Tackling extremist narratives should ensure local voices are captured in developing counter narratives, according to a new mobile application developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with communications’ company Albany Associates.
The mobile app, developed with funding from the Government of Japan, provides guidance to development practitioners and specialists to develop effective communication strategies and interventions in Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE).
The first of its kind, the app provides a comprehensive set of tools on all stages of developing effective communication strategies, focusing on themes mostly relevant to analysis, strategy and messaging.
It provides a practical, step-by-step, guide on strategic and communications elements – from basic concepts of narrative to campaign planning; and incorporates a number of case studies, tips, templates and online resources.
One of the greatest challenges in mobilizing civil society to counteract extremist groups’ narratives is one of basic understanding and expertise: whereas many radical groups have innate technical skills, being digital natives, the organizations willing to act often lack communications awareness and strategic knowledge, whether in the alternative or counter-narrative domains.
Mr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, complimented UNDP for its global efforts in developing PVE specific programming through a sustainable development approach. “This is an innovation that will assist groups across the region in preventing violent extremism. Our engagement on this issue has taught us that the battle against violent extremism needs to be won at the local level as most of its messaging is built on grievances found within communities,” Chambas added.
The vast body of current research on violent extremism, and particularly UNDP’s recent, ground-breaking report “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment”, emphasize that a comprehensive model for PVE should integrate responses across the security and development pillars of governments, engage security actors and communities to reduce distrust and mutual suspicion; and seek the active involvement of faith-based, as well as youth and women’s organizations.
The Journey to Extremism research suggests a number of programming entry points relating to communication activities, such as:
- supporting and amplifying the voices of traditional religious leaders who challenge misinterpretations of Islam and preach religious tolerance and inter-faith cohesiveness;
- leveraging the perspectives and voices of former recruits as conduits for counter-messaging;
- implementing counter-messaging programmes that are highly relevant to local cultures, emphasize peer-group factors and influences, and are delivered through DVDs, SMS, radio and community centres, avoiding over-reliance on the internet, and drawing on trusted local organizations as ‘messengers’.
Mr. Lamin Manneh, Director, UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa, stated, “we contribute to the prevention of violent extremism by supporting development solutions that target the root causes and structural drivers of violent extremism. From 2011 to 2016, it caused 33,300 fatalities as well as widespread displacement, creating situations of pronounced and critical humanitarian need.”
The highly localized nature of recruitment uncovered by the Journey to Extremism in Africa report has important implications for response strategies and the search for solutions that are tailored to Africa’s circumstances. As Manneh further stated, “there is a crucial need to effectively leverage media and technology as far as possible to counter the growth of violent extremism, while simultaneously contributing to an environment that is receptive to those who choose to disengage.”
Jem Thomas, Albany’s Director of Training & Research said, “We are delighted to work together with UNDP to produce such an innovative toolkit and app for countering violent extremism. We look forward to seeing the app being used and feel privileged to be part of such an important cause”.
This mobile app intends to serve as a resource base for stakeholders intending to use communication means in an effort to counter and prevent violent extremism. At the launch, participants including representatives from over 12 sub Saharan countries discussed the challenges and different contexts in which extremism occurs and the approaches taken by national and international actors in developing tools suitable to their country context; all acknowledged that the app is designed to close this gap.
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