Over the past two decades the violent extremism became an issue of discussion and emerged as a critical threat to many governments. The Horn of Africa has witnessed an increase in deadly terror attacks mainly affecting the people of Somalia and also targeting neighbouring countries.
Al-Shabab initially emerged as a component within the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which, in 2006, was engaged in a conflict with a coalition of warlords more formally known as the, ‘Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism’. It was in the aftermath of the defeat of the ICU and the involvement of the Ethiopian army in Somalia that allowed Al-Shabaab a golden opportunity to recruit youth using the lure of defending Somalia from the alleged Ethiopian invasion. Many youth both in Somalia and from the Somali diaspora were lured into the conflict and participated in the so called ‘holy war’ in the process strengthening the Al-Shabab and shoring up its legitimacy.
The absence of a consensus regarding terrorism and violent extremism, has not prevented violent extremism from emerging as a priority for decision-makers’ in East Africa and the Horn of Africa under the embryonic Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) approach. Violent extremism and conflict have generated immense suffering for the peoples of the Horn and poses an existential threat to the stability of states and governance in the Horn of Africa. Violent extremism may also exacerbate intra- and inter-religious tensions in the region. In this article, I will elaborate how youth empowerment and engagement will contribute the prevention and countering violent extremism in the region.
Why Youth? The Horn of Africa has an unprecedented number of young, vibrant, and energetic people who, although economically productive, have little to no power or say on issues of importance to them or their families. The countries in the region has number of challenges in common including high rates of illiteracy and limited access to formal education and skills development, poverty and mass unemployment, youth migration, socioeconomic and political exclusion. The region also experienced bouts of inter-state and intra-state conflicts. In the Horn of Africa region countering youth radicalization and violent extremism have emerged as top priorities to stabilize the region and ensure peaceful co-existence of peoples in this region.