The Sahel-Sahara faces a cluster of security challenges. The upsurge in ethnic radicalisation and its growing overlap with violent militancy are only the most visible signs of the troubles hanging over this vast region. This locus of insecurities mushrooms at the periphery of national boundaries where government writs rarely run. The permeability of borders, and proliferation of zones of political vacuums and economic marginalization in the hinterlands, fuel irredentism and enable the geographical expansion of violent extremists and their networking in excluded border communities. Violence spilling over from neighbouring conflicts often expedites the gradual transformation of such border communities into malignant epicentres of radicalized ethnic claims, cross-border militancy, and organized crime.

Understanding this deadly interplay of political grievances, social exclusion, and hinterland neglect is necessary for tackling the underlying causes of militancy in the Sahel/Saharan border regions. Mapping the dynamics that prompt radicalisation and drive individuals into the orbit of violent extremist networks also requires a keen understanding of the pull of social networks, ideology, and human agency. Conflicts in the Sahel Sahara show that while an abundance of structural factors such as weak governance, social exclusion and state repression creates enabling environments for radicalisation, they remain insufficient to pulling individuals into violent extremism in the absence of the pull exercised by extremist networks, inspirational ideologues, or political entrepreneurs. The spread of external fundamentalist ideas, the appeal of charismatic recruiters, and the material and emotional benefits generated from affiliation with radical social networks play a critical role in producing violent extremism....

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