On Tuesday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report addressing the increase in violent extremism in sub-Saharan Africa, the main driversand ways to tackle it.
The report, titled “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement”, was based on a survey carried out with nearly 2,200 respondents—including over 1,000 former members of violent extremist groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM).
The report also featured some of their case studies, with names altered for safety reasons, and was an extension of the organisation’s research studies on the same subject matter carried out in 2017 and 2020.
“The human stories spotlighted in this report provide an evidence base that makes clear the need for renewed international focus, integrative solutions and long-term investments to address the underlying drivers of violent extremism,” stated the report.
The report shared that a large proportion of population displacement tied to extremism-driven insecurity was taking place in African countries like Nigeria, Somalia, Central African Republic (CAR) and other countries across the Sahel.
In 2015 alone, there were over 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria. Additionally, in 2021, nearly 50% of all the extremism-related deaths happened in sub-Saharan Africa.
In more recent years, the extremism began to spread to countries outside the Sahel like Mozambique, Togo, etc., making it more of a “sub-Saharan African problem”.
Hence, the UNDP felt more strongly the unction to tackle the issue from the ground roots.
Main Factors Leading to Member Recruitment
The organisation was able to identify these points as the main factors that influenced ex-members’ interest in joining the extremist groups:
1. Background: Geographic Location, Childhood Experiences, Education
A large proportion of the respondents grew up part of marginalised groups on the outskirts of urban society. Consequently, their levels of exposure to people from other ethnic groups and religions was low and this poorly informed their perceptions of others, spurring them to “express negative views about religious diversity”.
Individuals who experienced childhood unhappiness and parental absenteeism were more likely to be voluntary recruits in these violent extremist groups. It was found that a one-point increase in childhood happiness and parental involvement decreased the odds of voluntary recruitment by about 10% and 25%, respectively.
A lack of education, even basic, was a prominent driver for voluntary recruitment of group members as “recruits who joined a VE group within only a month of introduction had four years of schooling on average, compared to almost seven years (6.8 years) among those who joined more slowly”.
2. Religious Influence
Religious influence possessed duality in that it was able to either spur the mobilisation of recruits to express their grievances, or act as a source of resilience to violent extremism. Either way, those who did not believe their religion was under threat were 48-50% less likely to be voluntary recruits. Moreso, individuals who received fewer years of proper religious education were more likely to be voluntary recruits and also to have joined more quickly than their counterparts.
3. Economic Incentives
25% of the respondents—especially male—who were voluntary recruits cited “employment opportunities” as their main reason for joining. However, there was no significant correlation found between unemployment and susceptibility to joining a violent extremist group. Amongst both the former voluntary recruits and the other respondents, there were grouches held against the government for their inability to provide ample employment opportunities.
UNDP also found that, contrary to their male counterparts, female voluntary recruits cited their family’s (husband’s inclusive) influence as the major reason for their joining. This was taken as a pointer to the role of economic dependence and traditional gender roles in determining their susceptibility.
4. Lack of Trust in Authorities
As citizens’ distrust for the government and its institutions—especially the police, military and the justice system—increases, the susceptibility to joining a violent extremist group increases as citizens seek out ways to express their grievances.
62% and 59% of the voluntary recruit respondents reported having little to no trust in the police and military, respectively. The UNDP believes this is a call for increased accountability and quality of service delivery across the public security sector, in order to bridge the divide between citizens and such authorities.
Moreso, the organisation found that such citizens often held community and local religious leaders in higher esteem than government officials.
5. Triggering Events
For 48% of the respondents, specific “tipping points”, including government actions such as the killings and arrest of family or friends, was the impetus for their joining of violent extremist movements.
The organisation also looked into the major reasons former recruits left, some of which were unmet expectations and disillusionment with the group’s gruesome activities or ideologies.
Finally, the report highlighted the implications of the research study for policy and program making to curb the spread of violent extremism in the aforementioned countries.
UNDP is “the leading UN organisation fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality and climate change”. The organisation works with 170 partners and experts around the globe.