Violent Islamic extremism is growing the fastest in Sub-Saharan Africa with 48% of global terrorism deaths in 2021 happening there, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP).
The driving force behind the continuous growth of terrorist organizations in the region isn’t religion but financial reasons as many of the young people join them as they believe that the terrorist groups offer them a better chance of getting employment, according to the latest report by the UN Development Program (UNDP).
UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, said that the lack of income, job opportunities, and livelihoods mean that “desperation is essentially pushing people to take up opportunities, with whoever offers that.”
UNDP interviewed nearly 2,200 people, including over 1,000 former terrorists, from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan.
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The Sub-Saharan Sahel region, which is one of the poorest in the world, has been the most affected by terrorism, as groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) look to grab a foothold in it by preying upon the root causes of terrorism.
Steiner added that about 25% of all recruits cited a lack of job opportunities as the primary reason for joining terrorist organizations, a 92% increase from 2017. At the same time, around 40% said they were “in urgent need of livelihoods at the time of the recruitment.”
Many terrorist groups use financial incentives to entice young people to join and recruits are promised jobs, homes, and wives. But those promises aren’t kept.
Surprisingly, with 17%, religion came third as the reason for joining terrorist organizations; this represents a 57% decrease from the 2017 study. Most recruits admitted to having limited knowledge of religious texts.
Almost half of the respondents cited a specific trigger event pushing them to join terrorist groups, with 71% pointing to human rights abuses, often conducted by state security forces, as “the tipping point.”
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It’s not only about the military
“Security-driven counter-terrorism responses are often costly and minimally effective, yet investments in preventive approaches to violent extremism are woefully inadequate,” Steiner said.
Many governments only focus on militarily defeating terrorist groups and guaranteeing the security of the people, but that is only one part of the solution, according to the UN.
National, state, and local governments must better govern their countries’ outlying and poorer areas. Mentorship and job training programs have to be instituted and followed through on. Young people must have a sense of belonging to a promising future that will include jobs, homes, and healthcare for their families.
The U.S. State Department and other agencies, such as USAID, can help but the national governments should take the lead.
Corruption should also be addressed and local and national governments should ensure that humanitarian aid reaches its intended targets and is not misappropriated.
For the growth of terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa to stop, all these factors must be addressed.
Feature Image: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters in the Sahel, 2011. (Voice of America)
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