In Mandera Triangle, women leaders stem violent extremism among youth

June 13, 2019

The shared border areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, also known as the Mandera Triangle, have experienced armed conflict, extremist violence and political instability for years.

Pact’s Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management project, or RASMI, is working to change this. One way is by preventing youth, who are especially vulnerable, from falling victim to radicalization. Women leaders who are trusted in the community have been a key tool in this effort.

With RASMI’s support, women leaders in the Mandera Triangle have organized to mentor local youth, mainly by visiting schools to discuss critical topics including substance abuse, early marriage, the importance of education, and violent extremism. The women hear first-hand students’ experiences with radicalization and how it has invaded schools and madrasa systems. Students are encouraged to report any incidences of enticement with cash, goods or favors by strangers or even their own relatives to participate in questionable activities that might be related to extremism or lead to radicalization.

“My pupils were very happy, and as of today, cases I never used to receive were brought to my attention,” the head teacher of the primary school in Kamor said after a recent visit by five women leaders who spoke with students ranging from the fourth to eighth grades. “This is a clear indication of the success of the talks. I would request these be conducted on a monthly basis in every school, as girls are now opening up and becoming confident.”

In the past year, the women leaders working with RASMI have reached hundreds of children in more than a dozen schools in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. In addition to school visits, the women have targeted football fields because they have become fertile grounds for radicalization. Youth addicted to chewing Khat, a stimulant, were also found to be a favored target for extremist groups.

“We learned from our interactions with the boys that radicalization is not only limited to the use of religion,” said Lul Mohamed, one of the women leaders. “Unemployment and use of drugs play a big role in getting youth enticed.”

The women leaders have also started voluntary mentorship of youth at their homes and in their neighborhoods to dissuade them from engaging in social ills and to prevent indoctrination into violent extremism. One woman, Arfi Adow, has mentored 30 youth in BeletHawa, while another, Asli Ismail, helped four youth from her neighborhood give up Khat.

In Mandera Town, Rosalia Adala mentored two girls who were about to drop out of school for early marriage. Both decided to stay in school instead.  

Lead photo: A girl takes part in a math lesson at Township primary school, one of the schools where RASMI women leaders are mentoring students.