Security forum in Senegal focuses on preventing violent extremism in Africa

Discussions about the fight against rising violent extremism in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region, are dominating a meeting of security experts in Dakar, Senegal, this week, which is happening against the backdrop of increasing Islamist militant attacks and growing instability.

While scores of conferences, forums and training exercises have been held over the past few years to discuss causes and solutions to rising violent extremism, the problem has not only persisted but has gotten worse. In fact, deaths linked to Islamist militants on the continent skyrocketed by nearly 50% in the last year to more than 19,000 people, much of it in the western Sahel region, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The violence has also expanded geographically, trickling into new regions, such as West African coastal states and the Lake Chad Basin.

The conference, organized by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Senegal’s Center for Advanced Studies in Defense and Security, brought together security experts from across the continent.

This week’s meeting builds on the Prevention of Violent Extremism program, which was launched by the UN in 2015, and seeks to determine how individual regions and states can better implement their strategies to counter militant violence. “Terrorist groups continue to exploit the multifaceted challenges facing the region, notably its environmental, political and socioeconomic weaknesses and inequalities,” Giovanie Biha, head of the UNOWAS, warned. “A regional challenge demands a regional response,” she added. “It has been proven that no country can effectively combat violent extremism and terrorism alone.”

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