Elva Community Engagement is proud to share its latest research: An Assessment of the Experiences and Vulnerabilities of Pastoralists and At-Risk Groups in the Atakora Department of Benin. This research was conducted under USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives’ Coastal West Africa Regional Initiative program. It brings together findings from over 190 key informant interviews and 270 focus group participants in northwest Benin, that examined the vulnerabilities of particular groups as they experience violent extremist organization (VEO) influence. Building on Elva’s previous research in Coastal West Africa and the Sahel, this report illustrates how violent extremism in Benin is now increasingly homegrown.
The West Africa al-Qaeda alliance, known as Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) has deployed a dynamic recruitment and influence strategy in northwest Benin. The research found that pastoralists, unemployed youth, and migrants, figured prominently among the groups in the Atakora department that are at-risk of being targeted by VEO recruitment efforts. VEO propaganda is deliberately leveraging the local discontent created by Benin’s recent policy reforms to modernize its agro-pastoral industry and conserve the fragile ecosystem of the Park W-Arly-Pendjari complex.
Economic development policies that seek to formalize crucial sectors of the economy like commercial agriculture and livestock production, in some cases unintentionally impact livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable groups. These reforms can increase competition over already scarce resources, and sometimes can exacerbate intercommunal tensions and escalate into violence. Increased local tensions are creating more opportunities for non-state actors, particularly VEOs, to exploit vulnerabilities, through circulating dis-/misinformation and the provision of alternative economic livelihoods.
Nonetheless, the war against VEOs is by no means lost. Now is the time for thoughtful adaptation of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) responses in Atakora, and this research identified several recommendations that were tailored to the local context, based on needs identified in the primary research.