Opening Statement by Abdoulaye Mar Dieye at the Stockholm Launch of the Report on Journey to Extremism in Africa

Sep 11, 2017

From l. to r.: Ms. Margot Wallström, Foreign Minister of Sweden, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, and SIDA Director Ms. Carin Jämtin. Photo: UNDP Sweden

UNDP Launch of Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment

Opening Statement by Mr. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye
UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Africa

Stockholm, 11 September 2017  

Her Excellency, Ms. Margot Wallström, Foreign Minister of Sweden,

Ms. Carin Jämtin, Director General of the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency, 

Excellencies,  

Ladies and Gentlemen,  

It is with pleasure that I am launching our seminal report on “Journey to extremismin Africa”, here in Stockholm. Sweden has always been a champion in leading the world’s efforts in addressing global challenges and a strong supporter of UNDP.

Through the UN, Sweden contributes to conflict prevention, peace efforts,
rebuilding of conflict-affected states, disarmament and non-proliferation,
humanitarian work, the fight against poverty, the promotion of sustainable development and the combat of climate change. Other prioritized areas for Sweden in the UN include strengthening international law, promoting human rights and gender equality. Sweden is one of the largest donors to the UN, and one of the few countries that meets the UN development assistance goal of 0.7 per cent of GNI. 

From Dag Hammarskjöld to Jan Eliasson, to your current Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, Sweden has always given some of its most renowned sons and daughters to lead international development cooperation. And as I stand here, as a son of Africa, it behooves me, and with emotion, to pay tribute to this great nation’s contribution to the various movements of liberation in the continent. As Oliver Tambo once said, Olaf Palme had come to epitomize the commitment of the Swedish people to the liberation of Africa.  

Let me end my preamble, by sending a special message to my former SRSG, Ambassador Pierre Schori, a close assistant to Prime Minister Olav Palme, with whom I proudly served as Deputy SRSG and UN Resident Coordinator in the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI). Pierre has been phenomenal! He planted the seeds of the peace we now see in the Cote d’Ivoire of today.  

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,   

Today is 11th September. Sixteen years ago, dark forces assaulted our humanity. Here in Stockholm, just five months ago, at Drottningattan, Queen Street, the spirits of evil targeted young children. I would like to seize this moment to honor the memory of all the victims of violent extremism around the world. It is my deepest expectation that our meeting here in Stockholm will be a moment of recommitment to vanquish the forces of violent extremism.  

Our involvement, as UNDP Africa, in preventing violent extremism, is dictated by three main reasons:  

First, we have seen violent extremism seriously stunt growth and development in Africa, after a brilliant economic renewal since the start of the millennium.  

Second, we have observed that the responses to violent extremism, so far, have been heavily tilted towards military and security operations; and with limited effectiveness.

Third, we, like all other development practitioners have seen our interventions lacking of perspicacity, due to an absence of a cohesive framework, to guide our responses.  Through our UNDP Africa Regional Programme on “Preventing and Responding to Violent Extremism, through a development approach”, which we launched two years ago, we embarked on an enquiry into the economics and the political economy of violent extremism in Africa, not only to understand the root causes of such a perverse phenomenon, but also to frame a structured model, grounded on empiricism, to guide policy and programmatic responses and gauge their effectiveness and impact. The “Journey to Extremism” is an integral part of the UNDP Africa Regional Programme.  I would like, here, to express our deepest gratitude to the government Sweden for its gracious financial support and for the confidence shown in our work on preventing violent extremism, and most especially in funding this study on the “Journey to Extremism”.  

As you will see in the presentation that will follow, the report illustrates a series of findings with the central message being that “where there is injustice and desperation, violent extremism ideologies present themselves as a challenge to the status  quo and a form of escape”. This is then a validation of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu’s assertion that "external circumstances such as poverty and a sense of grievance and injustice can fill people with resentment and despair to the point of desperation."  

The report also debunks some myths. It shows that although religion may feature prominently in the factors that pull people to join violent extremist groups, the level of religious literacy is very low, almost nonexistent, amongst those most vulnerable to recruitment. This finding challenges the rising Islamophobia rhetoric that has intensified in the search for effective responses to violent extremism. It shows that fostering greater understanding of religion, may be a key resource for preventing violent extremism. This resonates loudly with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel’s contention that “Education is the way to eliminate terrorism”; but he meant education largo-sensu, including developing and communicating a potent counter narrative to the extremism rhetoric; and de-constructing the teaching of evil ideologies.  

The spectrum of issues related to the different roles that women and girls can play in relation to violent extremism is also a widening area of interest. Our research attempted to capture some of this, however, as you will see from the presentation, most of our sample were forced recruits, making it difficult to draw conclusions about their particular journey. The next phase of our UNDP Journey to Extremism in Africa project will focus on getting more data to further explore gender dynamics in relation to violent extremism in Africa. 

The report illustrates that the road to violent extremism is fundamentally paved with deprivation, marginalization and poverty. Where the social contract is weak, where citizens’ confidence in government and institutions is limited, where relations within and between communities are fractured, then the resilience to violent extremism is low. This calls for setting up a form of governance that is inclusive and participatory, particularly, and I underline, at the community level and at the periphery and borders areas, which very often are ungoverned spaces neglected in terms of development investments.  

The greatest innovation of this report, is to provide, for the first time, an algorithm depicting the trajectory of a potential or likely violent extremist, using an econometric model and descriptive analysis, grounded on surveys with real actors, and on empirical data, with a probability attached to each step of that journey, and with a determination of the possible point of bifurcation, “the Tipping Point”.  We have then a solid framework to guide responses.  

In presenting the results of this study, we will also be launching a book and exhibit on the “Stories of Survivors to violent extremism in sub-Saharan Africa” on Wednesday, 13th September here in Fotografiska. The stories tell the other side of the journey to extremism. I urge you to come and see this very moving work. The stories seek to shed light on, and amplify the voices of those who often suffer in silence. Here, let me thank the Swedish photographer Malin Fezehai, who has been phenomenal in producing such an anthology of masterpieces.  

The “Journey to Extremism Study”, along with its attendant report on the “Story of Survivors” provide guidance on the set of policies and programmes that could address the scourge of violent extremism. They include: delivering on global human rights commitments, reinvigorating state legitimacy through improved governance and accountability, connecting PVE with peacebuilding and sustainable development frameworks, coordinating  national, regional and global responses to violent extremism, strengthening  the vertical and horizontal social contract, investing massively on education and youth employment, and ensuring that macroeconomic policies, the national budget, public expenditures and official development aid (ODA) are PVE- sensitive.   

In the report, we further develop these policies and programme responses. It is our ambition to elaborate them into implementable action points.  I invite you all to join us in the next journey… Defeating the allure and growth of Violent Extremism armed with the right policies and programmes. 

I thank you.

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