by eliteug_umydf
  1. The Challenge

Violent extremism is growing increasingly more complex in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, and the Horn of Africa. With al-Shabaab terrorist attacks and other al-Qaeda-inspired groups operational in the region, much of the international community’s focus has very much been on empowering religious voices, especially within the Muslim community in the region.However, while such efforts (often limited to conferences and workshops led by civil society organizations) are commendable; the need for a paradigm shift to expand on who are considered to be credible voices, and how we identify them, is urgent.

It is imperative to note that the cognitive driving forces behind radicalisation and violent extremism within the region are focused around issues of human security and suffering. Therefore, a wider definition of credible voices is required to effectively prevent harm to communities, and more spaces made available for credible voices to operate in; including the participation of those religious leaders who can deliver authentic messages of peace and interfaith tolerance.

  • A New Approach

The East Africa Regional Credible Voices Exchange Program (aka Credible Voices EA)is one of the two initiativestried and tested by the Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (UMYDF) and the United States Department of State as proven models forcultivatingcross-border linkages and networks for identifying and mitigating recruitment and radicalization of persons to violence within the region.Overall, Credible Voices EA seeks to increase the capacity and regional collaboration of influential leaders to counter violent extremism.

The program is designed to empower influentialreligious, cultural, youth and women leaders to build secure and resilient communities that reject violent extremism.The pilot Credible Voices EAwas funded by United States Department of State under the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT), as a build-up on a smallerPolitical Department-funded Imam Exchange program implemented earlier in 2014-2015; the outcome of which was the establishment of a regional network in which imams continue to share experiences and develop common agendas.

Fundamentally, Credible Voices EApresents a distinctive paradigm for countering violent extremism. Cultural exchange and shared learning are new dynamics for religious, cultural, youth and women leadersmost of whom traditionally acquire knowledge insularly, within their organizations and schools. Using multiple platforms, Credible Voices EA applies these techniques (cultural exchange and shared learning) to expand the role of religious and cultural leaders in the region and strengthen cooperation, sharing, and learning between religious institutions and community organizations. The international exchange component also develops the participants’ understanding of cultural diversity and interdependence; as well as fostering mutual understanding and the ability to successfully communicate with others. Through participants’ leadership roles in their communities, exchange programs can havea profound multiplier effect.

  • Scope and Target Group

Credible Voices EAis a year-long program that is multinational in scope and target. The pilot phase wasimplemented in three (3) specific locations of Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya; Kampala and Iganga in Uganda; as well as Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It was delivered by Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (Uganda) in close collaboration withKenya Muslim Youth Alliance (Kenya); Centre for Youth Dialogue (Tanzania – Zanzibar); Anti8and, Civilization Exchange & Cooperation Foundation (United States of America).

The program engaged a total of 40 participants (10 per country) from Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, and Tanzania including religious leaders; community and cultural leaders; youth and women leaders. Somali participants were selected from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzanian Somali depending on their ability to impact audiences in their host and home countries. Selection of all participants was based on the influence they have in their communities. A knowledge, attitudes, and practices testwas administered to screen whether participants harboured negative stereotypes about the United States (US) or were sympathetic to violent extremism.

  • A Profile of Success

Since the commencement of implementation in 2016, Credible Voices EA has reached more than 50 powerful influential leaders in the region, significantly improving their levels of understanding of violent extremism issues and the best local ways to reduce its impact, through broadened networking opportunities with other local practitioners and institutions that are dealing with P/CVE matters.The credible voices are able to question their own teachings, behaviors, interactions and engagements with their constituents, and have modified their approaches to have a different vision of the constituents.

The programinspiredthe design and delivery of multimedia programmes with a view to supportingthe development of acounter-narrative. These programmes  focused on stories of survivors, the impact of terrorism on communities and the reality of the ‘front line’ told by those who have disengaged from violent extremist groups, with the intension of de-legitimizing the propaganda used by such groups. For instance, Amirat Jamila Wahome, a family psychologist and religious worker, started a family talk show in local Swahili language on Horizon TV focusing on the use of roundtable discussions, mini-dramas, testimonials, interviews, and man-on-the-street conversations to expand the reach of moderate messages and improve the quality and credibility of information within Nairobi, Kenya. The show engages local young peopleand challenges extremist narratives and propaganda by promoting responsible parenting and exploring peaceful ways to address grievances; teaching skills needed to constructively interact with families, authorities and participate in government, and address other issues of concern to youth.In Uganda, Bashir Kazibwe, a media activist and credible leader, hosts a weekly interactive TV and radio programme on NBS TV and Nice Radio to increase tolerance, reinforce youth life skills and civic participation, promote dialogue between civic, religious and tribal leaders, and foster positive community action as a way of strengthening community resilience and reducing vulnerability to violent extremism.

In Somalia, Muhammad Ahmed Mohamoud, formerly the Executive Director of Act for Somalia and now appointed the District Commissioner Banadir Regional Authority, started a campaign supporting young people to use street art to promote peace in Mogadishu.

In Kenya, the program inspired Pastor Jeremiah Juma from Majenjo slums Nairobi and Naima Zubair from Mombasa as peace ambassadors under the Sisini Amani (We are Peace Kenya) Campaign utilizing a combination of traditional and innovative communication and dialogue approaches to increase civic education and engagement and prevent violence in Kenyan communities before, during, and after Kenya’s 2017 General Elections. SNA-K has developed SMS-based programming that reached over 65,000 Kenyans with civic education, civic engagement, and violence prevention text messages throughout the 2017 election cycle to enrich citizen engagement and promote a general atmosphere of peace, tolerance, and social cohesion in Kenya while strengthening community resilience surrounding elections.

In Uganda, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) launched the first ever Islamic Education Curriculum for Nursery and Primary schools in the country. The curriculum was launched at the UMSC headquarters at Old Kampala by the 2nd Deputy Mufti of Uganda; SheikhWaiswa. This curriculum will help students to acquire the necessary holistic knowledge and skills for practicing Islamic etiquettes and serving humanity in all spheres.

At the regional and national level, the credible have been united and provided with opportunities to network amongst themselves with a view to supporting one another’s activities through WhatsApp groups, while also being provided with training in capacity-building, mentoring and coaching – skills they will them pass onto others in their own communities (trainer of trainer approach).

Following their interaction and engagements with the various groups of people within the Unites States of America during the international exchange, the Credible Voices EA Fellows gained a better understanding of the different cultures combined with the different religions and their interdependence, which motivated them to embrace tolerance as a key tenet for ending violent extremism. Having a better awareness to USA and its cultural background has deepened their consciousness of what being an American citizen means.Participants are able to debunk the stereotypes about the United States such as, Muslims are discriminated against and live in fear while in the US, and anti-Muslim crusades exist more often in the US among others. For many of the participants it was the first time they engaged with shiites since majority are Suuni Muslims. Praying and understanding the beliefs and practices of the Shiite community was very empowering. To the credible voices, this was the beginning of understanding the origins differences within the Muslim community itself. Interfaith cooperation should be preceded by intra-faith understanding and cooperation if we are to resolve religiously motivated violence as a people.The Mufti of Uganda who was part of the delegation to the US has strongly rallied his team at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council and Inter Religious Council of Uganda to practice interfaith as opposed to just talking about it amongst themselves as leaders. He has advocated for practices such as interfaith feasts, visits as seen in the US.

  • Replication: Important Steps
Identifying and building capacity of participants
Regional and international experiential (academic and cultural) exchange visits
Post-exchange follow-on activities
Continuous monitoring and support supervision (coaching, mentoring, etc)


  1. Identifying and building capacity of participants
  • Participant selection: (U.S) Embassies and project implementing 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 respectiveproject partner(s).
  • Community collaboration and capacity building:Through a series of structured discussions and dialogues, participants are equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills to establish community development centres; engage more effectively with youth, build peace and promote tolerance; understand different forms of violent extremism, such as religious, cultural, and political; counter ideological tactics online and offline; and develop more resilient communities. Special emphasis is placed on counselling Imams and cultural leaders on how to identify and support youth at-risk of radicalization; as well as engaging selected youth in at-risk area mosques.

Participants practically engage with at-risk youth in mosques and communities in selected cities and towns across the project/program region.

  1. Conducting regional and international experiential (academic and cultural) exchange visits
  • Radio talk shows on interfaith, tolerance and peace: Participants are hosted on local radio stations to discuss issues related to tolerance, interfaith initiatives, and the promotion of regional peace and security. These opportunities help to develop their ability to amplify their voices in their communities and reach out to wider audiences.
  • Interfaith engagements:Program participants also visit model religious institutions that are effective at both theological learning and outreach. This helps enrich their thinking and approach to theology as a whole and provide them with replicable models for their own respective mosques.
  • Madrasa visits:Cognizant of the fact that Madrasas play a vital role in developing youth and enhancing their knowledge of Islam, there is need forlocal madrasas to be strengthened in both management and institutional structuring ideology. Participants are thus facilitated to visit model madrasas and interact with owners to understand the challenges they face and collectively propose workable solutions.
  • Tours of existing CVE projects:A number of religious and community leaders in most regions are already running programs or projects related to countering violent extremism in their communities. Participants should be supported to meet with implementers of these projects to learn best practices and identify potential synergies.
  • Engagements with civil society organizations and community leaders working on CVE:Participants are supported to meet with other civil society actors on peace and tolerance so as to develop an understanding of the role of civil society organizations, learn best practices, and identify potential synergies. Participating organizations.
  • Engagements with government ministries and officials:Participants engage with political leaders on how religious leaders can help foster peace and security. These meetings involve officials from the Ministries of Internal Affairs as well as security officials. The engagements also provide opportunities to lobby and advocate for collective strategies and collaborations between government, religious leaders, and civil society in countering violent extremism.
  • Community interfaith service:The program provides a platform for people-to-people engagement between Muslims and non-Muslims. Participants are thus expected to engage in community service activities with members of other faiths, serving both Muslim and Christian communities.
  • Visits to sites of historic, cultural, and religious significance:Participants are also takento visit Islamic and Christian theological institutions, universities, and cultural and touristic sites.
  • Engagements with refugee communities:Participants engage with refugee communities to better understand the drivers of violent extremism.During this engagement, they discuss how to reduce vulnerability by expanding economic opportunities as well as facilitating integration. Most of these engagements take place in urban refugee communities in selected countries.
  1. Post-exchange follow-on activities

Participants are supported to design and execute community service projects and outreach events to disseminate key program lessons to larger audiences. Engagements with vulnerable and at risk youth communities should be at the core of the follow-on activities implemented in all the participating countries with the support of partner organizations and the 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 alsodevelop and share progress reports; identify and share success stories; and identify any gaps that require further interventions.

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