Youth Participation Is Key to Countering Violent Extremism in the Sahel

  • Bobby Brooks

Violent extremism threatens peace and stability in the Sahel region of Africa and beyond. The International Republican Institute’s (IRI) programming connects the next generation of youth in the Sahel with regional initiatives that counter violent extremism, and equips young leaders with the tools to build viable democratic alternatives in their countries.

The Sahel region faces many security challenges, including preventing intercommunal ethnic violence and counterterrorism. Violent extremism feeds on poor governance, a lack of socioeconomic opportunities, and violations of human rights.  In the absence of meaningful outlets for their grievances, young people — especially young men — are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremist organizations such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and their affiliates.

The Sahel is among the most youthful regions in the world. The proportion of the population under the age of 15 in each of the G5 Sahel states — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger — ranges between 40 and 50 percent. Youth participation in developing and implementing strategies that counter the drivers of violent extremism are thus essential to the success of any future strategy.  Thus far, the U.S. has committed approximately $111 million to support the G5 Sahel’s security efforts.

IRI’s programming brings young people in the Sahel together to conduct governance, peace-building and economic development projects in an effort empower youth across the region and inoculate them against the appeal of violent extremism. These initiatives bring together local authorities and youth in communities that are often excluded from national and regional governance solutions. Through partnership with youth and other marginalized communities in the region, IRI supports locally driven approaches to peace-building and economic empowerment.

For example, Yacouba Moussa Soumana is the Vice President of the National Youth Council of Niger and is one of the regional youth leaders with whom the G5 Sahel works. Yacouba is from Niger’s Tillabéri Region, which borders Mali to the north and suffers disproportionately from violent extremism.

Yacouba helped organize both an IRI-sponsored youth entrepreneurial forum and a community resource fair that linked the public with local businesses, non-governmental organizations and public officials in the Tillabéri Region. As a participant in a countering violent extremism consultation panel hosted by the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat and the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism in Nouakchott, Mauritania, he was able to represent youth interests and interact with key multilateral actors. 

The Sahel region’s path to stabilization depends upon the prioritization and local implementation of peacebuilding processes and accountable local governance structures. Yet these goals have no chance of having a sustainable impact without the engagement of youth leaders like Yacouba. IRI is proud to be part of the efforts to build a better, more democratic future for the people of the Sahel.

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