Author (s): Isel van Zyl and Cheryl Frank
Affiliated organization: Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: September 2018
The study is designed to present an understanding of how programme designers and implementers are giving meaning to the concept of preventing violent extremism (PVE), as described in the policies discussed below. It is intended to contribute to the growing body of information about P/CVE, and promote an effective evidence-based approach to addressing terrorism. Importantly, the study seeks to understand how programme activities have been designed to achieve results that relate to the prevention, or even reduction, of violent extremism, as described in PVE policy. The report focuses on six countries in West Africa and the Sahel: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
Defining threats and designing appropriate responses
Local organisations participating in this study noted differences in the ways in which ‘threat’ is defined by local communities and external actors. Many pointed to the many types of public violence taking place in the community, and the inadequacy of PVE activities to comprehensively address the risks and threats faced by community members. As examples, Nigerian respondents pointed to the Fulani herdsmen farmers conflict and the insecurity in the Niger Delta. Criminal violence may also play a significant role in some communities.
This disconnect requires far greater attention in the design of projects, particularly those concerned only with violent extremism. Local priorities may be significantly different, including addressing structural issues such economics, justice, and education. Thus, it is essential that local consultations and other research be carried out before projects are designed. While all projects cannot respond to all needs, project design can include activities that advocate for actions by others, including governments, to address other needs.
Addressing structural factors associated with violent extremism
Poverty, inequality, lack of economic opportunities, weak governments and governance, corruption, criminal violence, weak law enforcement and the abuse of human rights are amongst the problems citizens must grapple with every day. Many of these have been linked directly to violent extremism, and the challenge that faces governments, development actors and donors is how to prioritise support for entire populations versus for groups that are believed to be at especially high risk for violent extremism.
This study found many efforts to deal with structural issues in small-scale projects – often relating to education and employment and sometimes to human rights and the rule of law – as well as efforts to work with governments and local officials. However, even the most effective of these efforts are unlikely to address the main structural issues associated with violent extremism unless they are expanded to a far larger scale.
Project design, implementation and evaluation
The data from this limited sample of projects reflect a significant range of efforts from local actors, supported by a wide range of primarily external donors and implementers. The extent to which local research informed project design was not possible to assess during this study. Local organisations reported that projects were designed based on existing knowledge, as well as research, on local dynamics and needs and target groups. For example, a respondent in Chad said that their work to build the capacity of judicial and legal institutions to fight terrorism begins with an assessment of existing capabilities.
Twenty-eight respondents said that ‘funding difficulties’ were one of the challenges they experience during the implementation of the project. Another important issue raised here was insecurity in the areas in which projects were being undertaken. Continued attacks by extremist groups not only caused upheaval and danger to the local communities, but also prevented the organisations from doing their work, including immediate humanitarian responses. One respondent asked for support from security forces to offer protection to carry out their functions.
Projects all offered clear ‘theories of change’ in terms of how their activities were expected to achieve their objectives. This notwithstanding, the weakest aspect noted in this study is that of monitoring and evaluation. This is discussed further below.
Project objectives, activities and target groups
Among the most frequently mentioned project objectives were promoting tolerance and multiculturalism, cited for 43 projects; promoting cooperation was cited for another 24. Inter-group relations are clearly a high priority.Raising awareness was an objective for 35 projects, which sought to educate community members, youth, children, religious leaders and educators on themes relating to religion, tolerance, inter-group relations, and understanding violent extremism. Building resilience was an objective for 16 projects; this approach is notable for its focus on resilience rather than risk.
Poverty, inequality, lack of economic opportunities, weak governments and governance, corruption, criminal violence, weak law enforcement and the abuse of human rights are amongst the problems citizens must grapple with every day
Radio has dramatically increased the reach of activities to promote education and dialogue; 11 respondents reported using this medium. The great advantage is that while programming can be transmitted, listeners can also phone in to raise questions and engage in debate. Radio broadcasts have been used to promote peace and encourage current members of extremist groups to defect. Radio makes it possible to reach vast numbers of people at a low cost.
Social media platforms are useful where cell-phone penetration is high amongst target audiences. Use of this option by extremist groups is well known, but its value for P/CVE efforts is less understood. Projects have been designed to use social media platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook to achieve a wide range of P/CVE objectives. Beyond educational messaging, Whatsapp groups can encourage dialogue and debate, create support for victims, and enable the sharing of personal experiences.
