Much of Western Africa is at risk of the same political conflicts that are plaguing Mali, coming under the influence of Islamic hardliners. Northern Mali is already in the hands of the Ansar Dine Salafist group, allied to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
In the space of six months, a quarter of a million people have fled Mali for refugee camps or the outskirts of cities in Niger, Burkina Faso or Senegal.
The father of a family sheltering in Dakar said: “When we see how Mali has been destroyed, and how the north is controlled by dangerous extremists today, well, this could spread to other countries: Niger, Algeria, Burkina and Senegal. Not one is safe.”
Jihadist warriors from Pakistan and Afghanistan and Algeria are threatening to wage battle here, in a region of uncontrolled, porous borders.
The international community is looking for ways to contain or head off the Islamic militants with a UN resolution on military intervention.
A journalist in Senegal’s capital said Ansar Dine has told him it is ready to carry its war to neighbouring capitals: “Mali has Pakistani, Afghan and Algerian forces involved in the crisis, which is becoming international. The international community should intervene in the north in its own interest. The Islamists have imposed Sharia law, and that could seriously affect the African continent and then the whole world.”
Senegalese fighters are part of the jihad movement in west Africa, and the authorities are aware that they encourage strict Islamic law in areas that have traditionally seen a close cohabitation between Islam, Christianity and animism.
Research Professor Khadim Mbacke told us: “The problem in African countries in general is that what the people want is not always taken into consideration. If they’re Muslim, they’ll get Sharia law.”