The Best Guard against Violent Extremism

What can we do if radical groups have an increasingly strong influence on a society? Fighting poverty, offering young people a future, and empowering women to improve their social status are some of the approaches that would help reduce that influence. These are exactly the approaches SWISSAID is taking in Chad and Niger to increase the resilience of the local communities to terrorism and the appeal of violent extremist groups.

The power of extremist movements in the Sahara-Sahel region is growing. The people in Chad and Niger are right in the middle of this. As if hunger and poverty were not enough, their vast homeland has become the ideal breeding ground for the spread of fundamentalism. SWISSAID has been working in these countries for half a century to promote peace. For two years now, it has also been collaborating with UNICRI to reach the same objectives. (see box).

A future for the poor

People who tend to be drawn to violent extremism suffer from exclusion – they see no possibility of improving their living conditions through their own effort. Those who are deprived of rights and whose rights are not protected are particularly vulnerable. These young men and women are easy prey for terrorist or criminal groups with false promises of prosperity and salvation.

This is where the partnership between SWISSAID and UNICRI comes in. It creates opportunities, especially for young people and women, to take action to change the status quo. It exposes societies to respect for human rights and a democratic culture. Thanks to this partnership funded by the European Commission, SWISSAID has given 14 civil society organisations and grassroots groups in Chad and Niger access to funds to implement activities promoting peaceful conflict resolution.

Informed young people

Young people want to find a role in a society. If they struggle to do so, or if they lack opportunities and hope for the future, they can become vulnerable to extremist ideas. Thanks to an initiative of the non-governmental organisation Action Tchadienne pour la Promotion des Initiatives Rurales (ATPIR), 12,000 boys and girls aged 15 to 25 from the Chadian capital N’Djamena were educated about human rights and peaceful coexistence. Around 30 of them, who were particularly vulnerable to radicalisation due to their precarious economic situation, were involved in income-generating activities. Their teachers and religious leaders were trained to recognise early signs of a young person showing suspicious behaviour. Serge Djeranodji Mbatitangarti of ATPIR concluded: “We have already worked together with many partners, but we have never been so well supported as through this project.”

Active citizens

Values such as humanity, diversity, solidarity and open-mindedness are the strongest tools against violence and terror, alongside the chance to have a voice in your community. This is where the initiative of the non-governmental organisation AGIR Plus in Niger comes in. The organisation is promotingpromotes dialogue between marginalised groups, especially young people and women, and politicians in the Dosso region. Two hundred people, including 150 young people, and local elected officials, leaders and religious leaders, were trained in democratic values and brought together in quarterly meetings. Sahiya Yacouba, a representative of this grassroots group, says: “Women’s associations, indeed citizens in general, have not yet been able to get involved in the city administration. The AGIR Plus initiative has ensured that all citizens – women and young people in particular – can effectively participate in the development of their community.”

Strong women

No society can be successful without the participation of women. The non-governmental organisation Cercle de Réflexion et d’Orientation sur la Soutenabilité de l’Economie Tchadienne (CROSET) worked with 300 women in Massenya and Dourbali, educating them about women’s and children’s rights, and discrimination. Alissa Bounalifé of CROSET comments: “Women here have no autonomy from their partners. The men often didn’t even let their women go to the workshop in the first place. Little by little they began to trust me and let their women participate. As soon as they realise that this has advantages for everyone, a change in mentality comes.”

These are three of many small-scale projects that are addressing fundamental issues such as civic participation, good governance, economic and social opportunities for young people, and women’s rights. After all, societies that successfully fight poverty, where decisions are made in an inclusive and democratic fashion and where citizens enjoy equal rights and opportunities, are the best guards against radicalisation and violent extremism.