In a recent interview with the Peace and Security Council (PSC), GCSP expert and alumna, and Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Dakar office director, Dr Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, shares her research finding about the various reasons why youth in the Sahel join violent extremist groups.
The widespread notion that youth join violent extremist groups for religious or financial reasons is rather inadequate, according to Dr Théroux-Bénoni, who explains that a team of 17 researchers from the ISS has “identified more than 16 categories of factors leading to youth involvement [in extremist groups].”
These factors extend from the “need for protection (of oneself, one’s family or community)” says Dr Théroux-Bénoni “to economic reasons, including the need to protect an income-generating activity (cattle herding, drug trafficking, etc.).” All of these factors are discussed in greater detail in the ISS report titled ‘Mali’s young jihadists: fuelled by faith or circumstance?’
In some cases, youth involvement in violent extremist groups is the direct result of “abuses by state actors” on the population, says Dr Théroux-Bénoni. This creates a “climate of insecurity” whereby the youth believe that the military and security forces do not offer them the protection that violent extremist groups do.
Dr Théroux-Bénoni urges governments and policymakers, especially those in the Sahel region and the African Union (AU), to consider all factors that lead to youth involvement in violent extremist groups and “to place respect for human rights at the heart of military involvement.” Identifying the “individual, psychological, historical and political reasons” for youth involvement will enable officials to be more effective with their local, national, regional and global counterterrorism strategies.
On the future, Dr Théroux-Bénoni, mentioned that the ISS is currently in the process of mobilising a follow-up project which will research the role of women in violent extremist groups.
About Dr Lori-Anne Théroux Benoni
Dr Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni is the director of the Dakar office of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) where she has been conducting research, designing projects and directing research teams on a variety of peace and security issues in West Africa and the Sahel since 2012. Prior to joining the ISS, Dr Théroux-Bénoni worked as a researcher with the Network on Peace Operations at the University of Montreal, Canada. Her field research and policy work in West Africa covers violent extremism, peace operations and processes, post-conflict elections, the anthropology of conflict, media and democratisation. Dr Théroux-Bénoni has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Toronto, Canada.