Dynamics of support and engagement. Understanding Malian Youths’ attitudes towards violent extremism (UNICRI, 2021)

Mali, once an exemplar of stability in West Africa, has descended into increasing levels of violence since 2012. Facing a growing terrorist threat, which has expanded rapidly and keeps increasing, particularly since 2016, the question of what motivates Malians to either support violent extremist groups, or to take part in acts of extremist violence remains not only incredibly pertinent, but also as elusive as ever. In response to the situation, Mali, along with its neighbouring countries in the Sahel region, has hosted ever-growing numbers of peacekeeping troops, such as those from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), or security forces, such as those in the French-led Operation Barkhane or Takuba Task Force. However, the problem of violent extremism has continued to pose significant threats to the country, including expanding to once unaffected regions.

While initially terrorism was mainly limited to the northern regions of the country, from 2015 onwards terrorist groups have taken advantage of existing ethnic tensions and local conflicts to establish their presence in central Mali, portraying themselves as ‘defenders’ of communities to enhance their popularity and local support. The ideological narrative put forward by these actors has been built on specific grievances, has been backed up with claimed historical legitimacy, and has been spread through the most popular channels in the region. The discourse promoted by both al-Qaeda affiliated Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Mali responds to context-specific needs and socio-economic and political frustrations, such as a widespread sense of insecurity and neglect coupled with existing intercommunal tensions, many of which—such as that between semi-nomadic pastoralists and sedentary farmers—have been exacerbated by climate changes.

As security-focused efforts to counter terrorism in the country have not been able to successfully halt the growing terrorist threat, the situation has become all the more “volatile”, with nearly 240,000 people in Mali alone (with even greater numbers in neighbouring states such as Burkina Faso and Niger) internally displaced as a result of security conditions. It has become increasingly vital that efforts in Mali adopt not only a security-based approach to neutralise violent extremist organisations, but also that the conditions which have given rise to the establishment and growth of extremist groups—who have been largely successful at integrating into local communities and drawing upon them as their bases of support—are better understood so that they can be better addressed. Without an understanding of what leads some Malians to justify or to play an active role in extremism, the cycle of violence is likely to continue.

With the purpose of enhancing understanding of the drivers behind support for and engagement in violent extremism, it was decided to prioritise the voices and perspectives of Malian youths. Young people constitute the greatest demographic group in Mali, with more than half of the population being 24 years old or younger. In addition, young people are particularly exposed and vulnerable to radical propaganda and affiliation, as in the process of defining their identity they are vulnerable to “ideological and passionate solicitations”, they search for “affiliation and meaning” and might be exposed to driving factors. Their perspectives on the phenomenon thus provide for a particularly interesting and useful lens of analysis. Finally, Malian youths represent the future of the country. Elaborating a better understanding of their assessment of the current situation should help develop tailored initiatives to prevent and counter violent extremism in the short-, medium-, and long-term.

You can find the original publication here

TopicLocal communities, Youth, Narratives and counter-narratives, Preventing violent extremism, Radicalization


Themes: Local communities, Youth, Narratives and counter-narratives, Preventing violent extremism, Radicalization
Countries: Mali