In February 2019, the New Humanitarian published an overview of the “causes and humanitarian consequences of violent extremism in West Africa.” The organization’s report on extreme violence in northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, north and central Mali, and southern Niger was the result of a year of fieldwork in those areas, surveying not only the violence but also sustainable peace efforts based on the interconnected roles of economics, politics, and faith in sparking militancy and, potentially, creating peace. The detailed report covered root causes, recruitment, motivations, security forces, attempts to reduce the ranks of fighters, and the reintegration of former fighters.
Peer pressure, community identity, and the impact of trauma and humiliation from security forces play a huge role in recruitment. A United Nations Development Programme study found that the arrest or killing of family members was “the tipping point” in recruitment decisions for 70 percent of jihadists. The power of faith provides a significant motivation for these groups as well, helping, for example, to frame conflict in ways that create a narrative and meaning for militants.
When it comes to identifying jihadists or potential recruits, security forces are not doing their best work, the study found. Arrests of suspected jihadists are often arbitrary and brutal, instead of the result of properly conducted police work. This causes people to be more fearful of the security services, instead of building trust in them. Amnesty and demobilization schemes provide better options, but they tend to be hampered by lack of funding and poor administration.
With extreme violence impacting many regions in West Africa, it is perhaps surprising that there are so few news articles on the topic in US establishment media. In April 2016, the Huffington Post published an article on why people join Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The Washington Post ran a similar article in April 2016. West Africa’s humanitarian crises receive more regular coverage from nonprofit organizations such as Oxfam International, which has released multiple articles on the “forgotten crisis” in West Africa.
Obi Anyadike, “Countering Militancy in the Sahel,” New Humanitarian, February 26, 2019, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/in-depth/countering-militancy-sahel.
Student Researchers: Alyssa Lash, Caroline Lussier, and Erica Rindels (University of
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)