Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism

At a glance

After years of conflict and instability, Somalia is still burdened by attacks and threats of violent extremism carried out by terrorist groups. Somalia’s most infamous one, Al-Shabaab, continues to control and influence territory and communities in large parts of the country, particularly in the south and central parts, despite territory gains made in recent years by the Somali National Army and the African Union Mission in Somalia. In the north, a small fraction of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – (ISIL or Daesh) has taken ground.

Particularly in an environment of volatile politics and localized security vacuums, violent extremism, terrorist and non-state armed groups have space to thrive and can fill the void left behind by the absence of a functioning state and institutions. However, pull factors of violent extremism are complex and multifaceted, which is reflected in how these groups continue to influence communities and young people, in particular through  propaganda, and indoctrination via radical curricula for young children.

Until today, conditions conducive to terrorism and violent extremism are a reality in urban areas as well as communities in newly recovered areas, where – without efforts for local reconciliation and political inclusion, employment opportunities, particularly for young people, and rebuilding the trust between the people and the state – groups like Al-Shabaab have the potential to retake territory and strengthen credibility as provider of social services.

The Federal Government of Somalia has taken initial steps to implement its obligations under United Nations Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions by adopting a National Strategy and Action Plan on Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism in September 2016. However, the capacity, expertise and resources fall short to implement the national strategy effectively.

After his election in February 2017, President Farmajo has indicated as a top priority the provision of safety and human security for Somalis, including through defeating terrorist groups in the coming years. As a result, Somalia has requested further support and assistance of the United Nations in Somalia to fully implement its obligations pursuant to relevant UN Resolutions on Countering Terrorism and Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism, including Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001), 1624 (2005), 2178 (2014) and the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action.

In January 2016, the UN Secretary-General launched the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which emphasizes how violent extremism undermines peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. The Plan acknowledges that violent extremism does not arise in a vacuum, and how narratives of grievance, actual or perceived injustice, promised empowerment and sweeping change become attractive perspectives where good governance is being ignored and aspirations are being crushed.

To address that broad spectrum of factors, the Plan is based on seven priority areas: 1) dialogue and conflict prevention; 2) good governance, Rule of Law and human rights; 3) engaging communities; 4) empowering youth; 5) gender equality and empowering women; 6) education, skills development and employment facilitation; and 7) strategic communications, the Internet and social media.

[Chart1] UN Secretary-General Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism

1) Dialogue and conflict prevention

2) Good governance, Rule of Law and human rights

3) Engaging communities

4) Empowering youth

5) Gender equality and empowering women

6) Education, skills development and employment facilitation

7) Strategic communications, the Internet and social media.]

The Plan for Action recommends greater coordination and integration of efforts to prevent violent extremism into activities of UN peacekeeping operations, special political missions and United Nations Country Teams, wherever relevant and in accordance with their respective mandates.

Integrated approach

There is no agreed international definition of violent extremism itself or what its prevention entails, but the concept of “Prevention of Violent Extremism” is to limit the traction of terrorist groups on individuals, communities and society at large. Solid analysis and evidence-based assessment of specific, settings-based factors that lead to affiliation with violent organisations is needed. This requires a bottom-up approach to identify root causes, push and pull factors, recruitment strategies and drivers of violent extremism. It will be crucial to link those efforts up with a top-down approach that addresses progress required and led by the Government on the policy and programmatic level to enable national and sub-national authorities and international actors to effectively take on root causes and drivers of violent extremism.

It is precisely here where the United Nation’s approach to Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism (P/CVE) plays a critical role in building capacity to support the coordination, prioritisation, sequencing, and regular review of Somalia’s efforts at the higher governmental level (upstream). Additionally, it links up with downstream efforts – reaching out to local communities and civil society to bring them in as partners for continued analysis, advocacy, and joint implementation, additional to monitoring and evaluating progress.

Per Security Council Resolution 2358 (2017), UNSOM has a mandate to advise and assist Somalia in the implementation of the National Strategy and Action Plan to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism. This mandate includes the support to coordinate PCVE activities, advise on specific thematic issues, share good practices and enable information exchange with other partners. The resolution furthermore encourages cooperation with United Nations agencies, programmes and funds, particularly on promoting appropriate education based efforts to recognize and prevent radicalization leading to violence and recruitment.

In the broader security context, the United Nations, the Government of Somalia, international partners and AMISOM have endorsed the Comprehensive Approach to Security (CAS), which aims to enable Somali authorities at the federal and state levels to provide security for their own citizens. Under the CAS, four pillars have been developed to structure progress towards that objective (see Chart 2).

[Chart 2: Preventing and countering violent extremism: Strand 4 of Somalia’s Comprehensive Approach to Security (CAS)]

Under strand 4, the United Nations in Somalia will take efforts towards an end state where conflicts are addressed politically as opposed to through violence. Recognizing that the national strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism needs to be embedded in an institutional framework with an appropriate mandate and resources, the United Nations in Somalia has established a P/CVE platform to coordinate the international response and to build capacity of the Somali government and local partners. The strand is divided into two components:

1) A stand-alone assistance, political and strategic guidance to the Federal Government to put in operation their P/CVE strategy, which was adopted in September 2016; and

2) Targeted P/CVE interventions by the UN in Somalia and the international community, delivering related programming, such as creating economic alternatives for vulnerable young people, programmes to reintegrate and rehabilitate former fighters, deradicalization programmes at the community level, civic education, and promotion of a counter-narrative through strategic communications.

[Chart 3:]             

Figure 1: Assistance, political and strategic guidance to the Federal Government to implement the P/CVE strategy

Figure 2: Targeted P/CVE interventions (creating economic alternatives for youth, reintegration and rehabilitation of former fighters, deradicalization, civic education, and strategic communications to counter violent extremist narratives]

Looking forward

Through the P/CVE platform, the United Nations, in collaboration with international partners, will strengthen the Somali-led coordination on measures to prevent and counter recruitment and radicalization. On the government side, Somali federal and state authorities are identifying P/CVE coordinators and focal points in the relevant line ministries, which will form the basis for a cooperation framework between the federal and state levels and in turn provide counterparts for the joint platform to prevent a counter violent extremism.