Mali's young 'jihadists': fuelled by faith or circumstance?

Mali's young 'jihadists': fuelled by faith or circumstance?

Unemployed, idle and fanatical – this is how young people in the ranks of the armed jihadist groups in Mali are portrayed. However, there is little empirical data to support this characterisation. Little research has been done in the Malian context where the young people involved in these groups have been interviewed directly, to assess the role that both religion and unemployment play in the emergence of this phenomenon that allegedly affects young people the most. Based on interviews with more than 60 previously involved youths, this policy brief questions the conventional wisdom on an important issue that is crucial to stability in Mali and the security of its neighbours.
 
Key points:
 
  • factors that are not economic, religious or ideological explain the presence of young people in the ranks of armed jihadist groups in Mali
  • the need to protect oneself and/or one’s family members, community or income-generating activity appears as an important factor
  • in most cases there is interaction between various factors; it is therefore pointless to search for a single underlying cause
  • it is important to analyse in detail the local realities behind youth engagement and resist the temptation to apply the resulting conclusions to other contexts
  • concepts currently in vogue such as ‘radicalisation’, ‘de-radicalisation’ and ‘violent extremism’ should be used with caution, as they could lead to solutions that miss the point
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