Author: Isel Van Zyl
Civic Action and Capacity Building Coordinator
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, people around the world have not been allowed to travel outside of their immediate areas or conduct meetings in person. This largely grounded to a halt the many dialogue, networking community-engagement, and other trust-building activities that have become hallmarks of programmatic efforts to prevent violent extremism. The absence of in-person PVE activities has come at a time when they are more critical than ever, with the pandemic magnifying and often exacerbating existing grievances – typically against the government - in marginalised communities in Africa, allowing for certain groups to become more vulnerable to recruitment into violent extremism.
Despite the hardships posed by the pandemic, the Strong Cities Network – a global network of some 150 cities and other local authorities focused on enhancing and elevating the contributions of these stakeholders in ‘whole of society’ PVE efforts – recently organised two activities aimed at overcoming the challenges to relating to catalysing and sustaining locally-driven multi-stakeholder prevention efforts.
The first of these events was an in-person Kenya Inter-County Exchange involving four counties (Nakuru, Kwale, Lamu and Isiolo) during which participants shared experiences and lessons learned with a particular focus on the challenges and good practices in implementing county P/CVE action plans (CAPs).
During the exchange, key local stakeholders involved in the county-level Community Engagement Forum (CEF), established to help implement the CAPs, shadowed counterparts from other counties to share successes and challenges in P/CVE approaches, action plan implementation strategies, and thematic priorities.
"Particularly given the challenges brought about by the pandemic, speakers stressed the need for national and local governments to better respond to the rising needs of their citizens and to double down on efforts to alleviate the marginalisation of vulnerable communities"
Following this exchange, the SCN hosted a virtual event to discuss the most relevant takeaways and lessons learned which participants would like to implement in their counties. These included the argument that PVE activities can only be successful alongside regular engagement with relevant stakeholders such as county governments. Secondly, participants celebrated the opportunity to share experiences and the ability to learn from different contexts, building relationships with other practitioners also working to prevent violent extremism. Thirdly, participants stressed the need for activities such as the Inter-County Exchange to take place in person, as it allowed for more in-depth discussions to take place and for the opportunity to travel to different institutions and meet relevant partners. Lastly, all participating organisations agreed that opportunities such as the Inter-County Exchange allowed for lessons and good practice sharing, and enhancing cooperation between different counties and different organisations.
Focusing on the wider African continent, the SCN then hosted the Africa Summit: Supporting City-Led Efforts to Address Hate, Polarisation and Extremism in partnership with the Kilindini Coalition and Mombasa County Government. The Summit included speakers from international agencies, national and local government and local civil society organisations that shared their experiences, lessons learned and challenges regarding important topics such as the impact that COVID-19 has had on PVE, youth inclusion, and how to improve multi-stakeholder approaches to PVE on the continent.
Several discussion points and recommendations were highlighted during the Africa Summit’s five sessions. These included commending the added value of locally-driven, multi-stakeholder approaches to P/CVE and thus underscoring the need to build trust, share information, and deepen cooperation among different local stakeholders such as the private sector, local government, health practitioners and religious institutions.
Additionally, speakers emphasised how COVID-19 has exacerbated the conditions conducive to violent extremism, including the lack of access to services, unemployment, the rising poverty, and feelings of marginalisation and exclusion. Particularly given the challenges brought about by the pandemic, speakers stressed the need for national and local governments to better respond to the rising needs of their citizens and to double down on efforts to alleviate the marginalisation of vulnerable communities. Further, speakers discussed the importance of involving young people in the design and implementation of programmes aimed at building resilience to and otherwise preventing extremism and hate from taking root. They drew attention to the need to ensure that these programmes are age-appropriate to ensure they encourage the youth participation they are seeking.
These two SCN activities sought to achieve what has been lacking the past year and a half: bringing together and creating the opportunity for multi-stakeholder engagements on identifying local P/CVE priorities in Africa and how best to address them moving forward.
These events underscored the continued importance of improving and encouraging cooperation among national and local governments and civil society and multilateral organisations, particularly around allowing cities and other local authorities to better leverage their comparative advantages when it comes to prevention. Multi-stakeholder activities that connect national and local government and non-governmental actors are critical to making progress on this agenda and the SCN’s planned growth in Africa in 2022 will allow for more such activities – whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid - which will create more networking and collaboration opportunities that should result in more effective and sustainable P/CVE plans and programmes.