On 24 September 2020, the EU Delegation to Kenya participated in a seminar on how young people in Kenya, Nigeria and Somalia are doing their best to continue to reach out to their peers with anti-radicalisation messages. This has not been easy, as the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has resulted in lockdowns and curfews, making it impossible to organise meetings with many participants.
The seminar brought together three youth leaders from Kenya, Nigeria and Somalia, respectively. They spoke about their experiences, difficulties as well as new opportunities to spread a message of peace, dialogue and understanding during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The three youth leaders work in projects aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism (P/VE). The projects are implemented by the Kofi Annan Foundation (KAF) and the Global Community Engagement & Resilience Fund (GCERF). The EU is one of the largest donors to GCERF and has also provided substantial funding to the Kofi Annan Foundation.
The representative from the NGO in Kenya, which has been awarded a grant by GCERF, mentioned that the COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in job losses for many youth. In addition, schools and universities are closed. In this situation, youngsters are spending more time online, where they are exposed to all kinds of content, including posts and videos from groups who spread hate and division. Terrorists and extremists are using the opportunity to prey on vulnerable youth, making them believe in all kinds of (COVID-19 related) myths as part of their strategy to recruit them for their terrorist cause.
The young leaders and their colleagues in GCERF and KAF have adapted their activities to the needs of their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. As large gatherings are not possible, they are for instance reaching out via radio talk shows where youth can call in with their questions. In some instances smaller community meetings are still possible to discuss youth concerns including P/CVE issues. Visits are also being organised to individual families who have fallen on hard times as a result of COVID-19. GCERF and KAF have provided food and other items to these families. In other cases, hand-sanitisers have been provided and hand-washing stations installed. GCERF and KAF staff have also gone from door to door, to talk about COVID-19, clarifying misunderstandings and de-bunking myths about the virus.
Simon Mordue, the EU Ambassador and Head of Delegation in Kenya, commended the work being undertaken by GCERF and the Kofi Annan Foundation. The Ambassador said: ‘the fight against radicalism and extremism remains as important during the COVID-19 crisis as it was before. Experience has shown that programmes which involve youth and which are led by youth are the most effective in building up resilience against terrorism and extremism. I am particularly pleased that GCERF has selected Kenya as one of the focus countries for P/CVE interventions’."
One of the strengths of GCERF is that the organisation is able to reach out to grass-roots levels, where they engage with young people who may be confused by misinformation and who may be persuaded to go along with the false narrative of terrorism recruiters. It is crucial that interventions come at this stage, and both GCERF and KAF are providing the mechanisms for doing so.
Since 2016, the EU has committed up to EUR10 million in funding for GCERF, under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP).
More information on GCERF is available at: https://www.gcerf.org/