Some projects used the arts, including music, theatre and visual media. Local musicians are being engaged in P/CVE messaging, and visual arts reaching a diverse range of audiences. Most project activities bring people together for direct interactions to achieve objectives such as capacity building and psycho-social support. This requires not only skilled staffing but also infrastructure such as meeting venues and transport. These should all be essential considerations for project design, implementation and funding.
Unsurprisingly, youth were the most frequent focus of the projects reviewed in this study. Africa has a young population; people between the ages of 14 and 25 make up 60% of Africa’s population, and their number is expected to double to 2.5 billion in 2050. These young people have great potential to build a prosperous and peaceful future for Africa, but to do so they will need education, skills training and job opportunities.
Many of the projects reviewed here view youth from a risk-based perspective, noting their vulnerability to extremist messaging and to the economic benefits that extremist groups can offer. However, it is worth considering the wide range of opportunities offered by young people in terms of resilience building, and in their roles in communities as family members, friends, parents and participants in cultural activities. The capacities they offer are expansive and warrant far more consideration in programming.
This study made few distinctions between the roles of young men and women or between youth and children. However, it seems clear that much more needs to be achieved for children and young people, and that much of this needs to be achieved through widespread structural improvements.
Among the most frequently mentioned project objectives were promoting tolerance and multiculturalism, cited for 43 projects; promoting cooperation was cited for another 24. Inter-group relations are clearly a high priority
Women are significantly recognised in the projects reviewed for this study. Most projects include women as beneficiaries. There is much more to learn about the initiatives involving women, especially those that are designed and driven by women, such as the ‘100 Women’ Whatsapp groups discussed above.
Many projects emphasised vocational training for women. A respondent from Nigeria asked, ‘How can women support themselves during violence? They need to become breadwinners when their husbands die and they need to educate their children. If they cannot offer these things to their families they become even more traumatised.’
Local CSO or CBO actors have important knowledge that external organisations may lack, including about the community’s history, local dynamics, informal relationships, networks and cultural norms. However, they may not have all the skills needed to design, implement and evaluate a project.
Many projects investigated during this study partnered with local communities and with other organisations to achieve their objectives, especially where specialised skills were required. However, where external organisations and implementers were involved, the roles of community members (other than the project’s direct beneficiaries) were sometimes limited to consultations and the providing access required. There are also some indications that external organisations with a development specialisation may take more cognisance of these issues than other kinds of P/CVE implementers. This warrants further research and evaluation.
The PVE projects reviewed for this study were all community-based projects run by a mix of local organisations, international organisations and donors. Searches did not produce evidence of explicitly P/CVE-focused government projects. While development-related government activities might not be referred to as PVE, it would be useful, in future research, to investigate how government projects that focus on development, governance and justice matters, in areas where the threat of violence is high, are able to have an impact on this problem. Terms such as ‘peacebuilding’ and ‘conflict prevention’ were used by 45% of the organisations that participated in this study. This suggests that greater exchange between these fields and P/CVE would be helpful.
Project funding and duration
Fewer than half the projects assessed here (46%) revealed the duration of their funding. Most of those who did give this information indicated funding duration of one year (15% of all respondents) or less than one year (15%). This raises the question of how much effect an organisation can have in such short time frames. However, this study did not assess project impacts.
When discussing funding, respondents focused on what they were able to achieve with the funds allocated to their projects. However, when asked about lessons learned, they revealed that additional funding would have helped. One respondent in Nigeria said, ‘The reconstruction of 6 of over 250 homes was too small to make significant impact. To repeat this work, we will mobilise more funds so that more people benefit from it and are in a better frame of mind to participate in other healing activities.’
Unsurprisingly, youth were the most frequent focus of the projects reviewed in this study
Further research on funding would be valuable to understand how funding of international organisations and implementers compares to that of local CSOs and CBOs.
Monitoring and evaluation
As noted earlier, this is the weakest aspect of the projects reviewed. Figure 10 above indicates that of the 67 respondents who participated, 35 had indicated that their projects have been evaluated, with a further seven respondents planning evaluations. Of the 35 responses noted above, 17 reported conducting their evaluations internally. While the documents provided by international organisations indicated significant attention to this issue, this was given limited attention by CSOs and community based actors.
As noted in the introductory sections of this report, the need to take steps towards understanding the results of these project activities and building evidence from actual practice cannot be over-emphasised in terms of its value for current and future P/CVE efforts. Notwithstanding the many strong theories embedded in P/CVE projects, these projects are testing these concepts and their results are therefore vital to consider as these practices and investments continue.
