Empowering young women to stand up for conflict resilience

News, SEcurity, Terrorism

However, risk can be reduced through conflict resilience led by young women. Conflict resilience is defined as the capacity for societies and communities to recover quickly from violent disputes and reduce their vulnerability to a resurgence of such conflicts. Women, as described in UN Resolution 1325, should play a more active role in efforts to achieve peace and security. Given the vulnerability of young women during violent conflicts, it makes sense to capacitate them to do so.

Identifying young women in affected conflict areas who are motivated to transform their communities into pillars for peace and development is the first step. This is the basis of partnerships between young women and governments in the resilience process. The second step is for governments to infuse conflict-resilience education into school curriculums as the foundation for future initiatives.

Recognising young women who are already leading their communities in conflict transformation can inspire others. Organisations led by young women that have begun to emerge in Africa include Messengers of Peace Liberia and the Borno Women Development Initiative. The latter, a Nigerian-based organisation, aims to place women under the age of 35 at the centre of resilience efforts to combat Boko Haram in Maiduguri.

Unique to the Borno Women Development Initiative is the fact that a young woman, Fatima Askira, leads this initiative. A biological science graduate, the 30-year-old has learnt that her career is not defined by her studies but by the state of her society.

In a forthcoming podcast produced by the Institute for Security Studies and Igarapé Institute’s Innovation in Conflict Prevention project, she tells how supporting and helping people affected by conflict is a responsibility and not a choice. Young women like Askira are an asset to the continent and more young women need to be afforded the opportunity to undertake similar initiatives.

The ability of young women to champion resilience is, however, limited by the marginalisation of youth in general from African peace and governance processes and by the lack of sufficient investment in youth education. These contribute to a longer-term problem for young women, because they are not expected to become engaged in conflict resilience, particularly as leaders.

This kind of structural inequity prevents young women from championing resilience to conflict in other ways too. Firstly, societal expectations for young men and young women in Africa diverge once they transition from childhood to adulthood. This moment is often the point at which the world expands for boys and contracts for girls.

Cultural restrictions such as marriage prospects dictate the future for many young women while young men conversely start to enjoy increased autonomy and social mobility. To help address these concerns, United Nations (UN) Women developed a youth and gender equality strategy in 2017 that aims to foster gender equity championed by youth.

The second structural challenge is that young women are typically labelled as victims in conflict situations, rather than actors with the ability to protect and rebuild their communities. As a result, priority is not given to the potential role of young women in ending conflicts, for example as mediators. Closing this gap is not easy but it is crucial.

Building resilience needs to be multi-dimensional to ensure success. This means a strong partnership between young people, government, civil society and development partners should exist. At a community level, development partners such as the African Development Bank could fund intervention studies assessing the vulnerabilities of communities and their capacity to accommodate young women in conflict resilience.

This, when done in partnership with civil society and government departments responsible for education, can lead to effective training of young women and their community leaders. Building awareness and skills on conflict and trauma, and coping strategies, is the basis for resilience.

Governments should engage with development partners and regional economic communities to build the necessary human resources to enable young women’s role in community resilience. This would have the added benefit of building trust between governments and young people.

Making young women champions of conflict resilience is a missing part in the peacebuilding puzzle and is long overdue in Africa. Once the partnerships and actions outlined above between government, civil society and development partners get stronger, the trust and empowerment that young women need will follow.

Muneinazvo Kujeke, Junior Research Consultant, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS Pretoria

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Cameroon’s forced returns put Nigerian refugees at risk- ISS

Facts, News, Politics
Forced repatriations are illegal and play into Boko Haram’s narrative that states are unwilling to protect people BY AIMÉE-NOËL MBIYOZO

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Cameroon has forcibly returned 385 refugees to Nigeria this year, most of them in the past month, a United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report reveals. This despite the country’s commitment as recently as 2017 to facilitate the safe return of Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram violence.

By doing this, Cameroon is violating both national and international law. It is also putting vulnerable refugees at risk, and is eroding the effectiveness of protection frameworks and supporting extremist narratives.

