Goldin Institute grassroots social change

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


Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Alone and Frightened: A Summary of our Report

alone headerIn the discussions about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children used as soldiers in the conflict in Northern Uganda, the voices and perspectives of former child soldiers themselves have too often and too long been ignored.

To restore these voices to the discussion and to improve the services for former combatants, the Goldin Institute and local partners trained a group of former child soldiers in "Community Based Oral Testimony" as a tool for gathering these stories and perspectives. Through this project, former child soldiers themselves led the research collection through interviewing over 150 of their peers and together reflecting on common concerns and shared aspirations.

The results of this groundbreaking research are contained in the report, Alone and Frightened. Equipped with this knowledge and the sense of solidarity developed through the research process, the former child soldiers are now at the forefront of convening the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration in Uganda as a network for coordinating the work of NGOs, government agencies, religious communities and other partners who are working together to promote reconciliation and reintegration.

 

[quote]Child Soldier definition: A child soldier is one under the age of 18 and part of a regular or irregular armed force or armed group participation directly indirectly. Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including combat, laying mines, and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, pottering, cooking and domestic labor; and sexual slavery or other recruitment for sexual purposes."[/quote]

- UNICEF 2003

 

Former Child Soldiers Receive Certificates in ESPERE Reconciliation TrainingThis study describes the state of children affected by the brutal war in Northern Uganda pitting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF). These are stories of Former Child Soldiers (FCS), please use your discretion as these stories are both horrific and heart-rendering.

The study sought to achieve the following objectives:

  • To facilitate a platform for FCS to share their experiences and challenges of abduction and escape from captivity.
  • To establish the community and family perceptions and attitude towards FCS.
  • To identify gaps in the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities/Juba Peace Agreement (CHA) (2006), agenda item V on DDR, the institutional mechanisms and the current state of FCS with regard to DDR.
  • To establish and highlight the locally-generated and FCS-based frameworks for reintegration.
  • The content scope of this research was to document and analyze the experiences and challenges of FCS with regard to their reintegration into families and communities within the CHA broader agenda item V.

Design:

A total of 180 primary informants were purposely selected out of 264 interviewed using the principles of participatory feedback and primary respondent-centered ownership of the research. Of respondents, 52% were male, and 48% were female.

Key Findings:

Females seemed more unwilling to respond to the the participation due to fear of being identified, fear of community reprisal or, a manifestation of inadequate or lack of psycho-social support.

    1. The majority of children abducted (58.9%) were 15 years of age and below, a clear indication of loss of childhood including schooling for many, in addition to horrifying traumatic experiences.
    2. Major health issues were identified among FCS including bullet wounds and fragments in the body, septic wounds, fistula, HIV/AIDS and cardiac problems.The physical scars or bullets lodged in their bodies has rendered some of them unable to find spouses or fend for themselves.
    3. Of the 87 females interviewed, 39 returned as child mothers.
    4. While 60% of the abducted children found themselves in the hands of Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) and later reception centers, many (40%) did not receive initial counseling and support. Many experienced constant death threats, spiritual initiation rituals ranging from sitting on dead bodies to having sex with an older person, lasting 1-6 years in captivity. Thus, one can understand the extreme levels of trauma and lack of livelihoods among FCS currently.
    5. Large portions of FCS expressed concerns of psychological suffering and/or trauma as a result of their experiences in captivity, including but not limited to, nightmares, anxiety and fits of anger, as well as alienation, appropriation, dispossession, guilt, loneliness, and poor relation with others (aggression, shouting, commanding, etc.).
    6. Over half found either one or both parents dead. This means a sizable number returned as orphans, with a greater number losing their fathers.

To learn more about the next steps and the multi-sector network promoting reintegration and reconciliation, click here to read about the work of the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration and Prevention in Uganda.

The following slideshow includes recent ESPERE workshops featuring our colleagues in Uganda and Kenya. Many of the participants represent the aspirations detailed in the Alone and Frightened Report.

