THE BLOG
03/03/2014 02:56 pm ET Updated May 03, 2014

Local Community Initiatives to Prevent Emergence of Terrorism in Africa

Africa is becoming a niche for armed group terrorist organizations and drug cartel recruiters. Its disillusioned and disenfranchised youth are an easy target, requiring very little to be convinced by these organizations that present themselves as the best hope for their future. As King Ighobor points out, "Unemployment can fuel the fire of political violence and civil unrest".

Investing in and empowering communities around local initiatives is key to solving Africa's social, economic and political crisis and a sustainable way to promote peace and prosperity. A Congolese thinker, Godefroid Kangudie, puts it well, "The urgency today -- in Sub-Sahara Africa -- is mainly to generate an organizing spirit around local projects that provide concrete response to vital needs, such as health, education and food, in fact fighting misery and poverty by the ability to be and act together."

Growing up in a country where hopelessness rhymes with life, even for the brightest who graduate from college, I remember the constant anxiety and cynicism that characterized most youth around me. Speaking with young people in the streets of Bukavu, Goma, Bujumbura, Nairobi, Kampala, twelve years after I left Africa, I sensed the same disillusionment. What they hoped would bring true "independence, this time from the politicians that have hijacked it for 50 years, seems to be just a mirage," said Claver Kalumuna, an 18-year old young boy who founded a youth movement in Bukavu, commenting on Arab springs and what they mean for Africans.

My cousin, Pablo, on the other hand, has never recovered from what he experienced as a child soldier. It took him years to share what prompted him to join the then rebel group, led by Laurent-Desire Kabila, which drove president Mobutu out of power in 1996, while only 15 years old. "I was in school and saw how those who graduated from high school struggled and didn't see the benefit of continuing my studies," he told me. To attract more youth, rebel recruiters promise their families a better future once the war is over. "The hope of having a salary and earning my life was more attractive than anything else", said Pablo. Six years later, he returned home with nothing. He confided that he and his "comrades" were never paid and, sometimes, not fed at all. Now a father of four, with no job, he and 300 other former child soldiers, now in their late twenties, have organized themselves to reclaim their rights, but no one has paid attention to their plea, so far.

In 2003, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to 11 million people, and other key cities were simultaneously attacked by a group of young, most of them younger than 20, recruited by a religious leader who promised them jobs once in power, but ended up massacred by the army. Most of the youth that survive in such cases return home disillusioned, experience post-traumatic syndrome disorder, and alcoholism. It has also been reported that many of the former child soldiers have rejoined different armed terrorist groups throughout Africa.

Although other non-economic factors, such as religious fanaticism, can also influence youth to join armed groups or terrorist organizations, the socio-economic factors play a big role in convincing them. A World Bank survey conducted in 2011 shows that about 40 percent of those who join rebel movements say they are motivated by a lack of jobs.

As civil wars, unrests and suicide attacks intensify and are spreading quickly throughout the African continent, there is a need for stronger and lasting actions. Political and military leaders are overwhelmed and seem unable to control the situation. In most of those countries, 80 percent of population concerned is less than 25 years of age, with no prospect of getting a job in their lifetime. Abandoned, disillusioned and disenfranchised youth have lost hope. They constitute a prime bride for armed group and terrorist recruiters. Organizing communities around local projects may be the solution for an economic and social change, thus preventing a new generation from recurrent armed group terrorist enrollments on an already weakened continent.

If more resources are devoted to community initiatives and empowered communities are able to create jobs for their youth, armed groups and terrorist organizations will have less of an impact on the African youth.

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