidance of harder, more personal and nuanced conversations around power transfer and inclusivity. I realise that many in the wider NGO and development community adopt this framing to highlight historical injustices and ongoing coloniality, which of course need to be acknowledged and redressed. But it seems to me that we all too easily default to dated terminologies which polarise and distance, rather than enable new ways of collaborating and disbursing power.

What will future recovery look like?

The RBM study points to the importance of better contextualising and understanding how power is distributed in volatile, fragile settings such as the Sahel. It further highlights how vital it is to recognise and address grievances (both historical and more recent), and to adopt a more conflict-sensitive and stakeholder capitalism approach. More robustly acknowledging the importance of transhumance corridors as major drivers of economic regional integration right across West Africa (livestock is the largest commodity in regional agri-food trade), and enabling greater inclusion of pastoralist populations’ knowledge and aspirations into regional policies could strengthen market supply chains. Moreover, this could further enhance household food security and nutrition, and create important economic opportunities for marginalised youth who make up just under 65% of the region’s population.

Inclusively harnessing expertise, knowledge and resources from the region, would encourage the move away from a fragmented “northern” donor to “southern” recipient aid model, towards a structure in which multiple actors, such as bilateral donors, NGOs, the private sector and philanthropists – inclusive of those with growing wealth from within the West Africa Region itself – could collaborate as collective stakeholders towards the generation of outcomes which would, in turn, contribute to vital stability dividends.

The pandemic recovery, together with the tools and technologies we have at our disposal, presents an almost unprecedented opportunity to see the challenges of security, the climate crisis and migration as global public goods. Whether we are in the north, south, east or west, we all have a stake in this opportunity and should commit to ensuring a build back better agenda that truly invests in more participatory, inclusive multi-stakeholder capitalism approaches that leave no one behind – including the pastoralists of the Sahel region.