Addressing Violent Extremism through Economic Empowerment: A Case of Entrepreneurial Training by UNDP in Partnership with the BRAVE Programme

By Sheikh Ramadhan Aula

Africa has borne the brunt of violent extremism, particularly in the last five years, claiming an estimated 33,000 people according to a UNDP report released in 2017. Violent extremism is “multi-factorial and extremely diverse: it cannot be predicted by one variable alone.” There are varied and entwined alignment of situational, social, economic, and religious factors that compel individuals to join violent extremist organization. Among other factors, the study found out that the areas worst hit by violent extremism also experienced “stark levels of unemployment and economic need.” Areas (mostly borderlands) such as Kenya’s coastal and north-eastern counties, north-eastern Nigeria, among others are portentously affected by violent extremism. In Kenya, unemployment in Coastal and north-eastern counties average 45 per cent and populations in these areas have “higher levels of multidimensional poverty” according to Oxford Poverty and Human Development Index, 2017. Of note, whilst poverty remains rampant across these countries including the metropolitan areas, it is Spartan and grim in remote territories and in most cases, borderlands.

Nonetheless, the report cautions – and there is a unanimity among experts – that poverty, exclusively, is not the only driver to violent extremism in Africa. Violent extremist organizations rather “…exploit perceptions of disproportionate economic hardship or exclusion due to religious or ethnic identity, while failure to generate high and sustainable levels of growth and job creation are also critically linked.” Economic factors can, consequently, be understood as one of the manifold factors, at both micro- and macro-levels, that are intertwined and interrelated, tactically used to appeal to and lure citizens into joining violent groups in Africa. Par for the course, employment was the immediate need at the time of recruitment into violent groups representing a central “component of the overall ‘reason for joining’, with 13 per cent stating it as a priority.”

It is imperative that the interventions are also conceptualized using a model that can address all the drivers. In 2017, the Center for Sustainable Conflict Resolution (CSCR) through its flagship programme Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism (BRAVE) partnered with UNDP in improving basic business skills of the communities in Kenya. This exercise sought to address poverty and idleness due to lack of employment as push factors to violent extremism. Evidently, according to available data (Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and Society for International Development (SID), 2013), people below the age of 35 form 70% of the population, and most of them (70%) are jobless. This shows that there is a large working population (i.e. 15-64 years) who are jobless, hence an urgent need for investment in gainful employment opportunities.

As part of efforts to respond to the above phenomenon, UNDP/BRAVE, trained the community on personal financing programme known as ‘Basic Business Skills and Entrepreneurship Development Training.’ The training aimed at enhancing entrepreneurial skills among the members of the affected communities, both Muslims and non-Muslims. The trainings focused on the regions where youth and children are most at risk such as Kwale, Mombasa, Lamu, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera. Some of the topics explored during the trainings include management of personal finance, understanding assets and liabilities, dos and don’ts in a small scale business, how to start a new business, social benefits of effectively managed personal finance, and other key concepts of personal business skills.

However, whereas income poverty, deficiency and underemployment are not the only enablers for joining violent extremism, they can contribute to grievances and help create a setting favourable to violent extremist organizations to thrive. Thus, it is implicit that the immediate enablers of radicalization and violent extremism include amplified perceptions of relative economic deprivation, increased dissemination of extremist narratives, and “accident of geography” manifested in where a child is born and spends his or her childhood.

In Kenya, CSCR, under its flagship programme BRAVE, has adopted a multi-stakeholder approach in addressing the root causes of violent extremism. There is no marked path to radicalization, which means that violent extremism in Kenya ought to be approached through concerted efforts to comprehend the immediate and underlying causes of extremism and their relative weight in terms of social, economic and political indicators.

Sh. Ramadhan Aula is an expert in Islamic Law and Associate Director, Center for the Study of Terrorism, Violent Extremism and Radicalization at the HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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