On Wednesday, 10 July, UNESCO and UNHCR organized an interactive panel discussion on Preventing Violent Extremism through Education. The event which brought together participants from governments, civil society organizations, youth groups, refugees, donor agencies, academics, UN entities and the media, took place on the sidelines of the United Nations Africa Regional High Level Conference on Countering Terrorism and Preventing Violent Extremism, hosted by the Government of Kenya. Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, officially opened the Conference. Also present at the opening were UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, Chairperson of AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and AU Special Envoy on Youth, Aya Chebbi. In their remarks, all five dignitaries made passionate calls for a united front in the fight against violent extremism and terrorism, globally. They all emphasized the significance of a comprehensive approach that seeks to respond to this global challenge, through preventive measures, including, but not limited to “root cause analysis.” It is quite important to involve young people in the effort to defeat the menace of terrorism, as they (young people) are by far the most vulnerable to extremist ideologies that ultimately end up radicalizing them, they concluded. Preventing and countering violent extremism therefore requires that governments place young people at the center of their national priorities, ensuring that they are equipped with the tools necessary to transform them into productive members of society.
In line with the main theme of the conference, the UNESCO-UNHCR side event explored the specific role that education plays in preventing and countering violent extremism, with various speakers analyzing the challenges and opportunities that education presents, and sharing best practices from across the African continent, in dealing with this global threat. Darius Mogaka, from Kenya’s Ministry of Education, who opened the meeting by situating the issue in context, raising fundamental questions that subsequently guided the 90-minute long conversation, moderated the discussion. On her part, panelist, Yumiko Yokozeki, Director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia focused her intervention largely on the Institute’s work in building the capacity of teachers across the continent, to incorporate various pedagogical methods into their teaching approaches conducive to confronting the challenges of violent extremism. She provided specific examples of work done in both the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, two regions that continue to face serious challenges of violent extremism. Dorah Kitala, from the Ministry of Education in Kenya, spoke about, among others, the “whole school approach” adopted in Kenya, where teachers, parents and communities are all involved at different levels in the development of young people, ensuring that they are not radicalized by extremist groups. Grace Ngugi from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) zeroed in on the importance of curriculum development in the effort to prevent and counter violent extremism, highlighting the specific need to incorporate “pertinent and contemporary issues” into curriculum designs, as is currently being done in Kenya. She emphasized the importance of a “values-based” approach to education, targeting all levels of society, from the individual to schools and community governance structures. Mary Aguel, a South Sudanese refugee student currently studying journalism at University of Nairobi, gave an emotional account of what it means to be a refugee in a foreign land, where one is never fully integrated into the host society. She noted that refugees are constantly haunted by questions of “identity” as they navigate the daily challenges and difficulties of life in host communities. She emphasized how participation in education supports young people like herself develop their potentials, notwithstanding stereotypes about refugees. She concluded that when marginalised youth do not have access to education and sustainable livelihoods, they are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists and other armed groups, as weapons become their only alternative for survival.
Earlier, in their respective welcoming remarks, UNESCO Regional Director of UNESCO, Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, and UNHCR Kenya Country Director, Fathiaa Abdalla, underscored the commitment of their two agencies in working together, with other relevant partners and stakeholders, to make education is truly responsive to the aspirations of young people, especially the marginalized and excluded, including refugees. Both representatives pledged their commitment to strengthening their partnership, and working with other partners, to translate words into action. The event concluded with a commitment to organize a bigger and wider regional consultative discussion on the central role of education in preventing and countering violent extremism, with a view to developing a collective regional plan of action on how to deal with this issue in constructive and substantive ways.