Rethinking the response to jihadist groups across the Sahel

The solution to insurgency in the Western Sahel lies in human security and better governance, not military action
Research paper Published 2 March 2021 Updated 29 March 2021 ISBN: 978 1 78413 445
Soldiers patrol the site of the Tomb of Askia in Gao, Mali

Dr Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos

Senior Researcher, Institut de recherche pour le développement

The dominant narrative of a global jihadi threat has overshadowed the key role played by military nepotism, prevarication and indiscipline in generating and perpetuating conflict in countries of the Western Sahel. This narrative has pushed the international community to intervene to regulate local conflicts that have little to do with global terrorism or religious indoctrination.

Mali offers a clear example of how structural failings that long predate the ‘war on terror’ – evident in poor governance and weak state security mechanisms – have been the main driver of the growth of insurgent groups over the past decade. By contrast, the recent experience of Niger, which shares many of the structural and historical challenges faced by Mali, demonstrates that progress is possible where deliberate steps are taken to achieve more inclusive governance.

External actors – national and multilateral – see engagement in the Sahel as critical, but a primary focus on insurgent groups as terrorists limits the policy options available to them to help promote regional stability and limit human suffering.

Reframing responses away from ‘hard’ counterterrorism towards a more holistic view of human security, and an emphasis on tackling underlying challenges of governance, impunity and development, may offer a more durable route to peace and stability in the Sahel.