Unemployment, Peer Pressure Feasible Contributors to Violent Extremism

A number of youths are lured into violent extremism due to unemployment, according to researchers from Makerere University. 

In a new book titled “Countering Violent ExtremeIism in Uganda: History, Philosophies and Strategies”, eight researchers studied the subject of violent extremism to know what factors can explain it, under what environment, and what interventions the civil society has made to counter the vice.

Published by the Makerere University Press, in the 214 pages book, researchers identified a number of factors that lead people into acts of violent extremism. And first on the list is unemployment. Uganda’s unemployment rate is counted at 9.2 percent while the unemployment rate of people aged between 18 to 30 is 13.3 percent.

“This makes them vulnerable to promises from violent extremist groups meant to better their lives financially. On this note, violent extremists utilize such opportunity to instill their ideologies into the minds of these youths” reads part of the book. Another method used to recruit people into acts of violent extremism such as terrorism is through peer influence where indoctrinated youths are used to encourage their peers to join violent extremist groups.

According to the research, some youths are promised scholarships while others are forcefully abducted and forced to join groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army-LRA, the Holy Spirit Movement, and the Allied Democratic Forces- ADF which has operated in Western Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC. However, it’s also revealed in the study that some former extremists who were interviewed self-recruited into groups of violent extremism

“These have reasons such as the desire for heroism, emptiness of life, admiration of violent extremism activities, and figures such as Osama bin Laden. These do everything possible to find ways to join violent extremism groups” the researchers state.

Violent extremism has been defined as a demonstration of unacceptable behavior by using any means or medium to express views that foment, justly, or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs including those who provoke violence based on ideological, political or religious beliefs and foster hatred that leads to violence.

The researchers point to the presence of violent extremism in Uganda, identifying the forms under which the practice manifests. They say violent extremism manifests in the use of hate speech where some groups encourage and promote hostility, hatred, negative stereotyping, and insult against other groups of different religions, ethnicity, race, or political inclination.

The vice, according to the researchers also manifests in people claiming absolute truth and rejecting any alternatives presented to them, reliance on distorted ideologies such as misquoted verses of the holy books, and the unwillingness to compromise with people with opposing views.

“Violent extremists strictly and blindly adhere to the commands of their leaders without questioning and reasoning. They never give a thought to what they are told to do as they are convinced that whatever their leaders tell them is the truth and must be strictly adhered to” reads the book further.

The global debate on countering violent extremism has ranged on and was accelerated following the September 11 twin bombing in the United States of America. Discussions on whether to close borders to restrict the entry of refugees originating from countries with alleged violent extremist groups have generated a lot of debate.

While some countries like Canada have promoted and practiced an open border policy, others such as the UK and the US have been so skeptical and often restricted border crossing into their territories. 

The proponents of open borders argue that refugees from troubled countries should be embraced because they have a right to move. But also, that it is easy to then, to monitor the would-be candidates for violent extremism by involving them in another society.

As for the antagonists, they refer to their obligation to protect their boundaries as the main goal, although this is often used only as a scapegoat as refugees who are found to be clean never get any way past these countries.

In Uganda, there have not been many cases of violent extremism as is the case for Kenya, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC.

However, the presence of porous borders has been raised as a concern, an inlet for violent extremism and recruiters.  Regardless of the factors that lead people into violent extremism and the environment that supports the growth of the vice, the major question for scholars and other stakeholders is;  how can violent extremism be countered?

In the book, researchers asses the work of six civil society organizations to know how they counter violent extremism. The organization are the Muslim Center for Justice and Law, Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, Inter-religious Council of Uganda, International Alert, Action for Fundamental Change and Development, and United Religions Initiative Great Lakes.

These organizations conduct several activities including skilling former extremists, having dialogue sessions with the target groups they need to embrace peace and non-extremist behavior, offer scholarships to them and vulnerable youth who could fall victim to recruiters into acts of violence among other activities. 

Although the researchers concede to the difficulty of assessing the impact of these activities, the interviews conducted with the beneficiaries, revealed that giving former extremists an education, skilling them, and getting them into employment would keep them busy and away from the push and pull factors of extremism.

The researchers opine that both state and non-state actors should work together to fight acts of violent extremists. And, while military measures are mostly reactively inevitable, it is important to adopt preventive measures by curbing the push and pull factors at an early stage.

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