Preventing and countering violent extremism requires nothing short of an integrated, multifaceted, locally driven approach. FHI 360 has been working since 2008 with civil society groups in affected regions to prevent and respond to violent extremism. Recently, we discussed the lessons learned from our work at this year’s Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership conference. The following is what we shared.
First, there is a complex system of stakeholders that must work together to successfully respond to violent extremism. Civil society organizations play a significant role in that system, and they can succeed when they have a political voice, expanded programming capacity and local credibility. But, their potential impact is even greater where they can coordinate and collaborate with other stakeholders: governments, security forces and private-sector allies.
Second, the terminology that is used to talk about violent extremism does not always resonate at the local level. Civil society organizations report that terms such as “countering violent extremism” feel imposed from the outside, and, in some areas, these words trigger sensitivity and suspicion. Instead of imposing these terms, local stakeholders need to collectively determine which terms they will use when working in affected communities.
Third, more than ever, now is time for governments in countries affected by violent extremism to develop national strategies to address this problem. These strategies should be both flexible and adaptable to respond to changes on the ground. However, to ensure that all stakeholders have a common understanding and feel collective ownership of those strategies, governments must develop them using participatory methods in which civil society and other stakeholder groups can provide meaningful input throughout.
Fourth, civil society organizations in the countries of West and North Africa that are most affected by violent extremism are eager to implement local level interventions to counter violent extremism. Increasing support for these organizations, and encouraging them to share what they have learned, will allow them to more effectively design and implement locally owned, adaptive interventions in affected communities, keeping pace with quickly evolving local dynamics.