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More support key for counter-terrorism in Africa, where ‘misogyny is at the heart of so many’ groups

Twenty-nine-year-old Wala Matari, a former terrorist hostage, attends church with her children in the village of Zamai in the Far North region of Cameroon
Twenty-nine-year-old Wala Matari, a former terrorist hostage, attends church with her children in the village of Zamai in the Far North region of Cameroon

More support key for counter-terrorism in Africa, where ‘misogyny is at the heart of so many’ groups

17 March 2020

The UN Security Council on Wednesday called for greater international support to African countries in their continued fight against terrorism and violent extremism, particularly in parts of the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin region and the Horn of Africa. 

Members issued a statement strongly condemning terrorism “in all forms and manifestations”, and urged stepped up support to countries in areas such as training and in developing regional strategies and action plans. 

In her briefing to ambassadors, UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo outlined the reach of groups such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and East Africa, but also ISIL and Al Qaida, whose affiliates are collaborating on attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. 

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefs the Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.
UN Photo/Manuel Elias

“We know that women bear a disproportionate burden of this violence, including through sexual slavery.  Just as misogyny is at the heart of so many terrorist groups' strategies, so must women be at the centre of our responses”, she stated. 

Marginalization fuels extremism 

Ms. DiCarlo spoke on behalf of the UN Secretary-General who has emphasized the need to address the underlying factors fuelling terrorism. 

2017 report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) details findings from interviews with more than 700 former members of extremist groups.   

Most came from borderland or peripheral areas that have been marginalized for generations. 

“In these ungoverned and neglected spaces that are hotspots of violence, communities experienced lack of access to services such as education, health care, justice, security, livelihoods, the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives, and the opportunities they need to thrive. These are the challenges that underpin violent extremism”, UNDP Assistant-Secretary General Abdoulaye Mar Dieye told the Council. 

Co-opting women’s empowerment 

Many violent extremist groups in Africa have lured women recruits by co-opting messages about women’s empowerment and improved socio-economic status, another UNDP study from 2019 revealed. 

“If these root causes of violent extremism are not addressed, the risk of ongoing recruitment of women, including re-recruitment of many thousands of female returnees, will continue”, Mr. Mar Dieye warned. 

Extremists are also exploiting technology to recruit members and to spread messages via social media and online platforms, as the African Union’s representative pointed out.  

“We must also recognize that the sophistication of terrorist groups doesn’t stop at their radicalization and recruitment strategies”, said AU Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed.  “Over the years they have morphed into well-organized shadow governments providing services and, in some cases, acting as the judge, jury and executioner.” 

Terrorism has no borders 

Ms. DiCarlo urged international action to address issues such as poverty, weak governance, inter-communal tensions, youth employment and gender inequality.   

“As terrorism has no borders, preventing and combatting it requires strong multilateral cooperation”, she said, underlining UN commitment.