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Sunday, 02 April 2023
Unemployment, human rights abuses driving African youth into violent extremism - UN

Unemployment, human rights abuses driving African youth into violent extremism - UN

A lack of job opportunities is the leading factor driving people to join fast-growing violent extremist groups in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new report released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). 

The report entitled, Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement, underscores the importance of economic factors as drivers of recruitment. It set out to discover what pushed youths to join violent extremist groups, making sub-Saharan Africa the new global epicentre of violent extremism with almost half of the global terrorism deaths recorded there in 2021.

The report draws from interviews with nearly 2,200 different people in eight countries in the horn of Africa and part of West Africa. More than 1,000 of those interviewees are former members of violent extremist groups, both voluntary and forced recruits. Around 25 per cent of all recruits cited a lack of job opportunities as the primary reason, while around 40 per cent said they were in urgent need of livelihoods at the time of the recruitment.

Around 48 per cent of voluntary recruits told researchers that there had been “a triggering event” leading to them signing up. Of that figure, some 71 per cent cited human rights abuses they had suffered, such as government action,” said Nirina Kiplagat, the main author of the report and UNDP’s regional peacebuilding advisor.

“Lack of income, the lack of job opportunities and livelihoods, means that desperation is essentially pushing people to take up opportunities, with whoever offers that," said Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator.

Fundamental human rights abuse such as seeing their father arrested, or a brother taken away by national military forces, were among those triggers cited. According to the report, peer pressure from family members or friends is cited as the second more common driver for recruitment, including women who are following their spouses into an extremist group.  

Religious ideology is the third most common reason for joining up, cited by around 17 per cent of interviewees. This presents a 57 per cent decrease from the 2017 findings.

The new report is part of a series of three, analyzing the prevention of violent extremism. It highlights the urgent need to move away from security-driven responses to development-based approaches focused on prevention, said UNDP.

It calls for greater investment in basic services including child welfare, and education and calls for an investment in rehabilitation and community-based reintegration services. Steiner said a toxic mix was being created of poverty, destitution, and lack of opportunity, with so many citing the “urgent need to find livelihoods”.

It is tantamount to a society “no longer having a rule of law, turning to some of these violent extremist groups to provide security.”  

Security-driven counter-terrorism responses are often costly and minimally effective, said the UNDP administrator, and investments in preventive approaches to violent extremism are inadequate. 

Terrorist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram or al-Qaeda emerge due to local conditions, but then begin to amass weapons and secure financing in the case of the Sahel, allowing other cells to resource themselves independently.  

“The geopolitical dimension should not surprise anyone”, said Steiner, where states are no longer able to provide the rule of law or meaningful national security, “then the opportunity for other actors to become part of this drama grows exponentially, we have seen it in Mali, we have seen it in Libya, we have seen it at the Horn of Africa”. 

Based on the interviews, the report also identified factors that drive recruits to leave armed groups, such as unmet financial expectations, or a lack of trust in the group’s leadership.

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