Not “any impact”: Catholic Terrorism Expert on Religious Delegation to U.S. Over Sahel

West Africa, Sahel region, Burkina Faso, Peace process, Stakeholders, Humanitarian assistance, Crisis, Catholic Relief Services, CRS, ACI Africa. Credit: Public Domain

The planned visit to the United States (U.S) by a section of religious leaders from West Africa to discuss the protracted insecurity in the Sahel region that dates back to January 2012  “will not have any impact”, a Nigerian Catholic Priest with specialization in matters insecurity and terrorism has said.

The Sahel region spans some 5,400 km and stretches from the Atlantic Ocean Eastward through Northern Senegal, Southern Mauritania, the great bend of the Niger River in Mali, Burkina Faso, Southern Niger, Northeastern Nigeria, South-central Chad, and into Sudan.

In a report published March 14, officials of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said that during the five-day visit that will involve some 10 Catholic and Muslim religious leaders from five West African countries, reasons behind the lack of an effective response to the Sahel crisis from the international community in general and the U.S. in particular will be explored.

“A delegation of 10 West African Catholic and Muslim religious leaders from Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana will be visiting United States lawmakers from March 20 – 24, 2023 to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Sahel region,” officials of the humanitarian arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said. 

In an interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Atta Barkindo who is a Security and Terrorism Expert with a focus on the Sahel and Lake Chad regions said, “The visit to the U.S. by 10 religious leaders to discuss insecurity in the Sahel will not have any impact in the region because it’s not the first time they have visited the U.S. for the same reason.”


“We have to address the key drivers of the crisis in the Sahel region which is unemployment and corruption,” Fr. Barkindo said during the March 16 interview.

The member of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Yola Diocese who serves as the Executive Director of The Kukah Centre (TKC), a Nigeria-based policy research institute founded by Bishop Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, added that the militia groups are expanding their network by taking advantage of the poverty and unemployment among the youth to recruit them.

To address the challenge of poverty and unemployment in the Sahel region, Fr. Barkindo underlined the need for each country of the region to take responsibility of having their respective youth with a source of livelihood.

He said that he finds it regrettable that countries of the Sahel region do not take the individual responsibility to address the security challenges caused by the militia groups, living the matter to the international community. 

“In most cases, these efforts are pushed by the international development partners like the United Nations and the African Union,” he said, adding that the “governments in the region are more concerned about politics, elections, and who will become the next president, rather than addressing the crisis.”

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Individual countries of the Sahel region, the Nigerian Catholic Priest said, could explore ways to negotiate with the militia groups and “indirect engagements with them, especially those that are not so criminal in nature and are just hiding on the basis of jobs.”

When each nation has addressed the well-being of her youth, the leaders of the region and the international community can gather to explore ways to address insecurity in the Sahel region, Fr. Barkindo said.

Addressing insecurity in the Sahel region is a process that is expected to take time, the Nigerian Catholic Priest who was appointed Senior Research Fellow for International Religious Freedom Policy by the leadership of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) in Washington DC last year told ACI Africa.

“The issue of insecurity in the Sahel region will not just suddenly go away. Governments in the Sahel region need to work together,” Fr. Barkindo said, adding that the situation is further compounded by the fact that the militia groups “have taken control of most of the border areas.”

The militia groups also use social media to reposition themselves and recruit more members in a bid to grow their network, he further said, and underscored the need for governments to keep reviewing their approaches if they have to succeed in ending the Sahel crisis.


The Nigerian Priest who also sits on the board of the Africa Research Institute in London, United Kingdom (UK) said that the militia groups exploit their religious ideologies with support from other established groups, a situation he described as “a clear exploitation of religious ideologies, especially in Islam.”

“These militia groups are receiving moral inspiration; technical assistance from some of their Muslim colleagues in other groups,” he said, and added, “Islam is one family; what affects Muslims in one part of the world affects every Muslim everywhere, and this is what is connecting these Islamic groups.”

The militia groups, Fr. Barkindo went on to say, “receive online training, exchange all kinds of information and also share techniques.”

“The fact that these people have been able to sustain these groups for decades means that they cannot be taken for granted. They are able to plan successions even more than some democracies in Africa,” he said.

He continued, “These groups have also been able to expand. They may not be physically attacking like before, but they can mobilize people and expand and have their ideologies published online.”

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“The groups are so organized that they can even enter into the political mainstream and start to contest for power,” Fr. Barkindo told ACI Africa during the March 16 interview.

Silas Mwale Isenjia is a Kenyan journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communication from Moi University in Kenya. Silas has vast experience in the Media production industry. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.