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Sifting Through the Layers of Insecurity in the Sahel: The Case of Mauritania (Africa Security Brief, Number 15, September 2011)

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Until recently, the Sahel, literally the shore of the Saharan sea, rarely made headlines. Nevertheless, the expanding nexus of illicit trafficking and transnational Islamist terrorism -- and the increasingly serious risk this poses to stability in the region and to international security -- is attracting growing attention. These concerns will likely mount as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb AQIM attempts to use the window of opportunity presented by the Arab Spring to reestablish itself in North Africa while transitional governments there devote much of their energy to rebuilding state institutions. In turn, an unstable North Africa, especially Libya, could further exacerbate insecurity in the Sahel as unsecured weapons and trained mercenaries filter their way into the region. As the spotlight on the Sahel widens, analytic shortcuts are perpetuating a superficial understanding of the regions security dynamics. Suboptimal policies are the result. Beyond the common perceptions of states, terrorists, and smugglers engaging one another across a sparsely populated territory, a more complicated reality exists. Rivalries among tribal groups, the state, private interests of government officials, castes, and others lead to constantly shifting local and regional political and economic arrangements. Understanding these layers of influence is vital to addressing the security challenges facing Mauritania and the broader Sahel. Security threats in the Sahel are characterized by layers of intertwined and crosscutting interests at the local, national, and regional levels. International partners misunderstanding of these complex dynamics leaves them susceptible to manipulation by illegitimate national actors. Regional cooperation against transnational illicit trafficking and terrorism is hamstrung by governments that have calculated that their international standing is enhanced by the perpetuation of instability.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law
  • Unconventional Warfare

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