To bring awareness to the factors that impact radicalization, NDI supported Niger’s National Center for Security and Strategic Studies (Centre National d’Etudes Stratégiques et de Sécurité - CNESS) as it undertook a study on the vulnerabilities to radicalization among youth in Niger. The study was carried out by a team of consultants who worked with regional field researchers to conduct interviews with 2,376 young people aged 18 to 40. The interviews were complemented with 25 focus groups and interviews with religious groups, traditional leaders and local security experts. Moreover, the study examined radicalization in urban, rural, university and penal environments in five regions of the country (Diffa, Zinder, Tahoua, Tillabéri and Niamey), taking into account a variety of experiences and potential variables.
The research defines the factors of radicalization as the “opinions, acts and actual/apparent facts that create favorable conditions for the radicalization of a community.” The study sought to differentiate between those factors that directly favor violence (trigger factors) and those that indirectly favor violence (vulnerability factors). Vulnerability factors are societal elements such as the difficulty of finding stable employment and endemic poverty. Trigger factors are circumstances that brought populations in direct, and often contentious, contact with security forces or agents of state authority. For example, in rural areas where the application of the law has been historically inconsistent, the reassertion of a more rigid legal framework can cause direct clashes or breed the agitation necessary for violence to manifest.
Despite differences between the five target regions, the study found similarities in the factors of radicalization between urban and rural environments, with the two populations being subject to the same set of fundamental factors. However, the degree to which urban and rural populations are vulnerable to radicalization varies considerably, with rural populations found to be the most susceptible to anti-state narratives employed by extremist groups. This stemmed largely from factors such as rates of rural illiteracy hovering as high as 63 percent–hampering access to traditional news and official narratives. The impact of illiteracy is heightened in rural religious environments as well, where a limited number of Quranic scholars act as functional gatekeepers of religious knowledge and the reach of extremist narratives is amplified as a result.
As countries in the Sahel work to craft national and regional responses to the issue of radicalization and violent extremism, data-driven analyses serve to inform policymakers and drive important conversations about the roots of radicalization. This study gives insights into how policy can serve rural areas widely outside the influence of formal state presence as well as urban centers that conglomerate groups of young people with strong grievances.
The study concluded with a set of recommendations for stakeholders from the government, civil society, the security sector and beyond. These actionable deliverables, ranging from infrastructure improvement to legal reform, are considered important to long-term improvements to security and stability in Niger.
Read an NDI-produced English translation of key sections of the study here.
Read the original study in its entirety (French) here.
NDI’s program “Strengthening Democratic Control and Oversight of the Security Sector in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger” was made possible through the support of the governments of Denmark and Norway.