In February 2019, the New Humanitarian published an overview of the “causes and humanitarian consequences of the violent extremism in West Africa.” The group’s report on extreme violence in northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, north and central Mali, and southern Niger is 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 covers root causes, recruitment, motivations, security forces, reducing the ranks of fighters, reintegration of former fighters, and humanitarians.
Peer pressure, community identity, and the impact of trauma and humiliation from security forces play a huge role in recruitment. A United Nations Development Program study found that the arrest or killing of family members was “the tipping point” in decisions to join for seventy 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. Arrests of suspected jihadists are often arbitrary and brutal instead of the result of properly conduct police work. This causes people to be more fearful of the security services, instead of building public trust in them. Amnesty and demobilization schemes provide better options, but these tend to be hampered 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 in US establishment media. In January 2017, 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 receives more regular coverage from nonprofit organizations such as Oxfam which has released multiple articles on “forgotten crises” in West Africa.
Source: Anyadike Obi, “Countering militancy in the Sahel,” The 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 Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)