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Addressing the Overlooked Role of African Cities in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism

Last updated:
10/07/2023
Publication Date:
01/07/2023
Content Type:

Over the past two decades, the international community’s understanding of violent extremism, related threats, and how best to prevent and counter them, has evolved in several ways. Two important ones point to the increased relevance of cities and other local authorities in preventing and countering these threats.

First, despite the emergence of increasingly global and interconnected terrorist networks, many of the threats are locally rooted. Violent extremist and other armed groups increasingly exploit local political, social and economic grievances to recruit and mobilise others.

Second, recognition of the localisation of the threat has led to a growing realisation of the need for cities (and other local authorities) to become involved in what has traditionally been seen as the exclusive remit of national governments and national security actors in particular. It is cities and other local jurisdictions, after all, that face the brunt of terror attacks and acts of violent extremism. They are typically the first to respond in the immediate aftermath, and the ones responsible for mitigating the long-term economic and social impacts of violent extremism and other forms of hate-motivated violence in the communities they serve. The role of local authorities in prevention cannot be overstated: by virtue of their proximity to communities, they can build trust, foster inclusive city identities, and leverage other forms of public service – including around housing and employment – to respond to the threat of extremism in a sustainable, non-stigmatising way that respects the principle of ‘do no harm’.

In some African contexts, local leaders and authorities are gradually becoming more involved in the discourse around terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the development and cohesion-building initiatives that aim to ensure the well-being and peaceful coexistence of and within their communities. Yet, despite increased recognition of the importance of locally driven, whole-of-society approaches to addressing these threats, far too often cities are not considered relevant stakeholders. Local authorities struggle to get involved – let alone lead – in developing and implementing policies and programmes to prevent extremism, hate and polarisation from taking root in their communities and escalating to violence.

Whether it is a lack of understanding about the threat (and how local conditions can enable it), a lack of mandate from their national government or a lack of resources, expertise and capacities, local authorities in Africa face multiple barriers to their inclusion and leadership in prevention. There remains, for example, a disconnect between regional- and national-level policymaking and local action; multilateral institutions and national governments often overlook cities and other local authorities as they develop prevention policies and programmes, and relevant donors and international partners largely focus their resources on national governments and civil society.

Strong Cities works with cities and other local authorities, as well as national, regional and global actors, to overcome these barriers and support local governments to achieve their full potential as leaders in preventing extremism, hate and polarisation. As part of this commitment, Strong Cities has been supported by the European Union (EU) since February 2022 to map the preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) needs and priorities of cities across the African continent.

Given the nature and duration of the project, this report does not intend to provide a comprehensive account of the P/CVE and related needs and priorities of the thousands of cities and other local authorities across the African continent. Rather, it is an important first step in understanding how these often-overlooked local actors perceive violent extremist threats, their role in preventing them from taking root in their communities and responding to them when they do, and how they can be supported to meet their potential as leaders in whole-of-society P/CVE efforts.