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Yet many of these activities – centered around community empowerment practices, small-scale infrastructure such as wells, educational programs, vocational training, and community radio programs – read like a list of tenuously linked development assistance projects, and serious questions remain as to whether empirical evidence suggests that these types programs are even effective in combating terrorism in the Sahel.
USAID officials told The Christian Science Monitor that counterterrorism programming in Mali is guided by the “widely recognized assumption” that “soft side inputs such as strengthening community capacity and addressing factors contributing to radicalization” are essential to effective counterterrorism.
These approaches are in fact “largely in sync with the level of scholarship on drivers of violent extremism that exists at this moment,” says Kate Almquist Knopf, who served as assistant administrator for Africa at USAID from 2007 to 2009 and is currently at the Center for Global Development in Washington.
However, Ms. Almquist Knopf, who describes herself as a “skeptic of the use of development programs to counter violent extremism,” also says that the scholarship is only one part of the equation. “Even when we know what the empirical evidence suggests – to whatever extent that it exists thus far – the challenge for managers and policymakers of these programs is translating that, practically speaking, into policies and programs that make sense.”
“If there is one significant overriding lesson thus far concerning countering violent extremism programming, it’s that context is of the utmost importance,” Almquist Knopf continues. “Just because we think we’ve got the analysis down at one moment in time doesn’t necessarily mean that analysis will be relevant six months from now or a year from now.”
Meanwhile, TSCTP-funded cooperation with other Sahel countries has continued. A State Department official says the program now puts “increasing emphasis on Mali’s neighbors and particularly their ability to control borders to limit the free flow of people, arms, and other illicit goods in and out of northern Mali.”