On the sidelines of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, the Regional Director of the Timbuktu Institute took part in a panel discussion on the political and security situation in the Sahel and West African littoral states on December 12 in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI), and was attended by IRI President Dan Twining and facilitated by Mr. Aboudou H. Berthé, Director of the Sahel and Coastal Countries Program, Dr. Bakary Sambe proposed, beyond the management of security imperatives, a preventive approach against violent extremism in coastal countries that would be based on strengthening community resilience.
“It is necessary to develop a preventive approach in coastal countries where prevention is still possible and to give the dignity of solutions to endogenous community strategies,” recommends Dr. Bakary Sambe. According to him, “this approach will have the added value of mitigating the all-military or all-security strategies that have not yielded convincing results in the Sahel, given that the jihadist threat has even spread”. The coastal countries of West Africa seem to have become the new expansion zone for Sahelian jihadism through what the director of the Timbuktu Institute calls the “epicenter spillover phenomenon.” In Benin, Togo, and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, multiple incursions have recently been recorded in the northernmost regions of these two countries. According to Dr. Bakary Sambe, it has become unanimous that it is imperative to “work on strengthening community resilience through active prevention work”. It is in the wake of this and the Global Fragility Act launched by the United States that IRI organized this panel on the issue of violent extremism. This exchange took place on the sidelines of the African leaders’ summit held from December 13 to 15, 2022 in Washington.
As “an actor that can still gain the trust of local populations and communities with regard to its role in the development of prevention strategies in the G5 Sahel countries,” Dr. Sambe actively invites the United States to invest more in prevention and especially “the strengthening of community resilience by promoting endogenous initiatives to overcome the conflict between international conceptions and local perceptions”.
One of the strengths of the American approach in recent years has been to distinguish the prevention of violent extremism from the fight against terrorism, which ultimately aims to eliminate targets. “But targets can regenerate if the structural causes that led to terrorism have not disappeared,” says Dr. Sambe. For these reasons, prevention of violent extremism “has the advantage of addressing its causes through means such as dialogue or good governance,” he adds. He is convinced that the United States can be of great help in a context where Sahelian populations are increasingly doubtful of the merits of military interventions. Moreover, as Dr. Bakary Sambe points out, “it will take a lot of energy and advocacy with the authorities to install and gain acceptance for a culture of prevention in coastal and West African countries where all-security strategies have dominated for years, even though they have not been able to produce the expected results”.
For a preventive method that effectively involves actors on the ground and especially local communities in coastal countries, IRI should “become more involved in this dimension by strengthening the work begun with the G5 Sahel and the Regional Cell for the Prevention of Radicalization and Violent Extremism (CellRad) and extend this initiative to coastal countries,” concludes Dr. Sambe.
Several experts and actors working in Africa attended the event, which was attended by many personalities and decision-makers such as Robert Jenkins of USAID’s Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization and Anne A. Witkowsky Bureau of Conflict & Stabilization Operations at the State Department, along with Dan Twining, President of the International Republican Institute.
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