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Five possible solutions for kidnappings in Africa's Sahel region

Kidnappings in Africa's Sahel region in recent years present policy makers with a tough question: what is the best way to deal with and prevent kidnappings by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?

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Pros: The fewer targets that are available to kidnappers, the fewer kidnappings there will be.

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Cons: Travel will already decrease on its own. Even with increased precautions, some travelers will still be at risk, either through misfortune or recklessness. Discouraging tourism could also hurt Sahelian economies.

Solution Three: Dialogue and Rehabilitation

At least one Sahelian country, Mauritania, is trying to engage militants in religious dialogue and rehabilitate them. Working with Muslim leaders, governments can attack the religious justifications for terrorism. Governments could send preachers into communities where AQIM is known to operate; these preachers could denounce the group and engage clerics who sympathize with AQIM in public debates to undermine their religious credibility. Finally, dialogue could involve listening to the grievances of AQIM members and attempting to find solutions.

Pros: Dialogue could decrease support for AQIM by combating the ideological component of terrorism and addressing community grievances that drive recruitment. Rehabilitation could reduce AQIM’s membership and undercut the demand, often made in hostage crises, that governments free jailed militants.

Cons: Dialogue could legitimize AQIM’s demands, broaden the group’s platform, and waste government resources. Failed rehabilitations could, at great financial and political cost to Sahelian governments, allow for recidivism among militants.

Solution Four: Political and Economic Reform

Governments, in attempting to address root causes of terrorism, could make various political reforms, for example:

  • Identifying and purging closet AQIM sympathizers in government
  • Conducting listening tours, especially in isolated areas
  • Allowing disenfranchised political groups more autonomy
  • Moving to nullify AQIM’s demands by adopting more Islamic values in government, for example raising the profile of Islamic advisory councils or giving a larger role to the shari’a.

Economic interventions would center first on identifying the networks that kidnap and sell victims to AQIM. Based on the findings, policymakers would attempt to prevent potential kidnappers from becoming kidnappers by involving them in alternative economic activities, for example by offering subsidies to pastoralists and unemployed youth.

Pros: Political and economic reform could hurt AQIM’s ability to recruit and reduce whatever public support the group enjoys.

Cons: Where will the money and the political will come from? Even if money is available, Sahelian governments could undertake political reforms or launch economic programs and kidnappings might continue. Even worse, failed reforms might hand rhetorical victories to AQIM.

Solution Five: Force

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