On Tuesday, LPI’s Horn of Africa Regional Programme’s Hannah Tsadik made a submission before the African Union’s Peace and Security Council at its 592nd open session on deradicalization efforts in Africa.
Mr. Chair, on behalf of Life & Peace Institute, I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this open session.
Mr Chair, I’d like to humbly submit to you that – from my organization’s thirty year-long experience and research in the Horn of Africa – the most effective de-radicalization or ‘CVE’ approach will be one that is evidence-based and context-specific, attuned to unique African realities. Why do I say this?
I say this because while we know that terrorism & violent extremism present a real threat to human security in Africa, we actually know very little about how and why exactly individuals and groups are radicalized over time.
Looking at the growing body of research on causes of violent extremism, the number one conclusive finding to date is that causes vary from country to country, community to community, individual to individual. There is no single cause or solution. Terrorism and the dynamics leading to it are an extremely complex social phenomenon, influenced by a host of factors on multiple levels – from global to local.
Of course, we should not be paralyzed by this complexity and delay necessary preventive and mitigating actions needed now. Thus, we have to strike the proper balance between research and action, in order to ensure that well-intentioned CVE efforts don’t do more harm than good through hasty, ill-informed programmes – or – that our inaction allows this phenomenon to escalate further and spread. In both cases, the peoples of Africa will suffer the consequences.
My concern, however, is not inaction given the level of attention given to this topic, but that the urgency and buzz surrounding the issue of violent extremism will push us to forego sound evidence and analysis.
A wise man once said: given one hour to save the world, 55 minutes should be devoted to understanding the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution. Therefore, we should prioritize analyzing the phenomenon and better define the problem before action. Right now, terrorism and the dynamics, which lead to it, raise more questions than we have convincing answers for. On definition the topic of definition – we too often conflate diverse groups under one same label. When we label diverse forms of protest, rebellion and radicalism all as “violent extremism”, we risk misdiagnosis and therefore the “cures” will remain elusive.
Finally, while the imperative role of more and better research is undeniable; let us not loose sight of the main threats to African peace and prosperity: they remain as intractable conflicts, poverty, lack of state effectiveness, perceived and actual injustices and inequalities. These conditions, also known as the “push-factors”, drive individuals to join violent extremist groups. Thus, action to improve living conditions across Africa, investing in Africa’s youth and their dreams, improving good governance and engaging in conflict resolution across the continent should continue unabated. And we don’t have to wait for research to proceed with action along those lines.
By way of concluding, LPI will be hosting an experience-sharing forum interrogating CVE policy & program effectiveness in the Horn of Africa this Thursday at the AU, in the conference room next door. All are invited to attend, and if you are interested, please feel free to approach me after the session.
Thank you for your kind attention.