REVEALED: Why more people are joining extremist groups

Boko Haram in Nigeria

Hope of finding work is the leading factor driving people to join fast-growing violent extremist groups in sub-Saharan Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says in its latest report.

The report also highlights the urgent need for Africans to move away from security-driven responses to development-based approaches focused on prevention.

Among nearly 2,200 interviewees polled in the report released Tuesday, one-quarter of voluntary recruits cited job opportunities as their primary reason for joining extremist groups, a 92 percent increase from the findings of a similar study in 2017.

“Religion came as the third reason for joining, cited by 17 percent which is a 57 percent decrease from the 2017 findings, with a majority of recruits admitting to having limited knowledge of religious texts,” UNDP said in the report titled ‘Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement’.

Nearly half of the respondents cited a specific trigger event pushing them to join the violent extremist groups. A striking 71 percent pointed to human rights abuse, often conducted by state security forces, as ‘the tipping point’, Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator noted.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has become the new global epicentre of violent extremism with 48 percent of global terrorism deaths in 2021,” Steiner said.

“This surge not only adversely impacts lives, security, and peace but also threatens to reverse hard-won development gains for generations to come.

“Security-driven counter-terrorism responses are often costly and minimally effective, yet investments in preventive approaches to violent extremism are woefully inadequate.

“The social contract between states and citizens must be reinvigorated to tackle root causes of violent extremism.”

From the 2,200 people drawn from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan among others polled for the report, more than 1,000 were former members of violent extremist groups, both voluntary and forced recruits the report indicated.

Nirina Kiplagat, UNDP’s preventing violent extremism technical lead in Africa said that the report explores pathways out of violent extremism, identifying factors that push or pull recruits to disengage.

“Interviewees most often cited unmet expectations, particularly financial expectations, and lack of trust in the group’s leadership as their main reasons for leaving,” he said.

The report also presented gendered data to understand violent extremism from the perspective of women.

The research indicates that those who disengage from violent extremism are less likely to rejoin and recruit others. This is why it is important to invest in incentives that enable disengagement.

“Local communities play a pivotal role in supporting sustainable pathways out of violent extremism, along with national governments’ amnesty programmes,” Kiplagat said.

The UNDP report recommended more significant investment in basic services including child welfare; education; quality livelihoods; and investing in young men and women to counter and prevent violent extremism.

It also calls for scaling-up exit opportunities and investment in rehabilitation and community-based reintegration services.