Dynamics of Extremist Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa

Date:

Dynamics of Extremist Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • News by AUN News correspondent
  • Friday, March 03, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

Summary:

  • A lack of state authority is the ideal atmosphere for the growth of violent extremist groups.

  • New terrorism hotspots were discovered in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022. This violence, which has resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people, endangers the entire region’s stability and slows down the continent’s development.

  • One recurring conclusion from this research is the rarity of violent extremist groups in regions with solid governance structures and stable, predictable governments.

  • Human-centred strategyThe narrative and actions of violent extremist groups have a common thread of misogyny, yet women’s positions are not uniform or predisposed to victimhood.

  • We are beginning to see the negative effects on mental health and alienation of recent lockdowns and isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak, even in situations unaffected by war, political strife, or persistent violent extremism.

A lack of state authority is the ideal atmosphere for the growth of violent extremist groups. It creates the perfect environment for these groups to capitalise on long-standing grievances and fill the hole with promises of aid, access to resources, and care for underserved, marginalised people.

At what price, though?

We can see the cost in sub-Saharan Africa. Violence associated with the influence of international violent extremist groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh has rapidly spread throughout the region during the past ten years. New terrorism hotspots were discovered in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022.

This violence, which has resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people, endangers the entire region’s stability and slows down the continent’s development.

The UNDP commissioned a ground-breaking study to determine what gives violent extremists a foothold in various contexts to understand better how violent extremist groups increase and how they affect development and social cohesion.

We examined Somalia, DR Congo, the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, and Northern Mozambique. We discovered that while each country and territory has its unique history, definite commonalities support the development of relevant, compelling solutions.

Our new study, Dynamics of Violent Extremism in Africa: Conflict Ecosystems, Political Ecology, and the Rise of the Proto-State, adds to our earlier work in the Road to Extremism series on the factors that lead people to join violent extremist organisations.

Completing the gap

Some violent extremist groups are structured like local government structures as they grow in size and resources, supported by a connection to a global ideological orientation. They start to compete with the state not just by monopolising the threat or use of violence—in this case, spreading fear—but also by guaranteeing some of the most important local services that people aspire to, like a semblance of security, sources of income, and quick resolution of conflicts.

Even if they may act ruthlessly and oppressively, communities sick of years of upheaval, corruption, and anarchy may find that at first appealing. The more organised local violent extremist groups have developed from rogue bands and now exhibit many traits of a “proto-state,” such as Daesh in Syria.

According to the study’s findings, these local violent extremist groups’ strategy does not primarily revolve around influencing others to adopt their ideology. Instead, they are grievance entrepreneurs who frequently originate from the area. They take advantage of development gaps in the area and form convenient connections with other violent organisations and criminal networks, such as smugglers or local militias.

This does not, however, turn them into one-dimensional opportunists. Their connection to international networks gives them direction, keeps them together, and increases their allure. They offer ideological and economic alternatives that can appeal to those who live in states perceived as lacking in authority since they are both global and local.

One recurring conclusion from this research is the rarity of violent extremist groups in regions with solid governance structures and stable, predictable governments. Instead, they operate outside capital cities in marginalised areas with weak or nonexistent public services, high poverty and instability. All of these conditions are frequently the result of the interests of local power brokers.

Another common issue emphasised in the research is the lack of trust between the local inhabitants in these isolated and crisis-stricken places and their administration. Communities all too frequently experience severe insecurity, feeling betrayed, singled out, and mistreated by the state that is supposed to defend them. Then, violent extremist groups capitalise on the anxiety or rage local authorities and residents feel.

Understanding the political economics of violent extremist groups and the sources of their strength is the first step in the confronting this developing trend to stop and reverse their hold on society.

The international community must work with national partners to address the problem’s outward symptoms and undo years or decades of state fragility, marginalisation, and insecurity that gave these organisations time to grow more powerful.

UNDP’s work on local and subnational governance and institutions is crucial to achieving this. These institutions must be resilient, responsive, accountable, transparent, and linked to national-level reforms that will impact the “business models” of violent extremist groups.

Moreover, UNDP works to strengthen local communities and leaders’ capacity for effective and inclusive government and expand access to basic services in underserved regions. This is how to prevent the same circumstances that made it possible for the governance void to exist in the first place from arising again.

Getting started

Undoubtedly, disputes over land and water are major factors in many wars that give these groups a footing. Traditional methods of living have become challenging in many regions because the ground has degraded, pastures can no longer support herds, and farms can no longer support crops due to desertification, climate change, and bad land management.

Yet, this need not be permanent. We can assist communities in regenerating land and reviving livelihoods while capturing carbon in the soil, providing local solutions to global issues and giving communities agency in determining their present and future by paying close attention to local power dynamics, social dynamics, and trust-building.

Using this strategy, which we refer to as “political ecology,” we can enhance lives and lessen the allure of violent extremist groups.

Understanding how illegal funds move through an economy, both within and across borders, how power brokers rely on and take advantage of instability and corruption for increased influence, and which actors have a genuine interest in reform are also essential components of this strategy. By identifying and preventing the funding sources of violent extremist groups, local economies can be successfully rebuilt.

Human-centred strategy

The narrative and actions of violent extremist groups have a common thread of misogyny, yet women’s positions are not uniform or predisposed to victimhood. On the one hand, Boko Haram has employed female suicide bombers and al Shabaab as intelligence sources. Still, on the other, women are the foundation of many initiatives for victim assistance and peacebuilding, as well as the driving force behind cross-border trade in many regions.

Due to this diversity, it is even more crucial to include women and men equally in all aspects of our work, including analysis, implementation, and evaluation. Where does the study ultimately address how we as a society view human security, people-centred development, justice, and peace?

These wars and all the atrocities these parties carry produce permanent trauma and deep wounds. We are beginning to see the negative effects on mental health and alienation of recent lockdowns and isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak, even in situations unaffected by war, political strife, or persistent violent extremism.

Although much more research is needed, we already know that trauma in conflict zones is very severe. On a personal, family, and societal level, people deal with it in ways that can fuel further violence. Regrettably, that frequently contributes to maintaining conflict cycles.

Hence, we must increase our ability to offer the mental health and psycho-social care that people and communities require to address these historical, multigenerational grievances that violent extremists might exploit while trying to heal their ongoing suffering.

And if we are successful, we can show that there are constructive alternatives to the hate and violence that these organisations promote.

First development

A new strategy is required, first investing in comprehending how these violent extremist groups win over communities and serve as alternatives to governmental authority.

With this understanding, we can collaborate with national and local governments to provide a developmental, preventive, inclusive strategy that gives people access to the rights, products, and services they need to live productive lives, dismantling these groups’ influence. Instead of focusing on helping people get by, we should aim to help them advance with hope and dignity.

With this strategy, we can enhance the quality of life for residents and communities while stemming the flow of violence and hopelessness. The situation is still pressing and complex, and to support and sustain development and peace, our collective responses must be more educated, flexible, creative, and inclusive.

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