Links between violent extremism and illicit activities in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire

New ISS research shows how violent extremists in northern Benin and northern Côte d'Ivoire obtain resources for their activities.

West African littoral states – Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo – are being threatened by the spread of violent extremism from the Sahel. Except for Ghana, all these countries have experienced a string of attacks. Governments and their partners are increasingly concerned about this trend. When planning their responses, however, they must look beyond the attacks, which are only the tip of the iceberg. The covert and overt activities used by violent extremists to obtain resources present various entry points for action.

The seminar was moderated by Dr Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni, Director of the ISS Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin. Panelists were ISS Senior Researchers William Assanvo and Jeannine Ella Abatan. They presented the findings and recommendations from research in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire to a wide range of international, regional and national stakeholders based in Dakar.

The key takeaway presented by the ISS is that violent extremist groups are tapping into internal and external vulnerabilities in littoral states to obtain funding, logistics and personnel for their sustenance, implantation and expansion. To weaken these groups, governments should address structural vulnerabilities related to governance, development and management of natural resources to prevent insurgents from obtaining the resources. Regional collaboration is also vital to deal with the transnational dimensions of violent extremism and illicit activities.

Several seminar participants confirmed the utility of the findings, which they said would enable them to better understand violent extremism dynamics in littoral states. They also noted the policy relevance of the recommendations (see the examples below).

‘I would like to congratulate the team on the quality of their work. In the course of our work, we often hear assertions about the links between violent extremism and illicit activities, but often there is very little evidence behind these assertions. Your data provides us with robust evidence.’

‘What I liked about the report and the presentation was the ability to go down to the micro level and then up to the macro level. This enables us researchers and decision makers to have an overview and as detailed a view as possible of the manifestations of the phenomenon.’

‘I want to thank ISS for this high-quality work. Your data provides information on things we thought we knew but couldn't say with any certainty for lack of evidence. In particular, as a former government official, this data will enable the government to anticipate if timely action is taken. We saw the problem coming and thought it was too far away. No country is immune, as you aptly said during your presentation. Unfortunately, we let it happen.’

Development partners
This seminar is funded by the governments of Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the Bosch Foundation. The ISS is also grateful for support from the members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the European Union, the Open Society Foundations and the governments of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
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