New UNDP Study calls for quick action to address susceptibility to recruitment into violent extremism in the southern Libyan borderlands

November 2, 2022

Addis Ababa and Amman - Poverty, hardship and deprivation, discontent with state institutions, lack of access to security and basic services, limited political participation, and small arms proliferation are all persistent vulnerabilities that increase susceptibility of communities living in the southern Libyan borderlands to recruitment by violent armed groups – according to a new study launched today through an online webinar. The situation can potentially deteriorate quickly if action is not taken, the study warns. 

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) collaborated with the Small Arms Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Switzerland to produce this study, entitled Perceptions, Vulnerabilities, and Prevention: Violent Extremism Threat Assessment in Selected Regions of the Southern Libyan Borderlands and North-Western Nigeria

“The presence of violent extremist groups is expanding fast in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in borderland and peripheral communities,” asserted Stan Nkwain, Director a.i of UNDP’s Regional Service Centre for Africa in Addis Ababa. “Remoteness often curtails the ability of central states to provide basic public amenities and security services, precipitating a deep sense of social and economic marginalization among those communities and enabling armed groups to implant themselves locally and fill existing gaps.” 

The study seeks to understand the dynamics of the increased risk of violent extremism through the lens of affected local communities. To analyse exposure to drivers of violent extremism1, it relies on a sample of 6,852 respondents to surveys administered in twelve areas in five countries along the Southern Libyan border region2, between 2020 and 2021.3 

The study also examines those interviewees’ knowledge of recruitment strategies employed by a variety of armed groups in their communities, as well as their attitude towards specific violent extremist groups and associated values. 

Hardship and deprivation represent major challenges in the surveyed border regions of the Sahel. In Niger and Sudan, 71 and 56 per cent of respondents, respectively, rated their lives negatively. More than half of the respondents in all five countries declared having had ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ no cash income in the year preceding the study.  

Perceptions of stability and security varied greatly across the studied areas. In Nigeria, 61 per cent of respondents felt insecure or very insecure in their neighbourhoods, compared with 38 per cent in Sudan, 21 per cent in Chad, 17 per cent in Libya, and only 12 per cent in Niger.  

A significant 19 per cent of respondents in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan reported being aware of recruitment by local or foreign armed groups in their communities. Furthermore, 11 per cent claimed to be aware of recruitment by violent extremist groups in their areas.  

Respondents in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan expressed varying levels of support for or resentment towards well-known violent extremist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, or al-Shabaab. Sudanese respondents were the most likely to assert that individuals or groups are sometimes justified in killing civilians (52 per cent), followed by those in Nigeria (32 per cent), Chad (22 per cent), and Niger (17 per cent).  

Around three per cent of respondents in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan had not only favourable views of mainstream violent extremist groups, but also particularly severe grudges against a range of institutions, communities, and organizations—including state, non-state, and international entities. Notably, this subset also displayed a strong level of support for violence against civilians and showed high levels of willingness to die for a leader. 

“To turn the tide of violent extremism we must ground our responses in a better understanding of highly localized root causes that compel people to join its ranks,” said Khaled Abdel Shafi, Manager of UNDP’s Regional Hub for Arab States, in Amman. “Reductive security-focused responses will be insufficient. We need development-based, people-centred responses to security and justice that skilfully balance the needs to improve security with adaptive forms of engagement that do not disrupt local sources of livelihood and carefully consider local views of state security and law enforcement institutions and services as they strive to upgrade their quality and accountability.” 

The study highlights that local sources of livelihoods in border communities often depend on informal trade and other activities that can be strongly affected by security interventions such as counter-trafficking measures. It asserts that security-focused interventions targeting armed groups may exacerbate local grievances, especially, if such efforts fail to respect human rights of local populations and pose a threat to their livelihoods. 

This study is the first in a new three-part series of reports on Preventing Violent Extremism. The three complementary reports of the series examine underlying drivers of violent extremism, from the tipping points that lead to recruitment to the spill-over impacts of extremism in border areas to the evolution, modus operandi, and business models of violent extremist groups. They shed new light on the phenomenon of violent extremism and offer new programmatic and policy responses to address it.    

UNDP will launch the other two reports in the series in early December, including a research paper on the “Dynamics of Violent Extremism in Africa: Conflict Ecosystems, Political Ecology, and the Spread of the Proto-State"  and a report on the “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement” which updates and builds upon the findings of the earlier “Journey to Extremism in Africa” report, analysing the changing nature of violent extremism in Africa and further examining pathways away from extremism, with a focus on particular triggers for disengagement. 

For more media queries and to arrange for interviews, kindly contact:

In Addis | Ngele Ali | |

In Amman | Noeman AlSayyad | +962 (79) 567 2901 |

In Geneva | Sarah Bel | +41 (79) 937 1117 |

In New York | Dylan Lowthian | +1 (646) 673 6350 | For more information and to download the study, please visit UNDP’s PVE website:

Notes to the Editors:

1- The study analyses the exposure of communities in the surveyed border region to seven drivers of violent extremism, including i) hardship and deprivation; ii) lack of adequate security and justice; iii) limited access to basic services; iv) the growing importance of ethnic or religious identities; v) chronic instability and insecurity; vi) blocked political participation and the influence of non-state armed groups; and vii) the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

2- It relies on a randomized sampling method and quantitative questionnaire. It analyses responses of a sample of 6,852 respondents to surveys administered in 4 areas in southern Libya (Ghat, Kufra, Murzuq and Sebha), one area in western Sudan (Northern Darfur), 4 areas in northern Chad (Borkou, Ennedi Ouest, Ennedi, Est and Tibesti), one area in north-eastern Niger (Agadez), and two areas in north-western Nigeria (Sokoto and Kebbi).

3- The surveys were administered over a 6.5-month period from 25 Dec 2020 to 15 July 2021. Questions ask about perceptions of events during the 6-12 months period prior to the date of administration of the survey