Countering Terrorism and Extremism in Africa

Statement by M. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UN Assistant Secretary General and Special Adviser to the UNDP Administrator

Posted March 10, 2020

UN Assistant Secretary General & and Special Adviser to the UNDP Administrator, M. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, 11 March 2020. Photo: UNDP

Mr. President, Excellencies, and Distinguished Representatives.

I thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council today.

I would like to highlight the need to prevent violent extremism (PVE) through an approach grounded in sustainable development and human rights. I will highlight how the United Nations is using this approach to successfully address violent extremism in Africa.  

We stand ready to support you, Mr. President, in your efforts to support peace, prosperity and progress in Africa.  

Development efforts are supporting an economic renewal, peace and prosperity in Africa. Countries even in the Sahel show significant economic growth potential: a projected 6 percent in Burkina Faso and Niger; 5.6 percent in Chad; 3.6 percent in Mauritania; 4.8 percent in Mali.

All countries in this region have undertaken Voluntary National Reviews at the High-Level Political Forum, and are making progress to achieve many SDGs.

Mr. President, let us not forget the progress in Africa, and the promise of Africa.  And let us celebrate the development investments that underpin them.

Yet, we see that the African continent is increasingly challenged by instability, especially in what is now called the ‘Arc of Instability’, spanning the Sahel, Lake Chad Region, and Horn of Africa, with epicenters in the Liptako-Gourma Triangle, Central Mali, the Lake Chad Basin and Somalia.

We in the international system are also challenged to address this instability, by a lack of empirical evidence.  So often, we do not know with certainty what needs do communities and institutions have, what strategies work to meet those needs, or how can we invest to achieve measurable, sustained impact.

That is why UNDP serves the system by investing in quality research and evidence-based programming to enable action.

For example, our approach to preventing violent extremism is based on ground-breaking research that draws on interviews with more than 700 former members of violent extremist groups, to understand the drivers of recruitment.

Our ‘Journey to Extremism in Africa’ report (2017) finds that 55 percent of voluntary recruits express frustration at their economic conditions; 83 percent believe that their government only looks after the interests of a few; more than 75 percent have zero trust in politicians or law enforcement institutions; many have a low level of education; and the majority of recruits come from borderlands or peripheral areas that have suffered generations of marginalization. In these ungoverned, neglected spaces that are hot spots of violence, communities experience lack of access to services—education, healthcare, justice, security, livelihoods, the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives, and the opportunities they need to thrive. These are the challenges that underpin violent extremism.

Additionally, our ‘Invisible Women: Gendered Dimensions of Return, Reintegration and Rehabilitation’ study (2019) reports that many violent extremist groups in Africa have co-opted the message of women’s empowerment and improved socio-economic conditions. Many women who join voluntarily are attracted to that message. If these root causes of violent extremism are not addressed, the risk of ongoing recruitment of women, including re-recruitment of many thousands of female returnees, will continue. 

Mr. President, Excellencies and Distinguished Representatives,

Allow me to reiterate the primacy of prevention in addressing these root causes of violent extremism.

First, investing in prevention is good economics:

For every $1 invested, the cost of conflict is reduced by over $16 in the long run.  Investing in prevention protects a state against a loss of 2 percent -8 percent of GDP per year. And yet, the majority of funding is not in prevention and peacebuilding; it is in crisis response. According to a 2018 OECD report, only 2 percent of total ODA to fragile countries went to prevention; and only 10 percent to peace building.

Investment also tends to overly focus on securitised approaches, even though we know that this risks increasing violent extremism. Our research demonstrates that the trigger for 71 percent of people who join violent extremist groups is experience of human rights abuse committed by law enforcement.

Mr. President, Excellencies, and Distinguished Representatives,

A purely securitized approach to violent extremism ignores the evidence about what must be done to effectively address this challenge.

We know that development solutions are needed to address the proven root causes of violent extremism, and we know that they are effective.  We have data to show that dialogue supports significant attitude and behavior change among people from different political, religious and social groups.

We can empirically demonstrate that projects integrating psycho-social support, skills training and education reduce extremist tendencies among youth, and also increase tolerance in communities. We have data to show that investing in women’s empowerment and gender equality promotes peace and security.

Hence an integrated and balanced approach to Security and Development is needed to effectively address the challenges posed by violent extremism. Security interventions should aim to reinforce human security, mending the social contract between the state and society where it has eroded, strengthening social capital among communities where it has frayed, and both leading to sturdier social cohesion. Fundamentally, this would entail fostering community ownership, sustained investments in human capital, strengthening regional governance mechanisms, and kick-starting economic prosperity through scaled-up investments at the local, national and regional level.

UNDP is a global leader in providing support to address the root causes of violent extremism. We bring development solutions to complement security measures through a global prevention of violent extremism practice that encompasses projects at regional and national level covering 34 countries.

Our Regional PVE Project in Africa, has, since 2015, supported 21 countries across the continent.  Based on research from the Journey to Extremism Report, UNDP’s Regional Project has a reputation as thought leader, trusted partner and innovator on prevention of violent extremism in Africa.  The project finds that political will for collaboration in preventive cross-border activities is key to address spill-over effects.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said, rightly, that “war horses are bred on the frontier”. Hence, neglecting border areas is an invite for conflict, instability and violent extremism.

At UNDP we cherish the importance of partnership. We believe in ‘All of UN’. We work closely with UNOCT, UNODC, DPPA, PBF and other members of the  United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact. We do also ensure close collaboration with members of civil society, the private sector, and faith-based organisations.

Mr. President,

We applaud the African Union (AU) for its visionary support to the ‘Silencing the Guns’ campaign to promote prevention, management and resolution of conflicts in Africa through control of illegal weapons. We salute the AU for recognising the need for ‘whole of society’ approaches to address violence in all its forms. We invite the AU’s Peace and Security Council to unify supporters of the diverse perceptions and interpretations of the concept of prevention of violent extremism.

We also call on all Member States to invest in, and to scale-up risk-informed development and prevention to sustainably address violent extremism by tackling its root causes.

The United Nations System will continue, with determination, to play its role in support of Africa.

Thank you, Mr. President.