The region faces four main challenges:
- poverty, a lack of prospects and migration
- crime, violence and conflict
- authoritarian government and democratic deficits
- environmental issues
West Africa is one of the regions in which poverty, a lack of prospects, crime, violence and conflict are among the root causes driving people to migrate to Europe. Many of the mostly young West Africans seeking a brighter future abroad often spend years of their “journey” stuck at various transit points.
60 years after the end of colonialism, many West African countries still rank among the world’s poorest nations. In Mali, but also in parts of Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, state institutions remain underdeveloped. State functions and responsibilities are often performed by international organizations providing education and medical services. In states with particularly weak structures, crime and violence are widespread. In Burkina Faso, self-declared militias have begun to combat the spread of crime. Often, however, they are themselves embroiled in violence. Organized crime as well as drug, arms and human trafficking are proliferating in West Africa’s weak states. Sections of the political class have been found to be making common cause with criminal networks and traffickers.
Many countries across the region have long been governed by authoritarian regimes. Participation in political processes thus remains limited. Particularly in large cities, social movements are pushing for broader democratic participation. Enraged by the indifference shown by ruling classes, people regularly take to the streets, calling on the government to honour its promises. Young people in particular are fighting for their political convictions and social rights.
After decades of crisis, many West African economies have been returning to growth since the early 2000s, with natural resources (oil, bauxite, gold, wood, seafood, etc.) playing a vital role. Extraction is often low labour intensive, which means that, in the majority of cases, the local population does not stand to benefit. Profits are shared between multinational corporations, middle men and the corrupt elements of the country’s elite, who are quick to move their pocketed wealth to offshore accounts. This form of aggressive extractivism, however, ultimately destroys many people’s livelihoods in the region. Still, it is often backed by international organizations such as the World Bank, who despite their green pledges continue to fund such projects.