Spotlight: New evidence on extremism informs policy in the Sahel

ISS research is changing the discourse about violent extremism in West Africa and how to respond.

‘To find out what young people involved in jihadist groups in Mali are thinking, you actually need to speak to them. It sounds so logical, and yet our study is one of the first to do this in the Malian context.’  

Explaining ISS’ cutting edge research on the correlation between youth, unemployment and radicalisation in Mali, Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Office Director in Dakar, goes on to decribe the ISS’ approach: ‘We involved the youth, local researchers and development organisations 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 organisations, 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 radicalisation and violent extremism.’

The study is an early warning tool for Mali's government in its fight against radicalisation

The research provided empirical evidence on violent extremism, based on interviews with 70 youth formerly engaged in ‘jihadist’ groups in Mali. The rigor of the research was enhanced by in-depth consultations with national, regional and international stakeholders throughout the various phases of the study. This helped ensure credible results, with several research centres and think tanks citing the study in their work, such as International Peace Institute, International Alert and Interpeace.

Results were presented to stakeholders in Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Burkina Faso and reached decision makers at the highest level, 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 generated extensive media interest, with more than 45 reports in local (Studio Tamani), national (ORTM, Mikado FM, Maliactu) and international (RFI, VOA, Le Point) media. Within four months of publicising the findings, 20 requests for briefings had been received from research organisations, training institutions, governments, and regional and international organisations. Notable 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 radicalisation 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 radicalisation and violent extremism. In November 2016, ISS provided analytical support during UNICEF Burkina Faso’s strategic meeting aimed at developing its Country Programme Document for 2018-2020.

ISS 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 Centre of Canada.

For more information contact:

Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, ISS: +221 338603304 , [email protected] 

Picture: ©MINUSMA/Marco Dormino

Related content