GAINESVILLE, FL – On March 4th, 2021, the University of Florida signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to encourage research on social and political changes in the West African Sahel. Signed on behalf of the UF Center for African Studies, the new agreement will reinforce ties between research and policies for sustainable development in the region.

The new agreement builds on the interdisciplinary network established by the UF Sahel Research Group, a collaborative effort to understand the social and political dynamics of the countries of the Sahel led by UF Professor Leonardo A. Villalón. “The countries of the Sahel are facing some of the most complicated and difficult challenges in the world today,” notes Villalón. “We are delighted to extend and expand our rich collaborative relationship with the OECD in the search for increased understanding that can inform appropriate policies for the region.”

Coordinated and funded by the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC), the new MoU provides funding for joint research of West Africa’s challenges, in particular those relating to securities and innovative analytical techniques. The MoU will also support contributions to publications in the OECD West African Studies and West African Papers Series in order to promote on-going research in the region, including by West African researchers.

One objective is to study the changing nature of conflicts and their impact on local societies in North and West Africa. Co-ordinated by UF Assistant Professor Olivier J. Walther, this work builds on a new Spatial Conflict Dynamics Indicator that monitors the spatial evolution of political violence in the region since the late 1990s. The new research program will measure the extent to which violence has increased, how it spreads, and the effectiveness of measures taken to contain it.

Of particular importance to Dr. Walther and his team is the need to identify which conflicts are likely to spread across international boundaries. “Border regions are proportionally more dangerous than other regions in West Africa” explains Dr. Walther. “10% of the victims registered since the late 1990s were located within 10 km of a border. Our new indicator will help explain how transnational groups are using border regions and will assess the impact of their activities on civilian populations”.

The research program has obvious policy implications for West African countries, Western donors and international organizations. “Being able to precisely map political violence is crucial to the development and security strategies of countries and partners in the region”, states M. Laurent Bossard, Director of SWAC.

The new MoU signed between UF and the OECD reinforces existing ties and co-operation between the two institutions. It extends a previous agreement signed in 2017 to promote research and develop place-based policies in the West African Sahel. The collaboration between UF and the OECD has resulted in several pieces of work dedicated to women and traderegional integration, and security.

Contacts: Olivier Walther, Ph.D., Department of Geography, University of Florida, email: and Marie Trémolières, Ph.D., OECD, SWAC Secretariat, email:


Dr. Olivier J. Walther (UF Geography), Professor Leonardo A. Villalón (UF Political Science), Dr. Steven M. Radil (U.S. Air Force Academy) and Dr. Marie Trémolières (OECD).