It is therefore reiterated that it is necessary for projects to be well-designed based on local research, that their actions are documented, that their outputs and results are evaluated, and that their results are made publicly available. Such measures may enable the P/CVE community to establish a body of knowledge that can be used in future policy-making and programmes. This includes identifying successful smaller projects and finding the means to expand rapidly. It is therefore necessary to invest well in all of these processes; and for implementors and donors to accept their overall value. This is particularly so given the infancy of P/CVE as a social enterprise.
Relationships between P/CVE projects and other counter-terrorism measures
Relatively few explicit attempts were noted to align P/CVE projects with other counter-terrorism measures. In many cases, separation between security-based and social interventions might be necessary, especially if past interactions have led to local mistrust of security agencies.
A government-funded project in Burkina Faso is working to build better relationships between civilians and the military. While this project seems to be driven by government intelligence objectives, its operations across the country could improve cooperation and trust between local communities and the military in ways that could benefit other counter-terrorism and P/CVE efforts.
Several projects, especially larger regional ones, do work with and through criminal justice agencies. One such project is developing a practical guide for citizens on how to collaborate with defence and security agencies and contribute to PVE and the fight against terrorism. Local CSO initiatives also reported efforts to promote better relationships between communities and criminal justice agencies and other local government authorities. A respondent in Chad, for example, indicated that the project’s objective was to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice agencies to address terrorism with the framework of human rights. Clearly, such contributions are critical to P/CVE efforts and should be encouraged.
Where cooperation with security and justice agencies is possible, P/CVE activities may be of great value on a number of fronts. Most immediately, community interventions could help vulnerable groups – for example, children arrested on terrorism-related charges and victims of terrorism. Establishing cooperative relationships to achieve this would add value to broader P/CVE efforts.
The promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are embedded in many P/CVE efforts. For example, an organisation in Chad focuses on activism relating to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It undertakes awareness-raising and training, provides legal advice and monitors places of detention. Attention to these issues, as well as actions such as those noted above, are core to reaching P/CVE’s objectives. These issues should also be a focus of project evaluations, regardless of the direct objectives of these projects.
Given the range of projects reviewed in this study, it is clear that there is great enthusiasm for the funding and implementation of P/CVE initiatives, notwithstanding the different ways in which projects label their work. The following recommendations are offered based on these findings:
- P/CVE should move beyond community-based projects. Efforts should be made to address the structural factors that create grievances and are known to be associated with violent extremism, as well as other hardships suffered by citizens. Governments should highlight their efforts and achievements in addressing development, governance and justice matters, in local areas and more broadly.
- Global P/CVE actors should build a P/CVE evidence base. This requires investment in the design, evaluation and documentation of P/CVE projects and the sharing of knowledge emerging from this field. These measures will also help establish PVE as a legitimate field of endeavour. P/CVE and counter-terrorism institutions should find more effective ways to measure progress.
- P/CVE and counter-terrorism institutions should find more effective ways to measure progress (e.g. reliable project evaluations and longitudinal reviews), and hold governments accountable for their obligations relating to governance, justice and development.
- Donors and implementing organisations should work with communities to understand threats as experienced locally and the specific needs of project beneficiaries. Projects should look beyond the lens of PVE and design more comprehensive initiatives to address local violence prevention.
- Donors and practitioners should ensure that human rights violations, discrimination and stigmatisation do not take place in counter-terrorism and P/CVE initiatives. They should begin by investigating reports of human rights violations and bringing suspected offenders to justice, establishing codes of conduct, and informing the public of actions taken against offenders.
- P/CVE implementers and donors should inform themselves about the lessons learned and techniques developed in other P/CVE interventions as well as in other violence prevention fields and use this knowledge to strengthen project design and impact. This should include both substantive lessons and operational lessons (e.g. using radio to extend reach and reduce costs). This could include organising regular local forums to discuss key issues such as lessons learned.
- Donors should directly support local organisations in project design, implementation, evaluation and documentation, and help address other needs such as capacity building, sustainability and staff security.
P/CVE should move beyond community-based projects. Efforts should be made to address the structural factors that create grievances and are known to be associated with violent extremism
This study reviewed selected P/CVE initiatives in six countries in West and Central Africa. Much has been learned from this limited sample, including the key priorities of implementers and their difficulties, needs and lessons learned. There is much to learn from existing and new P/CVE projects, but many opportunities for this are being lost due to the limited attention to evaluation, documentation and sharing of project results. This severely limits the ability of P/CVE designers and implementers to learn from each other and to establish the credibility and legitimacy of the P/CVE enterprise.
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