Most West African leaders were very optimistic about their countries’ future at independence. They hoped to transform their newly independent countries so that their citizens would enjoy the fruits of independence, as colonial rule had brought only few benefits to the majority of the people. And indeed, some started well. They formulated good policies for the social and economic development of their people. School enrollment, for example, increased substantially in the first decade of independence. The road network was expanded and hospitals and clinics were built. However, these impressive developments were soon overshadowed by many problems, some of which have still not been solved.
For centuries, herdsmen across Africa’s Sahel headed south during the long, hot dry season. Farmers typically welcomed them because their cattle and goats fertilized depleted cropland. While herders and farmers routinely competed over scarce resources, outright violence was restrained through customary arrangements and swift mediation from local leaders. But this symbiosis is crumbling. Instead, thousands of civilians from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria are killed every year in bloody inter-communal violence. Many more are caught up in deadly overlapping conflicts that are spinning out of control.