Citizenship on the alert in Senegal

Citizenship on the alert. Senegal National Report
[ version française ]

Research managers
National report
Dr. Abdourahmane SECK, Gaston Berger University, Institute for the study of religions, Saint-Louis, Senegal.

Field Survey
Dr. Rachid ID YASSINE, Gaston Berger University, Institute for the study of religions, Saint-Louis, Senegal.


Study areas
Senegal is relatively small compared with neighbours Mali and Mauritania, and the length of its borders is reduced accordingly. This investigation focused on two areas: the north (Podor and Rosso) and the east (Kidira). Their immediate proximity to Mauritania and Mali provided a source of analysis relevant to the subject of study. From Saint-Louis, 260km north of Dakar, six interviewers travelled through the area of Podor, Rosso and Kidira to conduct 74 semi-structured interviews with border area residents from diverse socio-professional backgrounds. In six days of investigation, the team travelled 2800km and carried out 103 hours of interviews.

State and citizenship, religion and identity
Senegal owes its reputation as a stable country to an old model of complementary temporal and spiritual powers (state and marabouts), the so-called « Senegalese social contract ». It is also a country where democracy is increasingly affirmed, without, however, being immune from deadly violence. Predominantly Muslim, religious identity in Senegal is divided between various Islamic brotherhoods and a host of non-sectarian movements. This configuration leads to a jostling for position often marked by quarrels, destruction of property and even physical violence. Although the state comes in for strong criticism, its political relevance is not questioned. Indeed, in both the urban and border context, the criticism seems more like a demand for government and public services, rather than their rejection.

Inter-communal and cross-border relations
The residents of the border areas which were surveyed perceive themselves, in turn, as neglected – due to their distance from large urban centres (Dakar, Saint-Louis, Tambacounda, Bakel) – and as privileged – due to opportunities for trade with neighbouring countries (Mauritania/Mali). Livestock theft and seasonal migration for agriculture and mining are seen as major factors in the deterioration of inter-communal relations. Border communities do not see themselves as victims of violent extremism. Educational, religious and cultural institutions are perceived as the major drivers of resilience in the north and east of the country.

Radicalization: clues and process
The weight of social and family tradition seems predominant in the process of attachment or detachment in relation to the different theological currents people claim or reject. People perceive divisions in the religious field as potential sources of extremism: the management of diversity in this field is at risk. Violent extremism is perceived as foreign to the local context. The armed groups, in general, are rejected en masse even when they claim to act for Islam. The violent jihadist phenomenon in the region is often interpreted as the result of political and economic manipulation by the West. The term « jihad » as it is currently used, especially in the West and by the media, is universally rejected by the border communities. According to them, « jihad » is an important and positive tenet of Islam, with which they wish to identify.

The role of women and young people
Although generally perceived as minor players, women and young people are proving to be indispensable links in the mobilization to curb violent extremism, through their associative and socio- economic commitment to the service of the community and to their own groups. While they are spontaneously presented as concerned mainly with plans of migration and exile, the young have a greater desire than it would seem for social and professional integration within the community. The gender approach of the results indicates that women are not aligned with the male perspective, but, rather, are simply less likely to speak out on questions asked. Economic insecurity and poor supervision during, and after, military service are felt to be the main factors for the vulnerability of young people to jihadist recruitment.

Avenues for reflection
Based on the perceptions collected during the study and observation in the field, as well as the analyses of, and discussions with, various relevant stakeholders, the following avenues for further reflection emerge:

Response to needs identified in the survey areas

  • Enhance the economic potential of the border zones;
  • Fight livestock theft to reduce security risks;
  • Develop bi-national policies in favour of cross-border zones;
  • Support the capacity for resilience already present within communities;
  • Enhance border identity to reduce disconnection with the national space.

Response to the regional need for analysis

  • Provide the means for greater understanding, prevention and action in a concerted manner.


1. Islamic brotherhood vs non-sectarian Islam, terms and issues involved in the divide
Senegal’s Sufi path of Islamization
Reformist Islam Brotherhood and non-brotherhood religious movements: between emulation, compromise and complementarity
2. Senegal: the roots of a model nation state
The Senegalese “Social Contract”: between social inheritance and the
democratic project
The role of religion in acts of public violence

1. Self-perception of the community
The issues of economic survival
The positive dimension of the border at the social and cultural level
The feeling of being outside the national space
2. Perceptions of risk and threats
Understanding the geographical and socio-political challenges
Feelings about the reality and quality of security measures
3. Resources of resilience

1. Perceptions of respondents
The Islamic brotherhood/non-brotherhood split: a rising danger?
Violent extremism in the popular imagination and speech
Justification of violence in terms of religion and community (non)acceptance
The media and the community judgement of jihadism
2. Security at the national level
The legislative and judicial framework and political will against the threat
Indicators of risk and exposure to threat
Study of three recent cases of threats

1. The gender approach to perceptions in the study results
Gender and the perception of security
Gender and perceptions of religious extremism
2. Women and young people: perceptions of roles
Vulnerability, insecurity and a new role in the community
The changing roles of women
The more ambiguous evolution of the role of young people



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