Workforce Development Takes Center Stage in the Fight Against Violent Extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has released a new report on the drivers of violent extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa, with some surprising findings. According to the report, hope for employment has surpassed religious ideology as the main reason for people joining these groups. Among nearly 2,200 interviewees, one-quarter of voluntary recruits cited job opportunities as their primary reason for joining, a 92% increase from the findings of a similar study conducted by the UNDP in 2017. In comparison, religion was cited by 17% of recruits as a reason, a 57% decrease from the 2017 study.

The report also found that nearly half of the respondents cited a specific trigger event that pushed them to join violent extremist groups. A striking 71% pointed to human rights abuse, often conducted by state security forces, as the reason for their decision. “Sub-Saharan Africa has become the new global epicenter of violent extremism with 48% of global terrorism deaths in 2021,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said. “This surge not only negatively impacts lives, security and peace, but also threatens to reverse hard-won development gains for generations to come.”

The report, titled “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement,” draws from interviews with nearly 2,200 people in eight countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan. Over 1,000 interviewees are former members of violent extremist groups, both voluntary and forced recruits. The report explores pathways out of violent extremism, identifying factors that push or pull recruits to disengage. The main reasons cited for leaving were unmet expectations, particularly financial expectations, and lack of trust in the group’s leadership. The report also presents gendered data to understand violent extremism from the perspective of women.

To counter and prevent violent extremism, the report recommends greater investment in basic services including child welfare, education, and quality livelihoods, as well as investing in young men and women. It also calls for scaling up exit opportunities and investment in rehabilitation and community-based reintegration services. “Research shows that those who decide to disengage from violent extremism are less likely to re-join and recruit others,” UNDP Preventing Violent Extremism technical lead in Africa Nirina Kiplagat said. “This is why it’s so important to invest in incentives that enable disengagement. Local communities play a pivotal role in supporting sustainable pathways out of violent extremism, along with national governments amnesty programs.”