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African Union Framework To Prevent Violent Extremism

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Africa has been the epicentre for brual conflicts. Many observers even assume that Africa is in a perpetual state of war and conflicts. Most African conflicts are rooted in deep-seated racial, ethnic or religious hatreds lingering for decades. These conflicts come at a huge economic cost as infrastructure are destroyed, healthcare and educational systems disorganized.

      The available statistics about conflicts in Africa are quite revealing and frightening. For instance, between 2015 and 2017, Africa with its only 16 percent of the world population experienced more than half of world conflict incidents. In the late 1990’s, the continent adopted the 1999 Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism which provided, among other things, measures to counter terrorist financing, strengthening the criminal justice response to terrorism, and fostering inter-state police and judicial cooperation.

    In 2004, the Convention was supplemented by a Protocol which addresses the convergence of terrorism and organized crime. From these documents, one can say that the continent recognized the need for a robust multi-dimensional approach to counter violent extremism.

Over the past years, the African Union (AU) in collaboration with the United States of America have shifted their efforts to preventing violent extremism and addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism in Africa. The US/AU approach toward CVE in Africa embraces collaboration, which includes contributions from the US State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense–the 3Ds–diplomacy, development and defense.

The Community Cohesion Project in West Africa targets communities at greatest risk of recruitment in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad and Niger by increasing youth engagement, facilitating inclusive dialogue among groups in conflict, and addressing the grievances of marginalized groups. Activities in the Horn of Africa address key drivers of violent extremism by improving relationships between communities and local governments and promoting partnerships between cross-border local governments and other actors.

Unfortunately, these efforts have not made the desired effects because political violence remains a key impediment to socio-economic development in Africa. From the LRA in Central Africa, to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram in the Sahel, to Al-Shabaab in East Africa, extremist groups have exploited conditions of under-development and the breakdown of law and order to acquire resources, recruit and operate. Even in situations where efforts are made for conflict resolution, the absence of a continental plan of action for post-conflict reconstruction and development framework makes every conflict resolution efforts to easily collapse.

The AU need to address the underlying causes of political violence and under-development, and prevent relapse into conflict. Global resources for such interventions are increasingly dwindling as traditional donors change their foreign aid priorities. The AU launched the African Solidarity Initiative to support states emerging from conflict and organized several donor conferences to mobilize resources aimed at overcoming structural deficits in the areas of governance and development in several African states.

This effort, instead of helping to address the problem, the funds are often diverted for personal use. This whole idea of waiting for donor funding for development projects in Africa must be discouraged. The AU need to make empirical efforts to understand what motivates youths to join the ranks of violent extremist groups. The AU and national governments must shift away from the dominant and stereotypical explanation which states that these are unemployed and marginalized individuals that have succumbed to the appeal of charismatic fanatical leaders who promised them a better afterlife.

Preliminary research shows that there are often a combination of factors some of which are neither religious nor ideological. Importantly, violent extremism is highly local which implies every location has its perculiar circumsntances. This is not to say that ideology and religion do not play an important role in many instances. Nonetheless, there is a need for policy responses that are specifically designed to address the local realities and the multiplicity of factors, whether economic, ethnic, political, or religious.

The AU must shift towards preventive approach because of its mutually reinforcing benefits for peace and development. The proposed preventive approach must begin at the national level. At the national level, there is a critical need for a whole-of-government approach. National governments like Nigeria must move away from ad-hoc arrangements such as Joint task Forces and embrace a framework that will focus at the bottom-up approach and continuously review and adapt the framework in consultation with all the relevant national institutions and civil society segments.

– Mamud  is an expert on security issues

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