Connect with us

Opinion

Horn of Africa: There Are No Quick Fixes in ‘Countering Violent Extremism’

Published

on

Since 9/11, western countries have increasingly invested in programmes to prevent transnational violent extremism. These include serious militarised measures but also “softer” civic interventions under the banner of ‘countering violent extremism’ (CVE). An example is funding social development programmes, implemented by civil society, with the aim of engaging and deterring individuals and communities from “radicalisation”.

An effective response to militant Islamist violence, threats, and underlying ideologies, is extremely important. But in the Horn of Africa, CVE programmes have failed to adequately engage with root causes of religious extremism.

In some cases they have failed so miserably that we must ask: to what extent are they actually genuine efforts to address violence and militancy? Are they merely superficial gestures? And how did such a complex issue become the additional burden of NGOs already struggling with layers of political and legal restrictions and limited capacity?

“The flame only burns those who touch it” is a Sudanese saying that resonates today. Religious militancy is not a new phenomenon in the Horn of Africa. People have lived through this fire for the past 30 years. In Somalia, thousands have been killed as a result of the brutal Al Shabaab insurgency which has lured Muslim youth towards militancy by exploiting community vulnerabilities including poverty.

In this region, religious militancy often disguises itself as an ideology for resistance against state corruption, ethnic and cultural biases. Meanwhile, counter-terror programmes often ally themselves with the same corrupt regimes. The west considers Sudan, for instance, a collaborative partner – though it is itself an incubator of religious militancy as a result of repressive policies and laws.

Indeed, CVE programming has fallen far short of the mark – conceptually and in implementation. Even the language used is deeply problematic. Measures to prevent violent extremism is vague and ambiguous.

CVE programmes are clearly supposed to be ‘soft power’ projects in parallel to military counter-terror interventions. But: what exactly do they mean by “violent extremism”? Is extremism acceptable if it is not violent? At what measureable point does an ideology become ‘extreme’? What countermeasures are acceptable?

And: Are these projects specifically focused on Islamic religious militancy, or violence based on other religions and ideologies as well?

These programmes have also been overly simplistic, largely ignoring driving factors of militancy and violence including injustices inflicted upon the region’s population. The – largely flawed – operating assumption is that providing grants to NGOs to undertake development-style programming will lead to a shift in communities’ social identities, or erase those inequalities and injustices.

Last year, the International Organisation for Migration launched a call for proposals on CVE stating that it intended to provide “small and quick impact support that capitalises on community driven interventions aimed at mitigating risk factors that contribute towards violent extremism. These will be preceded by interactive and participatory community consultations.”

But how can we think that transforming and influencing social and cultural identity can be accomplished through “small and quick impact support”?

Since the First World War, British and French colonial governments, and later the US government, helped cement political Islam and its organisations as buffers against Soviet Union’s expansion and to counter socialism’s influences in their quest for absolute control over Middle Eastern oil and gas.

Today states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran stress that Islam has only specific veiled versions, of which they are the vanguards. Supposedly, Muslims all over the world must be either Shia like in Iran or Sunni Salafi like in Saudi Arabia.

But, like other religions Islam is very diverse. Peoples’ experiences with it vary based on their specific historical and cultural contexts and perceptions. The Islamic faith also has a rich heritage of reform and transformative discourse, which can be used to facilitate persuasive transition in communities using their own religious guidance.

The Horn of Africa – which includes Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti – is close to the Arab Gulf region and thus it has been largely influenced by Salafi religious militancy ideology.

Here, the challenging religious context is further compounded by the complexity of social identity. Universal citizenship is not affirmed or applied by all states, to the disadvantage of minorities. Often, ethnic and religious affiliations also shape identity – as well as access to resources and services.

I recently heard the story of a donor-funded CVE project in the coastal areas of Kenya, which shows what’s at stake when NGOs, following donor agenda, forget that social and cultural change requires great effort, knowledge, and community ownership.

This project had proposed removing all references to jihad in the Qur’an in Islamic religion classes for “Madrassa” children – provoking anger and revolt from the local community over the presumption that it could intervene in matters of religious identity like this, amending and censoring materials.

