The Sahel gets its name from the Arabic word sāhil which means “shore” of the desert. This semiarid region is a zone of transition where the Sahara Desert ends and the grassy plains of the savannas begin. The Sahel extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and it’s comprised of five countries: Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan.
Its notable physical features include Lake Chad, the Niger River, and the Nile River with its two main tributaries: the Blue Nile and the White Nile.
The Sahel also acts as a transitional zone for the region’s inhabitants. Those along the northern portion of the Sahel are Muslims of Berber or Arab origin while the southern regions are home to Christians and Africans with native religious practices.
Europeans began colonizing the area in the late 1800s. Eventually the French controlled all nations in the Sahel except Sudan which was a British colony. In the middle of the 20th century, France and Britain ceded control of the region back to its people. Since then, the five nations of the Sahel have suffered greatly from poverty and internal violence.