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COP 23-Column: Addressing Youth Radicalization and Extremism beyond Hunger and Unemployment

By Tabi Joda*

The mantra

One of the most turbulent distractions to mainstream global issues is perhaps, youth radicalization and extremism. The deleterious effects of climate change and natural disasters have increased unsustainable socioeconomic practices. Unfortunately, global and local actors seem to misunderstand the potential and actual motivations surrounding this emerging phenomenon. The mantra of hunger and unemployment is dominating local and international debates on the question. But there is apparently more to the question of radicalization and extremism, in relation to hunger and youths unemployment, than it reaches mainstream understanding.


There is global awe about a suddenly obvious proliferation of youth subscription into insurgent activities often propelled by extremist ideologies. That is a known fact. Vis-à-vis present demographic transitions, there is an ever rising trend of misguided population movements from rural peripheries into urban metropolis leading to alarmingly loud concentration of desperate youths in city centres especially in Africa. To that effect, it is ever more imperative to identify the vulnerabilities upon which youth radicalization and extremism lies. The complications get even worse when we try to answer the question why youths are increasingly being agents of destruction instead of being productive members of their communities.


Different narratives

These trends have provoked several narratives from different development angels. But whether these narratives exist in cluster or not, the question at stake is as we feel the impacts of Boko haram insurgents in North East Nigeria and Far North of Cameroon, Alshabaab insurgents in almost all of Somalia including Kenya and beyond, and the Tuareg insurgent groups in Mali who are just about to completely retreat into the deserts, are these narratives based on old thinking or do they offer new thinking, new forms of measurement and research into the root causes of why youths are increasingly being radicalized and mobilized into extreme groups.


Much has been argued about tackling the unemployment crises that is keeping many youth idle and leaving them vulnerable as destructive agents rather than constructive ones. Other arguments have emerged about the question of alleviating youth poverty as a critical step to mitigating exposure of youths to radicalization through extremist groups. These assumptions are good, but it remains to be seen if the discussion will in fact lead to more research and a greater focus on evidence-based approaches tackling the root causes of the issues. “Development efforts have often been driven by assumptions and not evidence,” said Keith Proctor, a senior policy researcher at Mercy Corps. In a summit held a few years ago at the White House about countering violent extremism, the U.S. government signaled that it was going to look with greater sophistication at the root causes of violence.

The causes of violence

There is no doubt that the narrative often held that poverty and unemployment were the primary motivators of violent extremism, but the factors that lead youths to become radicalized are much more complex. While not the crucial factor, jobs remain important, in part because unemployment, or underemployment, is illustrative of a number of other challenges. What about when youths perceive that they are shut out of important decisions and opportunities?  Too often than not, during critical stages in youths lives, social and political exclusion can lead them to a point of anguish or hopelessness.

“What we’re seeing is that it’s not just about jobs, it’s a broader marginalization,” said Nicole Goldin, director of the Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. As many misleading researches continue to “Solutions must be generic »live on the old thinking, governments and stakeholders must be clear it’s not poverty alone that is leading youths into radicalization and extremism because while the vast majority of young Africans for the past half a century live in poverty and most of them are unemployed most of them are also very peaceful. In spite of the acknowledged exploitation of young people as canon fodders, the question of youths not finding identity, purpose and value in society is as important as any critical push factor. However, in all analysis than exist, it is hard to find any that is more important than the other.

“Creating holistic approaches”

African leaders from local and national levels are crisscrossing around the world looking for solutions to increasing violent conflicts resulting from increased involvement of young people into radicalized extreme groups. That is a sign of false hope. The push factors are self inflicted and solutions must be generic. Apart from push factors, pull factors such as personal rewards associated with membership of a radical group that offers economic gains than the governments does,  that adds to ones fame and glory, and provides personal empowerment by owning a few dollars to buy a cell phone or appeal from religious ideology are critical inducements but relegated.

Often neglected are push factors such as corruption, weak governance to drive inclusive growth, lack of rule of law and social justice to address grievances, lack of social inclusion, grievances, a broader lack of opportunities that empower young people perceived marginalization. “Disenfranchisement, government corruption, ethnic divisions and exposure to violence are all critical factors”, said Proctor from Mercy Corps.

Any effective aversion of this state of affairs in Africa particularly requires broad based understanding of the push and pull factors. Addressing the question of corruption as it affects the marginalized and disenfranchised groups in society is critical. Creating holistic approaches to identify critical incentives to radicalization and extremism, and developing comprehensive programs that include youths at all level particularly the question of making them to feel a sense of identity, purpose and value, and creating space where they become productive other than being destructive members of the community. This is the task that should keep our government officials waking up early in the morning and sleeping late into the night. It is the task we all should be behind.

Thank you

Tabipicture*Tabi H. Joda  is an entrepreneur, a youth activist from Cameroon and Nigeria.  With a considerable working experience: he worked and still works with UN System, UN MDG, World Bank, NOWEI, MILDAS, FIFA etc. He has a Tertiary education in International Studies, Business Management and Information Technology, Development, Environmental Sustainability and Climate change.  He is Multilingual and speaks English, French, Arabic, German, Hausa and Fulfulde. Since 2015, he has launched an initiative called “plant a tree today to avert climate change.”




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