Roughly 110 000 Nigerians have fled to Cameroon from Boko Haram-related violence. Of these, the UNHCR has registered 87 600. The Minawao refugee camp was built in 2013 specifically for Nigerians. The camp has capacity for 20 000 but reports indicate it hosts over 70 000. At least 30 000 additional refugees have been living in villages surrounding the Minawao camp and make up the bulk of the forced returns.

The Cameroonian government claims that Nigerian refugees constitute a security and economic threat, but has provided no evidence that Nigerian asylum seekers or refugees have been involved in attacks. Despite mounting evidence, Cameroon denies deporting refugees and claims they have merely moved people to safer localities.

After two years of quiet efforts to curtail forced returns, the UNHCR published two reports in May 2017 documenting over 90 000 returns since January 2015. The UNHCR has since formed a tripartite commission with Nigeria and Cameroon to facilitate safe, voluntary returns that Cameroon has repeatedly violated.

A September 2017 report by Human Rights Watch claimed Cameroon had summarily deported more than 100 000 Nigerians, with evidence that soldiers beat people to force them to comply. Allegations of torture and human rights abuses, including unlawful detention, torture and killing, have been lodged against the Cameroonian government.

New Nigerian arrivals are reportedly being aggressively screened, accused of being members or wives of Boko Haram, tortured and moved to remote locations away from UNHCR access. Gross abuses have been reported in the Minawao camp, including a lack of food, water and healthcare and restrictions on refugees’ rights to move freely.

Cameroon has a legitimate right to monitor who is in the country, but assuming Nigerian nationals are linked to extremists is false and distracts from the real issues. It also has dangerous consequences. Refugees forcefully returned from Cameroon to north-east Nigeria face displacement and destitution.

They are returned to a conflict region with no access to resources or support. Overcrowding is severe, housing is scarce and food is in short supply. Women are particularly vulnerable and face sexual exploitation. Children are being separated from their families. Some returnees, including children, are weakened by malnutrition and a lack of medical care and die during deportations.

The non-refoulement principle – which forbids countries from returning asylum seekers or refugees to countries where they face danger – is at the heart of international refugee conventions. Cameroon is a state party to both the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention and the 1951 Refugee Convention of Geneva and has incorporated these prohibitions into its own laws. By forcibly returning people, Cameroon is contravening national and international law and tarnishing its long history of hosting refugees.

Conducting forced returns erodes the authority of international laws to protect refugees. It sets a dangerous precedent and is part of an international trend of growing hostilities and shrinking protection for refugees.

Returning refugees as a security measure is a particularly dangerous precedent in the Lake Chad Basin, where Chad, Niger and Nigeria all face extremist threats and have tenuous human rights records. Analysis by the Institute for Security Studies argues that if other countries follow Cameroon, this would worsen an already dire situation. Worryingly, in February 2018, Nigeria – possibly in response to this practice – was similarly accused of forcibly returning 47 Cameroonian asylum seekers.

By repatriating people fleeing Boko Haram, Cameroon is forcing vulnerable people into situations that inherently contain many of the factors that fuel radicalisation. And this is happening in a region where Boko Haram is actively recruiting. Plus, one of Boko Haram’s objectives is to delegitimise governments as ruling entities. This is a central narrative of the extremist group, as are claims that states are illegitimate and unwilling to protect people.

Whether intentionally or by default, states that violate international and national human rights laws, and expose vulnerable people to imminent threat and poverty, lend significant weight to Boko Haram narratives.

Meanwhile Boko Haram activity in Cameroon has increased. It has displaced an estimated 200 000 Cameroonians internally and is recruiting members using a mix of coercion and financial incentives, particularly among disaffected youth. Up to 4 000 Cameroonians are believed to have joined Boko Haram. Evidence thus far indicates the group has had far more success in recruiting Cameroonians than infiltrating Nigerian refugee flows.

Responding effectively to Boko Haram in Cameroon requires practical, evidence-based efforts that address the root causes of extremism in a particular context. This must be done without violating the rights of refugees, or creating conditions that could worsen violent extremism.

As a signatory to international conventions governing refugees, Cameroon must reconsider its policy on deportations, and comply with international and national law to protect refugee rights. It must further allow entry of all asylum seekers and provide access to refugee registration. Programmes that counter Boko Haram recruitment must be started, and should include socio-economic development and education, particularly among disaffected youth.