Years of experience challenging religious militancy and its impact on women has taught me that pursuing any form of social transformation requires focusing on, and investing in, civil movements from within. It is the role of people living in regions where militant Islam is rife to lead and decide on the best approach to countering it.

Trying to address injustices suffered under militant Islamists requires meticulous and tireless work – but it is one of the most effective approaches.

Women’s movements have also been negotiating and challenging discrimination within different sects of Islamic traditions, text and jurisprudence. Academic Amina Wadud has contributed to a feminist reading of Quranic text based on equality and justice which counter to traditional and militant readings. Addressing religious militancy’s impacts and drivers is also a core priority of the SIHA Horn of Africa women’s network.

This approach must be adopted by political parties too and be connected to wider struggles for democracy, freedom of belief, equality and justice. Unfortunately, most CVE programmes and other counter terrorism strategies can only be characterised as pursuing ‘quick-fixes’ and short-sighted and short-term gains.

Communities in the Horn of Africa must look inside rather than outside for solutions. Within civil society, we must tackle prohibitions and fear of debate and critical engagement with Islam. Internationally, we need a new agenda, centred on liberation, to support movements relevant to the communities most affected by violent extremism.

 

About the author

Hala Alkarib is the Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a Horn of Africa based women’s coalition

 

This Article first appeared on openDemocracy

 

News

Opinion: Where Do I Stand in a Changing Region?

Published

on

By

Over the past six decades, the Horn of Africa has been a region of strife and conflict ravaging both the human lives and state resources. Poor leadership style in the region criminalized both the state and the economy. This is why many fellow citizens in the region believe that the conflicts and crisis in the region are a state-driven.

Somalia’s prolonged state collapse is one of the heartbreaking troubles in the region and greatly impacted on the regional peace and stability. Though it could be debatable, one of the major drivers of the Somalia’s protracted state collapse, is Somalia’s irredentism policy towards the Somali-speaking regions in the Horn. Djibouti, Somali region in Ethiopia, and the Northeastern region in Kenya could be an example. In this case, re-establishing strong state institutions in Somalia by the Somalis, could mean what, to the other states in the region? Do the regional states are honest about restoring well-built state institutions in Somalia? Do Somalis are ready to abandon their irredentism foreign policy objective? These are some thought-provoking questions.

The Republic of Somaliland, which merged with the Italian Somalia in 1960 to form the Greater Somali State in the Horn of Africa declared its withdrawal from the union in 1991, following a bitter war with the Somalia’s military regime. Somaliland has not yet attained de jure recognition from the international community. This is another dilemma in the region which needs a particular attention and consideration of all parties concerned.

The decades-long standoff between Somaliland and Somalia’s warring factions, and even the successive transitional and federal governments, have been shaped by Somalia’s political instability since the collapse of the central government in 1991. This dilemma dates back to the early decades of Somalia’s creation as a state. However, if this stand off were not settled by the concerned parties, it will bring another cycle of conflict and confrontation.

The Ethio–Eritrea border conflict is another dimension of the region’s conflicts. This conflict claimed the lives of over 70,000 people on both sides. Though the two countries are closing up a chapter of hate and hostility, what does this first round negotiation and dialogue mean to the other states in the region? Could it bring political and economic change?.

The Djibouti–Eritrea clash near Ras Doumeira is another potential conflict which may erupt sooner or later, if the two countries fail to address it. Therefore, ending the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea will definitely have an effect on this part of the region. The question is: what kind of effect it will bring?

Claiming Somalia’s territorial waters by Kenya, is a breach of the international boundaries, including territorial waters, and, without hesitation, the Kenyans has shown an interest to extend its territorial sea and jurisdiction to the Somalia waters due to the inward-looking of the Somalia politicians. This is a potential conflict which could erupt sooner or later between Somalia and Kenya.

The four-year old conflict between the Dinka and the Neur, the largest and the second largest ethnic group in South Sudan respectively, is another setback which greatly affected the prospects of the South Sudan’s state in post-independence period. Without doubt, the regional states exported their differences to South Sudan allying with the warring parties.

