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The growing number of energy sector professionals working in West Africa’s Sahel region can point to positive signs emerging from markets that must develop as quickly as possible to serve fast-growing and youthful populations seeking opportunities for a better future. The year ends with the first turbines being connected to Senegal’s national grid from the 158.7MW Taiba N’Diaye wind farm, developed by Mainstream Renewable Power. Wind and solar developers are evolving projects across West Africa that are drawing in multilateral, bilateral and even commercial finance. Finance has been secured to develop Chad’s first utility-scale renewable scheme, the Djermaya solar PV plant’s 32MWp first phase (AE 401/10), and rural solar in Mali (AE 403/11). Work has started on two of the four solar PV plants included in Burkina Faso’s Yeleen plan, which is supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB) 2020-24 Desert to Power initiative.

Investors are monitoring opportunities across one of the world’s poorest regions. The Greater Tortue/Ahmeyim gas field shared by Mauritania and Senegal will drive gas-to-power and, potentially, industrial projects in both countries – which petroleum and energy minister Mouhamadou Makhtar Cissé says will allow Senegal to decommission older coal- and diesel-fired plants. Senegal has shown that countries that create the right investment conditions can attract commercial support for major projects. But driving most international efforts to provide increased funding is the urgent need to tackle a regional crisis typified by extreme poverty, accelerated climate change, assaults from jihadist groups and deep-rooted criminality. The AfDB’s programme may make clear business and green economy sense, but the Burkina Faso commitment was made in a security-related context, at a mid-September Sahel security summit in Ouagadougou.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron invited the presidents of the G5 Sahel nations – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to Pau on 16 December to discuss a further scaling up of anti-terrorism operations following a welter of bad news for France and regional leaders. The helicopter crash that killed 13 French troops in Mali on 25 November was an accident, but underlined the extent of French engagement since François Hollande committed troops to Operation Barkhane, to counter a jihadist threat in January 2013.

The death toll has been rising sharply again in Burkina Faso since the summer, where Islamic State in the Greater Sahara is claiming victims while exploiting communal tensions – for example between northern Burkinabe Mossi and Koglwéogo communities and Fulani (Peulh) nomads. These frictions, as the Brussels-based International Crisis Group pointed out, were behind the 10 December attack on a Nigerien military camp near Inates, on the border with Mali, which killed more than 70 soldiers. Confronted with such violence, friendly governments are advising their nationals to leave. There will be more commitments of security support – if few of the well-trained troops Macron is crying out for international allies to provide ever materialise – and more money for hard-pressed G5 Sahel and other states. But the experience of the previous five years suggests security threats and deeper social crises may be hard to reverse.

Progressive voices in Bamako, Niamey and Ouagadougou fear for their economies’ future. As Aboulaye Tao wrote in the Ouagadougou weekly L’Economiste du Faso, “there is no better way for [foreign government] chanceries to tell Burkina’s enemies that they have succeeded in their mission to destabilise the country” than advising their nationals to stay away. The stakes are very high for the new generation of Sahel renewables developers, whose success will literally bring light where there is darkness.