Strong Cities launched a new East & Southern Africa Regional Hub at an inspiring event with local, national, civil society and multilateral stakeholders in Nairobi, identifying priorities across the new Hub’s five pillars to guide an exciting forward agenda.
On 26 – 27 October, more than 65 national, local, civil and multilateral stakeholders gathered in Nairobi for the launch of the Strong Cities Network’s (SCN) East & Southern Africa Regional Hub (ESA Regional Hub), which the European Union (EU) is funding as part of its STRIVE Cities programme. The Hub is one of four Regional Hubs SCN is launching around the world over the next few months. Learn more: Regional Hubs.
Participants at the event included some 20 governors, mayors, deputy mayors and other local officials from the region. The event, co-funded by the EU and the US Department of State, also served as opportunity for county-level leaders and practitioners in Kenya to share with local government leaders and officials across the region their experiences and lessons learned in developing and implementing local multi-actor prevention plans and programmes, such as the US Department of State’s PROACT initiative.
Laying the foundation
In opening remarks, SCN Executive Director Eric Rosand underscored the important, but often overlooked, role that mayors and local authorities have to play in preventing what is an increasingly localised and complex threat environment, including violent extremism and related threats and insecurities, from taking root or expanding in their communities. He spoke of how, with the ESA Regional Hub in place, SCN will be able to engage more consistently with more counties, provinces, border towns and urban centres on a regular basis going forward. He emphasised that a key objective of the workshop was to gather inputs from regional stakeholders on the Hub’s initial priorities.
Katrin Hagemann, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in Kenya, noted how STRIVE Cities aims to foster cohesion between different stakeholders working to address violent extremism, including by establishing a trustful relationship between communities and local government. A representative from Kenya’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) reinforced Kenya’s strong support for SCN. He emphasised the importance of spotlighting cities in prevention and how they can and must become a bulwark against violent extremism. A member of Mandera County’s Executive Committee said that effective local P/CVE, and related prevention frameworks, hinge on building the capacity of local governments and effective collaboration between local governments and their national counterparts, as well as with civil society.
Participants discussed SCN’s recently released, EU-funded report that maps the P/CVE needs and priorities of African cities, drawing on extensive consultations with local and national actors. They welcomed its findings and recommendations, which are intended to provide a foundation for the ESA Regional Hub’s forward work. Participants highlighted how a mapping of the local context is a critical first step to effective community-based interventions, enhancing inter-communal interactions, resolving local conflicts, and impactful P/CVE.
County local P/CVE plans, platforms and programmes in Kenya: a model for local action for the region
Stakeholders from three Kenyan counties – Isiolo, Kwale and Nakuru – shared successes and lessons learned in developing and implementing community-based, evidence-driven, multi-stakeholder, local prevention frameworks, teams and interventions. This work, developed and implemented in partnership with local civil society oganisations and in cooperation with the NCTC and local government, has helped build cohesion between stakeholders, promoted a better understanding of violent extremist vulnerabilities in the community, and raised awareness of the existing resources and programmes that could be leveraged to address not just violent extremism but a wider set of community concerns. The teams have been able to enter local communities to raise awareness about violent extremist behavioural indicators and the resources available to support at-risk individuals. This is turn has empowered community members to refer individuals to the team who need such support.
Discussions also focused on the County Engagement Forums (CEF) that have emerged in different Kenyan counties, which have provided a platform for multi-stakeholder conversations around violent extremism and P/CVE, where security actors, national, county, CSOs, religious, and private sector actors meet regularly. It was emphasised how these platforms have contributed to strengthening trust among key stakeholders, whose cooperation is critical for P/CVE efforts to be effective. CEFs have since become part of the P/CVE framework in Kenya, connected to County Action Plans.
Participants encouraged SCN to facilitate more learnings and sharing among cities in the ESA region, including around how to leverage existing local structures to promote multi-stakeholder programmes to prevent extremism, hate and polarisation. This recognises that there are other existing approaches at the local level in countries like Tanzania and Uganda, which, although not connected to P/CVE specifically, could also be relevant models for cities across the region interested in contributing to P/CVE efforts in their communities.
Synergies with existing multilateral architecture in the ESA Region
With a plethora of multilateral and other P/CVE initiatives in the region, participants emphasised the importance of ensuring that the ESA Regional Hub works synergistically with relevant United Nations (UN) bodies, the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose P/CVE interactions are primarily with national governments and civil society.
Representatives of UN Habitat’s Safer Cities Program and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) expressed their commitment to collaborate with the ESA Regional Hub, particularly given their shared focus on strengthening local governance. Cities across the region were encouraged to take advantage of UNDP’s investments in context-specific research, data-based interventions and P/CVE programme design and monitoring and implementation tools. Participants highlighted SCN’s ability to engage directly with mayors and local governments on the P/CVE agenda as complementing UNDP’s more formal approach, which is through national governments and national development plans.
It was underscored how Safer Cities’ focus on multi-stakeholder, institutional, social and situational prevention at a city level, including through its New Urban Agenda, complements and reinforces SCN’s approach. Although the former focuses on public safety and SCN on extremism, hate and polarisation, participants recognised how these two approaches could be integrated into a single city framework and programme.
The East African Local Governments Association (EALGA) Secretary General advocated for working with existing networks and partners, including national city networks, to reach and maximise impacts on prevention for cities across the region. This would include leveraging city policies, agendas, structures and resources whenever possible and ensuring commitment of both local leaders (to help ensure the necessary political leadership) and local government civil servants (to help ensure continuity and sustainability of policies and programmes).
