Case study

Diagnostic Study on Violent Extremism in the Timbuktu Region

Association Malienne pour la Survie au Sahel (AMSS) is a Malian CSO that supports peace and community resilience by implementing projects focused on education, local governance, food safety, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, natural resources management, civic action, and gender-based violence in the Timbuktu region of northern Mali.

Under USAID’s Countering Violent Extremism in the Middle East and North Africa (CoVE-MENA) project implemented by FHI 360, AMSS received a grant to conduct a study to identify push factors for VE in five circles (Tombouctou, Goundam, Rharous, Diré, and Niafunké). The study would inform the design of future P/CVE programming in the Timbuktu region. During two phases of data collection, AMSS conducted interviews and focus group discussions. AMSS interviewed 97 people, including 21 women. A total of 188 people joined the focus groups discussions, including the following participants

  • 35 community leaders
  • 3 religious (Christian) leaders
  • 6 representatives of non-Governmental Organizations
  • 72 representatives of women’s associations
  • 72 representatives of youth associations

Research Questions

The diagnostic study included six research questions:

  1. Which are the populations most at risk of radicalization leading to VE and why?
  2. Where do the people at risk live in your circle?
  3. What are the reasons or factors that foster radicalization among the youth of the target circles (ideological, economic, social, political)?
  4. Where and how do violent extremist groups recruit new members?
  5. What are the roles that community, customary and religious leaders play to fight youth recruitment and enrollment in extremist groups?
  6. What are the most efficient ways to prevent radicalization leading to VE?

Following data collection, AMSS facilitated five multi-stakeholder fora, one in each circle, to validate the research results. Three team members worked over 25 days, from April 20 to June 10, 2017, to conduct the study, including developing the research tools, collecting data, conducting validation fora, and report writing.


During the data collection in all five circles in the Timbuktu region, interviewees noted that insecurity (particularly the theft of cattle and vehicles and looting of property) aggravated the poverty and vulnerability of local populations. The mobility of citizens and their ability to engage in economic activity were hampered, which fueled a sense of insecurity. Local people found themselves in a situation where they had no income due to the lack of employment opportunities. Data collected revealed the following push factors leading to VE:

  • Lack of transparency among the authorities in charge of managing local or public affairs
  • Low involvement of youth and women in local decision making
  • Erosion of educational values
  • Lack of youth access to decent employment opportunities
  • Misunderstanding of religion and Islam
  • Poor judicial service delivery
  • Injustice, marginalization, and discrimination

The analysis of the findings helped AMSS to:

  • Identify potential roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders in implementing activities (e.g. whistleblower legislation, toll-free hotline, creation of web platforms and mobile applications) to prevent VE.
  • Confirm the importance of engaging grassroots communities in all stages of P/CVE activities including assessments and design.
  • Understand that communities lack the means/resources and partnerships to carry out P/CVE activities and need support to be able to strengthen community cohesion and resilience.
  • Conclude that weak community cohesion exacerbates vulnerability to VE.

AMSS validated the research results through multi-stakeholder fora and acted upon recommendations from the fora to facilitate roundtable discussions with youth, women, and community leaders in two regions. Following this, AMSS also supported local leaders in implementing three community-led activities aimed at strengthening community cohesion.