Dear Readers, you must forgive my obsession with the Sahara and for bringing the issue of the Sahara Desert into our minds at this very difficult and trying times. There is however no time is better than now because there seem to be no political future, no security, no reasonable infrastructure and the most alarming, there seems to be no blueprint and no workable plan for the future, making it seem like we are on a free fall mode. Many of these issues I have written about in my previous articles and will still address them even in future articles and as long as you allow me to, so permit me today to dwell on the above topical issue.
The Sahara Desert though a large expanse of arid land with very sparse vegetation holds a very special place in my heart. This may be because I hold the record of being the First Man to have driven from London Across the Sahara to Nigeria, and in this Month, where the whole world over celebrates the World Environment Day and the United Nations decade on ecosystem restoration, and today, World Desertification and Drought Day; it takes me back to the advocacy that I started over 40 years ago that pushed me to repeat that arduous expedition four times risking my life every single time because what I saw during those expeditions gave me really serious concerns. Those concerns have now been translated into a passionate global campaign on the deteriorating conditions of communities in the sixteen frontline states in Africa and eleven in Nigeria along the fringes of the Sahara. Over the years, I have seen how towns, villages and communities have dwindled in size and most often disappearing altogether taking with them their peculiar cultures, traditions and diversities. I have seen massive migration of peoples and animals in millions, North to South and the attendant conflicts, clashes and wars caused by these migrations all because of the unchecked advancing of the Sahara.
Recently, we saw the encroachment of the Sahara into the Suez Canal after a massive sand storm which resulted in bringing the entire global economy to a standstill following the blockage of the canal by the biggest container in the world. The Evergreen container made the passage of the canal impassable for more than a week with over 500 ships stranded on both sides affected 30% of global trade and 12.5% of container business and the cost to the Egyptian economy was over 6 billion dollars. If this wasn’t a message to the whole world that taming the Sahara served a global need, I have no idea what else will.
Europe is the only continent in the world without any deserts but from studies it has been observed that the dust from the Sahara travels across the Mediterranean Sea to some parts of Spain causing some challenges to human health especially cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular challenges. The Sahara Desert is not the largest desert in the world, it is however the largest hot desert behind the Arctic and Antarctica, which are both cold deserts. It is important to note that the whole of Israel was recovered from the Negev Desert after taming it, China which has the highest number of deserts in the world has The Gobi Desert which is among the largest deserts in the world tamed and converted into an agricultural Haven. The Nevada and Arizona deserts have also been tamed and mitigated so much that a whole city has come out of it – the thriving city of Las Vegas is proof that taming the desert can be achieved. Still, the Sahara has remained untamed and once again it begs the question “is it because it is in the Dark Continent”? With the recent incident at the Suez Canal and effect on the global economy however unfortunate, the Sahara desert is once again in the news, I can only hope that this will bring some awareness to the plight of the desert.
In the early 60s, the President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah started a process to build a trans Saharan Highway as part of the mitigation efforts to tame the Sahara, then there was the building of the Shelter Belts and now the great green wall, all lofty and grand ideas yet the Sahara is still as at this very moment very active, untamed and unmitigated. In my book “Bridging the Sahara, A Different Perspective” published 20 years ago in both English and French, I stated that the benefits of controlling the Sahara to the continent were numerous. Below, I will share some of these benefits. Taming the desert in Africa will:
- open up the Sahara and make for the movement of goods ,trade and services across the continent
- create employment, education and industry for millions of Africans that border the Sahara through many countries.
- reduce migration and help to stem conflict ,wars, clashes and the security risk that follows
- help recover lands that have been encroached upon for agricultural and grazing purposes
- minimize the threat to food security and reduce poverty.
- empower the communities especially the African farming women community.
- give portable water to millions of people in the Sahel region
- increase the amount of rainfall in the area
- stop the encroachment
- enable the expansion of civilization and development to the desert. Our own Las Vegas can be birth.
This is not an exhaustive list but just a few of the many benefits the African continent and the world at large stands to gain from the taming of the Sahara. However in all this, I am as usual faced with the very important question of why? Why has it taken 60 years to plan the building of the Trans Saharan highway considering that similar projects have been planned and executed by other countries who were not as big or naturally endowed as some of those in Africa at the time the taming of their deserts began? Why were they able to build roads across seas and oceans having transformed their deserts into Agricultural Havens? The unfortunate but sad answer I can think of is that it may be an African thing – the Curse of the Dark Continent.