By Tau Shanklin Roberts, Ian Arzeni and Razia Kimani
The U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism requires the U.S. to broaden its range of partners to combat violent extremism, encourage capable partners to play a larger role in counterterrorism and assist other partners so that they can eventually address terrorist threats independently.
In East Africa, where the threat of violent extremism has grown steadily, the U.S. has carried out this mission by building the Intergovernmental Authority for Development’s (IGAD’s) Center of Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (the Center). The Center is located in Djibouti and is a regional hub for preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE). The first of its kind on the African continent, the Center brings together government, academic, civil society, business and religious leaders to share best practices and promote partnerships. The Center’s founding Director Simon Nyambura believes that defeating the network of violent extremists requires a network approach, and he envisions the Center creating and strengthening such a network. Since 2015, the Center has operated as a platform for IGAD and its member states—Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda—plus Tanzania, to conduct P/CVE-related training, dialogue and research. The Center boasts staff from five of the seven IGAD member states.
When IGAD, its member states and the international community recognized that East Africa would benefit from a regional platform to institutionalize P/CVE efforts, the Department of State was among the first to support the development of the Center. In 2015, the Bureau of African Affairs (AF) funded CVE workshops for IGAD member states and civil society partners. These workshops contributed to the establishment of the Center later that year. Since 2016, the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) has provided direct technical assistance through personnel embedded at Embassy Djibouti and the Center as part of its CVE East Africa Regional Support Team.
The Department’s support has evolved to focus on longer-term programming. In May 2018, the Center held a CSO-funded workshop for East Africa CVE researchers who received sub-grants to conduct research in their countries. Approximately 95 percent of participants rated the overall delivery of the workshop as excellent, which provided evidence of the Center’s growing proficiency in establishing beneficial networking and activities. The Center plans to reconvene the workshop participants to discuss their findings and publish their research in a book later this year. In November 2018, the Center trained a group of Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) alumni from IGAD countries on how to develop their own innovative campaigns to challenge violent extremist ideology and promote peace. In 2019, AF and Global Engagement Center funds will support training civil society practitioners who work with local populations that are vulnerable to al-Shabaab and ISIS radicalization and recruitment.
USAID/Kenya and East Africa finalized a grant to the Center in November 2018, which will help to develop networks of youth and civil society organizations, enhance cooperation between state and non-state actors, develop a network of local P/CVE researchers and support a research symposium. The grant will also help in developing alternative narratives to challenge violent extremist ideology and support the finalization and validation of the Djibouti National P/CVE Strategy. National P/CVE strategies are increasingly becoming important frameworks that bring together national stakeholders to agree on the threat of violent extremist and specific solutions to it. Support from the Department and USAID enables the Center to deliver on the objectives of the IGAD Regional P/CVE Strategy which includes five pillars: strengthening regional P/CVE capacity, sharing research and knowledge, empowering at-risk communities, enhancing the rule of law and criminal justice systems, and promoting P/CVE diplomacy. Throughout 2018, the Center held civil society consultations and elected advisory steering committee members.
The Center’s incorporation as a specialized institution within IGAD provides it access and influence with governments that traditional civil society organizations lack. Equally important, civil society actors perceive the Center as a credible P/CVE actor. These relationships allow the Center to bridge the divide between the state and civil society and enhance cooperation. This is particularly important since research shows that the public usually sees the signs of radicalization and recruitment, long before security does. The Department’s and USAID’s initial investments in the Center has mobilized other international support. In 2018, the Center garnered more than $2.8 million in European funding over the next four years. The Austrian Development Agency has committed $1.2 million over the next four years. Other European donors include Denmark, $1.2 million over the next three years; Italy, $300,000 for one year; and the Netherlands and Sweden, $100,000 for one year. Turkey contributed to the Center’s infrastructure and France transferred an expert to the Center for two years. IGAD member states’ contributions to the Center currently amount to $500,000. The Austrian Development Agency supported a five-year plan to coordinate and rationalize the Center’s support. The Center’s activities for the next four years will complement and promote U.S. government efforts.
Ensuring that the Center becomes sustainable requires consistent coordination. The Department and USAID hold a bi-weekly, all-hands call with both Washington, D.C., and those in the field. This collaboration avoids duplication, leverages ongoing efforts and shares the necessary support the Center requires.
During the Center’s 2017 YALI alumni training, one participant remarked, “The beauty about this particular training is you have people with a diversity of talents … filmmakers, content creators and media personalities. These are the people that I rarely meet within my circles. For me, it’s more analytical, more intellectual or policy like. … So when [I] bring my intellectual tools and analysis and they come in with their tools and equipment, [we can] marshal all these resources together to address that one common challenge.”
Tau Shanklin Roberts and Ian Arzeni are stabilization advisors in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Razia Kimani is a conflict mitigation and countering violent extremism specialist at USAID/Kenya and East Africa.