A Short History of Mali, Niger and the Lands in Between
A history of the African states and societies along the southern edge of the Sahara and how they are responding to new pressures linked to the intrusion of global capital.
The Sahel, where the southern edge of the Sahara meets the land in between it and the savannah, is alternatively ignored and misunderstood. In the 1970s it was synonymous with drought and famine, yet crops and herds flourish along its riverbanks and fears of ‘desertification’ have been debunked.
After a century of colonialism and military rule the Sahelian nations of Mali and Niger built democracies fortified by long political traditions and Islam, though challenged by recurring violence, especially in Niger, which also witnessed a return of famine. Yet it was Mali that nearly collapsed, in 2012, and there was talk of it becoming an al- Qa’ida safe haven, which precipitated French military intervention. Once again the Sahel is a political and environmental faultline, invoked as an ‘arc of instability’, yet while the portents seem gloomy, Niger has uranium, Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer and new partners, like China, are rushing in.
In his entwined history of Mali and Niger, Thomas Miles contends that today’s crises are neither inevitable nor permanent. The Sahel has long exchanged goods and ideas with the wider world and the presence there of French soldiers and American drones is only one moment in a long and distinguished trajectory.
Thomas L. Miles is an independent scholar who lives in New York. This is his first book.