Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment

Published on 18th September 2017

Our involvement, as UNDP Africa, in preventing violent extremism, is dictated by three main reasons: 

• First, we have seen violent extremism seriously stunt growth and development in Africa, after a brilliant economic renewal since the start of the millennium. 

• Second, we have observed that the responses to violent extremism, so far, have been heavily tilted towards military and security operations; and with limited effectiveness.

• Third, we, like all other development practitioners have seen our interventions lacking of perspicacity, due to an absence of a cohesive framework, to guide our responses.  Through our UNDP Africa Regional Programme on “Preventing and Responding to Violent Extremism, through a development approach,” which we launched two years ago, we embarked on an enquiry into the economics and the political economy of violent extremism in Africa, not only to understand the root causes of such a perverse phenomenon, but also to frame a structured model, grounded on empiricism, to guide policy and programmatic responses and gauge their effectiveness and impact. The “Journey to Extremism” is an integral part of the UNDP Africa Regional Programme.  I would like, here, to express our deepest gratitude to the government Sweden for its gracious financial support and for the confidence shown in our work on preventing violent extremism, and most especially in funding this study on the “Journey to Extremism.”

The report illustrates a series of findings with the central message being that “where there is injustice and desperation, violent extremism ideologies present themselves as a challenge to the status  quo and a form of escape.” This is then a validation of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu’s assertion that "external circumstances such as poverty and a sense of grievance and injustice can fill people with resentment and despair to the point of desperation." 

The report also debunks some myths. It shows that although religion may feature prominently in the factors that pull people to join violent extremist groups, the level of religious literacy is very low, almost nonexistent, amongst those most vulnerable to recruitment. This finding challenges the rising Islamophobia rhetoric that has intensified in the search for effective responses to violent extremism. It shows that fostering greater understanding of religion, may be a key resource for preventing violent extremism. This resonates loudly with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel’s contention that “Education is the way to eliminate terrorism”; but he meant education largo-sensu, including developing and communicating a potent counter narrative to the extremism rhetoric; and de-constructing the teaching of evil ideologies. 

The spectrum of issues related to the different roles that women and girls can play in relation to violent extremism is also a widening area of interest. Our research attempted to capture some of this, however, as you will see from the presentation, most of our sample were forced recruits, making it difficult to draw conclusions about their particular journey. The next phase of our UNDP Journey to Extremism in Africa project will focus on getting more data to further explore gender dynamics in relation to violent extremism in Africa.

The report illustrates that the road to violent extremism is fundamentally paved with deprivation, marginalization and poverty. Where the social contract is weak, where citizens’ confidence in government and institutions is limited, where relations within and between communities are fractured, then the resilience to violent extremism is low. This calls for setting up a form of governance that is inclusive and participatory, particularly, and I underline, at the community level and at the periphery and borders areas, which very often are ungoverned spaces neglected in terms of development investments. 

The greatest innovation of this report, is to provide, for the first time, an algorithm depicting the trajectory of a potential or likely violent extremist, using an econometric model and descriptive analysis, grounded on surveys with real actors, and on empirical data, with a probability attached to each step of that journey, and with a determination of the possible point of bifurcation, “the Tipping Point”.  We have then a solid framework to guide responses. 

The “Journey to Extremism Study,”  along with its attendant report on the “Story of Survivors” provide guidance on the set of policies and programmes that could address the scourge of violent extremism. They include: delivering on global human rights commitments, reinvigorating state legitimacy through improved governance and accountability, connecting PVE with peacebuilding and sustainable development frameworks, coordinating  national, regional and global responses to violent extremism, strengthening  the vertical and horizontal social contract, investing massively on education and youth employment, and ensuring that macroeconomic policies, the national budget, public expenditures and official development aid (ODA) are PVE- sensitive.  

In the report, we further develop these policies and programme responses. It is our ambition to elaborate them into implementable action points.  I invite you all to join us in the next journey… Defeating the allure and growth of Violent Extremism armed with the right policies and programmes.

By Mr. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye

UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa

Twitter @mardieye

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