Research

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Research on the Sahel at the University of Florida

We study politics, religion, security, trade, literature and languages in the West African Sahel. A list of our ongoing and past projects is available below.

Ongoing projects

Student Activism and Religious Movements in Sahelian Universities
Leonardo Villalón
University student movements represent a particularly important aspect of the religious dynamism that characterizes the contemporary Sahel. Religiously-based movements, largely but not exclusively Muslim, are now central features of student life across the region. These have overshadowed what remained of the older leftist student movements of the first post-independence decades, as well as the corporatist student unions focused on demands for increased material benefits that proliferated in the years of structural adjustment programs. Read More…

 

Foreign Interventions and Transnational Insurgencies in the Sahara-Sahel
Olivier J. Walther
The objective of this project is to analyze recent and/or resurgent factors of violence in West Africa, their characteristics and evolution. Using maps and graphs, the University of Florida Sahel Research Group will examine insecurities and their interactions through a regional and multidimensional perspective. Read More…

 

 

Mapping Urbanization in West Africa
Olivier J. Walther
The University of Florida Sahel Research Group (SRG) will contribute towards the flagship report “Atlas on Cities in Africa” published by the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club in 2020. The main objective of the Atlas is to analyze urban transformations and integrate their economic, social and territorial impacts into public policies and the development agenda. Read More…

 

 

Religion and Transnational Migration in the Sahel
Abdoulaye Kane
Like all major world areas of outmigration, Sahelian societies are now connected through continuous flows of people, money, goods, and ideas to major destinations of international migration. Building on a long tradition, transnational religious networks are an integral part of the social organization of this mobility. Read More…

 

 

 

Trans-Saharan Literacies: Writing across the Desert
Fiona McLaughlin
This project brings a sociolinguistic perspective to two writing traditions used by populations within and adjacent to the Sahara desert, to argue for the conceptualization of a trans-Saharan world of shared historical, religious, and linguistic influences.  By showing these vernacular literacies to be robust everyday practices in many African societies, and by tracing their transmission and spread through pathways of Islamization, Islamic education, and pastoralist traditions, I strengthen the case for positing a trans-Saharan sphere of influence. Read More…

 

Cultural Production and Politics in Mali
Alioune Sow
Alioune Sow’s current research focuses on the critical relationship between literature, theater, cinema and political power in Mali during the military regime of 1968-1991, and in the period following the 1991 democratic transition. Read More…

 

 

 

Improving Nutrition of Women and Children Through Livestock Programming
Sarah McKune
The University of Florida is home to the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems. McKune lead’s the human health and nutrition cross cutting theme of the UF-based research team, seeking to leverage increased availability of animal-source foods (ASF), increased incomes, and increased women’s empowerment to improve the nutritional outcomes of women and children. ASF are often absent in diets rural households. Read More…

 

 

Investing in Home: Migration, Return, and Rural Development in the Senegal River Valley
Benjamin Burgen
My current research investigates migrants’ motivations in maintaining transnational networks in the Senegal River Valley. It asks: why do people who have migrated to and built lives in urban and transnational centers so often persist in investing in and returning to live in their rural towns of origin? Read More…

 

 

 

Informal Institutions and State Management of Religious Activity in the Sahel
Sebastian Elischer
This project examines how African states try to influence the religious practices of their citizens. The project traces the emergence and path-dependence of institutions that regulate access to Friday prayer mosques in Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Chad between independence and today. It is particularly interested in the relationship between the state and Salafi communities, i.e. whether and how Sahel states have regulated access to their religious sphere. Read More…

Past projects

 Institutional Reform, Social Change, and Stability in Sahelian Africa
Leonardo Villalón
Regional events in recent years have raised significant concerns about the stability of the countries of the Sahel, and raised significant questions about the capacity of states in the region to manage rising pressures emanating from multiple sources. This major research project by the Sahel Research Group, funded by a generous grant from the Minerva Initiative, comparatively examines the institutional capacity of Sahelian states to manage the multitude of pressures confronting them, and hence to maintain stability and ensure social order. Read More…

Cities and Borders
Olivier J. Walther
The Cities and Borders program builds on a memorandum of understanding signed by the University of Florida and the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris on March 22, 2017. The collaboration aims to better anticipate changes in border cities within the Sahel and elsewhere in West Africa. The two-year program involves research activities dedicated to cities and borders and on policy initiatives aiming at facilitating exchange among researchers, policy-makers and the civil society. Read More…

