Journey To Extremism In Africa: Why People Join Groups Like Boko Haram And Al-Shabaab

IT was two years in the making, based on interviews with more than 500 former members of extremist groups (mainly in Somalia, Nigeria, and Kenya), so what does UNDP’s landmark report on extremism say?

The journey starts with location: typically peripheral, marginalised areas. A perceived lack of parental involvement in a child’s life correlates with future extremism, as does low education levels.

Religion was cited as a motivating factor for joining by 51% of respondents (which means for 49% it wasn’t), but 57% of the sample admitted to limited or no understanding of religious texts. Religious education can actually inoculate against extremism. Poverty is clearly a factor in recruitment. The report says employment was the single most frequently cited “immediate need” faced at the time of joining.

Disaffection with the authorities is also marked – 78% had little trust in the police, politicians, and military. But the research gets really interesting on the recruitment “tipping point”.

A striking 71% indicated “government action”, including the killing/arrest of a family member or friend, as the incident that prompted them to join. Forty-eight percent joined in less than a month from first contact with the extremist group.

More surprising still, just under half of those who joined were aware of PVE (Prevention of Violent Extremism) initiatives, but identified distrust of those delivering the programmes as one of the primary reasons for not taking part – underscoring that it’s the messenger as much as the message that’s important. While not excusing violent extremism, this all points to the impact of a tragic failure of governance.



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