Identifying priorities across the ESA Regional Hub’s five pillars
Across a series of breakout sessions, participants exchanged views on what should be the Hub’s priorities across each of its five pillars, emphasising the importance of partnerships and cooperation with existing city networks and relevant multilateral activities in the region.
With respect to the Hub’s Peer-to-Peer Learning pillar, among the priorities highlighted were to enable mayors to learn from each other on prevention, and city officials to exchange on local prevention models and strategies, including for engaging with vulnerable youth. This could be done within a particular country, region-wide, have a cross-border dimension involving a handful of towns that share a common border, or through city-pairings.
Under the Capacity-Building pillar, participants emphasised the importance of identifying and prioritising the specific needs of the local government and the communities it serves. These will vary depending on size, location, nature of the threat and local context more broadly. It was suggested that among the ESA Regional Hub’s top priorities should be to help mayors and local government employees understand more fully their role in P/CVE. Among other things, this might involve the Hub facilitating the development of a model local framework (whether law, policy or regulation) that provides the local government with a clear P/CVE mandate; exploring how local governments can mainstream P/CVE into existing city-level structures/programmes; and highlighting good practices for how local governments can build trust with local communities and reduce inter-communal or tribal tensions.
In discussions on the Hub’s Cooperation pillar, participants agreed that inter-agency cooperation at national and local government levels is the only way to prevent extremism. In addition, given the dynamic nature of the online and offline threat landscape, no local government should consider itself immune from the threat. This underscores the importance of local-local cooperation, whether between cities, rural villages and urban centres, within a country, or across borders. Moreover, participants encouraged the Hub to focus attention on strengthening national-local cooperation in countries in the region as such cooperation is not only needed to enable the cascading down of national P/CVE frameworks, but for pushing up local government perspectives and priorities when it comes to P/CVE to the central government.
Elevating Local Voices
The breakout session focused on the Hub’s Elevating Local Voices pillar generated a strong recommendation that the voices of local leaders and the perspectives of local government officials need to be better reflected in regional and global conversations about violent extremism and violence and conflict more broadly, given the localised nature of their impact. It was suggested that the SCN, through its ESA Regional Hub, should work with the AU, SADC, IGAD and other relevant inter-governmental bodies in the region to ensure that relevant local governments are at the table when the bodies are discussing violent extremism and how best to prevent and counter. Participants also recommended that the Hub work with cities in the region to ensure that local dialogue platforms that can help bring different parts of a city together and reduce political, economic, social and communal tension are inclusive, with youth, women and other often underrepresented groups at the table.
Participants had dynamic discussions around the Hub’s Youth Engagement pillar, exchanging views on how the Hub can cataylse meaningful city-engagement with young people to ensure their voices are heard in local policymaking debates and to strengthen trust and collaboration, including between local government officials and young people on P/CVE and prevention more broadly. There was recognition across the breakout groups that feelings of exclusion and marginalisation among young people can exacerbate grievances that can lead to violence; that youth want to be involved as partners with impact, not framed as a partner without any real engagement or as the problem. Youth need seats at the table (e.g., when local policies that will affect them are being considered), agency to share openly without fear of government retaliation, opportunities to connect with P/CVE stakeholders, and to be actively engaged in designing youth programs and interventions.
Participants also noted opportunities for the Hub to identify and disseminate models and methods – including tailored social media strategies – through which local governments can connect and engage with youth. Other recommendations included facilitating both the development of a model local youth policy that integrates P/CVE and regional peer learning on how local governments can integrate P/CVE issues into existing engagements (included those related to economic and employment opportunities, sports or culture) with young people. Participants also encouraged the Hub to map and identify different ways in which cities are engaging with youth-led organisations across region and to facilitate sharing of models such as SCN’s Young Cities, and which integrate arts, sports, mentorship and critical thinking programmes, misinformation and disinformation campaigns, and local resource hubs. They also suggested opportunities to raise awareness with local governments about how climate change is affecting the economic and employment opportunities of young people in their communities and thus contributing to rising levels of extremism among youth in some contexts.
The SCN Executive Director welcomed the many expressions of interest by local government representatives in having their cities join the Strong Cities Network. He shared that the ESA Regional Hub will be operational in the next couple of weeks and would begin communicating directly with cities and other key stakeholders in the region. Real time communications between SCN members and partners in the region will be facilitated by a multi-lingual platform, and a Hub Help Desk will enable local leaders and local government practitioners to reach out for advice on specific needs/challenges they are facing in the prevention arena. The Hub will then access the expertise that exists within the SCN Management Unit and across the SCN’s global network in support.
Regionally-focused thematic working groups on issues of common concern across a number of cities (e.g., one for mayors/local leaders and at least one for local government practitioners) will further drive forward regional sharing. It will also provide an opportunity for cities that want to take on a leadership role in the region and within the SCN more broadly.
Informed by the launch event, the ESA Regional Hub team will be elaborating a work plan for the next 12 to 18 months that will include a number of activities, including ones focused on cities within a particular country, cities across the region, and more targeted engagement with smaller groups of cities, where needed.
The workshop concluded with participants being reminded that although a wide range of P/CVE and broader security, youth, human rights, accountability, corruption and development challenges were raised during the event, SCN, through the ESA Regional Hub, will focus attention on its core mission: promoting and supporting greater involvement of local leaders and the governments they lead in preventing extremism, hate and polarisation.