Since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a global pandemic in March 2020, there is fear that the pandemic might also provide a renewed opportunity for extremists and terrorist organizations to advance terrorist propaganda, scale up recruitment and/or launch attacks. Indeed, incidents of extremist activity, both in virtual spaces and in physical attacks, have been witnessed in the region, with Al-Shaabab and its adherents claiming responsibility.
Against this backdrop, and building on the emerging evidence on the nexus between COVID-19 and violent extremism, the IGAD Centre for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (ICEPCVE) and the HORN International Institute of Strategic Studies co-hosted a webinar on 2 July 2020. The webinar grought on board researchers, development partners, policy practitioners and like-minded participants in the P/CVE space to discuss and set a new research agenda on the impact of COVID-19 on P/CVE work.
The objectives of the webinar were to:
- Bring together researchers, policy practitioners, and development partners in the P/CVE space to discuss the evolving research agenda on P/CVE in the context of COVID-19.
- Cultivate ideas and create a common understanding on the impact of COVID-19 on P/CVE work in the IGAD region.
- Identify existing gaps in research and create a basis for future research in the P/CVE space.
- Create a new research agenda on the impact of COVID-19 on P/CVE
The proceedings of the webinar centred around five thematic areas, in which new research and data and evidence is critically needed:
- COVID-19 and Trends in Terrorism: Al Shabab and the Islamic State (IS). This thematic area focused on how terrorist organizations, particularly the al Shabab and IS, are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated crisis moment.
- COVID-19 and the Changing Narratives for Radicalization and Violent Extremism. Discussions under this theme sought to create a base for further research by answering such questions as; what new narratives are being used by extremists and terrorist organizations in the context of COVID-19? What is the impact of these narratives on radicalization and violent extremism? How can researchers step into place and engage in informative, action-oriented research to identify new narratives and counter-narratives?
- COVID-19 and the Role of Governmental and Non-governmental Stakeholders in Addressing Radicalization and Violent Extremism. Discussions sought to chart out the opportunities that both government and non-governmental organizations have in addressing influences on radicalization and violent extremism have in addressing radicalization and violent extremism in the context of COVID-19.
- COVID-19, Gender, and Radicalization: How does the COVID-19 situation expose various groups of people to radicalization and violent extremism?
- Impact of COVID-19 on P/CVE Interventions: Various organizations including civil society organizations and government agencies working in the P/CVE space have been forced to scale down their operations in compliance with the issued protocols. This has meant reduced access to various projects sites and beneficiaries. Against this backdrop, discussions under this thematic area sought to unravel the nature of impact that COVID-19 is having on P/CVE interventions.
We thank the panelists for sharing their insights – Yasmin Ahmed, Legal and Sanctions Advisor seconded to the National Security Office at the Office of the President, Somalia; Halkano Abdi Wario, Ph.D., Associate Director, Center for Study of Terrorism, Violent Extremism and Radicalization at the HORN Institute, Kenya; Nanfuka Zulaika, Senior Program Specialist, Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum, and Research Consultant with Wasafiri Consulting, Uganda; Prof. Mesenbet Assefa, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Law at Addis Ababa University, School of Law, Ethiopia; and Sophie Komujuni, Ph.D., Lecturer in the Department of Governance, Peace and International Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Uganda.
The next steps involve commissioning research to build on P/CVE-COVID-19 knowledge in the region.