On 7 April 2016, the European Foundation for Democracy and the Counter Extremism Project hosted a closed-door policy briefing for EU diplomats and officials entitled: “Radicalisation in the Sahel: threats and opportunities for the EU”. The guest speaker was EFD Senior Fellow Dr. Bakary Sambe who is also the Director of the Observatory on Religious Radicalism and Conflicts in Africa and regularly advises international organisations and governments including on the threat from Islamist radicalisation in the Sahel.
During the briefing, Dr. Sambe described the phenomenon of Wahhabi radicalisation in the Sahel region, dating to its roots to the 1970s when the region was hit by a massive drought that led to an increase of famine and poverty in the region. Without receiving help from the United States or Europe, African Gulf countries began implementing several self-interested strategies for the region that led to indoctrinating Wahhabi beliefs among society, culminating in an eventual split in society: those who stood by democratic values and others guided by Sharia values.
Dr. Sambe underlined the importance of investing in counter-narrative programmes; for the Sahel regions but especially for Europe. Imams should be educated through counter speech programmes directed to stop radicalised preachers throughout Europe. It is imperative to work on the European civil society first, he said, to convince the young Muslim population not to join the fight with ISIS. Dr. Sambe also warned that some African organisations, most notably the African Union, are now being heavily influenced by Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that were responsible for the spread of Wahhabi radicalisation in the Sahel to begin with. This entails that such organisations are no longer reliable partners for combating radicalisation, he said. To address this growing issue, the EU must be as influential or more than the countries exerting their influence if it wants to stop the radicalisation of Islam from spreading to Europe.