Accepted Paper:

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara: the impact of hybrid counter-insurgency on borderline identities  


Luca Raineri (Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies)

Paper short abstract:

The paper investigates the capacity of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara to forge a constituency, mobilise an insurgency and govern a borderland through the harnessing of local grievances, identities and threat perceptions against Niger's hybrid counter-insurgency.

Paper long abstract:

While prominent scholarship has argued that jihadism can be interpreted as a particular form of insurgency (Duyvesteyn 2018; Kalyvas 2018), the explanations of the capacity of jihadi insurgencies to attract and mobilise recruits remains controversial. Recent findings have challenged the assumption that a lack of governance and limited state reach stimulates "radicalisation", especially in marginal areas and in poorly governed borderlands, highlighting instead the significance of the (perception of) abuses perpetrated by state authorities against marginal communities (ISS 2016; ICG 2017; Pellerin 2017; UNDP 2017). From this perspective, it is rather state action - and not the lack thereof - that contributes to explaining the capacity of mobilisation of jihadi insurgencies arising in African borderlands.

Investigating the complex interplay between the processes of jihadi mobilisation / rebel governance and the practices of counter-terrorism / state governance, the paper explores the rise, evolution and organisation of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in remote Niger's borderlands. Borrowing the analytical framework from constructivist approaches to civil war studies (Kalyvas and Balcells 2010), I argue that ISGS has harnessed local grievances to promote a transformation of identity and threat perceptions of cross-border communities. The blurring of the lines between state and non-state governance and security is intentionally aimed at reframing dynamics of contention and mobilisation in rural societies. The paper builds on extensive fieldwork carried out in 2017 and 2018 in Niger, including in Niamey and the region of Tillabéry.

Panel Pol18
The rural frontiers of Jihad: militant careers, political economies and network governance in West and Central Africa