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Many hands on an elephant.- November 2020

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FOREWORD by Henrike Trautmann, Acting Director for the Neighbourhood South, DG NEAR, European Commission and Antonia Marie De Meo, Director of UNICRI                                                                                    

"Violent extremism remains a persistent threat to peace and stability in the Sahel and Maghreb regions. It continues to cause death, injury and the destruction of property, disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens in the process. Nearly 6,000 people have lost their lives in ongoing conflicts between 2015 and April 2020 in nine countries of the regions, namely: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. The Sahel region was particularly badly hit, with Burkina Faso and Mali seeing a marked increase in attacks since 2018, while, in the Maghreb region, many youth were radicalized and left their country to join the ranks of foreign terrorist fighters.

In 2015, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), with the generous support of European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), launched the Pilot Project on Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism in the Sahel-Maghreb – an ambitious project that sought to work with civil society organizations in nine countries of the region in order to pilot and evaluate small-scale interventions of varying nature, scope and duration. The ultimate goal of this Pilot Project was to better understand what works and what does not work in terms of strengthening the resilience of local communities to radicalization and violent extremism.

After five years of implementation, with more than 80 interventions, more than 500 activities and more than 23,000 individuals involved, UNICRI and DG NEAR are proud to present the results of this research. Not only does this represent an effort to organize and share a large amount of primary data collected, but it is also a way to share the main lessons learned and provide evidence-based recommendations to the international community to help inform more effective future interventions.

Violent extremism is a phenomenon that is difficult to define and therefore to counter. In this regard, UNICRI adopted a practical approach, focusing the analysis on the grievances reported by local communities and on the drivers described as critical in pushing young people to join violent extremist groups. Not surprisingly, all the grievances refer to structural social, political or economic issues and, hence, require long-term developmental solutions. However, through this Pilot Project, several civil society organizations developed tools and approaches that aided them in sidestepping the structural factors whilst identifying other solutions to successfully address specific aspects of different grievances. Working with youth-at-risk and teaching them non-violent means of expression or positive alternative methods to channel expectations, including through theatre, art and sport activities, are examples of the many different types of interventions explored through the Pilot Project.

Despite our learnings and insights, the challenge remains to define, implement and coordinate an effective and long-term course of action, where governments are the primary actors and civil society and communities are key partners. Local knowledge to identify local grievances, and local ability and intuition to devise made-to-measure solutions have proven to be essential and necessary factors. Building on communities that – despite all – are resilient remains our strong commitment in the fight against violent extremism and terrorism, both in the Sahel and Maghreb regions and beyond.

UNICRI and DG NEAR look forward to sharing the lessons learned during this highly rewarding Pilot Project as widely as possible, to inform the international community on more efficient programming and to ultimately contribute to improving the daily lives of millions of people."                              

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