Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Van der Heide on jihadism in the Sahel

Jihadism and smugglers, gold fever and ethnic strive. It is a toxic mix that makes the Sahel a volatile region in which jihadi's thrive. In the Dutch daily De Volkskant, terrorism expert Liesbeth van de Heide sheds a light on the complex problems that the Sahel is facing. Van der Heide is a researcher of terrorism at Clingendael Institute and Leiden University's Institute of Security and Global Affairs.

An elaborate article in De Volkskrant shows us the complex nature of the unrest in the Sahel region. A vast desert area in which lawlessness attracts jihadi's and smugglers alike. Ethnic strive, little economic perspective for the mostly young population and weak state authority cause unrest in which Jihadist groups like IS and al-Qaeda seems to gain the upper hand. 

Van der Heide explains why: "In the Sahel jihadism is mainly opportunism. One day young men wave the IS-flag, the next day they fight for local warlords or work as a smuggler. The day after that, they are cattle rustlers and yet another they defend their towns and family against different ethnic groups in a local militia." 

Unrest and instability

With the loss of the Caliphate in the Middle East Jihadist groups like IS and al-Qaeda have shifted focus to North Africa. And in the Sahel they found a vast, hard to control desert that gives them plenty of opportunity. On a nearly daily basis terrorist attacks on military and civilian target destabilise the region. Nearly a million refugees flee the border regions of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauretania and Chad. 

Unrest started in 2012 with jihadi surge in Mali that was suppressed by the UN under French leadership. Ever since the UN has tried to keep the peace, but to little avail.

Gold and drugs

The desert of the Sahel has been a safe haven for smugglers and trade in illegal goods since time immemorial. With growing unrest in the region Jihadi's have started to control many of the products and routes by levying taxes or toll. Sometimes they protect smugglers who pay for their service.

Drugs and illegal gold have surplanted humans as main goods for smuggling to Europe. "Terrorism is a matter of supply and demand," Van der Heide says. "Whether it is smugglers or jihadi's, the main motive is economic. Jihad is not for free. It costs a lot of money to pay and arm mujaheddin and give them Toyota's, motorcycles or petrol." 

Difficult solutions

Stopping the unrest and the violence that benefits jihadism in the Sahel, is very difficult. Only a military intervention by the international community will be able to pacify the region. But without economic investment and the restoration of the rule of law it will not work. School need to be able to reopen, doctors and policemen need to be able to go to work, writes De Volkskrant (full article in Dutch). Without hope of normality the international community will be seen as an oppressor and that would be counterproductive. 

This website uses cookies.  More information.