What drives young people in African countries into the arms of violent extremist organisations and networks? Is there a convergence between reasons for radicalisation and the forces that make young people leave their country in search of a better life elsewhere? What does this mean for policy instruments that aim at increasing the number of African migrants being returned to their countries of origin or not even leaving their homes in the first place? How can we make EU – Africa high-level exchanges about these issues more grounded in understanding of local realities? On 21 October 2016 a group of African-based experts discussed these questions with JRC representatives working on migration issues and international cooperation. They were visiting Brussels for a round table on “Youth radicalisation: Perspective on trends and future actions in Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe” organised by the Hanns Seidel Foundation the day before. This post highlights some of the most interesting points of the discussion.

Uyo Salifu, a researcher for the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, co-authored a report “The dynamics of youth radicalisation in Africa”. She outlined the importance of understanding the complexity of coexisting and mutually reinforcing political, economic, social and individual factors that lead to young people’s radicalisation. Think about an explosive mixture of political repression that creates ‘us vs them’ mentality, police brutality that goes unpunished, widespread corruption that destroys trust in official institutions, poor service provision and high unemployment that disproportionately affects certain communities. Imagine the accumulation of frustration and alienation on the part of young people, their unfulfilled aspirations and desire for a sense of belonging and purpose. Importantly, the relations between these factors can vary in different contexts. This calls for different solutions in different parts of Africa. Europe, which is also grappling with youth radicalisation, should learn from these experiences.

One promising way to prevent radicalisation was presented by Everlyn Kemunto and Julian Macharia from the Nairobi-based Well Told Story project that brings together field research and behavioural insights with popular media (radio, comic strips, social media and more) to influence behaviour of African youth be it about the use of contraceptives, entrepreneurship, access to finance or raising interest in agriculture. For Everlyn Kemunto and Julian Macharia, understanding their audience is crucial in order to get across the right message at the right time and in the right format. For example, they understand that it can make a huge difference to speak to a 15-year-old or a 17-year-old, yet they are often seen as part of one group. Their interventions are based on the idea that any positive change requires a concurrence of ability, motivation and opportunity among the target group. Social media can be a catalyst for anger and disillusionment but it can also be a platform for discussions that transform collective beliefs and initiate changes in behaviour.

A detail from one of Well Told Stories' comic books

A detail from one of Well Told Stories’ comic books

On the subject of the relationship between radicalisation and migration patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa and EU policies, Ahmed Bugri presented a compelling case for reconsidering how the EU and their African counterparts engage with each other. As a Director of the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants in Malta and a member of the Africa-EU working group on migration coordinated by the Hans Seidel Foundation he has seen some high-level agreements producing little tangible results on the ground. The insufficient institutional capacity on the part of African governments is part of the problem. However, there is also a lack of connection between these dialogues and the day-to-day realities and local concerns in the African countries and concerned communities. The return and readmission policies can serve as an example. Sending back African migrants who do not fulfil European countries’ immigration rules is an important part in most of these agreements. In practice, these returns are however very hard to implement. One of the reasons is the lack of willingness both on the part of migrants and the countries that should receive them back. Ahmed Bugri suggested reframing the return from a negative enforcement measure into a tool for development. To be willing to go back, people need to have something to go back to. Asking what they want to do back home and providing sufficient resources to make it happen – for example in the form of a vocational training – could achieve better results. How to do it? Inclusion of African diaspora groups in Europe as trusted brokers and partners in decision-making processes could be the answer.

Overall, the participants agreed that to strengthen the cooperation on migration-related issues between the EU and Africa, we need to foster interlinkages among different actors and make sure that the high-level agreements are a result of a truly inclusive dialogue that is rooted in understanding of local realities and specificities.

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