The Jihadist Challenge in the Sahel

The recent rise of jihadi movements in the Sahel, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in Northern Mali, has puzzled many observers: How did a region known for the peaceful character of its religious beliefs and practices end up developing some of the deadliest jihadi movements in the world? Why, despite significant similarities among Sahelian countries, has jihadism tended to emerge and grow in some places and not in others?  Efforts to try to explain the phenomenon of jihadism in the Sahel have focused on three main factors: the spread of a global jihadi ideology; the incapacity of states to control territory; or driven by local ethnic and economic grievances. While these factors are all important in explaining the emergence of jihadism in the Sahel, the approach taken in the existing literature offers only a partial explanation of the phenomenon. This chapter takes as its point of departure a conceptualization of jihadism as a complex phenomenon that requires an integrated approach to decipher the way in which factors at macro, meso, and micro levels interact with one another to produce the phenomenon. The chapter will survey the emergence of the most significant jihadi movements in the region in the 2000s.  It will then offer an analysis that situates global jihadi discourse within the spectrum of broader Islamic discourses, and provides a typology of the jihadi discourses emerging in the Sahel. The chapter will then elaborate on the dynamics, both at the state and local levels, that favor or disfavor the emergence of jihadi insurgent groups. The chapter will thus examine both similarities and variations in the dynamics of the jihadist phenomenon across the Sahel.