Mali's young 'jihadists': Fuelled by faith or circumstance?

Interviews with 63 youths formerly engaged in 'jihadist' groups challenge preconceived ideas about violent extremism in Mali.

Unemployed, idle and fanatical – this is how young people in the ranks of the armed jihadist groups in Mali are portrayed. However, there is little empirical data to support this characterisation. Little research has been done in the Malian context where the young people involved in these groups have been interviewed directly, to assess the role that both religion and unemployment play in the emergence of this phenomenon that allegedly affects young people the most.

Based on interviews with more than 60 previously involved youths, this policy brief questions the conventional wisdom on an important issue that is crucial to stability in Mali and the security of its neighbours.


The research that underlies this policy brief was collaboratively undertaken by the authors – Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, William Assanvo, Ibrahim Maïga, Jeannine Ella A Abatan, Fatimata Ba, Patrick Olivier Gnonsekan, Aïssatou Kanté, Kadiatou Yacouba Keïta, Wendyam Aristide Sawadogo – along with Modibo Galy Cissé, Aboubacar Diallo, Bréma Ély Dicko, Amadou dit Samba Cissé, Yacouba Dogoni, Fodié Tandjigora and Aly Tounkara.

Development partners
This policy brief is the first ISS Dakar publication of a project funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) entitled ‘Youth, Unemployment and Radicalisation’. The project is also implemented with the support of the International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada and the Government of the Netherlands. The ISS is grateful for support from the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.
Related content