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How educational programs in Africa can help counter violent extremism


Somalia’s capital has been rocked by multiple bomb attacks in the past few months, and a May 6 blast in a border town killed seven Kenyan soldiers. In recent months, a series of bombings left dozens dead or injured.

Most analysts believe that al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-backed extremist group that has waged an insurgency against the federal government for more than 10 years, is responsible for these attacks.

The recent spate of violence comes in the wake of devastating twin truck bombs that killed hundreds in Mogadishu in October 2017. Despite making gains in security and governance during the past year, Somalia continues to struggle to escape the trap of conflict and instability.

With the United States currently escalating its military presence in Somalia, a major question for the Somali government, U.S. forces and others actors on the ground is how to counter the appeal of violent groups among young people — their common recruits.

This is also a vital question for governments engaged in conflict zones around the world. Some, including Somalia’s leaders, see increasing access to education as a way to address disaffected youth’s frustrations with the status quo and steer them away from armed groups like al-Shabab.

Does this approach work? And if so, does it work everywhere? We set out to explore the common assumption that educational programs will help counter violent extremism.

How we did our research on political violence

Working with the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and JusticeMercy Corps — the global organization we work for — designed a study to help us understand how secondary education affects young people’s support for political violence. We focused on the Somali Youth Learners Initiative(SYLI), a USAID-funded program implemented by Mercy Corps and other partners.

Across Somalia, the program improved access to secondary education, reaching almost 25,000 young people. SYLI also worked with youth in and outside of school to develop leadership skills and facilitate opportunities to improve their communities through civic engagement activities.

In a new report, we describe how the program — both by itself and in combination with civic engagement activities — changed young people’s attitudes toward opposition groups like al-Shabab. We focused on areas of Somalia previously under the control of armed groups and al-Shabab.

We employed quantitative and qualitative data, surveying 1,220 Somali youth and conducting in-depth interviews with another 40 young people in 2017. We compared students in SYLI-supported schools to out-of-school youth to understand how the program influenced their willingness to support or aid armed opposition groups.

Yes, secondary education did make an impact

We found that the provision of secondary education through SYLI significantly reduced support for violence. In-school youth were only half as likely (48.2 percent) to support armed groups as out-of-school youth. Further, the combination of SYLI-supported secondary education and civic engagement activities like advocacy campaigns and community service projects had an even greater effect on reducing support for violence. Our results show students offered civic engagement opportunities were 64.8 percent less likely to support political violence than non-engaged youth.

Read more: How educational programs in Africa can help counter violent extremism

Source: Washingtom post

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