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Secretary-General António Guterres visits a Training Centre in Kamakunji, Kenya, and talked to youth about countering violent extremism, and preventing radicalization. (9 July 2019) Credit: UNEP/Duncan Moore

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 11 2019 – During the egregious Dusit attack, Kenya demonstrated remarkable, resilience, solidarity and stood firm against the terrorists.

Combined with a swift and highly efficient surgical response from the law enforcement agencies, Kenyans united together in empathy and all barriers came down in a collective show of humanity.

It is well known that for a long time all over the world, well-meaning counter-terrorism responses only ended up alienating some sections of society. Recent insights into drivers of extremism however are showing that forging partnerships with such communities, formerly subjected to profiling and hard-line policing, is a better option to challenge hateful extremism.

Globally, race, ethnicity, religion, dress, political ideology or any combination of these traits have all been used to single out people for attention. A whole-of-society approach is now offering communities an opportunity not just to stand up to stigmatization but to engage dialogue that could deal with the root causes of violent extremism.

During his visit to Kenya for the African Conference on Counter-Terrorism Conference in Africa, UN Secretary-General António Guterres had a chance to interact with a community in Nairobi’s Kamukunji suburbs, where grassroots level people have organized themselves to tackle the contentious issues that have made the area a target of radicalization.

In his interaction with the leaders, structural inequalities and alienation from terrorism response agencies were mentioned as important conversations that need to take place.

“Kenya is showing the way in pursuing cohesiveness and creating conditions where diverse people and can live and respect each other and stay alive to prevent manifestations of extremism, and in this the country has the full support of the UN,” said Mr. Guterres.

An important challenge in dealing with extremism and radicalization has been the varied and evolving nature of the drivers of violent extremism within communities, and countries.

The reality is that local communities are best placed to understand what these drivers are, why they change, and how best to address them. Yet, too often they have been excluded from policy dialogue on countering violent extremism.

A relatively common thread especially among the youth is that they simply want to be heard. Led by the area Member of Parliament, Yusuf Hassan, himself a victim of a grenade attack that confined him to a wheelchair for years, the Kamukunji community has identified appropriate interlocutors to lead in the process of countering radicalization at the local level.

This has involved developing trust between the different communities in the area, and between the communities and state actors in the war on terror, especially the police. Leadership has been exceptional in partnering with agencies such as the UN to unlock the potential of the community to develop tailored, local responses to the threat of extremism.

Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Centre, together with the United Nations Country Team, among other partners, is working in counties and communities to develop county action plans on preventing violent extremism. These plans are notable for their inclusive approach, their attempt to be measurable, and responsive in an effective and efficient way.

For Kamakunji, that has had numerous terrorist incidences, there are very encouraging signs coming out of the area, of a community not just coming together to pick up the pieces after the attacks, but to strive to work together to make such occurrence less likely. The answer has been in taking the fight to extremists through community solidarity, trust, dignity, respect and good citizenship.

The emphasis now is on winning hearts and minds, while ensuring that the pillar of security is robust in countering violent extremism.

A fundamental pillar in the prevention of violent extremism are the youth of Africa. By 2050, there will be 2.3 Billion people in Africa, of which 830 million will be young people.

The way youth resilience manifests itself is highly dependent on their social, economic and political environments. When youth are empowered and provided opportunities for participation, they are most likely to capitalize on their resilience constructively. For this reason, youth are Africa’s most important asset in the prevention of violent extremism and peacebuilding. They are the very foundation of every community.

If Africa is to curtail the spread of violent extremism and achieve sustainable development, there must be determined focus on the empowerment, education and employment of youth- of a generation unlimited.

Siddharth Chatterjee, is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya

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