Towards a Continental Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism in Africa

Tarek A. Sharif, Joanne Richards
Content Type
Working Paper
Global Peace Operations Review
Violent Extremism is now recognized as a growing threat to peace and security in Africa, as exemplified by the recent terrorist attacks in Garissa, Abidjan, and Ouagadougou. While much of the policy discussion on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) focuses on the return of radicalized foreign fighters to the West, less attention is directed to those foreign fighters who may eventually return from Iraq, Syria, and Libya to other areas of North Africa, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa. Tunisia is one of the world’s largest contributors to the Islamic State in terms of foreign fighters, with smaller contributions from Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. Issues concerning the return of foreign fighters to Africa are particularly salient not only because these individuals may return to their communities, but also because they may link up with other extremist armed groups present across the continent. These include groups affiliated to either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Attempts to counter violent extremism began in Europe in the 1980s with the advent of programs to dissuade and disengage right-wing extremists in Norway, Sweden and Germany. Although no common definition exists, since that time CVE has come to be associated with a range of measures designed to prevent and reverse the radicalization of individuals and groups, and to forestall the participation of these groups and “lone wolves” in acts of terrorism. Given that CVE is preventative and reactive, different CVE strategies are necessary for different stages of the radicalization continuum, including for individuals and communities with no exposure to extremist networks, those with some exposure, and those already radicalized. The latter is often associated with attempts to shift extremists towards acceptance of more moderate ideologies and is known as “deradicalization.” In some ways, CVE is difficult to distinguish from conventional counter-terrorism, which often includes traditional military measures and the sharing of intelligence between nation states. However, because conventional counter-terrorism does not address the root causes prompting radicalization, policy interventions under the rubric of CVE have more recently been designed to focus attention on the grassroots factors, which may render certain individuals more susceptible to radicalization than others. Social exclusion, poverty, and a lack of education are often named as typical contenders in this regard, although CVE practitioners generally acknowledge that no single causal pathway to radicalization can be identified. Reflecting these general trends, this essay charts the development of African Union policy, from its roots in conventional counter-terrorism, to efforts to devise a continental strategy for CVE in Africa. It also outlines a number of policy measures, which any such continental strategy should take into account.
Security, Violent Extremism, Counter-terrorism, African Union
Political Geography
Africa, Iraq, Sudan, Middle East, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Somalia