IGAD Centre a Guiding Light in Fighting Violent Extremism
BY PETER KAGWANJA
Violent extremism is the greatest security threat of our time, and an existential threat to emerging democracies. In 2016, the world experienced a total of 11,072 terrorist attacks, resulting in 25,621 deaths and 33,814 injuries. During the period, Somalia and Nigeria alone experienced 359 and 466 attacks respectively.
It is this threat that forced state members of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) to begin setting up a regional architecture and strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism.
On April 25, 2018, I travelled to Djibouti to witness the historic launch of a new Centre of Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (ICEPCVE), the “soft power” equivalent of the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
This launch brought back to mind nostalgic memories of the pomp and colour that marked the unveiling of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) as the continent’s framework for development nearly two decades ago in South Africa.
Like Nepad, the Igad Centre is an intricate web of regional and global partnerships, albeit on a lesser scale. Foreign ministers from Kenya and Djibouti, Somalia’s Minister for Planning and African Ambassadors graced the launch ceremony, which also drew almost all EU ambassadors, relevant UN agencies, donors, Turkey and Egypt. President Donald Trump dispatched his acting assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs, US Department of State, Donald Yamamoto.
But there was a sense of déjà vu around the launch. If the Igad Centre fails to hone its key priority to being a regional thought leader on violent extremism, it risks becoming one of the many “new partnerships” whose skeletons now litter the African landscape.
As a thought leader, it has to develop expertise, knowledge and coordination capacities to move national, regional and global efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism to a whole new level.
Laudably, Igad took an audacious step to set up the Centre as a thought leader by becoming the first regional organisation in the entire international system to develop a comprehensive regional strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism, also unveiled simultaneously with the Centre.
But implementing the strategy will be more than a walk in the park. The changing context and meaning of violent extremism needs to be made crystal clear.
Extremists, the strategy notes, reject the principles and values that underpin a peaceful civilised society. Instead, they extol violence and terror as a pathway to change and to enforcing specific ideologies and vision of society (mainly the establishment of a “global caliphate”). As such, in their bid to rally support and justify the use of violence, extremists continue to exploit real or perceived grievances in society arising from poverty and marginalisation, which could otherwise be addressed by peaceful means.
Because of its proximity to fast-changing theatres of conflict in the Middle-East – especially Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – for decades the Horn and Eastern Africa region has become exposed to waves of terrorism. But setting the context for violent extremism is a complex mix of civil wars, insurgencies, separatism, terrorism, political violence and criminality, further complicated by decades of internal and regional conflicts, droughts, and natural disasters (droughts, famines and food insecurity as effects of climate change).
Further, those involved in radicalising and recruiting the youth to violence come in many shades, colours and ideological hues. Discernibly, four categories of violent extremists are on the prowl in the region. These include international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda; affiliates of major international terrorist groups like the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula which has been operating in Somalia; indigenous or “homegrown” terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab (Somalia) or Boko Haram (Nigeria); and non-Islamic indigenous terrorist groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (Uganda).
This demands that the Centre hones its “soft power” capabilities to effectively execute its mandate and to counter this complex amalgam of violent extremists and their agendas.
As a variant of Igad’s mandate to enhance regional peace and security, the Centre signifies efforts by member states and partners to coordinate response to the threat of terrorism. This started with Igad’s Peace Support Mission in Somalia (Igasom) in 2005, replaced in 2007 by the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
Globally, the Centre is an answer to the clarion call in the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action (2016) on regional organisations and states to develop plans to combat extremism.
As the only one of its kind in Africa, the Centre has to deploy research to deepen our understanding of the drivers and pull-factors of extremism and the sites and dynamics of radicalisation and recruitment (cyber cafes, prisons, remand facilities, religious and educational institutions, social media). Research will also guide evidence-driven policy responses to the threat, including the best ways of reducing appeal to radical ideologies and messages, receiving and rehabilitating young people returning from war fronts.
But the Centre has to stay ahead of the game. Terrorist groups have always adroitly exploited cutting-edge contemporary media and latest technologies in warfare and digital communications. The Centre has to innovatively harness efforts by regional youth towards the best use of technology to counter extremist ideologies.
As a regional thought leader on combating violent extremism, the Centre has to provide a platform for sharing expertise, good practice and lessons learnt through earlier initiatives. This will, in turn, harness the region towards a common understanding of the drivers and pull-factors of radicalisation and help cull lessons and approaches to roll-back extremism.
The Igad Centre needs to work collaboratively with national centres such as the Kenya National Counter-Terrorism Centre – which is currently rolling out its National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism adopted in 2016 – civil society and community-based or sub-national actors to strengthen community resilience against violent ideologies and foster durable peace.
By offering a mechanism for broad-based collaboration and coordination of efforts of other regional and international instruments to contain violent extremism, the Centre will contribute to fostering a peaceful environment for the realisation of Africa’s Agenda 2063, the continent’s strategic framework for socio-economic transformation over the next 50 years.
Ultimately, the Centre, as a guiding light, will help to insulate democracies from terror.
Prof Peter Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute.