THE COMMUNITY CHANGE AGENTS PROGRAM: A REPLICABLE MODEL FOR COUNTERING/PREVENTING VIOLENT EXTREMISM (C/PVE)

THE COMMUNITY CHANGE AGENTS PROGRAM: A REPLICABLE MODEL FOR COUNTERING/PREVENTING VIOLENT EXTREMISM (C/PVE)

by eliteug_umydf
  1. The challenge:

Over the past few decades, the conflict landscape has changed and violent extremism — violence that is inspired and justified by an uncompromising political, religious or social ideology — has become increasingly transnational, decentralized and complex. Violent extremist groups have harnessed their agenda to, and exploited localized conflict, manipulating legitimate local grievances between communities and the state, to gain position and traction. Combined with a history of violent conflict, East Africa has offered an enabling environment for violent extremists to spread their ideology among all clusters. The June 14 2017 car bomb attacks in the Mogadishu Somalia and the 16th May 2017 Al-Shabaab militants’ attacks on a village near Mandera Town where a chief was killed before abducting two Kenya Policemen are among the most recent terror incidents that continue to threaten the East and Horn of Africa. These also continue to indicate the escalating and persistent fear posed by violent extremist groups in the region.

Also, the East African region is home to a complex blend of resource, tribal, religious, political and economic tensions that are deeply rooted in the social fabric. These tensions are what extremists groups seek to exploit by radicalizing and recruiting disgruntled followers.

Much of the international community and civil society interventions in P/CVE in East Africa have majorly targeted religious leaders and youth leaving out other community change agents that the P/CVE arena has evidently revealed are relevant in developing a holistic approach to the prevention of VE. There is need to adopt an all- society approach to PVE by involving community change agents from the government, private sector, CSOs, communities, cultural, youth, media, artists and sportsmen and women in efforts to mainstream the prevention of VE in their works.

  • A new approach

The Community Change Agents (CCA) program is a regional model initiative of the Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (UMYDF) which adopts an “all-society approach” to enhancing awareness and capacity building for countering/preventing violent extremism (C/PVE) in East Africa. The CCA model, tried and tested across the East African region by UMYDF and United States Department of State under the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT), is majorly purposed to build the capacity of community change agents in East Africa to identify signs of radicalization and prevent the spread of violent extremism within their communities.

The CCA model builds upon the Credible Voices EA model by targeting a broader spectrum of social influencers such as counselors; teachers; psychologists; social workers; community-based organizations (CBOs); artists; psychiatrists; Pastors; Imams; school matrons and wardens; local council leaders; University deans; professional aunties and uncles (‘sengas’ and ‘kojjas’); youth peer groups; radio talk show hosts; among others who engage with disillusioned populations on a daily basis. CCA examines the specific ‘push factors’ in each target country that make the environment more conducive to the growth of violent extremism, as well as the ‘pull factors’ that draw vulnerable individuals and groups towards violence; and then works with community change agents to design empirical responses that will reduce the threat.

In an increasingly volatile society, the tremendous potential of this unique model program is a mouth-watering. The program develops the capacity of community leaders across fields to become authentic change makers capable of overcoming divisions of ideology, religion, culture, race, economics and politics. It seeks to build multisector networks of facilitators and change agents committed to healing historical wounds, creating new shared narratives and building healthy and socially equitable communities with resilience to violent extremism.

  • Scope, Duration and Target Group

The year-long CCA program that is multinational in scope, and targets 180 participants from different spheres of life in a bid to embark on a comprehensive all-society approach to preventing violent extremism in the region. The pilot phase was implemented in Kenya; Uganda; Zanzibar/Tanzania; Garissa; and Djibouti. It was delivered by Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (Uganda) in close collaboration with Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (Kenya); Centre for Youth Dialogue (Tanzania – Zanzibar); and, IGAD CVE Centre of Excellence (Djibouti). The program tapped on the existing body of knowledge and tools in the Djibouti CVE Centre of Excellence and the expertise of regional State Department-supported partners and individuals that have been enabled to gain the relevant experience and knowledge in P/CVE to serve as facilitators or trainers on the program.

Participants were selected in coordination with the respective U.S. Embassies based on their ability to reach bigger numbers of people and provide counter extremist narratives in their daily conversations and engagements in their communities.

  • A Profile of Success

Since the commencement of implementation in October 2017, CCA has reached more than 300 social influencers around the East African region, helping empower and build their capacities to identify radicalization instances and adopt strategies to mitigate its spread thus building secure and resilient communities that reject violent extremism. Fellows have benefitted from practical tools that connect personal change with change in society; a deeper understanding of the power of history, ideology and our capacity to shift power dynamics; improved competency in using dialogue as a tool for peace building, trust building and risk taking; gained skills to facilitate difficult conversations on divisive community issues; as well as the confidence to work creatively and collaboratively for psychosocial healing, justice and equity.

Further, the Fellows have been equipped to understand and detect ideologically motivated criminal behavior and in working with communities and local law enforcement to counter domestic violent extremism. They possess a wealth of knowledge and skills needed to identify and prevent the drivers of violent extremism in their local communities; and successfully mainstream P/CVE in their routine engagements and conversations with their respective constituents.

As a result, a one Jane Nakaliika who serves as the head of counseling at Luzira Maximum Prison successfully influenced Uganda Prisons Services to adopt and mainstream the CCA training content into their programs. Realizing that her fellow staff needed to acquire knowledge and skills in handling incarcerated extremists and preventing them from radicalizing others with in the cells, Jane conducted a follow up training for other prison wardens and workers with the support of UMYDF to address this gap. She reported back to the Commissioner General for Prisons Services on what had transpired in the CCA training in Kampala and requested for a follow up training which the Commissioner approved and supported. The training has been adopted and incorporated as part of their quarterly training sessions.

Relatedly, business men under Kampala City Traders’ Association (KACITA) have since expanded their business knowledge to at-risk youth in areas of Katwe. The business men, who were part of the Community Change Agents’ training in Kampala, have since designed strategies of employing more youth as a remedy to recruitment into violent gangs and extremist groups.

Participants from Djibouti and Garissa (Kenya) continue to demonstrate their commitment to collective advocacy and mainstreaming PVE and youth in their works as counselors, social workers, business elite, bankers, psychologists among others. For so long, youth in North Eastern Kenya had been neglected by the Kenyan Government in terms of improving their livelihoods. However, the Community Change Agents have since undertaken to collectively advocate for the inclusion of youth in North Eastern Kenya in the development and governance processes of the country.

In Tanzania, Centre for Youth Dialogue has continued to engage the Community Change Agents in efforts to advocate for the government of Tanzania to adopt a softer approach to CVE by allowing and supporting the role of unconventional players in the prevention of violent extremism. Using “Pamoja” (translated: together), the CCA in Tanzania vowed to work collectively and collaboratively following a comment from one of them that highlighted the failure of government to address factors that lead to radicalization.

“Misuse of power fuels corruption and mistrust, and undermines local development and economic opportunity. Community members have been critical of a perceived failure of the government to respond to the growing threat of radicalization. As radical recruitment and mobilization increase, inter and intra-religious relations become increasingly tense. Social tension and unrest are driven by inadequate and unfair resource allocation, undermining service delivery and fair access to and application of justice.” — Annonymous

  1. Replication: Important Steps

Conclusion

The program is implemented in four quarters:  A total of 5 country-specific trainings are conducted for various categories of community change agents throughout the year, with a total of 36 participants from each country targeted per training. 5 training sessions are conducted in the first 3 quarters with follow on activities and field monitoring conducted in the fourth quarter.

  1. Identifying and building capacity of participants
  • Participant selection: (U.S) Embassies and project partners jointly select participants based on established selection criteria. Project partners take the lead on recruitment after consulting with the (U.S) Embassy. Applicants are then required to submit their CVs and supporting information, and the U.S. Embassy jointly interview semifinalists and select the finalists together with project partners.

Selection criteria is based upon the participants’ level of influence in the community; English proficiency; role in the community; previous experience in the United States or on a U.S. exchange program; interest in the program; commitment to undertake follow-on activities; experience community development and outreach; and understanding of key religious and community issues.

  • Consensus building with partners: Before the start of the exchange visits, the lead agency convenes a Partners’ Inception Meeting in a central location to set standards and clarify goals, objectives and expected outcomes. The Inception Meeting also creates an opportunity for partners to build consensus on the participant selection, deliverables, and monitoring and evaluation.
  • Orientation with (U.S) Embassies: Before engaging in program activities, participants are required to meet with their respective (U.S) Embassies to gain a deeper understanding of the goals, objectives, and expectations of the exchange program. This meeting is also attended by that country’s respective project partner(s).
  1. Conducting country-specific PVE trainings in selected countries

A total of 5 trainings for 180 participants from the five selected are trained on topics related to Understanding VE and radicalization; The role of Education in PVE; Developing Counter narratives against VE in school environments; Creating safe spaces for students; The role of the social media in PVE; The role of social workers in PVE; Religious Engagement and ideological refutation; Relationship between mental health and VE; among others.

These trainings are conducted for a period of 5 days in each country. Participants in these trainings usually include: teachers of selected school communities; university deans and lecturers; secondary school wardens and matrons who have direct engagements with young people; among others. Other categories of trainees may include social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health experts, prison wardens, police officers counselors, pastors, Imams, priests, professional aunts and uncles, media personalities, musicians, artists, sports men, theatrics, poets, creative artists, radio and television talk show hosts, writers, bloggers as well as media owners, among others.

  1. Country-specific Post-training follow-on activities

At this stage, participants are supported to execute their own individual counter narrative plans that they will have developed for their respective work and community engagements. Engagements with vulnerable and at risk youth communities should be a core of the follow on activities that implemented in all participating countries with the support of partner organizations and respective (US) Embassies.

  1. Continuous monitoring and support supervision (coaching, mentoring, etc)

Implementing partners carry out monitoring visits to monitor follow-on activities and measure the impact of the program on the participants. Partners also develop and share progress reports; identify and share success stories; and identify any gaps that require further interventions.

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