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Elevating the Role of African Cities in Preventing Extremism and Hate: Mapping City Needs and Priorities

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— 3 minutes reading time

From 31 May to 1 June 2022, the Strong Cities Network, in cooperation with the African Union’s Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (CAERT) and with funding from the European Union (EU), convened over 50 mayors and other local leaders, civil society representatives and senior officials from national governments and multilateral bodies in North and West Africa. Participants exchanged  views on how best to support city and other local authority-led efforts for preventing extremist- and hate-motivated violence and polarisation. The multi-stakeholder gathering included officials and experts from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia, as well as UNDP, UN Habitat, UN OCT, UN Women, the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), the EU Delegations in Ghana and in Senegal, and the US Embassy in Dakar. The workshop was part of a larger EU-financed initiative to map city-level prevention-related needs and priorities across Africa.

Participants were asked to share their perspectives on the threat landscape in the region, existing locally-led for preventing hate, polarisation and extremism that leads to violence; the comparative advantages of cities and other local authorities in prevention, as well as the policies and infrastructure needed to leverage them. Participants further shared their experiences with and understandings of the main challenges that North and West African cities face and how international, regional and sub-regional bodies and networks can support cities to overcome these challenges. From Accra to Dakar, Kano State to Mansakonko, Monrovia to N’Djamena, Ouagadougou to Rabat, and Sfax to Tunis, the workshop benefitted from a range of diverse perspectives on the threat landscape, and the strengths and limitations of existing approaches to preventing and countering the threat.

Below are key takeaways and proposed next steps based on the discussions, which took place under the Chatham House Rule. A more detailed overview of each takeaway and next step can be found in the following two sections.

Key Takeaways

  1. The extremist threat landscape in North and West Africa is compounded by significant challenges posed by armed gangs, banditry, kidnappings and other forms of violent crime.
  2. Porous borders and the consequent ease with which extremists and other armed groups are able to cross borders poses a significant challenge. This is exacerbated by armed conflicts often being concentrated in border communities.
  3. Ineffective or sometimes non-existent service delivery and poor local governance were highlighted as key drivers of violent extremism (and other forms of violence and conflict) in the region.
  4. Responses to the threat remain overly centralised and securitised, with little to no responsibility devolved from central governments to cities and other local authorities.
  5. Local authorities are keen to be involved and see themselves as best placed to convene local actors and to map and analyse local contexts that can better inform local and national responses.
  6. The region is littered with oft-redundant multilateral strategic frameworks (e.g., those developed by the UN, ECOWAS or other multilateral bodies) for addressing security-related challenges that then inform national strategies. However, these frameworks are either not informed by local voices, and thus disconnected from “reality in the field”, or are inaccessible and challenging for local authorities to contextualise and apply.
  7. Multilateral, national and local frameworks for preventing extremist and hate-motivated violence should be more inclusive of historically under-represented demographics, including youth, women and ethnic and religious minorities.
  8. Significant obstacles to national-local cooperation (NLC) on prevention in the region include a lack of trust and consensus between national and local authorities on the nature of the problem (e.g., security vs. social), as well as the absence of mechanisms to facilitate cooperation between the different levels of government. More attention in the region needs to be given to developing inclusive national prevention frameworks and ensuring they are then cascaded down to the local level.
  9. Cities in North and West Africa could benefit from capacity building on preventing and countering violent extremism, including training to better understand the evolving and integrated threat and how to develop and implement effective local policies and programmes to address it.
  10. Strong Cities can serve as an effective third party to help and connect cities in the region to fulfil their comparative advantages in preventing hate and extremism by providing practical and actionable recommendations, and serving as a bridge between existing frameworks and local application.