The major actors involved in violent extremism are vulnerable youth in unstable areas. This is especially the case in the Eastern Africa region. To this end, Arigatou International – Nairobi in collaboration with the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and ICCO Cooperation facilitated a three day regional reflection forum with the theme “Deepening Cooperation in Countering Violent Extremism,” that sort to foster a deeper understanding of the drivers of youth radicalization into violent extremism in the region, and to generate recommendations aimed at sensitizing people working with youth to address the topic, utilizing youth–centered approaches and intra/interfaith initiatives to enhance mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and harmonious relations between religious and other groups.
The Forum is part of a five year Regional Peace Programme (RPP) that seeks to enhance mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and harmonious relations between religious and other groups.
The meeting took place from the 29th to 31st of August 2016 at the at Methodist Guest House and Conference Centre, Nairobi – Kenya. The forum brought together 60 young persons and youth influencers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and Uganda.
Leadership is not in title, but influence
Fred Nyabera, Arigatou International’s Interfaith Initiative to End Child Poverty (End Child Poverty) Director, defined conflict as some form of friction that is present when two or more parties perceive that their interests are incompatible, or pursue their interests through actions that damage other parties. “Differences in viewpoint are inevitable and often enriching. Therefore, as peace builders we should see differences as a resource, leading to a wider understanding of a problem and an improvement to the present situation. While these differences can lead to conflicts, not all conflicts are violent” He said.
He further explained that although radicalization into violent extremism can happen at any age, young people in search of a sense of belonging, purpose, identity and meaningful livelihoods may be more vulnerable to violent extremism and terrorist radicalization.
The youths can be manipulated or used negatively, however they are not the problem. The solution can always come from the young people and the children, because leadership is not in title, but influence. You are a leader when you bring positive influence in your communities and other places where you find yourself. ” – Rev. Fred Nyabera.
In countering violent extremism, Dr. Kiplagat, Network and Programs Manager, Global Network of Religions for Children, clarified that all actors must partner with youth leaders, youth workers and youth influencers to jointly address the c hallenges. Governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, donors, international and inter-governmental agencies, among others should create a platform in which they are able to work together with the youth in CVE.
“Building partnerships with individuals, families, communities and various government agencies makes communities more resilient to violent extremism.”
– Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat
The Context of Violent Extremism and Interfaith Relations in Eastern Africa
Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome, BRAVE Reference Committee Chairman, explained that radical thinking is not problematic in itself; it becomes a problem when those radicalized engage in violence or use violence to promote political, ideological or religious extremism. This is then referred to as radicalization leading to VIOLENT EXTREMISM that is one of the greatest challenges to security in the region and a threat to peaceful co-existence and all aspects of life.
Of relevant importance is that discussion on violent extremism within the region is not complete without discussing religion. Why? “Because the main violent extremist group in the region and its international partners are increasingly using religion to radicalize youth into VE; to justify their terror activities, deliberately use terrorism to cause religious conflict and increase targeting members of the ‘religious other’.” This negatively affects interfaith relationship, which has enabled people to live peacefully both at individual and institutional levels within the region.
The Role of the Kenya National Counter Terrorism Centre
Participants interacted with Mr. Ombaka from the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and discussed the role of NCTC in CVE.
The NCTC, which is different from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU), was formed in 2004 and comprises of several agencies such as the ATPU, the police, the Secret Service among others. It has the mandate of:
- Sensitization, informing, training, and building resilience against CVE
- Coordinating all counter terrorism efforts in the country, and
- Formulation of strategies
He further informed participants that the Centre uses a soft approach that aims at working with entities on the ground to build resilience of key vulnerable groups such as the youths against the possibility of being recruited by terrorists.
Reflections and Action
The participants took time to visit two places of worship to learn from, and share experiences. The places visited were Jamia Mosque in the city Centre, and the International Christian Centre in Nairobi West.
During the interfaith visit, they had the opportunity to interact with religious leaders, and learn more about their community development programmes. After the visit, participants had a debriefing session to share impressions of the realities they observed during their visit in relation to CVE.
The visits also enabled participants to learn, appreciate and respect the religion of the ‘other’ while focusing on the connectors that religion offers in peace building. Through interfaith dialogue and community action , it is hoped that the youth from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda, vowed to boldly take steps to build peace and counter violent extremism in their respective countries.
“Africa is a region of great ethnic and religious diversities but often, these diversities are politicized resulting in identity conflicts that have generated massacres, genocides and terror. I appeal to young people to use this resource to bring peace in our region.” – Ms. Wasye Musyoni
The forum welcomed the diversity of the participants as a solid base on which to build the necessary collaborative interaction for the full legitimacy of decision-making within thier respective countries. Participants agreed to explore areas of partnership that can quickly bear fruits of peace as well as long-term investments on Countering Violent Extremism.
Finally, the participants reaffirmed their collective commitment to continue to ddeepening their engagement to counter violent extremism, promote positive transformation of societies and economies, and to advance the pursuit of fair, just and tolerant societies in which all can live a life of dignity and opportunity.
The forum concluded with the presentation of country action plans, by the youth participants, followed by a cultural dinner event.