United Nations warns that young Africans are becoming radicalised

A key report based on interviews with extremist recruits says that governments in the region are providing reasons for them to join the groups

FILE - In this file image taken from video released Friday Oct. 31, 2014, by Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, centre, the leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group, surrounded by his fighters. Nigeria-based Boko Haram extremists have killed more than 380 people in the Lake Chad region since April, a major resurgence of attacks that has resulted in double the casualties compared to the five months before April, Amnesty International said Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Boko Haram,File)
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The United Nations has warned that young Africans are increasingly gravitating towards violent extremism, and discovered that in many cases they are pushed towards such actions by the behaviour of their own governments – including perceived state violence or abuse of power and corruption.

The study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment, reveals that a rapidly expanding youth population which has little chance of economic or social betterment is approaching a point when their anger will boil over.

“This study sounds the alarm that as a region, Africa’s vulnerability to violent extremism is deepening,” Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UNDP Africa director, said on Thursday at the launch of the report in New York.

“Borderlands and peripheral areas remain isolated and under-served. Institutional capacity in critical areas is struggling to keep pace with demand. More than half the population lives below the poverty line, including many chronically underemployed youth.”

The study took two years to compile, and involved interviews with 495 voluntary recruits who had joined Africa’s most prominent extremist groups, including Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. The UNDP believes that more than 33,000 people have died in Africa due to extremist attacks between 2011 and early 2016.

One of the study’s eye-catching findings was that more than seven out of ten of the recruits interviewed said that some form of government action had inspired the "tipping point" moment that triggered their decision to join an extremist group – with the killing or arrest of a family member or friend being a key driver.

The UNDP is suggesting that governments in the region rethink their approach for dealing with extremism; that the instinctive desire to ignore rule of law and human rights in a rush to crush terror groups is counter-productive and leads to more incidents. Instead they should focus on strengthening the state and welfare services.

“Delivering services, strengthening institutions, creating pathways to economic empowerment – these are development issues,” Mr Dieye said.