Leveraging Data to Better Understand the Trends and Drivers of Extremism Worldwide

by | Mar 20, 2023

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has officially launched its 2023 Global Terrorism Index. On Wednesday, March 15th, at 11 a.m. ET, I was fortunate to be a part of a panel of experts who examined what is working, how global trends around terrorism and violent extremism are manifesting on the ground, and which areas require additional consideration in counterterrorism and violent extremism prevention globally. The panelists are Jason Ipe from the Global Center for Cooperative Security, Julie Werbel from the US Agency for International Development, and Brianna Tandoh from the Institute for Economics and Peace. Kateira Aryaeinejad of the United States Institute of Peace, Serge Stroobants of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and me, El Hadj Djitteye of the Timbuktu Center for Strategic Studies on the Sahel are among those who have contributed to this report.

According to the report “ Terrorist groups such as IS and JNIM continue violent campaigns in the region, with the Sahel producing 43 percent of terrorism deaths globally in 2022, compared with just one percent in 2007. This is despite only representing 22 percent of incidents in 2022. As Figure 4.2 shows, the Sahel is increasingly representing more terrorism deaths than any other region globally.” Please check out the report: https://www.visionofhumanity.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/GTI-2023-web-1-1.pdf

How are you seeing the report’s analysis of global trends of violent extremism play out on the ground in your country and your organization’s work?

This report on global trends in violent extremism has been well received by our organization, which is a grassroots think tank based in the Sahel region of West Africa, which has become the epicenter of global terrorism. Our work focuses on understanding the root causes of violent extremism and youth radicalization; the key findings of the reports will assist us in better addressing counter and prevention initiatives in the future.

As you may know, there were several counter-terrorism initiatives in my country Mali, such as Operation Serval and the European Forces Training Mission, but after ten years of counter-terrorism, it was ineffective, and global trends show that the situation is deteriorating. There is a growing sentiment against France and its allies in my country, as well as a shift in partnership now that the Russian Wagner Group paramilitary mercenary organization operates in Mali.

This report provides evidence of terrorism trends in my country as well as a better understanding of Mali’s terrorism trends.

What successes have you seen work on the ground? What lessons can the international community learn from these successes?

First and foremost, the international community’s efforts in countering violent extremism in the Sahel.

The support on military equipment and capacity building training for Sahelian forces.

Resilience and development projects to face violent extremism organizations or VEOs.

The humanitarian support is even in areas controlled by VEOs.   

Regarding security aspects: On the ground after 10 years of counter-terrorism efforts is that in urban cities, northern and central Mali, Malian regular forces control the cities, but when it comes to remote rural areas the VEO’s still control these areas, mainly in central Mali and the north and the tree border area of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, the so-called Liptakako gourmet Areas.  

The French strategy in the Sahel appears to be a classic counter-insurgency strategy, similar to the current American counter-insurgency strategy, which includes the so-called “three Ds” of defense, diplomacy, and the development of a global counter-terrorism approach. The defense and military approach was successful, but ineffective in the end because diplomacy and development tasks were not handled well.

France’s civilian affairs may have paid insufficient attention to the non-military aspects of the counter-terrorism strategy, which are far more important than the military aspects.

in the Sahel, the international community must learn about the role of grassroots communities in countering violent extremism.

What was lacking was human intelligence and local population trust and cooperation in sharing information with international forces. They did not work closely enough with local African peoples and organizations.

In the Sahel regions of West Africa, I believe the international community should reconsider its approach and focus on grassroots community solutions to counter violent extremism and begin the de-radicalization process.

Because of the limited success of military approaches to CVE, we now understand and encourage the incorporation of non-military grassroots and local mechanisms, such as addressing the structural causes of violent extremism, such as intolerance, government failure, and marginalization.

How do you think the international community can adapt the findings of this report to the local level?

I believe that the international community can use the findings as the foundation for an evidence-based project and collaborate with local civil society organizations led and staffed by local people who live in the region. This way they can develop programs on the ground to address the findings at the local level.

The international community can also organize workshops with stakeholders working on countering violent extremism in the Sahel to discuss how they can incorporate the findings of these reports into their Sahel strategy for countering violent extremism.

To counter violent extremism, the international community must work with local, West African organizations on the ground rather than working with other international groups or governments. They must work with grassroots Sahel base think tanks to increase the dissemination and ownership of Sahelian states, civil society organizations, and populations. They need to work with the local citizenry—the village councils, the village chiefs, and the grassroots leaders who live in the region.

El Hadj Djitteye

President & Executive Director of the Timbuktu Center| Conflict Security Stabilization Violent Extremism Researcher| Sahel Expert| Policy Analyst| International Consultant| Obama Leader| Peace Ambassador|MW Fellow| View El Hadj's Full Profile

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