Poverty is a blight and one that disproportionately affects sub-Saharan Africa. It is a vast and complex issue whose tentacles reach into many areas, including climate change, sustainable development and crucially – global security. The link between poverty and violent extremism is compelling and this means that if we want to address extremism, we must fight inequality too.
According to UNDP, drivers, incentives and tipping point for recruitment presents compelling evidence that violent extremism can never be beaten if feelings of deprivation and marginalization, especially among the young, are not addressed.
Starting with the “accident of geography” that is a place of childhood, experiences related to living in highly peripheral regions of Africa – often borderlands and traditionally marginalized regions – begin to shape individuals’ world view and vulnerability.
The critical factor of explaining childhood unhappiness that correlates with future extremism is perceived lack of parental involvement in the child’s life.
Lack of employment, healthcare, education, security, and housing has been and will remain the major cause of rampant extremism. Almost half of the youth joining the extremist organizations do it out of will.
Kenya, just as many other countries, has acknowledged being a flashpoint for radicalization and violent extremism that are synonymous with extreme poverty, high illiteracy levels and under-investment in basic services. The majority of those living in these regions have for years believed themselves to be excluded from the national development agenda.
The findings drive home the reality that a focus on security-led responses to extremism cannot provide lasting solutions but rather confronting the challenges of radicalism and terrorist threats, particularly in Africa, calls for action on a range of social, cultural, economic and political fronts.
Between 2011 and 2016, extremists caused 33,000 deaths in Africa. This was followed by displacement and economic devastation causing some of the worst humanitarian disasters on the continent.
Numerous studies show that increasing inequality hinders economic growth and undermines social cohesion, increases political and social tensions and drives instability and conflict.
Achin Steiner, the UNDP administrator once stated, “Eradicating poverty and promoting inclusive prosperity in a changing world is of critical importance towards achieving the agenda of the SDGs.
The African continent is however not without challenges. The UNDP Africa Human Development Report states that gender inequalities continue to hobble the continent’s structural, economic and social transformation.
With an emphasis on leaving no one behind, African nations need to empower women whom most of the time fall victims of circumstance rendering them vulnerable. Whenever a woman attains higher measures of economic and social wellbeing, benefits accrue to all society. Yet too many women and girls, simply because of their gender, cannot fulfill their potential due to lack of education, early marriages, sexual and physical violence, inadequate family planning services and high incidences of maternal mortality.
Research has it that gender inequality is costing Sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion a year, equivalent to about 6 percent of the region’s GDP.
Creating economic opportunities for Africa’s youth is a monumental challenge. Every 24 hours, nearly 33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment. About 60% end up joining the army of the unemployed, adding to the existing social and economic pressures.
To ease the burden of unemployment, the government can help create a policy environment that encourages youths to become entrepreneurs and job creators. Simplifying registration processes, offering tax incentives, and incentivizing the informal sector that employs the overwhelming majority of Kenyans will be a step in the right direction. Reforming the education system that ill-prepares the young for entrepreneurship and business would be another.
With only a few years to achieve SDGs, the search for solutions must make use of the evidence on the causes, consequences, and trajectories of violence and extremism. If Africa is to curtail the spread of violent and achieve Sustainable development, there is a need to focus on universal healthcare, education for all and employment of disadvantaged youth.
Not until the entrenched inequalities both economic and gender-based are tackled, Africa will remain to dream of achieving sustainable prosperity, end the scourge of poverty and prevent violent extremism. This comes as a wakeup call raising alarm for the continent to create synergies behind the drivers of violent extremism and the provisions of the SDGs. Acting to reduce the push factors of those susceptible to undertaking violent activities will go some way towards fulfilling the Sustainable Development Agenda.