[slide] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_1.jpg"]Co-founder's Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with Everest Okwonga, the Principal at St. Janani Luwum Vocational Training Centre[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_2.jpg"]Co-founder's Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with students at a trade school for former child combatants in Gulu[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_3.jpg"]Co-founder Diane Goldin meets with students in a Gulu classroom during the Institute's June2014 trip to the region to take part on child soldier reintegration efforts[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_4.jpg"]Participants of a workshop conducted by Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa take part in one of the exercises teaching 'forgiveness'[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_5.jpg"] Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa (bottom left) and her group of ESPERE students. Also included is friend and colleague and Associate emeritus Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat (standing 5th from right)[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_6.jpg"]Participants of the ESPERE workshop during a training session[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_7.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa (standing) leads a training session in Gulu[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_9.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus conducts an exercise with participants of the ESPERE workshop in June 2014[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_15.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus (sitting foreground) leads her ESPERE training group[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_28.jpg"]Co-founder Diane Goldin meets with students at the St Janani Vocational School. The School is made up of mostly former child soldiers learning new skills (like carpentry in this classroom) to rejoin civilian life.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_27.jpg"]The workshop attended by former child combatants[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_34.jpg"]Institute co-founder Diane Goldin meets with Ajok Dorah - a psychologist specializing in giving counsel to former child combatants returning to their communities.[/img][/slide]


Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Colombia Brings Reconciliation Methods to Uganda

In the tradition of the Goldin Institute's Forgiveness and Reconciliation Project, and utilizing the ESPERE methodology developed with our colleagues in Colombia, our efforts towards building child soldier reintegration continues throughout Northern Uganda. 

As our Global Associate on the ground in Uganda (Denis Okello) recently reported to us in this summary paper, both Kitgum and Amuru districts have suffered greatly from armed violence and conflict. The instability in the area results in the ongoing recruitment and coercion of countless adults and children into the rebel forces. As Denis tells it, "in some way or capacity, each and every household in Northern Uganda has suffered the direct effects of the conflict in terms of abduction, death, displacement, poverty or illness." Against this backdrop, both districts serve as ideal communities to workshop the methods of ESPERE, bringing effective training to those within the community wishing to cope with the effects of war – and also those hoping to better their lives.

group photo workshopIn the Kitgum District, Denis' report focused on a workshop conducted specifically for secondary and vocational school teachers. Here, educators could be equipped with the knowledge and skills on the process of forgiveness and reconciliation in order for them to effectively respond to the needs of their students who have been directly impacted by the civil war that they have grown up in.

In the Amuru District, Denis overviewed the specific training to former child combatants, young mothers, and orphaned young adults of the conflict who have been left to become the 'heads' of their households. Denis provided the history and background, and explained that within Amuru, the sub-county of Pabbo was one of the first and largest camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) during the LRA War between 1986 and 2006. After the end of hostilities in 2006, the displaced persons, former combatants, victims of atrocities and children born from captivity within the LRA, flooded back to many parts of Pabbo. It is important to point out that Denis and his own family have been impacted by the conflict's history and because of his training directly from our Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa, was uniquely qualified to be one of the three facilitators of Amuru Workshop.

Workshops Follow Ongoing Committment to the Issue of Child Soldiers

The trainings held by Denis and his team on the ground in both Kitgum and Amuru Districts, would not have been possible without prior research conducted in Northern Uganda with former child soldiers. Released late last year, we published the guide, Alone and Frightened, to provide first-hand accounts and experiential stories of former child soldiers affected by the brutal war pitting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF). Our extensive research with our partners in the region (including our former Global Associate from Kenya, Dr. Dorcas Kipligat, who served as the Project Coordinator to the report), provides an ongoing resource guide to all new workshops being conducted in Africa. 

Readers familiar with the origins of the ESPERE methodology, will remember that it is made up several modules reinforcing the two phases of forgiveness and reconciliation. A link to an early version of what this looked liked as it was piloted in Colombia can be found here. The slideshow that we have put together at the end of this story is remarkable in the consistencies between the exercises in Latin America and those taking place to make up the workshops in Uganda.

We are excited to see from the expansion of the project from Latin America to East Africa, how in spite of the cultural, ethnic and societal differences between two unique continents and their people, the methods being shared for forgiveness and reconciliation are held in common. What we are learning in facilitating these trainings is the universal nature of how most all people impacted by conflict have the capacity to embrace these methods. Please follow along in the narrative slideshow below to see this happening in Kitgum and Amuru.