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This year’s Global Terrorism Index reveals that 60 percent of deaths attributed to violent extremist groups in 2022 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Inter-communal violence and lack of social cohesion contribute to the recruitment of groups on the continent, and despite many efforts at prevention, the threat of terrorism remains.
Is it time to rethink what it takes to prevent violent extremism and specifically recruit terrorist groups in Africa?
In the new Extreme Journey of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Africa report It explains two types of factors behind voluntary recruitment or vulnerability to recruitment by terrorist groups.
Social factors include economic marginalization, lack of access to basic services, political exclusion and human rights violations. Behavioral factors explain how an individual or community reacts to these social agents. Responses may lead to feelings of disconnection from one’s identity or ethnic or religious group; feeling mistrust towards other ethnic and religious groups; or experiencing strong feelings of hatred, anger or revenge towards a group or government.
Many Africans have borne the brunt of decades insecurity. Communities have experienced continuous trauma from insurgencies, terrorist attacks, political violence, socio-economic, political, religious and ethnic marginalization, genocides and civil wars.
For many, trauma has become an intergenerational issue that is rarely prioritized development and humanitarian interventions. As a result, experts now recommend integrating mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) into existing developmental programs to address deep-rooted trauma and coping. complaints. Doing so could also prevent violent extremism.
The United Nations Interim Permanent Commission (IASC) – the oldest and highest humanitarian coordination council – defines MHPSS as “a multi-layered support to deal with problems of a psychological nature (eg bereavement, severe mental disorder, depression, anxiety, traumatic stress) and of a social nature problems (eg extreme poverty, political oppression, family breakdown, community destruction).’ MHPSS support may include health, education, or community-based interventions.
IASC and UNDP classify mental health into three types. First, there are issues that affected the community before the conflict, such as poverty and discrimination. Second, there are social issues caused by conflict, such as family separation, the breakdown of networks and the breakdown of cohesion and trust. Third, there are social issues caused by post-conflict stabilization and humanitarian aid efforts, such as the weakening of social identity and community structures.
According to the UNDP, MHPSS interventions have multiple goals, depending on the individual and the community. These may include trauma counseling following traumatic events, resolving inter-communal animosities and grievances, promoting recovery and resilience, and providing holistic therapy to support decision-making and understanding of one’s emotions.
The MHPSS should address intergenerational trauma, build trust and resilience, and discuss and validate the grievances faced by many vulnerable communities across Africa. These approaches can be carried out on an individual level, with gender-specific groups (especially where sensitive issues such as sexual trauma are addressed), or in mixed groups.
There are several case studies where MHPSS activities are integrated into ongoing prevention and post-conflict interventions. In the north-east of Nigeria, the population faces serious social problems due to the climate crisis and the depletion of natural resources, as well as attacks and kidnappings by Boko Haram and its affiliates.
Most Considered Communities rejected They are in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. MHPSS interventions in these states are mostly implemented by local civil society groups and international organizations, including the International Organization for Migration and Save the Children. As a result of ongoing insecurity, most of these organizations have minimal human and logistical resources and limited access to communities in need of MHPSS support.
In Kenya, Green String Net has been implementing MHPSS activities in the coastal areas and the capital for several years. Counter-terrorism efforts have taken a serious toll mistrust Of the state security apparatus, considering the human rights violations by the military and the police and the discrimination against certain ethnic groups, such as Somalis. Green String Network’s post-programme evaluation showed that participants gained a better understanding of their trauma and how it affects their daily lives, and improved social cohesion within communities.
An often overlooked function of MHPSS is rehabilitation and reintegration of defectors or individuals freed from capture by violent extremist groups. The Lake Chad Basin Regional Stabilization Strategy defines the MHPSS as part of broader rehabilitation, integration and reintegration activities. This prevents deserters from recidivism and ensures a more sustainable reintegration into society, while preparing communities for the return of these individuals.
Rehabilitation and reintegration programs often fail when the defectors are not the communities they hope to return to consult not even prepared.
in the case of Rwanda, the MHPSS programs implemented after the 1994 genocide were of great value. They brought together communities of different ethnic groups to address grievances and resolve social cohesion.
Making MHPSS activities part of existing terrorism prevention efforts can provide much-needed relief from the trauma and behavioral consequences of violent extremism. It can also help communities prevent and cope with other types of conflict in the future.
Isel Ras, Research Adviser, Justice and Violence Prevention, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria
(This article was first published by ISS Today, syndicate partner Premium Times. We have their permission to republish it.)
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