AZMIYA: Actualising national strategy to counter violent extremism

We need to acknowledge the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism

In Summary
  • The anticipation for a reviewed NSCVE is ongoing, with different stakeholders giving their views.
  • A prerequisite for an effective PCVE strategy is to comprehend the complexity of violent extremism.
Image: FILE

As the country wrestles with cases of terror attacks and recruitment to violent extremist networks, the need for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) measures is ever-increasing.

The reviewed National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism (NSCVE) is forthcoming, tasked with increasing resilience to reject violent extremism and remaining relevant against emerging trends of violent extremism.

I want to voice out a few concerns from a peacebuilding lens on the reviewed NSCVE.

To start with, we need to acknowledge the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism (NSCVE), which came into being in 2016.

The NSCVE, flaunted by the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), opened a platform for engaging civil society actors and the local communities to strengthen the whole-of-society approach to preventing and countering violent extremism.

The NSCVE facilitated the bridging between the government structures and the civil society organizations promoting the softer approaches in PCVE, leveraging the expertise and resources of various stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, religious leaders, and community-based organizations, among others.

Incipiently, the nine-pillar approach in the NSCVE was commendable to kick off the PCVE agenda to maintain security in tactically important localities and ‘winning hearts and minds’ of local communities in countering terrorism.

Further, the devolved nature of the NSCVE to the counties, as County Action Plans (CAPs), was acclaimed locally and internationally as a successful all-inclusive template for PCVE localization for countries grappling with terrorism in the Global South.

Therefore, the new revisions to the NSCVE were deemed essential based on the lessons learned from the previous NSCVE and the impetus to keep pace with new trends in violent extremism.

Against this backdrop, the anticipation for a reviewed NSCVE is ongoing, with different stakeholders giving their views.

A prerequisite for an effective PCVE strategy is to comprehend the complexity of violent extremism.

This entails how we define and frame the term violent extremism in the strategy, which enables us to understand the processes involved and the outcomes of violent extremism.

In defining the term violent extremism, the proposed NSCVE faces the dilemma of whether the strategy limits itself to narrower approaches implicitly focused on one form of violent extremism trend, or is broadening the term to include newer forms of violent extremist trends, such as criminal destructive cults and their associated violent radicalization trends.

Yet, as a Freedom of Religion or Belief advocate, I continue to exercise caution when religion is implicitly framed in PCVE interventions that may trap us in stigmatizing, discriminating, and creating more harm to the communities we deal with.

Incorporating priority areas to recognize new trends of ethnic, political, and religiously driven violent radicalization groups and movements based on their ideological motivation becomes a key consideration of this newly reviewed strategy.

The proposed strategy should clearly define the term violent extremism and its associated ‘violence’ if it is to distinguish the actions that qualify as ‘violent’ under the term violent extremism.

This brings us to the next question of who demarcates this qualifier of ‘violence’ in groups or movements intending to advance their ideological agenda.

While we are guided by our Constitution, will this strategy open up space for those in power to demarcate qualifiers of violence in labelling violent extremist groups?

Amidst the pillar approach of the previous NSCVE yielding benefits, in some counties, implementing the pillar approach was becoming difficult as civil society organizations linked themselves only to pillars and found themselves uncomprehending their overall role in PCVE.

The priority areas’ approach intends to enable a broader purview of PCVE efforts than confine to a few issues as well as incorporate the need to keep pace with emerging trends such as technology in violent extremism spaces, the climate crisis in violent extremism propaganda and recruitment, and the role of security and government in providing key services to reduce ‘marginalization or the feelings of perceived marginalization’ of specific groups.

The reviewed strategy also focuses on cross-cutting themes such as gender, youth, and other marginalized groups under the priority area of inclusivity and protection.

The proposed new outcome-based NSCVE highlights five priority areas, which is a gradual departure from the pillar approach such as the information gap, resilience gap, capacity gap, inclusion gap, and innovation gap.

Nevertheless, this reviewed NSCVE is highly dependent on the political goodwill of the national and county government leadership in its implementation.

Power sharing in security coordination where both the national and county governments clash has often impeded the effective implementation of the NSCVE. Finally, caution has to be taken when we talk about resilient communities that reject violent extremism.

Do we create passive resilient communities that conform to agreed PCVE frameworks of what is good dictated by external or outsiders of their communities; or do we create a community that actively participates in influencing PCVE policies and practices to counter structural injustices and violence via dissent and nonviolent resistance?

Dr Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen is a lecturer, the Technical University of Mombasa, and Postdoctoral Researcher, the Faculty of Religion, Culture and Society, University of Groningen.

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