Sahel radicalizationExamining counter-extremism policy in the Sahel

Published 15 April 2017

To find out what young people involved in jihadist groups in Mali are thinking, you need to speak to them. It sounds logical, and yet a new study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is one of the first to do this in the Malian context. The research helps change the discourse about violent extremism in West Africa and how to respond to it.

“To find out what young people involved in jihadist groups in Mali are thinking, you need to speak to them. It sounds logical, and yet a new study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is one of the first to do this in the Malian context.”

Explaining ISS’s research on the correlation between youth, unemployment and radicalization in Mali, Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni, ISS’s Office Director in Dakar, goes on to describe the ISS approach: “We involved the youth, local researchers and development organizations from the start. We spoke to them, we asked them questions and we listened to them.”

This collaborative project has informed development policy and generated requests for advice and technical support from governments, regional and international organizations, the media and civil society across West Africa and beyond. The research was commissioned by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and implemented with additional support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the Government of the Netherlands.

“We would like to congratulate and thank the ISS for this study that allows us to have an in-depth analysis of the reasons why some young people join violent extremist groups,” says Amadou Koïta, Mali’s Minister for Youth and Citizens’ Building. “We also believe that the study is an early warning tool for the government in its fight against radicalization and violent extremism.”

ISSAfrica says that the research provided empirical evidence on violent extremism, based on interviews with seventy youth formerly engaged in jihadist groups in Mali. The researchers also consulted with national, regional and international stakeholders throughout the various phases of the study. The research has already been cited in work by research centers and think tanks such as International Peace Institute, International Alert, and Interpeace.

ISSAfrica notes that the results were presented to stakeholders in Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and were conveyed to high-level decision makers such as Abdoulaye Diop from the Malian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“This quality work will be very useful in the scientific understanding of this phenomenon which is [a] concern [to] all the countries of the Sahel-Saharan strip and beyond,” says Aboudou Cheaka Touré, ECOWAS Resident Representative in Mali.

The findings also generated media interest, with more than forty-five reports in local (Studio Tamani), national (ORTM, Mikado FM, Maliactu), and international (RFI, VOA, Le Point) media. Many requests for briefings had been received from research organizations, training institutions, governments, and regional and international organizations. Among these were presentations at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in Nairobi in August 2016, and the Dakar International Forum for Peace and Security in December 2016.

“The study has important policy implications for how development actors like JICA could design more effective interventions in affected countries or countries at risk,’ says Iimura Tsutomu, Resident Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency in Côte d’Ivoire.

The successful dissemination campaign led to requests for technical and policy advice from the African Union (AU), the government of Mali, and UNICEF.

The AU Mission for Mali and the Sahel (MISAHEL) asked ISS to contribute to a series of symposiums on violent extremism and radicalization with the G5 in Sahel countries. The aim is to adopt policy on preventing and countering violent extremism in the Sahel. MISAHEL has also asked ISS to map initiatives and strategies on extremism in the Sahel.

In December 2016, ISS was invited to participate in the steering committee responsible for preparing Mali’s national strategy on preventing and countering radicalization and violent extremism. In November 2016, ISS provided analytical support during UNICEF Burkina Faso’s strategic meeting aimed at developing its Country Program Document for 2018-2020.

ISS says it has also launched a three-year policy research project on women’s association in jihadist groups in Mali and Niger with support from the International Development Research Center of Canada.