Grinnell College Prof Will Address Thursday State Department Summit On Future of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad

Mar 19, 2014, 16:00 ET from Grinnell College

GRINNELL, Iowa, March 19, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The media frequently depict West African Sahara and Sahel may be the world's next Afghanistan. The region (made up of  Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad) is one of the world's most vulnerable areas--a hot spot for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, that is at constant risk of political unrest and civil war.

On Thursday, March 20, Grinnell political science professor Leif Brottem will participate in an analytic exchange on the West African Sahel sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the National Intelligence Council. The goal of the session is to help U.S. military leaders and national elected officials better understand current socioeconomic trends, threats and prospects for stability in this critical region.

As one of 12 thought leaders invited to speak at the event, Brottem hopes to change the "dialogue of the deaf" that tends to surround the region. 

While recent headlines about the region have focused on how global warming increases the risk of civil unrest, Brottem believes the root of conflict in the Sahel is political and institutional, not environmental. In particular, Brottem says:

  • increasingly scarce natural resources are creating tensions between farmers and herders. (Last week, a particularly bloody conflict between herders and farmers led to the brutal killing of at least 100 people in Nigeria, just east of the West African Sahel).
  • However, "a corrupt, undemocratic government makes low-level conflicts into something that people will kill each other over," he says.
  • In addition, Brottem stresses that the Sahel must be examined at a local level, rather than broadly. There is evidence that inclusive, democratic local institutions effectively mediate tensions and conflicts surrounding natural resources.

About Leif Brottem
Brottem has studied the Sahel for 7 years; he has traveled to the region four times in since 2008 and plans another trip in Summer 2014. He has served as a consultant to USAID and the World Bank, and in January 2013 he co-authored a New York Times op-ed on the future of Mali after the 2012 coup. He also has written about the region for numerous scholarly publications.

About Grinnell College
Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many international countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at

EDITORS' NOTE: Brottem is available for interviews; contact media relations director Stacey Schmeidel, cell 704/682-2629.

SOURCE Grinnell College