Strengthening international and regional cooperation to address the increasing terrorist threat in Africa
Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you today at the Eighth Meeting of the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact Committee on behalf of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) to discuss priorities and recommendations to address the growing threat posed by terrorist groups in Africa.
Over the years, UNICRI has devoted a great deal of work to mitigating risks stemming from the evolving security context in Africa. I’d like to highlight three recommendations drawn from our in-depth research and assessments in Africa.
Firstly, community based approaches. UNICRI implemented a 5-year programme in 9 countries in the Sahel-Maghreb focused on community resilience to radicalization and violent extremism. In our seminal final report, “Many hands on an elephant”, we recommend a local and community-based approach to counter terrorism and violent extremism. We must analyze the factors, grievances, and drivers conducive to radicalization at the local level, especially among marginalized communities and youth, and identify tailored development solutions rather than hard security responses. As UN entities working in Africa, we must partner with local organizations and contribute to their resilience because the most impactful interventions are locally sustainable.
In addition, our work in Sahel-Maghreb highlighted that responses to terrorist threats must be informed by a deep understanding of social and cultural dynamics at the local level, including the role of religion. For many people, religion is a powerful part of their daily lives, and for some children, religious schools are their only education. This underscores the need for us to build upon the beneficial roles of religion in delivering community-based assistance programmes in Africa.
Secondly, links between climate, gender, and security. We know that certain socio-economic conditions are push factors for radicalization, such climate risks and unequal access to natural resources. UNICRI’s analysis in Sahel-Maghreb demonstrates that in areas heavily reliant on farming and pastoralism, climate change exacerbates social tensions, aggravates competition for limited natural resources, and even threatens survival. This vulnerability is then instrumentalized by terrorist groups in their recruitment strategies, creating a viscious cycle of instability in the region.
We also observe links between gender-based discrimination and radicalization. UNICRI’s research in Sahel-Maghreb found that the decrease in women’s rights and presence in public life was an early warning sign of the risk of violent extremism. Individuals living with rigid gender roles may be more susceptible to violent extremist propaganda. These groups often target women through abuse, threats to their integrity, or false narratives about women’s empowerment.
Both climate change and gender-based discrimination can fuel engagement with violent extremist groups at the local level in parts of Africa.
Thirdly, the nexus between organized crime and terrorism. Based on more than a decade of expertise, we know there is broad correlation between organized crime and terrorism. UNICRI’s work illustrates that this “nexus” is widespread in various parts of Africa and more must be done to identify and effectively address it. UNICRI stands ready with best practices and an established policy toolkit to tailor targeted responses to African communities to address the nexus between organized crime and terrorism, and we have already implemented this work in Chad, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, and Niger.
Before I close, please allow me to express my appreciation to the Chair and Co-Chairs of the Working Group on Resource Mobilization and Monitoring and Evaluation for the recent Multi-Year Appeal Briefing to Member States on Africa, which featured two proposals presented by UNICRI: 1) to strengthen capacities of Niger to prevent and counter violent extremism in prisons, together with CTED; and 2) to strengthen capacities to address the nexus between organized crime and terrorism in Africa, with UNODC. We hope this mechanism will assist us all to identify donors to continue our important work to counter terrorism across Africa.
Antonia Marie De Meo, Director of UNICRI