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Marginalization, heavy-handed counterterrorism programs pushing people into terrorism : UN study

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An Al-Shabaab militia.

An Al-Shabaab militia.

Counterterrorism activities across the continent are pushing people into terrorist groups, a recently published study by the United Nations Development Programme has revealed.

This is most prevalent in traditionally marginalized corners of the continent, where the presence of government services is light, resulting in a general disregard for the government, a state exacerbated by heavy-handed counterterrorism efforts.

“This study sounds the alarm that as a region, Africa’s vulnerability to violent extremism is deepening,” said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the UNDP Africa Director, at the study’s launch this past week.

The study took two years and involved some 495 voluntary recruits of terrorist groups including Boko Haram and Al-Shabab, who were interviewed at length. The study involved participants from Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan.

71% of these recruits revealed that they had joined these proscribed groups only after the government had arrested or killed a friend or family member.

Most of them (80%) had joined within a year of being introduced to such groups, with nearly half of this lot joining within a month.

Rather than being radicalized and/or recruited online, most of them were recruited in person.

That heavy-handed counterterrorism efforts can spawn more terrorists isn’t a uniquely African problem, as has been observed as a consequence of other nation’s counterterrorism activities, such as drone strikes conducted by Western countries.

The devastation caused by armed drones, which are used to neutralize terrorists but tend to kill many civilians as ‘collateral’ (one study shows that 1,147 people were killed in drone strikes which intended to take out 41 terrorists), have been used to recruit vulnerable people seeking an outlet for their revenge.