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Examining the main drivers of instability in natural resource extraction by external actors & armed groups in the Sahel region.

Africa - Fight Against Terrorism, Security & Conflict, Socio Economic - Format: PDF - Size: 1.48 MB - Date: Feb, 2022 - Pages: 17 - Copyright: NATO Strategic Direction South HUB - Tags: Terrorism, Russia, Natural resources

The Sahel region is home to resource-rich states. However, the inequitable distribution of resource revenues leave living- conditions for most citizens in the Sahel poor. External actors with the right connections and willingness to operate amid relative chaos, can make a fortune from resource-rich, fragile states. 

This project has examined the main drivers of instability in natural resource extraction in the Sahel by specific actors: Russia (RUS), Violent Extremist Organisations (VEOs) and Non State Armed Groups (NSAG).


This report examines the challenges the Sahel region faces and the role of RUS and NSAGs/VEOs, and how they engage in the Sahel for natural resources.

In order to develop a comprehensive approach, it is important to understand how resources in the Sahel are being exploited and the ripple effect it has on security in the region. Understanding the intricacies of how foreign actors engage in the extraction of natural resources is a crucial element.

This study is based on data from different African countries which have been generated in quantitative research and involves qualitative data from a case study in Tchad.

Research questions 

  1. What is the role of Russia and Non State Armed Groups in the extraction of natural resources?

  2. SWOT analysis

Key insights


  • After a decades-long absence, RUS is once again appearing on the African continent.
  • RUS is a consistent supporter of autocratic governments, opaque natural resource contracts, and arms shipments to already unstable regions in Africa (and growing in the Sahel).
  • The destabilizing elements of RUS's actions are most concerning, especially those that are undermining established norms of accountable governance and the upholding of the rule of law.
  • RUS has clear economic motives for involvement in this state, as it has a shortage of some minerals such as manganese, bauxite and chromium, all of which are important for industry.
  • Western reluctance to increase its commitment to security in the militancy-plagued Sahel creates opportunities for RUS.
  • RUS's most common modus operandi in Africa is to provide security to mining sites, which allows them to sell the narrative that they are working with the country and its people.
  • RUS is operating a low cost operation with high political influence.
  • For RUS, a greater security role in the Sahel could mean supplying military equipment and services, such as the deployment of private military forces or training by the RUS military proper, in exchange for minerals extracted locally.

Violent Extremist Organisations  & Non State Armed Groups 

  • VEOs and NSAGs are often grouped under the umbrella of terrorists for ease. However it is important to understand the differences between the groups that are in play in the Sahel.
  • Violent extremists have extended their areas of control and have enhanced their ability to generate income through gold – while state actors remain poorly positioned.
  • Gold mining in the Sahel is largely informal. This has created roles for money launderers, smugglers and criminals. Unlike precious stones such as diamonds, traceability remains challenging.
  • Reports have shown that VEOs use the mines as both a hideout and a treasure trove of funds with which to recruit new members and buy arms and detonators to stage the attacks that extend their power.
  • Groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS are expanding in Africa and exploiting gold mines across the region.
  • Gold has long been a perfect commodity for insurgents. It retains its value, it is widely accepted as a substitution for currency in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
  • One of the biggest areas of concern we stumbled across was the potential of RUS to work with NSAGs, who may be opposed to the governing body of the country.

Key recommendations 

  • Unless monitored and engaged with, non-state actors that may not have Africans' best interests at heart will control natural resources in the Sahel (and Africa as a whole).
  • If left unchanged, the stability and security of this region will continue to deteriorate and the dependency on these foreign powers will likely increase.
  • Programs to support the legalization and formalization of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) are under way in the Sahel. They should be encouraged and harmonized as broadly as possible.
  • The initiatives should be carried out in consultation with miners and should involve national and international private sector players to ensure that they are sustainable and financially profitable.
  • Capacity-building and empowerment initiatives at production sites should be backed up by measures to regulate the financing of operations to extract, purchase and export gold.

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