A new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has challenged established beliefs over the motivations that cause people to join violent extremist groups in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Instead of religious ideology, job opportunities are the driving force behind the recruitment of individuals into these dangerous organisations, according to the report.
The report, entitled “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement,” was based on interviews with 2,200 people in eight countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan.
Over 1,000 of the interviewees were former members of violent extremist groups and offered a unique insight.
The findings revealed that job opportunities were the primary reason for joining, cited by 25% of the interviewees. This represents a 92% increase from a previous UNDP study conducted in 2017.
The report emphasised that the respondents in the research stated their dissatisfaction with the government for not giving them employment prospects and claimed they joined extremist groups with the hope of looking for jobs and other economic incentives.
On the other hand, religion came in third place as a reason for joining, with only 17% of interviewees citing it as a driving factor – a 57% decrease from the 2017 study. The majority of recruits interviewed admitted to having limited knowledge of religious texts.
Those who cited religious background, according to the report, come from religiously less diverse geographical areas. The report added that a very low percentage of those who voluntarily joined the extremists organisations view religious diversity as a good thing.
Nearly half of the respondents cited a specific trigger event that pushed them to join violent extremist groups, with an overwhelming 71% pointing to human rights abuses, often conducted by state security forces, as the “tipping point.”
“Sub-Saharan Africa has become the new global epicentre of violent extremism with 48% of global terrorism deaths in 2021,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
“This surge not only adversely impacts lives, security and peace, but also threatens to reverse hard-won development gains for generations to come,” Steiner added.
The report has found that most of the people joining extremist organisations come from the remote and peripheral areas and suffer from inter-generational socio-economic marginalisation.
To counter and prevent violent extremism, the report recommends greater investment in basic services such as child welfare, education, and quality livelihoods, as well as investing in young men and women.
The report also calls for scaling-up exit opportunities and investment in rehabilitation and community-based reintegration services.
It highlighted the critical role that local communities play in supporting sustainable pathways out of violent extremism, as well as national government amnesty programs.
Research has shown that those who disengage from violent extremism are less likely to re-join and recruit others, making it important to invest in incentives that enable disengagement.
The results of this report highlight the urgent need for a shift from security-driven responses to development-based approaches focused on prevention.
According to the report, investment in job creation and community-building initiatives, such as cash for work programmes, can help to provide people with decent wages and reduce the allure of joining violent extremist groups.
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