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‘Growing a World Wonder’: The Great Green Wall and the History of Environmental Decline in the Sahel, 1450–2022

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This article offers a historical critique of the Great Green Wall Initiative of the Sahel and the Sahara (GGW) – an audacious project to stop the southern encroachment of the Sahara Desert by constructing a wall of trees across the continent. By situating the GGW within the longue durĂ©e of the Sahel’s environmental history, it examines how the narratives of environmental decline that underpin the initiative are not only misguided but born out of the transatlantic slave trade, imperialism and colonialism, and the neoliberal development projects of the postcolonial period. In doing so, it argues that narratives of environmental decline have not only served as a dynamic framework to rationalise Western exploitation of the Sahel’s environments over time, but have obscured, or even silenced, the effective practices of dryland regeneration of Sahelian communities.

Keywords: Sahel; West Africa; desert encroachment; development; environment

Appeared or available online: March 22, 2023

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