Unequal access to wealth is one of the main causes of worsening violence in West Africa's Sahel, which has forced millions to flee their homes. While Islamist groups are active in the troubled region, just south of the Sahara desert, the unrest is driven more by inequality than poverty or religious beliefs, found a study commissioned by the aid group Catholic Relief Services (CRS). In Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in April, many of whom said youth unemployment and lack of economic opportunities were the main cause of violence, driving many to join armed groups.
"Community members are saying, 'We see people in the capital cities who have all this wealth but in these rural areas we don't have any of this'," said Patrick Williams, CRS programme manager for the Sahel Peace Initiative. "It's not that people are poor, it's that the wealth, the resources that are there, aren't equitably managed and shared," Williams told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The wealthiest 1% of West Africans own more than everyone else in the region combined, and their governments are doing the least in Africa to reduce inequality through policies like taxation and social spending, Oxfam said last year.
In Burkina Faso, grazing areas and water resources are being depleted and locals feel aggrieved over restrictions on access to national parks, said Nadia Adam, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). "Unequal access to wealth and resources is one of the drivers of conflict in the region," said Adam, who works in Mali for the African think-tank.