Sahel – Perceptions of radicalization, violence and (in)security drivers

There are many external perceptions of the Sahel region of Africa – including a concern that a section of its population is becoming increasingly radicalized – but there is very little information about what the people of this distinct region think about the radicalization, violence and (in)security they may face in their everyday life.

Given that institutional responses to radicalism have tended to be political or military only, in 2015 HD and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) decided to undertake an innovative research to  capture the views of 800 people from across 8 countries in the border regions of the Sahel region. The project seeks to inform non-coercive responses to radicalization and ultimately encourage a shift in the way related challenges, such as border management, state-shaping, faith-based and community-based dialogues, or development, are addressed in border regions of the Sahel.



Despite several attempts to make peace between different communities, a number of countries in the Sahel keep facing internal conflicts. This situation is complicated by a range of issues affecting the whole region such as religious tensions, the increased impact of radicalization, as well as the prevalence of organised crime and trafficking. Border areas are particularly affected by these phenomena. The Sahel region as characterized in this research project is a strip of land at the base of the Sahara desert and around Lake Chad which is crisscrossed by the borders of eight states: Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad. Home to many languages, cultures and faiths, the border areas are also generally set at a significant distance from each country’s capital which affects the ability of each state to provide comparable public services to their border populations. As a result, some people in the border areas of the Sahel tend to have more in common with each other than they have with their respective states.

Since there is concern within the international community about radicalization in this region, the research project gathered the views of people in all eight countries about violent extremism and radicalism.  It also sought to explore how the same people feel about the communities and states which surround them, as well as their perceptions of their own security and who can best protect them. Increased understanding and expertise in this field are needed to address these challenges in the future.



Given the range of countries, communities, languages and cultures covered by this research project, HD recognized the importance of recruiting teams of researchers in each country who could offer invaluable local knowledge to both the research process and the analysis of the results. The organisation consequently established research teams for each of the eight countries with two local researchers in each team. These researchers also trained a total of 59 interviewers to support their work. HD convened the research teams in Dakar to agree the approach they would take and the issues which would be included in the survey.

The research teams subsequently travelled more than 20,000 kilometres across the border regions of each country to gather the perceptions of local people about their lives. 698 interviews were carried out and, wherever possible, former members of armed groups and those who sympathized with them were included in the survey. This was a significant achievement given the political, security, geographic and cultural challenges which had to be overcome to gather these views.

Despite the precarious position of many respondents, they generally took a practical approach to insecurity. The researchers were also generally well received with local people appreciating to be consulted on their views. A number of representatives who were considered influential in their communities were also invited to take part in focus groups organised by HD in the capital cities of each country to discussissues in more detail.

Once the data gathering process was complete, HD convened a second meeting of the research teams in Dakar to begin the process of analysing the results. The perceptions gathered during this process were subsequently summarized in eight country reports each including avenues of reflection for addressing the specific concerns and challenges in each country.

In order to identify the similarities and contrasts across the Sahel region, an international report was also produced which offers an analysis of the broader impact of the insights from the research in the eight countries. In addition, it includes case studies by expert consultants on specific subjects such as migration, de-radicalization and transitional justice. The international report also provides broader avenues of reflection for action by those in Sahelian societies, as well as state officials and representatives from the international community on how to address the issues which the research suggests can contribute to a rise in radicalization, and to develop non-coercive ways to respond to it.

The results of this unique project research are being shared with peacemakers and interested parties from across the international community.

Donor support


HD wishes to thank the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which mandated the organisation to conduct this research project.

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