A dangerous mix of deprivation, marginalization and weak governance are driving young Africans to violent extremism.
Perceived state violence or abuse of power were often the final tipping point for the decision to join an extremist group, UN researchers found after interviewing almost 500 young Africans who voluntarily joined extremist organizations, including al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.
Recruits were often frustrated, neglected since childhood, had few economic prospects and little opportunity for meaningful civil participation, according to the study.
More than 70 per cent of recruits said some form of government action – including the killing or arrest of a family member or friend – caused them to join an extremist group.
“Africa’s vulnerability to violent extremism is deepening,” said UNDP Africa director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye.
“More than half the population lives below the poverty line, including many chronically underemployed youth,” Dieye added. “There is an urgent need to bring a stronger development focus to security challenges.”
Recruitment in Africa occurs mostly at the local, person-to-person level, rather than online, as is the case in other regions, UNDP said.
Some 80 per cent of recruits said they joined within a year of introduction to the violent extremist group, and nearly half of them joined within just one month.
Low education levels also played a role, according to the study. Although many respondents said they joined an extremist group for religious reasons, more than half admitted they understand little to nothing of religious texts or interpretations.