Violent extremism in Africa: public opinion from the Sahel, Lake Chad, and the Horn

Violent extremism in Africa: public opinion from the Sahel, Lake Chad, and the Horn

Over the past two decades, the threat posed by violent extremist groups that espouse fundamentalist religious narratives has grown substantially across Africa (Hallowanger, 2014). The colonial era and the undemocratic rule that characterised many post-independence governments generated anti-Western and jihadist movements across the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.
 
Security-led approaches have largely failed to contain the geographic footprint of violent extremists in sub-Saharan Africa. This has prompted the emergence of more development-oriented approaches, such as countering violent extremism (CVE) and preventing violent extremism (PVE) initiatives, which seek to address root political and socioeconomic causes of extremism.
 
This paper provides exploratory analysis of new opinion data from three of sub--Saharan Africa’s regional “hotspots” of extremist activity, which are home to some of the continent’s most prolific groups:
  • Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region (Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria)
  • Ansar Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and al Mourabitoun (among others) in the Sahel region (Mali)
  • Al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa (Kenya and Uganda)
Afrobarometer survey data suggest that security-related issues are a top priority for citizens of countries that have experienced high levels of extremist activity. Public trust in security forces varies widely by country; trust is generally lower in the police than in the army. Public approval of government counter-extremist efforts ranged from about four in 10 in Nigeria and Kenya to three-fourths or more in Mali, Cameroon, Niger, and Uganda. Support for strengthening military responses and capabilities was high in all countries in which the question was asked. Among citizens’ perceptions of what motivates people to join extremist groups, personal gain was a far more common response than religious beliefs.
 
While the exploratory analysis presented here must be considered in light of changes in government and of evolving extremist and counter-extremist strategies, it suggests the value of tracking and expanding insights into citizens’ perceptions and attitudes related to violent extremism.
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