Journey of young Africans into violent extremism marked by poverty and deprivation: UNDP

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photo: Anteneh Aklilu

Deprivation and marginalization, underpinned by weak governance, are primary forces driving young Africans into violent extremism, according to a new study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – the first study of its kind.
The report entitled, “Journey to Extremism in Africa: drivers, incentives and the tipping point for recruitment,” was launched last week in Ethiopia, underscoring the need for Africa to deal with the scourge by development-based approach among others.
The report which is based on interviews with 495 voluntary recruits to extremist organizations such as Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, the study also found that it is often perceived state violence or abuse of power that provides the final tipping point for the decision to join an extremist group.
Based on the responses to those questions, the study has determined that the majority of recruits come from borderlands or peripheral areas that have suffered generations of marginalization and report having had less parental involvement growing up. The report further states that most recruits express frustration at their economic conditions, with employment the most acute need at the time of joining a group. Recruits also indicate an acute sense of grievance towards government where 83 percent believe that government looks after only the interests of a few, and over 75 percent place no trust in politicians or in the state security apparatus. Recruitment in Africa occurs mostly at the local, person-to-person level, rather than online, as is the case in other regions – a factor that may alter the forms and patterns of recruitment as connectivity improves.
Violent extremism is the most pressing challenge facing Africa, which claimed the lives of 33,300 people in the years between 2011 and 2016, with millions of displacements and economic devastation resulting in humanitarian catastrophes on the continent.
“Just as violent extremism profoundly impacts the attainment of development goals, so the search for solutions must also place development approaches at its center,” the report said.
According to the report, dramatic reappraisal of state security-based interventions is urgently required, including more effective oversight of human rights compliance, rule of law and state accountability.
Speaking at the launch of the study, Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Humanitarian Coordinator, reiterated that the problem is a grave concern on the continent as attacks by violent extremists are challenging development gains in many African countries.
“If left unchecked violent extremism threatens to stunt development outcomes for generations to come,” she said, indicating that violent extremism is fundamentally paved with deprivation, marginalization and poverty.
The report emphasizes that a comprehensive model should integrate responses across the security and development pillars.
Focusing on the drivers and incentives for recruitment in Africa, the study is drawn from an unprecedented number of interviews with former recruits from multiple violent extremist groups spanning the continent.
The 2015 UN Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremisms urges the global community of states to pay closer attention to the root causes and drivers of violent extremisms, calling for a shift in focus from decades of overconcentration on militarized approaches.