Horn of Africa bulletin

Between co-option and autonomy: Grassroots CVE initiatives as the alternative?

This issue of the Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB) follows from the January-February 2016 issue of the HAB that also focused on countering violent extremism (CVE). In contrast to the emphasis of the earlier issue which concentrated on CVE policies and strategies in the Horn of Africa (Horn), this issue of the HAB focuses on grassroots, community led CVE initiatives. This issue of the HAB also converges with programmatic focus of LPI programmes both regionally and at the country level in terms of understanding CVE initiatives as they are implemented and assessing their impact.

Publication details
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa Program

July - August 2017 / Volume 29 / Issue 4


This issue of the Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB) follows from the January-February 2016 issue of the HAB that also focused on countering violent extremism (CVE). In contrast to the emphasis of the earlier issue which concentrated on CVE policies and strategies in the Horn of Africa (Horn), this issue of the HAB focuses on grassroots, community led CVE initiatives. This issue of the HAB also converges with programmatic focus of LPI programmes both regionally and at the country level in terms of understanding CVE initiatives as they are implemented and assessing their impact.

A striking similarity between the previous HAB issue and the current issue are the elements of continuity reflected in the author’s emphasis on the contested nature of CVE both as concept and practice. It is increasingly clear that in spite of the proliferation of CVE strategies and programmatic interventions globally and in the Horn, much of the evidentiary basis animating CVE practice is inconclusive at best. It is also evident that evaluation of CVE initiatives in the region is still a critical area that deserves urgent attention.

The four articles in this issue of the HAB reflect the contentions and gaps mentioned above. Most existing CVE initiatives in the Horn are concentrated in Kenya and Somalia. CVE initiatives currently are mostly initiated and driven by civil society actors and/or states, with very few actually qualifying as grassroots, community-led initiatives.

The article by Mr. Sharmarke Farah on Somalia is an interesting and original analysis of CVE initiatives and their currents gaps and strengths in Somalia. Farah’s article is also reveals the vacuity of conventional CVE discourse and practice, especially when he shows how actors and groups who were once classified as ‘violent extremists’ can change and become important assets in the struggle against ‘violent extremism’. The article also suggests a range of critical recommendations in the sphere of CVE practice which could be helpful for CVE practitioners not only in Somalia but also the rest of the Horn.

The article by Dr. Abiy Ahmed is a very interesting and analytical take on an organic, community-led response in the wake of the 2006 inter-religious conflict in Jimma, Ethiopia. The article explains the sequence of events and dynamics that led to the conflict and how religious leaders took the lead in de-escalating the conflict and created a platform, the Religious Forum for Peace, which has played an appreciable role in restoring amicable relations between different religious communities in Jimma. The author points to the potential of grassroots initiatives in conflict transformation and underlines the importance of such initiatives not being co-opted by outside interests if they are to retain their effectiveness. The Religious Forum for Peace is not a CVE initiative in the strict sense of the term, but it suggests the possibility for alternative conceptualizations and practices in the CVE realm.

The third article is a review article of a study produced by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Africa (IJR) in collaboration with Georgetown University and in collaboration with the Kenya Programme of the Life & Peace Institute. The study titled, ‘Community Perceptions of Violent Extremism in Kenya’ was reviewed by Ms. Flavie Bertouille. The review of the study emphasises the paucity of evidence and research on key aspects of ‘violent extremism’ and points to the study as a welcome step in the right direction. The review article is an excellent synthesis of the key takeaways from the study. It highlights for instance the challenges in defining CVE and also points to the very important issue of how communities understand and experience the effects of ‘violent extremism’. The review article points to the gaps that exist between local understandings and the conventional wisdom regarding the realities and impact of violent extremism, and warns that this could and would affect CVE programming. The author also points to the difficulty in developing a comprehensive and analytical model that would explain the workings of the supposed drivers of ‘violent extremism’. The review essay is a useful summary and introduction to the IJR study.

The final article by Mr. Femi Ayat focuses on the theoretical and practical challenges that beset CVE. The author is critical of CVE theory and practice and argues that there are profound dangers for civil-society actors in being associated with policies and programs whose boundaries with counter-insurgency or counter terrorism are blurred at best or non-existent.

Demessie Fantaye, Editor

Download this issue

Article summaries

Three Points towards an Effective IGAD Regional Youth Strategy

By Eyob Balcha Gebremariam 

One of the most common challenges of youth focused policies is their technocratic approach to address the challenges of youth and young people. When technocratic approaches dominate, policies and strategies are loaded with the discourses of good governance and instrumentalise young people either as ‘dividend’ or ‘bulge’.[i] At the core of such policies lies an apolitical approach towards analysing either the nominal inclusion or structural exclusion/marginalisation of young people. The apolitical tone and content of youth focused policy frameworks enables setting stronger normative thresholds but paradoxically is ineffective in practically reshaping the lives of young people.

This essay aims to put forward the following three interrelated points towards the forthcoming regional youth strategy by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as indicated in the Regional Strategy 2016 -2020.


Download this issue

The Nexus between Youth Bulge and Armed Conflict

By Minas Feseha 

Youth in most developing countries are a demographically significant section of the population. Most see themselves as an outcast minority and they are treated that way, which has been a challenge to most developing countries. In the discourse on youth, the issue of the multifaceted exclusion of youth is routinely overshadowed by youth bulge concerns, which are illuminated by quantitative data and correlations, not the views of the youth. This has led to a tendency which views young people as an undifferentiated mass who lack the necessary conditions for transition from childhood to adulthood. The reality arguably is far more prosaic. Even in the most when desperate and humiliating circumstances, the majority of youth resist engaging in violence or remain more or less peaceful with only a small minority engaging in armed violence. This article is divided into three parts – a brief introduction, the correlation between youth bulge and armed conflict and a conclusion.


Download this issue

Time to Empower and Engage Youth on Countering Violent Extremism

By Abdishakur Hassan-Kayd 

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.


Download this issue

Beyond the Normative: Youth, Peace and Security

By Sewit Haile Selassie Tadesse 

Personally, the youth discourse has held little to no interest to me nor has youth as an age group. It is, after all, just one more aspect of my identity reinforcing my marginality and exclusion from decision making. As far as marginalized identities go, youth in itself is a relatively new conceptual category, denoting the stage between childhood and adulthood but not really quite either; a period of ‘wait hood’ right before adulthood.  Each culture or region has its very own socio-cultural criteria to mark the transition from ‘waithood’ to adulthood. [i]

Estimates now show that by 2100, Africa will account for 3.2 billion of the projected 4 billion increase in the global population. The global working age population is projected to increase by an estimated 2.1 billion, compared to a net global increase of 2 billion over the same time frame.[ii] This transition has important socio-economic ramifications; making youth the new buzz word, along with ‘harnessing the demographic dividend’, ‘youth engagement’ and ‘investing in youth’ among others, making the growing young population a major agenda in the global peace and security discourse.


Download this issue