Niger: Youth perception of the State, repression and violent extremist Groups Spécial

In a study conducted by the Timbuktu Institute in Niger (Zinder Region) it has become apparent that young people often perceive the state as a repressive body. From this point of view, there is an ambiguous relationship between young people and the different branches of the state, including the security forces and the local administration, according to a survey in collaboration with International Organization for Migrations (IOM).

In fact many of the young people surveyed (42.1%) consider the State as a repressive body, and 21.1 per cent are indifferent to it; that is, they do not even know the role of the State. This culture of renunciation of the political order allows incivility in all its forms and encourages the proliferation of illegal and subversive practices. The State and political order distrust can be seen as a form of rejection exposing these young people, sometimes because of defiant motives, to extremist movements or those rejecting this type of order. Furthermore, the survey highlighted the fact that young people have relative knowledge and sometimes a positive view of terrorist organizations. This vision is all the more important if the state of mind of young people is considered in a perpetual search for role models and “heroes” who can reinforce their distrust of the political order.

Young people’s awareness of terrorist organizations operating in the Sahel is sometimes linked to the geographic proximity or to the available information through the media. The most popular extremist organizations are Boko Haram, considering the proximity to the area of intervention of this movement, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), AQIM and Ansar Dine.20 Of the respondents, 260 (that is 87% of young people) declare having a good knowledge of Boko Haram and its political and religious agenda, while 17 per cent claim to know the MUJAO. The 12 per cent say the same for AQIM, while 2.3 per cent of respondents say they have a good knowledge of Ansar Dine.

Of course, it would be interesting to verify if this declared knowledge is in line with the reality of these movements and their modus operandi or rather a perception through the acts relayed by the media. The high rate of respondents claiming to know Boko Haram is naturally explained by the proximity of this group’s operations, and also by the widely broadcast regional news. Boko Haram is active in the Lake Chad Basin and neighbouring Nigeria, while the second MUJAO operates mainly in northern Tillabéri.

According to the understanding of the young people interviewed, these movements are often presented as defending a religious order or seeking to repair social injustices. Faced with the violent extremism phenomenon, these groups of young people often have fairly strong convictions, ranging from rejection to support the challenging of a system perceived as unfair. They therefore mistake the commitment to an extremist or violent movement with the defence of principles of “general interest”. The term general interest is to be understood, in this sense, as the real aspiration of the people, which would be different from what the policy of the State viewed as inadequate.

As a result, these movements arose from the contestation of the State and political authority, which were considered “unfair” to the point they had to replace it with other forms of organization that met their expectations and aspirations. Organized in formal structures, the young people met in Zinder do not have the same perceptions and attitudes about the many issues linked to violent extremism. This divergence of ideas and opinions offers the possibility of a better understanding of expectations and also of the perceptions from which actors build their reasoning and whether or not they can accept frameworks for dialogue or exchange.

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