Typical Characteristics of the Sahel Region

the sahel region map

The Country Similarity Index groups the African countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Djibouti, and Somalia into the Sahel Region. It is one of the 27 world sub-regions identified by the Index. This is a transitional region between the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Here are some of the traits most of these countries share:

All the countries in this region are located in Africa in a transitional zone between desert and tropical savanna biomes. Technically the Sahel is the area between the Sahara Desert and the African savanna. Djibouti and Somalia are not within the Sahel proper, since they are border the Guban Desert, not the Sahara. Still, their geography is quite similar. It is mostly barren land and there is little farmland. Sorghum and millet are two of the most popular crops, since they are drought and heat tolerant. The region is relatively flat, spanning roughly along the same latitude from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. It is very sparsely populated and does not have any skyscrapers.

photo by Vincent van Zeijst

The majority of people in this region have Sub-Saharan African ancestry or a mixture of Sub-Saharan African and Caucasian ancestry. The birth rate in the Sahel is exceptionally high, while life expectancy is low. The average age is less than 20 years old, so it has the youngest population in the world. The region also has a high poverty rate. Most people are farmers or semi-nomadic herders. Less than 50% of its people are literate.

photo by Faso Kan

Every country in this region either has French or Arabic as one of its official languages. Most people in the region speak languages from the Afro-Asiatic family. The vast majority of people in this region are Sunni Muslims. Not only are most males circumcised, but female circumcision is also commonly practiced in this region. Very little alcohol or drugs are consumed in this region. Beef and lamb are two common meats in their cuisine. Millet, sorghum, and wheat are staple grains. Due in part to the extreme poverty in the region, no person has won an Olympic gold medal and only four people have ever won a medal.

photo by Andy Gilham

Rulers in this region tend to be subject to periodic coups and instability. There is little rule of law. The governments do not provide much help to their citizens. Healthcare is not free or universal. Unemployment benefits are not generous. However, the tax rates are quite low. In most countries in the region, abortions are not allowed at all, even if the mother’s health is in danger. All the countries oppose same sex relationships. With the exception of Niger, all countries allow polygamy. They are all members of the African Union as well.

photo by Andre Kodmadjingar

In general, the countries in this region have little infrastructure. Access to improved sanitation and the electrical grid is limited. Few people have internet or even television. All countries in this region drive on the right side of the road. Type C electrical outlets are most common. The electrical voltage is between 220 and 240 volts and the frequency is 50 hertz. The majority of countries are reliant on fossil fuels to create energy. The weapons their militaries use are typically from Russian origin.

photo by LeVern McQueen

The Sahel Region‘s Most Representative Country: Chad (72.7 regional average)

Most Similar Region to the Sahel Region: Ethiopic Africa (4-D)

(Statistics as of 2020)

photo by Petr Adam Dohnalek

List of countries by region


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