Youth Leaders from East Africa Tackle Violent Extremist Recruitment

East African communities have been struggling to respond to the rise in the recruitment of children into armed conflict by a range of violent extremist groups. In Kenya, the September 2013 attack on the Westgate mall by Al-Shabaab left over 67 dead and 175 injured echoed the terror of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy on Nairobi by Al-Qaeda-aligned terrorists in 1998.  Between 2012-2014, Kenyan National Police tallied 312 people killed and 779 wounded in terrorist attacks according to Human Rights Watch. Extremist violence has increasingly become a security priority for the Kenya goverment and a deepening concern in Kenya’s civil society, especially as extremist groups are actively recruiting vulnerable youth for missions inside East Africa, in conflicts like Syria and even further abroad.

To address the issue of countering violent extremism and minimizing the risk of youth being radicalized, the “Regional Youth Forum on Countering Violent Extremism: Deepening Cooperation in Combatting Violent Extremism” (CVE) occurred from August 29-31, in Nairobi, Kenya. The training was part of a five-year “Regional Peace Programme” to foster unity and collaboration with regional youth and a wide variety of youth-focused organizations. Along with Arigatou International, the Goldin Institute hosted the gathering with Norwegian Church Aid, the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), the National Counter Terrorism Centre, Somali Family Services, icco Cooperation, and BRAVE in mobilizing young people to engage in a shared dialogue toward finding concrete steps to achieve lasting solutions.


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It is widely understood, and recognized, that generally young people comprise the population most vulnerable to extremist recruitment due to factors such as unemployment, housing instability and insecurity, hunger, low educational opportunities, social disconnection, as well as individualized, internal factors including trauma. Consequently, the primary drivers of the forum were fifty young people from Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Ethiopia supported by members of regional and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who attended.

DORCASCRAVE2016“One of the take-aways from the youth participants was that women and children are quite involved in the radicalization,” notes Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat, Network and Programs Manager for GNRC and former Goldin Institute Global Associate. “The understanding of violent extremism needs to be deepened with more people actually knowing about the process of radicalization. The Kenyan government is doing much, but people are complaining that the government isn't doing enough. There needs to be organization and education on what’s happening. The partnerships between government and civil stakeholders needs to be deepened, as well.”

A worry for Dr. Kiplagat is that too often conversations about countering violent extremism don’t occur strategically, nor with regularity. For the most part, they’re high-level conversations which rarely engage the grassroots community which isn’t given the opportunity share thee on-the-ground perspective. This meeting in September was an important step in embedding these conversations within a credible, regional strategy.

“There needs to be greater opportunity for dialogue,” she notes. ‘We identify those involved in the extremist campaigns, but many times we don't empower them with knowledge and skills to resist. There is no one answer. It is the marginalized regions that are behind in terms of economic development. Young people in those situations feel excluded, and vulnerable. We can say religion is a main drive, but it's not. Christians have been attacked here in Kenya, but then we see Muslims coming to the defense of Christians, so it can't be blamed on that.”

By the forum’s end, youth participants and host organizations developed solid commitments and concrete plans of action for work in their home communities throughout East Africa. These included, among others: consistent engagement with youth; keeping a gender-lens on the radicalization of young people; identifying and working with the appropriate government section(s) addressing violent extremism; increasing employment opportunities and sustainability for individuals at-risk of recruitment; and, interfaith dialogue and mobilization being activated on the programmatic level.

ICCO Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation) representative Angeline Nguedjeu made the closing remarks on the final day of the forum, recognizing that its realization was for indeed a “vision,” but that short and long-term goals to achieve were important to establish as soon as possible.

Download the full report

East Africa Update

Our Leadership Team Makes New Alliances and Reaffirms Existing Ones in our Work to End the Use of Child Soldiers in East Africa

This Fall provided ideal timing for our co-founders to shore-up important project work in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

In late September, Travis and Diane journeyed to East Africa for several important regional events – allowing for follow-up to our ongoing child soldier reintegration efforts, while making inroads to support new initiatives.

Along the way, Travis and Diane were able to meet-up with some old friends of the Institute, re-establishing ties with some of the folks who took part in our earliest 'grassroots partnerships.'

What Took our Leadership Team to Kenya and Rwanda

Beginning with our work in Colombia in 2007, the Goldin Institute has spent several years working on the issue of Child Soldier Reintegration. What started as a National Partnership in that same year to engage Colombia's social, private and public sector agencies to prevent the victimization of vulnerable young people in armed conflict, has expanded in most recent years to include the ESPERE project throughout Latin America and the successful sharing of the methodology with our newest partners in Eastern Africa.

An Opportunity to Stop the Recruitment and Abduction of Child Combatants

As our work in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda has been focused on helping young people avoid recruitment into violent extremist groups, particularly Al-Shabab, Diane and Travis traveled to Africa for an important opportunity to stop the recruitment (and in some cases abduction) from happening in the first place. This new project has two primary elements – a youth leadership development component named the Youth Peace Ambassadors and the public solidarity element named CRAVE: Community Resistance to Violent Extremism. The Goldin Institute is partnering with an established organization already on the ground, known as Peaceful Innovation. Through this partnership we are focusing on the areas from which local extremist group Al-Shabab has done heavy recruiting – the Mombasa Coast, "slum" areas in Kenya and the refugee and IDP camps in Rwanda. Peaceful Innovation offers the youth who are being targeted by Al-Shabab an effective mixture of counseling, peer groups, and job training with the end goal of reducing the number of viable recruits for Al-Shabab, thus, reducing their size and acts of extreme violence.

The Official Launch of Alone and Frightened - Former Child Soldiers Get to Tell Their Own Story

Over the years, the Goldin Institute has worked with Arigatou International and the Global Network of Religions for Children to research, document, and analyze the experiences and challenges of former child soldiers to develop appropriate programs for their reintegration. The culmination of the research was released in the report Alone and Frightened: Experiential Stories of Former Child Soldiers on Improving Reintegration. While the report was published in 2014, the official launch occurred while Travis and Diane were in Kenya. Our colleague and former Global Associate Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat, was instrumental in both the research done in bringing together the child soldiers to tell their stories in Alone and Frightened and in bringing it to print, so it was fitting that Dr. Kiplagat was so involved in the official launch ceremony. To that end, Dorcas has shared this full report of September's Events.

We remain encouraged to see that with the expansion of our child soldier work into new regions and with new partners, we get closer to participating in an effort that ends the recruitment of child soldiers. To learn more and become more involved, please follow this link.