Building Resilient Communities: Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism through Cross Country Collaboration

Between February 20th – 23rd 2024, a pivotal four-day training session was convened in Chingola, Zambia, where over 40 local community leaders from Somalia and Zambia were equipped with knowledge and skills to prevent and counter violent extremism. Spearheaded by COMESA, in collaboration with Save the Children, Horn of Africa Youth Network, and Agents of Peace, this initiative responded to the escalating threats of violent extremism in Africa, particularly in the COMESA region. While Zambia and Somalia have diverse historical trajectories, both nations grapple with characteristics of violent extremism and external influences affecting local communities. The training sought to address these challenges with a targeted focus on women leaders, child protection organisations, religious leaders, local police, and youth community leaders.

The training’s rationale emerged from the 18th Meeting of the COMESA Ministers of Foreign Affairs in June 2023, underscoring the need for an integrated approach to address the root causes of conflict, including violent extremism. Its overarching goal was to mobilize and enhance the contributions of local communities in preventing and countering violent extremism. Covering a spectrum of topics such as CVE 101, youth engagement in politics, and fostering community participation. The comprehensive program also delved into topics like gender-sensitive approaches to CVE, and community-led CVE initiatives. The training objectives extended beyond enhancing understanding to building capacities, sharing experiences, and fostering collaboration among community leaders.

The engagement with the Somali group focused on reducing radicalization among youth through short-term community outreach programs, medium-term initiatives like media literacy training and psycho-social support, and long-term efforts including political leadership and equal representation in governance. Additionally, promoting gender equality and empowerment among women and girls was highlighted, emphasizing capacity building and transparent communication between organizations and authorities. Incorporating perspectives of traditionally underserved demographics, such as women and youth, in land management initiatives was underscored. Strategies included translating materials into local dialects, engaging youth ambassadors, and using special days for discussions.

Concurrently, the impact of mining on communities emerged as a parallel discussion during the training from the Zambian participants. Identifying effects such as an increase in gangs and pollution. Mitigation strategies were explored, including awareness programs and regular engagement with authorities. A cross-country collaboration was encouraged between Zambia and Somalia, emphasizing sharing knowledge between security ministries, government dialogues, youth exchanges, student exchanges, and cross-cultural events. The training marked a crucial step in empowering local communities from Zambia and Somalia to actively participate in preventing and countering violent extremism, fostering collaboration, and contributing to sustainable development in their respective countries. The exchange of ideas and collaborative efforts laid the foundation for future initiatives and strengthened diplomatic ties between the two geographically distant but interconnected countries.