An oil-rich Abyei region between the two Sudans is another contested area. The two countries are claiming the possession of that part of the region. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached by the two sides in 2005 highlighted the importance of resolving the conflict in the contested area of Abyie. This is another potential conflict which can escalate at any time in the future if the two parties fail to resolve it.

Despite the fact that the Horn of Africa is a troubled region, I am not cynical about seeing a peaceful and a prosperous Horn African region, but, the willingness of the regional leaders to realize that ambition is discouraging. I have a grave concern over the future of the region, and returning to war in a struggle to control both the state power and natural resources in the expenses of others is inevitable and unavoidable.

I ask myself, Do the Somali leaders wherever they are aware the changing nature of the Horn? Where do they stand in this changing region? Not as individuals, but as Somali politicians and intellectuals.

 

Nasir M. Ali

Hargeisa, Somaliland

 

Continue Reading

News

An Open letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister

Published

on

By

Dear Prime minister,

 

Imagine Agaro or Jimma town bombarded and destroyed by planes belonging to the Ethiopian Army whose whole and sole responsibility was to protect, not to bomb its people. What if MIG17 were to take off from the airport to bomb the town itself? What if you were in your mother’s womb and she could not even walk the distance between Jimma and Sudan-Ethiopia border to look for shelter and safety and to keep you survive inside her womb? Just visualize a situation where your mother could not even think that you would ever survive, because of the   planes’ shelling and soldiers slaughtering their fellow citizens in every corner of the Agaro streets? How would you feel if your mother’s efforts and patience helped you being born in a refugee camp in Sudan and becoming a Sudanese citizen?

From all the above-mentioned questions, I am trying to project how my mother had been able to outlive the long suffering of the shelling and bombing by Somali Army of Hargeisa, where she had been living.  In 1988, my mother was expecting her first child and her ambition was to have her baby born in an environment with adequate medical facilities, but unfortunately, like other mothers in Somaliland then, she was forced to flee to Ethiopia. Luckily enough, she was not among the dead for I would have also died in her womb. In a dark night, without a medical doctor’s help, I joined this world.

Many moons later, and in an absolutely different situation, I was lucky enough to be able to have a country – Ethiopia, its citizenship and other necessary facilities in life. But what about my ancestor’s country- Somaliland? Like the liberation movements in Ethiopia, Somali National Movement took over the power in Somaliland. After years of armed struggle, they managed to withdraw from the failed union with Somalia in 1991.  Since that year, Somaliland has been developing and building its own state with limited external help. Since then, the only friend in the region both politically and economically that my ancestor’s country of Somaliland has had is Ethiopia. It’s been longtime friend of Ethiopia in terms of Security with mutual interest. So, I know firsthand how Somaliland is contributing to the region’s stability, including Ethiopia’s.

Dear Prime Minister, as an Ethiopian citizen having also family members in Somaliland, I am well aware of their desperate need of their right to be recognized as a sovereign independent state. I am thus urged to kindly submit this open letter to you. As a part of your new political strategy in the region and in Africa at large, which I really admire, do please take the lead to recognize the earnest efforts and the tangible contributions being made by the people of Somaliland to the region and to the world. It is in the interest of our both countries. There are a lot of important matters that the two countries share together, and by further elevating our diplomatic status to a higher level of full fledged ambassadorial level, will only do to consolidate the existing friendly relationship and enhance the common interests of the two countries.

Mr. Prime Minister, I am confident that you would give serious consideration to the abovementioned issues and the other vital ones that are not mentioned in this letter, not only because of my being a fellow Ethiopian citizen, but more so because of the dire need which has been emphasized by your declaration at your oath ceremony: “We will stand by our African brothers in general and our neighbors in particular, during good and bad  times.”  Needless to reiterate Somaliland is our neighbor and African brother too.

 

Yasmin M. Kahin,

Law graduate, Poetess and Playwright.