The Politics of Electoral Reform in Francophone West Africa
Mamadou Bodian
This dissertation examines the origins of and changes in electoral system in Francophone West Africa: Senegal, Mali, and Niger. It addresses the following question: why are alternative electoral rules considered and implemented in certain countries at certain times and, once they have been established, how are they altered or replaced with new ones? Read More…

Electoral Authoritarian Regimes and Civil-Military Relations in Sahelian Africa
Daniel Eizenga
Today, virtually all African regimes participate in the core rituals of democracy through the political institutions of multi-party elections. However, the degree of substantive political competition varies noticeably from country to country…By comparing political institutions, civil-military relations, traditional institutions, and civil society in each of these countries, my dissertation seeks to systematically analyze the interactive and reciprocal effects of institutional reform and social pressure on each country’s political development, and how these effects shape the prospects for political stability in each case. Read More…

Religion and the Politics of Educational Reform in the Sahel
Leonardo Villalón
The Religion and Educational Reform research project examines the social, religious, political and institutional dimensions of parallel efforts at reforming religious education in three countries: Senegal, Mali and Niger. The project was carried out as one of seven research streams of the Africa Power and Politics Programme, an international research consortium headed by the Overseas Development Institute (London UK) and funded by the UK Department for International Development and the Consortium for Irish Aid (2007-12). Read More…

Language and Society in the Sahel
Fiona McLaughlin
In addition to her work on the phonology and morphology of Atlantic languages (Wolof, Pulaar and Seereer-Siin), Fiona Mc Laughlin works on various sociolinguistic aspects of language in the Sahel, including language contact and the emergence of urban languages in Senegal’s cities, as well as on the sociolinguistics of vernacular literacy in both Latin and Arabic alphabets. Read More…

The Political Economy of Cotton Sector Reform in West Africa
Renata Serra
The Cotton Sector Reform project examines the political and institutional factors underpinning economic reforms in the cotton sectors of four major African cotton producers: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mali. The project is part of the Africa Power and Politics Programme, an international research consortium headed by the Overseas Development Institute (London UK) and funded by the UK Department for International Development and the Consortium for Irish Aid (2007-12). Read More…

A Gendered Approach to Climate Information Services in Senegal
Sarah McKune
As part of a broader project to integrate gender into research and programs that address the impact of climate change on food security around the world, Drs. Sarah McKune and Sandra Russo have been working with Dr. Jim Hansen at Columbia University and his Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) team to investigate how gender impacts the efficacy of climate information services in mitigating the adverse risk associated with climate change. With work in four countries (India, Nepal, Kenya, and Senegal) the UF team has worked in Senegal since 2012 in collaborating with Dr. Arame Tall to investigate how consideration of gender within climate information services may change what information is delivered, to whom, and by what mechanism. Read More…

Nutrition and Gender Among Pastoralists in the Context of Climate Change
Sarah McKune
A research team under Niall Hanan at South Dakota State University has developed an innovative pastoral ecosystem model to predict how climate change and emerging land use patterns will change availability of key resources like water, fodder, and movement corridors that pastoralists depend on (Climate Change, Pastoral Resources and Livestock in the Sahel: Developing a community relevant pastoral prediction system, CCPRL). The project team is working closely with local partner organizations and pastoral communities to ensure that our research activities align with community needs and to prioritize the information herders need to make decisions about livestock management practices. Read More…

Development, Security and Climate Change in the Sahel
Renata Serra
In partnership with the France-Florida Research Institute, Faculty from the Sahel Research Group have participated during 2014-15 in a collaborative exchange bringing together graduate students in the Master of Development Practice (MDP) programs based at, respectively, the University of Florida, Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal, and the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, in Paris. The exchange was inaugurated by a symposium and a week-long workshop on the theme of “Development, Security, and Climate Change in the Sahel” at the University of Florida from 20-26 September 2014. Participants convened again for a series of meetings and workshops in Paris in early March 2015 and in Dakar in early May 2015. Read More…

Activism and the Politics of Language Loyalty in Senegal and Mauritania
John Hames
My research on a language activist movement in Senegal and Mauritania is part of a decade-long engagement with Pulaar-speaking communities in West Africa. Ten years ago, during my Peace Corps service in the Gambia, friends in my host community introduced me to cassette recordings of speeches, mainly by Senegalese, about the need for Pulaar speakers in West Africa to wear their linguistic identities with pride. I began purchasing copies of these cassettes and learned that a vibrant movement led by Pulaar speakers (known as Fulɓe or Haalpulaar’en) from the Senegal-Mauritania border region known as Fuuta Tooro, had been promoting their language since the late 1950s. Read More…