This week, we spoke to Nicole Ntagabo, MAG’s Regional Director for the Sahel and West Africa.  

First off, can you summarise our activities in the Sahel and West Africa?  

MAG has been present in the region for more than 10 years, working to prevent and reduce the harmful impact of conflicts on populations. In that sense, MAG has been supporting Small Arms & Light Weapons (SALW) control and Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) efforts, collaborating with national and regional authorities as well as various expert organisations and institutions. 

Today, MAG’s Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) work focuses on three main areas: reducing the impact of armed violence on communities through risk reduction strategies; mitigating the risks of unplanned explosions at munition sites, as well as the risk posed by the illicit diversion of weapons; and supporting states and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in their national SALW control objectives, strategies, and compliance with instruments.  

In addition, MAG’s HMA work focuses on developing national mine action centres and institutional capacities to respond more effectively to legacy and new contaminations. It also reduces risks of accidents and the impact of explosive ordnance through risk education, non-technical survey, and clearance where possible; and supports states to fulfil their international obligations in line with the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).  

What are the main drivers of instability and violence in the region that MAG aims to counter/respond to?  

A complex web of drivers of instability and violence contribute to the region's challenges. A lot of these drivers are interconnected, making it very important for MAG to understand the contexts in which our work is taking place. The consolidation of non-state armed groups in the Sahel since the beginning of the war in Libya in 2011 has destabilized already fragile institutions, contributing to political instability.  

Climate change, desertification, and droughts have disrupted livelihoods, particularly in rural areas heavily dependent on agriculture and pastoralism. Competition over scarce land and resources, as well as political power, often result in communal tensions, which have fuelled conflicts within countries. Non-state armed groups often exploit these grievances, and weak governance, to recruit and expand their influence in new places where central states have difficulties to provide essential services and maintain security. This has resulted in a spill over of violence from country to country. The instability, and the associated spread of violence, has largely been fuelled by the proliferation of SALW in the region. Weapons often flow across porous borders, contributing to the intensity and duration of conflicts. SALW trafficking in West Africa is fed by easy access to stockpiles of arms and facilitated by weak responses from regional state security providers who often lack resources, capacity, or political support.  

In addition, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has also become one of the most common modus operandi of non-state armed groups in the region and while it appears that the intended targets are the defence and security forces, more and more civilians are indiscriminately killed and maimed.

destruction in Ukraine caused by conflict

Can you give an example of a particularly successful initiative that MAG has recently conducted?  

MAG has been developing its partnership approach, working hand in hand with a diverse range of local civil society actors who possess deep insights into the communities they serve. Their presence and credibility enhance the acceptance and impact of all our initiatives, especially risk education activities. They often establish networks that facilitate access to vulnerable populations, ensuring that life-saving information reaches those who need it most. We are really pleased to witness the growth and development of our local partners, becoming stronger, more influential, and increasingly professional and technical in their capacities. It not only reflects the efficacy of our partnership but also holds significant implications for our broader mission. 

What impact does MAG’s work have on local people and communities?  

The impact of ongoing and past conflicts in the Sahel and West Africa is multifaceted, with significant humanitarian, social, and economic consequences. MAG works diligently to reach the largest possible number of people with life-saving information on contamination. This is particularly critical for children and returning communities as it enables safer humanitarian access and development in the future. Our efforts with SALW and ammunition also prevent and reduce the risks of accidents, allowing individuals and communities to feel secure in their living environments.  

What are the main challenges of MAG’s work in Sahel and West Africa?  

The region is unfortunately becoming increasingly complex due to deteriorating security conditions and political instability. Populations are particularly affected in border areas where the presence of states and the services they offer are limited, which creates a vacuum that non-state armed groups exploit by recruiting young people who lack economic opportunities, which perpetuates cycles of violence. 

Humanitarian organisations like MAG face difficulties in reaching the communities in need in environments that are increasingly volatile. Being conflict-sensitive and balancing humanitarian principles with our work and access to population is therefore critical for MAG. 

Finally, mobilizing resources in the region is challenging, especially in the current global context, where MAG and other organisations are operating in a very resource-constrained setting, and where needs continue to be on the rise. 

What does the next five years look like for MAG in Sahel and West Africa?  

MAG's work remains incredibly relevant and important in the face of the serious security and humanitarian challenges in the region. Our strategy centres on working closely with trusted partners at various levels to develop sustainable capacities that can effectively tackle the region's diverse challenges, which vary from one country to another. We'll assist states that lack the capacity to deal with new contamination, helping them establish the necessary capabilities to fulfil their obligations under the APMBC, especially as conflict situations evolve.  

We recognise that our skilled workforce is at the heart of our success. So, we're dedicated to investing in our staff, ensuring they have the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the complex challenges in the Sahel and West Africa effectively. 

destruction in Ukraine caused by conflict

Where MAG works in West Africa:

map of west africa

Click here for more information about our work in the Sahel and West Africa.

Photos by MAG