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Come and join us
Now that you readers got to know me a little better through my contributions to Diplomat Magazine I guess it is time for confessions. Now there are many things to confess. I’m not going to give all of it away. But here is one: I’ve worked in development assistance for a long period of my life. Longer than you’d imagine.
Sub-Sahara Africa was my favourite destination and education and health care my focus and area of expertise. I’ve seen suffering and healing. I’ve seen struggling and learning. I’ve shared a meal with Fulani and with Pygmies. I know a little bit about what works and what does not in some places in Africa.
I believe I also understand a little bit about motivational structures in Africa. What makes people tick. That is why I think I can penetrate into that environment and understand some of the factors that leave people speechless and hopeless. What generates feelings of injustice and anger. I understand, in other words what makes the fabric of a violent faction. Why would young people in Kidal feel attracted to the proposition and the narrative of Mujao. Why would the Northern Nigerian feel attracted to the appeal by Boko Haram. It is not very difficult to meet a young man in the outskirts of Nairobi and ask him about the proposition he is getting from recruiters sent to attract him and his kinship to come and join Al Shabaab. It is not hard for me to do. And it is not hard for me to empathize. I can see the desolation. I can tell the lack of prospects.
And I know how the average policeman in the cities of Africa treat these youngsters. I’m not insulting anyone when I share with you that alienation between the people and the policeman in sub-Sahara Africa. The two are not best friends. So the youngster that has little alternative and is seduced with goodies and promises about after life and fame, will turn to the violent actor and will be convinced that justice and good life will be given to him if only he can join the armed struggle for a just society in which he and his children may have a perfectly well organized society based on Sharia law and the principles of ancient texts.
Choices and alternatives
Can we judge him? Of course we can. He is making the wrong choice. But the real question is, can we solve the problem by telling him simply that he is making the wrong choices and is joining the wrong party and that he is going to jail if not hell. We all understand, even intuitively, that it is not going to give the desired result. That we need to do more to bring him back to society and peaceful means of change and improvement for the future.
We all intuitively feel that giving the youngster in the streets of Nairobi and Kidal, in Maiduguri and Maroua a proper future prospect, by re-establishing the connection between government representatives and the population , by delivering services like education and realistic justice, that by doing all these things, we can talk the youngster into the alternative route.
Tools of the development cooperation trade
What strikes me is that education and economic prospects, justice and governance are all tools in the box of the development cooperation family. For many decades they have worked with these tools and made things happen. The development cooperation people have been in the business of reducing anger and frustration for a long time. It is their daily business and their professional focus. They have the experience that we need to make things better and reduce the appeal of violence and recruiters.
However the weird reality is that the “development world” and the “counter terrorism world” do not speak one another. If we invite them they do not come. When they assemble they do not invite us.
Two worlds apart. Combined in me personally, but with no relation anywhere else but in my mind. You may call that schizophrenic. You may call it ineffective. You may call it what you want. I think it is dangerous. While we see ISIS gaining ground, people in Mali falling victim, children in Nigeria being kidnapped, the inhabitants in Nairobi anxiously wondering where the next attacks will take place, the development cooperation family, that has the toolbox, should leave its comfort zone and talk to us. We are not scary, we try to make this planet a little safer. Come and join us.