Democracy and Governance is Central to P/CVE
Articles & Insights
May 15, 2023
Dr. Lauren Van Metre & Scofield Yoni Muliru
The development community’s response to violent extremism, addressing the societal inequities that drive it, has become an important aspect of P/CVE. The field, however, has paid less attention to the political drivers of violent extremism, including political polarization, state-sanctioned marginalization of individuals and groups, and elite segregation of P/CVE and counterterrorism responses. Research by Scofield Associates, with support from NDI, on “new” community-centered national security strategies highlights the importance of integrating democracy and governance with development to address political drivers of violent extremism.
The United Nation’s 2016 Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism spurred the development of national P/CVE strategies in Africa. Today, Kenya and Niger stand-out for their focus on communities. Niger’s 2017-2021 Economic and Social Development Plan (PDES) rooted P/CVE in community development; its more recent internal national security strategy on violent extremism engaged civil society in its creation. Kenya’s national CVE strategy was guided by the National Counterterrorism Center; it is the only country to localize the strategy through county action plans (CAPs).
While these inclusive national security strategies pivot countries from harmful policies, such as marginalizing suspect communities and overly securitized and criminalized approaches, implementation gaps have exposed important political drivers of violent extremism. Interviews with leaders in Kenya and Niger point to the need for more and better integrated development and governance approaches.
Political polarization: In Niger, electoral politics drives violent extremism. Political rhetoric in the campaign season takes aim at the performance of the state, rather than its political party leadership. This anti-state messaging is amplified by extremist groups to whip up popular grievances against the secular government. Political party leaders in Niger also manipulate conflict dynamics locally, modulating local tensions to retain their hold on power, in the process providing avenues for extremist groups to enter communities through active grievances. In Kenya, political polarization between the ruling and opposition parties has affected the implementation of the CAPs in opposition strongholds, often marginalizing areas at risk for violent extremism. Polarization may become an issue in the implementation of Niger’s internal national security as well, as opposition parties were largely left out of its development.
Engaging political parties is a notable P/CVE gap. Given their role as both drivers and resolvers of grievances that fuel violent extremism, political party-centered programming is critical: education on the security and democracy costs of polarization; adoption of political party election compacts on dangerous speech (that includes mitigating all forms of violence, including violent extremism); and building their capacity to resolve community grievances and strengthen their representation of marginalized communities within the state.
Marginalized Youth: Violent extremist groups target the most marginalized of marginalized youth. Yet, those most at risk are rarely included in P/CVE programming due to multi-layered and entrenched systems of political exclusion. Community “gatekeepers” in local communities exclude youth at the fringes, or those who have self-marginalized. State stigmatization, in the form of security laws, prohibit engagement with certain types of youth or “problematic” ethnic groups. Donors have their darlings among youth activists, who disproportionately participate in and receive funding for P/CVE activities. Our research on Kenya’s CAPs shows that donors and community leaders determined most youth participation. If marginalized youth participated, it was as a token and their perspectives rarely influenced planning outcomes. In Niger, youth participation is often strictly controlled by community gatekeepers.
Donors must modify their participation requirements to partners and community leaders to increase participation by the marginalized. P/CVE programs must incorporate capacity building for these youths to prepare them for meaningful participation to achieve programmatic outcomes that reduce THEIR risk of violent extremism.
Issue segregation: In incorporating CAPS into Kenya’s national security strategy, the national government has prohibited communities from addressing returnees, amnesty for fighters and the conduct of security forces, on the basis of national security. The lack of civilian oversight of security and rule of law in relation to P/CVE has weakened government accountability; encouraged illiberal tendencies, such as human and democratic rights violations and, in some cases, strengthened authoritarian control.
Development organizations must support building the capacity of parliamentarians to: 1) Improve security laws so that they are “ground truthed” and represent community interests (such as on returnees and amnesty), and; 2) Oversee national security act implementation with parliamentary processes which include avenues for citizen-security dialogue and the establishment of civilian expert organizations on security issues.
In the end, these new community-led strategies increase resilience and reduce risk. They strengthen governance relationships in the very contexts of fragility that violent extremist groups exploit, and while mitigating a host of political drivers of violent extremism.