Qalinbila01@gmail.com

 

Continue Reading

News

Somaliland Women’s Political Participation Will Increase Citizens’ Confidence in Democracy

Published

on

By

Women are part of our society and their political engagement is invaluable. Building women’s and men’s equal participation in governance procedures is very important for sustaining inclusive and effective governance in Somaliland. As a developing society, it is very essential to recognize that women can play vital roles in their communities, as they are effective in advocating about pertinent issues that concern them. Regardless of the successes recorded in some Somaliland’s institutions, the underrepresentation of women in these political institutions is quite appalling. The reason for this is not far-fetched, as they face serious challenges trying to be a part of the political atmosphere of their country. These challenges include structural barriers emanating from discriminatory laws and cultural beliefs, which cripples the ability of women to vie for a political office.

Although there is a newly built democracy in Somaliland, tribalism is another limiting factor to women’s participation in Somaliland’s politics. The impact of this factor is enormous as it has its roots in the grassroots, the clans which are very crucial in getting elected into any political office. The traditions and the clan system favor only the male politicians and fails to recognize the woman as a permanent member of the family. In this system, a woman’s political ambition is not even given a chance to survive, as she does not even have a voice in her own constituency, let alone represent her people in the political landscape of the country. Other factors like social discrimination and aggressiveness towards the women folk, inability to get support as well as lack of adequate resources have really crippled the participation of women in the political affairs of the state.

It is true that women’s exclusion from the politics and decision-making tables was formalized by the culture but now the country has politically shifted from the clan-based to the multiparty system. Therefore, it is not just an issue of poor women representation in politics but also the poor development of inclusive and transparent democracies. Women have been playing a major role in Somaliland history and have greatly committed to independence, peace building, reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction. It is clear that women are the backbone when it comes to the reconstruction of the country and advocating for national stabilization, human rights, and democracy. With this antecedence, women’s political participation will increase the legitimacy of the governance, transparency of the growing institutions and provide transformative leadership in all sectors of government.  Also, their engagement will decrease the corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and injustice which is currently prevalent in several quarters. Women’s political involvement begins with increasing the number of slots allocated to women in vital decision-making positions like parliaments, local councils, and other governmental institutions. When we have a good number of female political figures in these positions, they stand a better chance of contributing more to nation building as well as addressing very important and challenging issues affecting the well-being of women.

However, women in Somaliland are still largely absent from national and local decision-making bodies and are excluded from political processes especially in recent times. Despite representing half the country’s population, women comprise less than 3 percent of Somaliland’s legislators. Evidence from developing countries around the world shows that an increase in women’s participation in the political life of their countries often leads to improved socio-economic conditions, as many of these women– more readily than their male counterparts– tackle poverty reduction and service delivery as areas of primary importance to their constituents and supporters, as seen in Rwanda. During the civil war and up to the 1994 genocide, women’s parliamentary participation was 18 percent at most. This number increased in the years leading up to the 2003 constitution, reaching a record 56.3 percent in 2008. The increased numbers of women’s participation are a result of gender-sensitive constitutional quotas, an innovative electoral structure, and the participation of partner institutions. Against this backdrop, in a bid to correct this, an electoral quota is considered an effective administrative tool which can pave way for a mandatory percentage of women candidates for the leadership and decrease the historic exclusion of the women from the politics.  The outcome of a meeting at the presidential palace, which had Somaliland’s President, Hon. Musa Bihi Abdi and his cabinet in attendance revealed suggestions made to reserve a quota for women in parliamentary and local government elections.  For, Mr. Musa Bihi Abdi this is a step in the right direction and it could be historic when it is approved by the parliament and the country’s house of elders. Once this bill is approved, it will bring a high increase in female political representation and will eliminate the domestic gender-based violence. This will also go a long way in strengthening women’s rights and addressing barriers to political partaking which are critical to achieving an equal society where everyone has his or her own voice by improving women’s access to justice, thereby increases citizens’ confidence in democracy.

Women’s exclusion from decision-making bodies is detrimental to democracy and any democracy that excludes half of its people is a big contradiction and huge failure. In that case, we need to work towards strengthening women’s rights and political participation, because increased female political influence will promote the growth of our democratic institutions and improve our social wellbeing.

 

Musa M Isse

Stockholm, Sweden

 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Musa M. Isse is a journalist, author and social entrepreneur based in Stockholm, Sweden

He can be reached at     haji_musa @hotmail.com

Continue Reading

Facebook

Trending