Scores of projects aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) in West and Central Africa are doing important work in tough conditions but lack long-term funding and hard evidence of how best to confront terrorism.
Researchers from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) surveyed 133 P/CVE projects in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger. The projects operate in some of the world’s most challenging areas, rife with poverty and insecurity and where weak or corrupt governments fail to deliver basic services.
They focus on communities, working mostly with women and youth. The projects aim to promote tolerance and multi-culturalism and address religious and ethnic differences between groups. They develop skills, provide education, rehabilitate former combatants and develop narratives to counter Islamist propaganda.
The projects studied by the ISS absorbed millions of dollars in international funding but face a common challenge in assessing the impact of their work against terrorism.
The ISS research was released to international organisations, diplomats, donors and P/CVE practitioners late last month on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“There is international enthusiasm for funding and implementing P/CVE. But many projects lack sustained financial support and it’s hard to evaluate the effects of short-term projects on long-term challenges,” said Cheryl Frank who heads ISS work on terrorism and violent extremism.
P/CVE has emerged alongside military and security measures as a key strategy to handle the global threat of terrorism. It prioritises structural factors associated with development, governance and justice and related grievances leading to extremist actions.
The causes of violent extremism are complex and linked to political, economic, ideological and social circumstances in which people live, the ISS said. In some parts of West and Central Africa extremists may provide safety, infrastructure and opportunities in the absence of a competent government.
ISS research suggests local projects run by local activists are likely to be the most effective at preventing violent extremism. The role of governments is to tackle deep structural issues that make communities vulnerable to extremism.
The global P/CVE community needs to find better ways to measure progress and build an evidence base to guide effective responses to violent extremism and terrorism, ISS researcher Isel van Zyl said. Donors should also ensure human rights violations and discrimination are not justified under the guise of P/CVE and counter-terrorism initiatives.
The ISS research was funded by the government of Norway. The New York event was co-hosted by the European Union and the governments of Norway, Canada and Algeria.
ISS is conducting similar research into P/CVE in East Africa and the Horn, with results due in 2019.