In September, in the margins of the opening of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, the Strong Cities Network held a number of side events which turned the focus on mayors and local leaders; key voices and stakeholders who for far too long have not had been included in global conversations around addressing extremism and hate and increasing polarisation.
At the Strong Cities Network Side Event on City-led Action in Prevention Violent Extremism, Hate and Polarisation: Local-Level Approaches, Needs & Priorities, mayors and local practitioners from around the world shared their candid and moving on-the-ground, perspectives and experiences of leadership in the face of an increasingly interconnected, mainstreamed and localised extremism threat. These leaders brought a much-needed human face to what too often is a jargon-laden discussion, removed from local realities and needs. The audience heard directly from those on the frontlines and why community-based, locally-led prevention and response needs more attention at the global level.
Discussing the pivotal role that local leaders need to play in prevention, Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees emphasised that cities must be partners in efforts to build and strengthen social cohesion, not just delivery arms of national government policies. Cities understand their communities, have relationships with community leaders, know the dynamics; that knowledge cannot be replicated at the national level. Deputy Mayor of Žilina, Barbora Birnerová called for greater information sharing – including data on extremism trends – between national and local partners to ensure cities have the information they need to identify, intervene and respond. Fred Kreizman, Commissioner of the New York Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, noted the key role that trust plays in building social cohesion, and how New York is engaging in a ‘whole-of-administration’ effort to break down silos and build the relationships that are essential for effective and sustainable prevention. Joumana Silyan-Saba, Director of Policy and Discrimination Enforcement, of the Los Angeles’ Civil and Human Rights and Equity Department, warned how quickly hate and violence can devastate a city’s collective stability, emphasising a number of key building blocks for effective local prevention, including ensuring equitable societies, equal access to resources, leveraging public health models, addressing historical inequities and preserving democracy and human rights.
The audience heard powerful testimony on the needs and priorities of local authorities in Africa. Mayor of Monrovia Jefferson Koijee called on the international community to recognise the very real and rapidly escalating threat environment across the African continent. Greater support for city-led and facilitated inter-communal and inter-cultural dialogue, poverty reduction measures, youth engagement, and public safety/health initiatives, would help mitigate this threat. Echoing the earlier panel’s focus on trust as key for prevention, Doreen Nyanjura, Deputy Mayor of Kampala, emphasised how local authorities are best placed to understand local contexts and dynamics and more trusted that national governments. She noted the complexity of challenges cities face – from a lack of trust between central and local authorities, a lack of resources to provide adequately for the citizens they serve, and the impact this has on efforts to prevent and respond to extremism. The Secretary General of the Municipality of Tunis, Hafidha Mdimegh, noted the importance of situating and addressing extremism within a broader context of challenges to community safety. Extremism does not exist in a vacuum. City-led efforts to address extremism cannot and should not take place in isolation to broader public safety and factors that contribute and exacerbate insecurity, such as hate and gender-based violence.
The panellist’s remarks echoed many of the findings and recommendations of the new Strong Cities Network report on Addressing the Overlooked Role of African Cities in Preventing & Countering Violent Extremism This timely report draws on extensive consultations with national and local government officials, civil society organisations, researchers and multilateral bodies to map the needs and priorities of cities and local authorities in preventing and countering violent extremism and provides practical recommendations for improvements to policy and practice.
This side event also officially launched STRIVE Cities, an EU-funded, Strong Cities-led initiative that will channel support for cities and local authorities to strengthen their capacity to address an increasingly complex threat environment through Regional Hubs in East and Southern Africa and the MENA region.