Read the full ISS policy brief: Cameroon’s forceful repatriation of Nigerian refugees.

Aimée-Noël Mbiyozo, Senior Research Consultant, Migration Programme, ISS

ISS Spotlight: building a new corps of dedicated African counter-terrorism experts

Africa, Boko Haram, Terrorism
With its skilled staff, professional networks and wealth of original research, ISS helps Africa tackle an evolving threat.

2018-04-11-training-spotlight-banner.jpgThe Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is helping African police to understand and combat terrorism on the continent, and to investigate and prosecute terrorism cases. Willem Els, a senior training coordinator at the ISS, is building a corps of well-trained African counter-terrorism experts while adapting international best practice to local conditions.

Threats include Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, al-Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia, and al-Qaida affiliates across the Sahel and North Africa. Three African countries – Nigeria, Somalia and Egypt – are in the global top ten countries most affected by terrorism, according to the 2016 Global Terrorism Index. Terrorism on the continent is particularly lethal, with six African states (Nigeria, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Kenya and Cameroon) in the top ten countries with the highest average deaths per attack.

Police and prosecution services need specific skills to detect, combat, investigate and prosecute terrorism. The ISS helps to build these capacities through its expert staff and professional networks.

Els has an abundance of skills and experience. He served 28 years as a police officer in South Africa, with leadership positions in the national bomb squad, and time as an undercover sky marshal in the aviation anti-hijacking unit. He is a member of the International Association for Bomb Technicians and Investigators, with experience preparing disposal experts to work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now Els is sharing his knowledge with African police and prosecutors, working in partnership with policing organisations in East and West Africa, as well as Interpol, the United Nations, African Union and the EU.

‘It is rewarding to see my skills and experience embraced and integrated into the daily operations of people who deal with terrorism in Africa,’ he says. ‘We are investing in and empowering the next generation of passionate and competent counter-terrorism experts.’

Effective counter-terrorism requires an integrated training approach. The ISS has helped to create the official counter-terrorism manual for police agencies in East, West and southern Africa. Essentially an African counter-terrorism training handbook, it covers intelligence, explosives and bomb disposal, crime scene handling, weapons of mass destruction, causes of radicalisation and the evolution of terror.

ISS training spans national, regional and international legal instruments, extradition, state-sponsored terror, counter-intelligence, border control, biological weapons, dirty bombs and collection of evidence. ISS trainers are supported by African experts with world-class experience in subjects ranging from hostage negotiations, incident management andprosecution of terrorists.

Discussions are underway with a top South African university to accredit the training to diploma or post-graduate level and then offer it as a distance learning module.

The recognised value and impact of ISS training is based on its comprehensive and integrated counter-terrorism curriculum, and the deep working relationships with African police services and Interpol offices across the continent.

‘We go well beyond professional relationships based on technical expertise,’ says Els. ‘We bond as friends and comrades who face a common threat.’

‘The ISS is welcomed and respected as an African organisation which cares deeply about the continent’s security. We are embraced as true African partners who find local solutions to African challenges.’

Working with east African police, Els and other experts have produced standard operating procedures which serve as an investigators’ field guide following an incident. Terrorism is a threat that keeps evolving, so Els runs refresher courses for investigators, and specialised training when required. This includes bringing together frontline bomb technicians and intelligence experts from different terror hotspots to share their experience.

Annual field training supported by the ISS sees hundreds of police from across Africa participate in simulated hijackings, hostage negotiations, tactical interventions, defusing explosives, working with dogs and investigating a terror scene.

The ISS also hosts annual workshops where African heads of counter-terrorism and crime investigation discuss and agree regional priorities and identify new focus areas, such as the role of women in extremism. These discussions are informed by the wealth of original ISS research on violent extremism in Africa.

Working as a counter-terrorism trainer is not without its emotional challenges. Els tells a harrowing story of a late-night call from Somalia where three policemen had been blown up after following on-site instructions to approach a suspect vehicle. The caller survived the incident because he followed protocols learned in his ISS training.

For more information contact:

Willem Els, ISS: +27 82 554 7695, wels@issafrica.org

Picture: Jacqueline Cochrane/ISS