This paper is an examination of the membership recruitment strategies of two violent extremist organizations (VEOs), namely al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. The majority of the literature on VEOs concentrates on the conceptualization of terrorism, motivations for terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies, as well as a focus on the frequency of VEO attacks, number of fatalities and funding sources. The literature tends to portray poverty as the main driver of recruitment. The focus on recruitment strategies has been relatively recent. There is therefore still a lack of in-depth analyses on the processes of recruitment of specific extremist groups, and this impacts on the development of effective counter-insurgency policies and practices. We conclude that there is a need for more nuanced studies of recruitment practices, including radicalization strategies, of specific VEOs in Africa. This understanding of recruitment practices, particularly by VEOs such as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, will enable more context specific counter-insurgency programmes that target the ability of these organizations to recruit and expand. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with the challenge of violent extremism in Africa.

Author Bio(s)

Dr. J. Tochukwu Omenma is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg, South Africa; and Senior Lecturer/Senior Research Fellow, Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His primary area of research is conflict and counterterrorism, with bias on local defense forces, state responses to violent extremism, and the dynamics of violent extremism development in the Lake Chad region. Currently, he is researching on the link between international relations and security, as well as counter-insurgency approach from the below in Nigeria. He has published several articles in referred journals among which are Career Development International, Security Journal, Politics & Religious Journal, Palgrave Communications, Africa Insight, India Quarterly, International Journal of Euro-Mediterranean Studies et cetera and also, he has consulted for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the Nigeria’s land tenure policy on peasant farmers: A case of human rights violation, from July, 2005-2007. He is a recipient of Federal Government of Nigeria scholarship award for his Master’s Degree studies.

Cheryl M. Hendricks is a Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg. Currently, she is the Executive Director, Africa Institute of South Africa, Human Science Research Council. She has also worked at the Institute for Security Studies, Centre for Conflict Resolution and the University of the Western Cape. She holds a Doctorate in Government and International Relations from the University of South Carolina and a Master's in Southern African studies from the University of York. Her substantive knowledge areas include African Politics; Conflict Management and Peacebuilding; Gender, Peace and Security; Security Sector Reform; Human Security; Regional Security Architectures and South African Foreign Policy

Dr. Nnamdi C. Ajaebili is a lecturer at the Department of History & International Studies, University of Nigeria, Nigeria. He specializes in African History and International Relations. He is the author of Hegemonic Legacies: Imperialism and Dependency in Nigeria (2013), and has published on the areas of African economic and political history, foreign policy, and diaspora studies. He earned his Doctorate from the University of Calaber, Nigeria, and was a visiting scholar at the Ebonyi State University, Nigeria, between 2014-2016.


recruitment strategies, radicalization, terrorism, ideology, indoctrination, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab

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