Preventing violent extremism in West Africa:Building Resilience in Coastal Countries

In the context of increased armed group pressure on coastal countries of West Africa, the UNODC Research and Awareness Unit of the Regional Office for West and Central Africa organized a regional workshop on the prevention of violent extremism in prisons of West Africa, with a focus on coastal countries, from 24 to 27 May.

Armed groups already active in the Sahel region, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISG) and Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), are expanding operations to coastal countries.  Several incursions and attacks have been reported in Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, and Togo between 2019 and 2022. On the night of May 10-11, 2022, at the Kpinkankandi security post in northern Togo, a terrorist attack killed eight defense and security forces and wounded 13 others; 15 assailants were also killed. On February 8, 2022, in the W cross-border park, located between Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso, seven people were killed, including five rangers, a French trainer and a Beninese soldier. There were two attacks on a gendarmerie post in Kafolo, Côte d'Ivoire, in 2020 and 2021.

The number of people arrested under terrorism related charges has been increasing in coastal countries over the last three years, with approximatively 257 detained across Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo and Senegal as of May 2022.  In this context, prisons can become places where violent extremism spreads due to the proximity of prisoners and frustrations related to prison conditions and lengthy trial procedures.

“To avoid prisons becoming recruitment grounds for armed groups, prisons administrations in the region must urgently build up their capacity to manage violent extremist prisoners”said the Executive Secretary of the Colorado Network for Prison Emergence in West and North Africa (RECEPAON). “Increasing cooperation between prison administrations from Sahelian and coastal countries, including to share information and good practices, is a first step to addressing radicalization to violence in prisons.”

The Regional Office for West and Central Africa, with the generous support of Norway, organized a workshop to support prison administrations from the region in their efforts to prevent violent extremism. This workshop led to the production of an action plan with concrete measures to manage violent extremist prisoners, in conformity with the Nelson Mandela Rules and based on the UNODC Handbook on the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons.

Prison administrations in coastal countries of West Africa have been spearheading pilot initiatives to respond to the radicalization to violence. For instance, Senegal created a multidisciplinary commission aimed at conducting disengagement activities on the basis of individual evaluations. Togo has partnered with a non-governmental organization led by a former detainee to facilitate the rehabilitation of prisoners in their communities.

UNODC is committed to support Member States in their efforts to prevent violent extremism in prisons,” said Dr. Amado Philip de Andrès, UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa. “Violent extremism in prison is not simply about individuals detained under terrorism related charges. There are countless examples of individuals arrested on other charges who radicalized to violence in prisons. Preventing violent extremism in prisons requires a more holistic approach to prison reform.”