Countering violent extremism in Africa – “Shifting narratives on violent extremism in Africa”

By Published On: 19th June 2023

Professor Cheryl Hendricks and Senior Project Leader, Amanda Lucey, recently travelled to Nigeria as part of the “Shifting Narratives on Violent Extremism in Africa” project, which aims to enhance evidence-based research on violent extremism in Africa. Through the lens of transitional justice, the project seeks to inform the development and implementation of policies that are more contextually relevant, effective, and gender-sensitive. The project focuses on exploring alternatives to the primarily militarised responses to violent extremism, which aim to “neutralise” extremists. Instead, it highlights survivor and community-centered approaches to reconciliation and transitional justice, with the goal of fostering inclusive and sustainable peacebuilding.

In light of a new wave of mass defections from Boko Haram, Nigeria is taking strides towards adopting new approaches to preventing violent extremism. This necessitates a departure from previous efforts that relied heavily on military strategies. One such effort is Operation Safe Corridor; a program designed to deradicalise and demobilise captured senior commanders of Boko Haram. Under this program, individuals deemed low risk are reintegrated into their communities, while transitional justice approaches are being developed to address the situation.

The number of individuals defecting from Boko Haram is significant, amounting to hundreds of thousands. These individuals are categorised as either high risk or low risk “repentants”. Approximately 2,000 low-risk individuals have already been reintegrated into their communities. Currently, two reintegration programs are running concurrently. One is a federal initiative known as “Operation Safe Corridor,” which lasts from six months to one year and involves deradicalisation, culminating in the “graduation” of former combatants.

In Borno State, the governor has implemented a mass exit strategy. While this may expedite the process of ending the Boko Haram challenge and reintegrating hundreds of thousands of people in the short term, it is not victim-centered. Consequently, there may be a backlash from communities who feel that the government has not adequately addressed their needs and well-being. The National Human Rights Commission and various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are contemplating transitional justice initiatives, providing an opportunity for support from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in these processes.

Several challenges need to be addressed in this context. There is a lack of coordination between federal and state-level approaches, inadequate dialogue between communities and repentants, varying transitional justice mechanisms across different communities, insufficient truth-telling from the perpetrators (although the government is making efforts to gather information from former Boko Haram members, and the National Human Rights Commission is collecting testimonies from victims), and the need for more gender-sensitive and age-appropriate interventions. Traditional leaders are advocating for restorative and reparative justice, while civil society has collaborated with the government to develop guidelines for transitional justice.

In Abuja, the IJR team met with the National Human Rights Commission, the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ICPR), National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the European Union (EU), Women Environment Programme and Partners West Africa. In Maiduguri, we met with youth leaders, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)s, women leaders, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (leading the TJ programme for the UN), Centro para Democracia e Desenvolvimento (CDD), a District Head, a Professor in Politics from the University of Maiduguri, and a community renewal organisation, ADAB. IJR will be exploring further collaborative initiatives with ADAB that does high-level and community-level dialogues in Nigeria and in Mozambique.

Professor Cheryl Hendricks is the Executive Director, while Amanda Lucey is a Senior Project Leader at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), Cape Town.

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