COVID-19 Lockdown: A breeding ground for online radicalization into violent extremism

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An emerging security challenge related to COVID-19 stems from the lack of clarity on the mechanisms for enforcing response measures such as curfews and lock-downs. Some of these limit or suspend civil liberties and at times criminalize ‘normal’ activities. Such disjointed measures have already led to the use of excessive force and violence by those tasked with enforcing response measures in Kenya and Uganda. Yet the relationship between the community and law enforcement in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) is key. If the public has no confidence in the police, they are less likely to be willing to tip the police about suspicious or extremist activities in their local communities, a potentially very important source of information.

This challenge informed the Centre to host its inaugural webinar on 25 April 2020.  The theme was “Lockdown: A breeding ground for radicalization into violent extremism”. At least 90 participants joined the discussion which focused on online propaganda being used by violent extremist organizations to radicalize young people into violent extremism, and how civil society and youth organizations can continue to work within in the context of the pandemic.

Given the increased amount of time that people are spending online, the discussion centred around the potential of people being pushed into violent extremism as a result of violent extremist groups already using online platforms to spread their ideologies during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There is need for P/CVE actors to consider design and implementation of programmes to close this gap during the pandemic.

We are grateful to the panelists from the region who contributed greatly to the discussion – Teopista Kizza: Programs Coordinator, African Youth Development Link, Uganda; Mujuni Baitani, Co-Founder Kijana Hai Foundation, Zanzibar, Tanzania; Sami Gathii, Director Youth, Arts, Development & Entrepreneurship Network, Kenya; Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali, Chairman, HORN International Institute of Strategic Studies, Kenya and Dr Halkano Abdi Wario: Researcher on religion, violent extremism and counter-terrorism.

A follow up to this discussion will be a follow up webinar to discuss the research agenda on the impact of COVID-19 on P/CVE.