Preventing terrorism needs better evidence from African projects

Research released on the margins of the UN General Assembly calls for improved measurement of what works to prevent extremism.

Pretoria, South Africa – Scores of projects aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) in West and Central Africa are doing important work in tough conditions, but lack long-term funding and hard evidence of how best to confront terrorism.

Researchers from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) surveyed 133 P/CVE projects in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger. The projects operate in some of the world’s most challenging areas, rife with poverty and insecurity, and where weak or corrupt governments have failed to deliver basic services.

They focus on communities, working mostly with women and youth. The projects aim to promote tolerance and multiculturalism, and address religious and ethnic differences between groups. They develop skills, provide education, rehabilitate former combatants and develop narratives to counter Islamist propaganda.

The projects studied by the ISS have absorbed millions of dollars in international funding, but face a common challenge in assessing the impact of their work against terrorism.

The ISS research was released to international organisations, diplomats, donors and P/CVE practitioners on 27 September at an event on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

‘There is international enthusiasm for funding and implementing P/CVE,’ said Cheryl Frank who heads ISS work on terrorism and violent extremism. ‘But many projects lack sustained financial support and it’s hard to evaluate the effects of short-term projects on long-term challenges.’

P/CVE has emerged alongside military and security measures as a key strategy to handle the global threat of terrorism. It prioritises structural factors associated with development, governance and justice and the related grievances that lead to extremist actions.

The causes of violent extremism are complex and linked to the political, economic, ideological and social circumstances in which people live, the ISS said. In some parts of West and Central Africa extremists may provide safety, infrastructure and opportunities in the absence of a competent government.

The ISS research suggests that local projects run by local activists are likely to be the most effective at preventing violent extremism. The role of governments is to tackle the deep structural issues that make communities vulnerable to extremism.

The global P/CVE community needs to find better ways to measure progress and build an evidence base that guides effective responses to violent extremism and terrorism, ISS researcher Isel van Zyl said. Donors should also ensure that human rights violations and discrimination are not justified under the guise of P/CVE and counter-terrorism initiatives.

The ISS research was funded by the government of Norway. The New York event was co-hosted by the European Union and the governments of Norway, Canada and Algeria.

The ISS is conducting similar research into P/CVE in East Africa and the Horn, with results due in 2019. 

Reports on the ISS research are available here:

Preventing extremism in West and Central Africa

Preventing extremism in the Horn of Africa


For further information and media interviews:

Jonathon Rees, Proof Communication Africa: [email protected], +27 76 185 1827 (in South Africa)

Jacqueline Cochrane, ISS: [email protected], +1 646 479 8509 (in New York until 28 Sept)

Picture: Jacqueline Cochrane/ISS

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