65 Muslim scholars commit to tackling the spread of violent extremism in West and Central Africa

Feb 2, 2017

To help address the threat of violent extremism in their regions, 65 Muslim scholars from West and Central Africa have committed to actions that include more transparent mosque management, the participation of women and youth in decision-making processes, and training of religious leaders and institutions to deliver content more effectively.

These are among the recommendations of the Abuja Declaration on Countering and Preventing Violent Extremism that was agreed at the conclusion of a two-day conference of traditional and religious leaders held in the Nigerian capital during 17-18 October 2016.

The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs His Eminence Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar chaired the meeting that drew participants from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.

The conference was organized by the International Interfaith Peace Corps (IIPC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and hosted by the Sultan Foundation for Peace and Development.

In the Declaration, the traditional and religious leaders state that “extremism and radicalization are caused by ignorance or misunderstanding of religion, mismanagement of marginalized communities, economic insecurity, and political instability, as well as perceived or real injustice against individuals or entire communities.”

Additional recommendations to address these challenges include the development and improvement of religious education, and training of imams on the use of mass media and communication tools to better interact within their communities.

The Declaration also calls on religious leaders to “create a social platform that connects faith to action and provides a sense of purpose for the youth.”

The traditional and religious leaders also decided to establish a region-wide religious leaders’ network to facilitate the exchange of information, ideas and practices.

The Declaration’s commitments focus on strengthening the resilience of communities and religious institutions and providing them the tools to identify early warning signs and engage in early action to help prevent and respond to violent extremism.

“Religious leaders have to be at the forefront of the fight against violent extremism,” says UNDP Africa’s Regional Programme Coordinator Mohamed Yahya.

The Abuja conference is part of UNDP’s broader work on preventing and responding to the growth of violent extremism in Africa through a development approach.

Launched in November 2015, the four-year USD 81.2 million regional initiative aims to prevent and address the root causes of violent extremism regionally and in various countries – those directly affected by violent extremist acts such as Nigeria, Kenya, Mali and Somalia, and those suffering the spillover effects, such as Cameroon and Chad. The programme has already received financial contributions from Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

A similar conference for East and Southern Africa is planned for April 2017. 

As one of the epi-centre countries, Nigeria, through UNDP support, has embarked on a programme of support on “De-radicalization, Countering Violent Extremism and Migration in Northern Nigeria”. The overall objective of this intervention funded by the Japanese Government aims to contribute to capacity development of civil society organizations, communities, religious leaders and security agencies in developing and disseminating counter-radical narratives to radical ideologies of fundamentalist groups in Nigeria. It will achieve this through: (a) Enhanced capacity of security agencies in investigation and prosecution of terrorism, as well as in preventing and tackling irregular migration, (b) Strengthened capacity of local religious communities in proffering counter-narratives to extremist views and perspectives towards the prevention and countering of radical views capable of breeding terrorism and (c) Enhanced community engagement in de-radicalization.

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