Violent Extremism in Africa: Popular Assessments from the 'Eastern Corridor'

Violent extremism poses a serious security threat to governments and peoples across the African continent. Over the past two decades, national insurgencies by terrorist groups have increasingly crossed borders, creating complex, intractable regional conflict systems. In East Africa, Al Shabaab has been able to transcend its Somali origins and become a regional organization, while countries as far south as Mozambique and South Africa have experienced a rise in terrorist activity. The impact of terrorism should be measured not only in casualties and damage to property, but also in the profound effects it can have on a society as a whole. Here public opinion data can be useful in assessing changes in citizen perceptions where the threat of terrorism is present, especially in support for policies and practices that may undermine democracy. Violent extremist organizations often use acts of terrorism against specific targets to sow discord between communities. Studies have shown that exposure to the threat of violence can undermine social trust within a society. Attitudes toward neighbours of a different religion or ethnicity varied considerably among the East Africa Corridor countries we’ve examined. Further research on the relationship between terrorist violence and generalized social trust would be of value, especially in circumstances where a specific ethnic group or religion is negatively associated with terrorist activity. Finally, building trust between communities and security forces is a vital component in successfully combating terrorist activity. Repressive and corrupt security responses have often served to generate resentment among communities and create grievances that support terrorist propaganda narratives against the state.