Security experts from across the world have called upon East African nations to find ways to curb the radicalisation of young people at an early stage. The call was made yesterday in Kigali during the opening of a five-day international conference on youth radicalisation in East Africa.
Ambassador Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia, said that for many years, armed militias, insurgent groups and international terrorist organisations have operated in East Africa, in part by radicalising and recruiting East African youth to their ranks.
“We need to look for possible ways to prevent radicalisation among the young people when it’s still early because the youth are vulnerable when it comes to terrorist and extremist groups,” he urged.
Diarra pointed out that there was no specific number of young people involved in such groups in East Africa, but suspected that in some areas within the region, young people might be in the process of forming violent extremist organizations, especially in Somalia and Sudan.
“We should be vigilant in monitoring these activities and much is needed to educate the youth about how best to build their nations. We need to involve them in the decision-making process,” he advised.
The forum will specifically take a strategic look at current trends in youth radicalisation in East Africa, assess how youth extremism and recruitment occurs in the region, and then discuss ways to develop effective, holistic approaches within and between governments and civil society to combat the scourge.
According to Gen. Carter F. Ham, the Commander of US-Africa Command (AFRICOM), the forum is vital in addressing possible formation of violent extremist groups among the youth.
“The military is an essential but, perhaps a non-decisive component in confronting the violent extremism across Africa. Strong partnership is needed from government, civil society and religious groups,” he noted.
The Minister of Youth, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, said that Rwanda recognises and continues to put young people at the core of its development agenda, which it believes is one of the strategic means to prevent youth radicalisation.
“It’s of special significance for Rwanda to host this forum because our country provides the most painful examples of the extent at which violent extremism can destroy the society. Rwanda experienced social divisions and mass violence that culminated into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. However, Rwandans never lost hope and continued to rebuild the shattered nation,” he explained.
The workshop, hosted by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) based in Washington D.C in the U.S, brings together participants from Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, United States, the EU , UN, AU, EAC and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Ambassador William H.M. Bellamy, the Director of ACSS, said young people are the lifeline of violent extremist organisations, hence the importance of understanding their vulnerability to extremist recruitment.
“It is vital to know how young people are radicalised so that strategic measures to prevent radicalisation, especially in the early stages, are put in place,” he said.
He stated that some of the root causes of radicalisation, such as social economic conditions, poverty, unemployment, and lack of development, may not count much in turning people towards extremism, but cultural factors and personal relationships are probably big influences in luring individuals into extremist organisations.
“Too often, we see government approaches to radicalisation as poorly targeted and heavily repressive. These approaches always carry the risk of generating more radicalisation than they prevent, and that is why we have insisted on convening this workshop,” said Bellamy.