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Sustainability In The Sahel Region; An Ecosystem Approach

The United Nations is looking at creative ways to contribute to human development in the decade of action. Ishmael Dodoo, Programme Coordinator for the UN Joint Programme on Central Sahel talks to ONResearch’ Partnership Coordinator Ugo Ikpeazu.

Over the next few years, the world will be evaluating its progress against the sustainable development goals. What are some of your key priorities going forward? How are you thinking about sustainability in this context?

The UNDP Strategic Offer for Africa lays out six strategic impact areas for 1) Natural Resource Governance; 2) Youth Employment and Empowerment; 3) Structural Economic Transformation; 4) Sustainable Energy; 5) Climate Change; 6) Peace and Security. Six Foundational Enablers underpins these impact areas: 1) Governance of Things; 2) Digital Transformation; 3) Sustainable/Innovative Financing; 4) Strategic Communication and Partnerships; 5) South-South Cooperation; and 6) Development Intelligence. We believe we can accelerate Africa’s sustainable transformation and onwards development by focusing on these impact areas and enablers, which is why our programming is tailored to the strategic offer.

We are all familiar with the statistics on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is unanimous consensus that this pandemic has altered human interaction almost permanently in some parts of the world. What are some of the more fundamental changes that you have observed in the Sahel region due to this?

The impact of the pandemic in the Sahel region goes beyond a health crisis. While it is true that the pandemic brought an unprecedented threat to the lives of many in the region, it is perhaps worth noting also that the pandemic exacerbated the living conditions of the Sahelian people. We saw an increase in the exploitation of the vulnerabilities of the population – continued attacks from Jihadist and violent groups; economic shocks, a decline in trade activities, collapse of SME’s; rise in youth unemployment; and the horrifying and persistent threat of gender-based violence to women in the Sahel Region.

The Sahel region is home to many nomadic tribes as well as a variety of diverse cultures. Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way cultures interact with each other? Have any of these changes impacted traditional approaches to commerce?

Thank you for pointing out the diversity and richness of culture found in the region. We’ve seen this come under threat since the pandemic as it has led to some divide along traditional/ethnic lines. Clashes among farmers and herders have also had a negative impact on cross-border economic activities. Why am I saying this? The strength of the region benefits from cross-border trade and other activities. If the border communities are in restive states, then cross-border activities are affected, which has been the case as we’ve seen the fabric of social cohesion come under threat. The dynamics of this has affected Intra and Inter-communal interactions.

What are some of the more critical tools that are unlocking social and economic value across the region? How is UNDP supporting the deployment and scale of these tools? 

Not so much tools as approaches. In response to the region’s challenges, the UNDP Sub-Regional Hub for West and Central Africa has identified Governance and peacebuilding, Youth, Renewable Energy, Climate Action and Livelihoods as crucial areas of intervention to transform the Sahel. One of our biggest priorities is to promote good governance and enhance peace and stability in the region as governance contributes to any country or region’s economic outlook. We have also made it a priority to invest in Sahelian Women and girls, Value chains and agribusiness. 

How are you re-thinking partnerships to support this work?

We are broadening our partnerships beyond UN agencies in the implementation of the programmes to include civil society, think tanks, and regional actors such as the AU, ECCAS and ECOWAS.

What role will the AfCFTA play in the regional development agenda?

The AfCFTA is built upon the regional markets of the RECs. Many of the initiatives undertaken by RECs, such as simplified trade regimes, trade facilitation, customs cooperation, border regulation, infrastructure development and sectoral policy coordination, complement AfCFTA implementation. AfCTA is expected to set enablers to respond to four major trends in Africa to (i) efforts to be better prepared for future pandemics in terms of localized production of pharmaceutical and healthcare supplies; (ii) the expected pivot to green growth strategies; (iii) the widespread utilization of digital technologies driven by the search for efficiency gains; and (iv) the expected decline in foreign aid flows, but this may be tempered by a recovery in private flows such as remittances and FDI as the global economy returns to growth. In the Sahel Region, and specifically borderland areas prone to conflict, we hope to see an increase in cross-border economic activities.

How can the private sector plug into this?

AfCTA is creating enabling domestic and cross-border trade through several business reforms: For example, in Nigeria, the executive and legislative branches of government have worked together in seamless partnership to pass essential laws in the economic sphere, including the 2017 Credit Reporting Act, the 2017 Secure Transaction in Movable Assets Act, the 2018 Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, the 2019 Finance Act and, most recently, the 2020 Companies and Allied Matters Act. With such reforms, private operators should think bigger and bolder. They should leverage strategic partnerships to operate in the big market instead of competing.

Can you tell us about an exciting project you are currently working on?

I currently lead the Joint Sahel Programme, which speaks to the activities mentioned earlier. It’s significant for several reasons, one of which is its relevance at such a critical moment for the Sahel – one where the region is looked at from a lens of promise. That’s what makes this very exciting, as we are part of the solution – working to transform the Sahel.

Interviewed by Ugo Ikpeazu, Partnerships Coordinator and Research Associate at ONResearch.


Ishmael joined the UNDP Dakar Hub in September 2020 as Programme Coordinator for the UN Joint Programme on Central Sahel. Ishmael has over 16 years of combined professional experience in the private and multisectoral sectors in international development practice. Prior to this position, Ishmael was Programme coordinator a.i of the recently established Implementation Support Unit (ISU) to the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) which he helped setting up. The ISU succeeded the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Sahel (OSAS) where Ishmael worked as Policy Adviser and team leader to the Special Adviser for the Sahel. Under auspices of OSAS, Ishmael played a pivotal role towards rolling out the UN Sahel Support Plan, an operational blue print for accelerating the effective implementation of the UNISS from the perspective of shifting the narrative of the Sahel region to one that holds promise for prosperity. Preceding this role, he served as Country Oversight Advisor at UNDP in the Regional Bureau for Africa, and as Policy and Development Affairs Officer to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General where he contributed substantively to supporting the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review process.

Ishmael holds a First-Class BSc. Honors degree in Natural Resources Management from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana) and a Masters degree from Oxford University in Environmental Change and Management with a specialization in environmental policy and natural resource governance.

Ishmael Dodoo

Ishmael Dodoo

Programme Coordinator for the UN Joint Programme on Central Sahel