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Prosper Kwigize, Nairobi Kenya

UN in Partnership with IGAD Centre of Excellence for PCVE Jointly Convene Six Countries to Develop Regional Crisis Communications Strategies in East Africa Nairobi, 2 June 2022 – The United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism/Counter-Terrorism Centre  (UNOCT/UNCCT) and the IGAD Centre of Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (ICEPCVE) jointly hosted four workshops on strategic and crisis communications in Kampala and Nairobi between 23 May – 1 June.

The workshops aimed to offer technical support to East African governments to respond to crises, such as in the aftermath of a terrorist or violent extremist attack. Over 45 government, civil society representatives (CSOs), and journalists came together to learn about communications strategies used by terrorists and violent extremists before, during, and after their attacks, and how to design and implement crisis communications strategies in response to these events.

During the workshops in Nairobi, representatives from Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda also developed a regional narrative approach to tackle misinformation and to prevent terrorist attacks through effective communications tools. In a bid to effectively prepare for and communicate during crises, UNOCT/UNCCT has launched a Crisis Communication Toolkit on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) through strategic communication.

Aimed at addressing misinformation, providing leadership, and bringing communities together, this toolkit includes theoretical crisis communication approaches, evidence-based principles, frameworks, best practices, templates, and tools that can be easily adapted and quickly activated.

Complementing the specialized UNOCT/UNCCT training on crisis communication, the objective of this toolkit is to empower and to mobilize Member States, media, CSOs, and other key stakeholders to manage the communications space after a terrorist attack, and sustain social cohesion to prevent the spread of violent extremist narratives and misinformation.

Sian Hutchinson, Head of Unit, Global Programme on PCVE, UNOCT/UNCCT stressed that the toolkit aims to strengthen existing Member States’ crisis communication systems in response to terrorist events. “UNOCT is supporting the Member States and key stakeholders in East Africa and the Horn of Africa to deliver on the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) through a whole-of-society approach. The workshops have proved that this toolkit is a highly valuable resource for crisis response.“ As a regional body in the Horn and East Africa region, these workshops are providing an opportunity to enhance collaboration between government and civil society to help reduce unilaterally and at times incongruent efforts and instead, promote coordination and synergies.

This collaboration and the use of the UNOCT/UNCCT Crisis Communications Toolkit has the potential to strengthen future responses to threats and acts of violent extremism,” Dr. Simon Nyambura, Director, ICEPCVE added.

Speaking to the Buha News, participants in the training conducted in Nairobi, Kenya, acknowledged that a participatory strategic communication system would help to coordinate regional activities and identify extremist groups and terrorists approaches and narratives and to find solutions by educating communities not to join them.

Participants from Somalia during the crisis simulation session

They emphasized that the integration of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East Africa (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries would make identification of extremist narratives easier, especially to ensure that individuals at risk of radicalization are supported to enhance their resilience. Panel sessions with regional journalists helped to clarify the role of media in PCVE.

Speaking at the workshop trainer Mr. Craig Badings, said that to end terrorism, the issue of communication and how to present various information should be given more priority.

Workshop trainer Mr. Craig Badings

“What is needed here is the preparation of stories that will bring about a change of mind and heart among the community and especially young people who are often targets of radicalization into violent extremism through violent extremist narratives. Therefore, skills in effective communication and knowledge of crisis and strategic communications is important.

One of the challenges highlighted in the fight against violent extremism is misinformation and disinformation targeting young people, especially on social and digital media, which has the potential to fuel divisions among communities.

“The ongoing terrorist attacks in Mozambique and in Somalia as well as those reported in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda were examples cited for the need to intensify efforts to counter terrorist narratives,” said Dr. Mustafa Ali, Director of Arigatou International and Founder and Chairman of the Horn Institute while giving the regional PCVE context during the workshops.

Dr. Mustafa Ali, Director of Arigatou International and Founder and Chairman of the Horn Institute

He also highlighted the link between COVID 19 and how terrorists used the pandemic as an opportunity to negatively influence religious communities and to incite negative emotions through targeted narratives.

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