Sahel Economic Woes Persist Despite Easing Sanctions

Ramadan preparations in Nigeria begin long before the crescent moon is sighted. Like many people, I buy food in bulk: rice, millet, maize, beans, beef, and poultry. I also engage a small-scale baker – *Fatima’s service. She sends snacks: samosas, cupcakes, spring rolls, and chin-chin for iftar (the fast-breaking evening meal for Muslims) 

 This year, the preparations for Ramadan were different from the previous years. I could not afford to buy as much as I did last year, as most prices have more than doubled. A 10kg bag of rice during Ramadan of 2023 was around 5,000 Naira. This time, I had to part with  12,000 Naira. The five pieces of yam I got would have cost about 5000 Naira last year but now sold for 13,500 Naira. Fatima can’t send me snacks for iftar because the increasing cost of flour and sugar has run her out of business.

 How we got here

Nigeria’s economy continues to be a cause for concern, especially for women. As inflation rises, most women work in the informal market and continue to struggle to feed their families. Many factors explain the government’s inability to offer relief.

After the July 2023 coup in Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed economic sanctions on Niger, forcing Nigeria to close its borders to the country. The border closure proved disastrous to both countries as trade and commerce between the neighboring countries came to a halt. This immediately translated to a hike in prices of goods as traders had to find alternative ways to import produce.

 For populations that live close to Niger, that border closure and the subsequent price hikes aren’t the only thing to contend with.  Insecurity in Nigeria, Niger, and neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso is rising. In 2023 alone, West Africa recorded over 1,800 terrorist attacks. This is in addition to intra-state conflicts, banditry and other forms of extremist violence displacing Nigerian farmers from their communities, away from their sources of livelihoods, bringing poverty to an all-time high, and exposing displaced women and children to various forms of abuse. March 2024 has seen a sharp rise in kidnappings, including school abductions in Kaduna and Sokoto states.

Although ECOWAS lifted its sanctions in February 2024, normalcy is yet to return in Niger and its neighbours. Niger refuses to open its borders to Nigeria, with customs officials on Niger’s border claiming that no orders have been given for them to let Nigerians into Niger.

West Africa taking more debt

At the tail end of 2023, Nigerian senators approved President Ahmed Bola Tinubu’s proposal to borrow $7.4 billion and 100 million Euros from the World Bank to carry out infrastructural development, hoping that the loans would positively affect the economy. 

Nigeria is not alone. The constant borrowing from Global financial institutions and other countries is how African countries are kept under the influence of the Global North. These debts give room for countries from the Global North to dictate policies and interfere in the politics and development of African countries.  In November 2023, for example, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited  Ghana, Nigeria, and the ECOWAS president, Omar Alieu Touray, to discuss trade, security, and migration, declaring Germany’s interest in West Africa where natural gas and the region’s population is instrumental to Germany’s gas trade and workforce. It set the stage for signing a renewable energy and gas supply MOU worth $500 million between Nigeria and Germany. Similarly, out of China’s $1.92bn worth of loans across 2021 and 2022 – 86% – went into projects in West Africa, with Senegal, Benin, and the Ivory Coast borrowing the largest share. 

 As we know from listening to feminist activists and scholars, debt is a colonial and neoliberal tool meant to keep the wheels of capitalism running at the expense of humans in the Global North. It is women who would bear the greater pressure of feeding their families. Women and marginalised populations will be most affected by the budgetary cuts to healthcare, education, and security in favor of financing debt.

A Fulani woman taking part in building her house in Niger state, Nigeria. Photo credit: Sadiq Mustapha /

 Rethink the economy

There’s an African proverb that says, “Sticks in a bundle become unbreakable” One of the lessons we can learn from the sanctions imposed and now dropped by the ECOWAS is that African countries need each other for sustenance and development. It reminded me of a Liberation Alliance Africa webinar on disrupting Colonial Legacies of Economic Justice in Africa, where one of the speakers, Fatima Kelleher, pointed to the need for African countries to stand in solidarity to foster a better African economy.

“What we lack is political solidarity on the continent. Our relationships as individual countries with external partners are always far more important than our existing relationships with each other. It affects how we take positions collectively against things that we know are inherently unfair…Because ultimately, as a continent, we are treated together even though we have these independent relationships, we are put in the same box for the most part.”

 ECOWAS should have sought better ways of peaceful resolution through dialogue and negotiations rather than cut off Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Other West African countries should have worked together to find a better resolution. Niger is critical to West Africa in terms of the fight against insecurity and also in terms of trade. Isolating Niger did nothing to serve people in Niger or neighboring countries. Our living conditions, which were already bad, further deteriorated in the region,  exposing us to more foreign economic exploitation.

 I often think of what feminist political economy analyst Leah Eryenyu said, “I do not want work to become my life.” This is the reality of many of us. The continuous increase in the cost of living in Nigeria and the region means that we have to find alternative sources of income to maintain a decent standard of living. We have to take on more work to afford the things we could afford a few years ago.  What hope do women like me and women like Fatima, whose businesses have shut down, have for sustaining and supporting themselves? How does a country like Nigeria find alternative ways to grow its economy and reduce economic inequalities?

Crystal Simeoni emphasises that economic justice is collective work.  “Remember that we resist in collective, and we must resist in collective.”

We must continue pushing African leadership to consider feminist principles of fair wealth distribution, not to enrich the minority through the infinite labor of the majority. Most of all, Africa must truly unite and embrace the true pan-African feminist ethos of solidarity and equality. This way, we can create better policies to boost trade, redefine our modes of politics and governance, and tackle insecurity as a whole, not just on a state approach. Free trade and movement between African nations will go a long way in addressing our economic challenges. 

Note: To assist Fatima, a group of women have crowdfunded a small capital to kickstart the business.


Nana Sule is a Feminist Writer, Journalist, and a Communication Associate with Liberation Alliance Africa


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