West African Papers

The West African Papers series explores African socio-economic, political and security dynamics from a regional and multidisciplinary perspective. It seeks to stimulate discussion and gather information to better anticipate the changes that will shape future policies. The series is designed for a wide audience of specialists, development practitioners, decision makers and the informed public. Papers are available in English and/or French, and summaries are available in both languages. Initiated by the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) to highlight and promote West African issues, the work presented is prepared by its Secretariat, Members and partners, other OECD departments, related international organisations, associated experts and researchers.

English Also available in: French

The Wave of Jihadist Insurgency in West Africa

Global Ideology, Local Context, Individual Motivations

The recent rise of jihadist movements in West Africa, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates in the Sahel-Saharan region, has puzzled many observers. The easy spread of the jihadist ideology, the jihadist movements’ success in massively recruiting followers among local populations as well as their ability to conquer and administer territories, are unprecedented in the region’s contemporary history. This paper sheds light on the factors and processes that contribute to the emergence of these movements. It argues that the phenomenon of jihadist insurgencies in West Africa emerges as a result of a series of processes at the global, local, and individual level. At the global level, there is the formation and dissemination of the global ideology of jihadism, conceptualised by Muslim activists and scholars based on a particular understanding of Islam and the challenges that are facing contemporary Muslim societies. At the local level, the appropriation of jihadist ideologies by “Muslim activists” who then use it to formulate a discourse which taps into local social and political demands in order to mobilise followers, is key. For a wide range of reasons, certain regions of Africa have experienced weakened state capacity and increased local conflict, and it is in these areas that jihadist insurgencies have emerged. At the individual level, the process by which African individuals decide to enrol in jihadist groups include ideological, situational, and strategic motivations, and these have all been facilitated by deteriorating conditions of life in marginalised areas.

English Also available in: French

Keywords: Islamism, Sahara-Sahel, West Africa, jihadism, terrorism
JEL: F5: International Economics / International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy; N47: Economic History / Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation / Economic History: Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation: Africa; Oceania; H56: Public Economics / National Government Expenditures and Related Policies / National Security and War; D74: Microeconomics / Analysis of Collective Decision-Making / Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
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