Governments should think like extremists

2014-07-01 15:13

An extremist is a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action. Furthermore, extremism is the quality or state of being extreme, the advocacy of extreme measures or views.

On the one hand is a terror group whose view is that “Western Education” is a sin using Western Weapons to unleash terror upon non-Westerners to send the message. Willing to put their lives on the line for a belief regardless of how skewed it may be, the militant group continues to wreak havoc in a country already ridden with many challenges.

On the other hand is a young woman, Nigerian singer, Adokiye Kyrian, expresses her wish   to offer her virginity as ransom for the kidnapped girls who have been in captivity for close to two months. Either way, the morality of the means employed to achieve an end is deeply questionable.

In between are a number of prominent personalities, civil groups and individuals who from the safety of their respective environments, have expressed outrage over the kidnappings. However, despite the initial hype around the kidnapping of the nearly 300 Chibok girls, from where we stand, very little action has been taken to “bring back our girls”. Though it made newspaper front pages for a while, it probably serves as wrapping paper for fish and chips at present and more girls have been kidnapped since.

Whether the Nigerian singer would live up to her word and trade places with the girls or if this is a publicity stunt is another matter but one way or the other, extreme injustices require extreme measures and that is the root of extremism. Regardless of our degree of passion or passivity about a viewpoint and belief system, in essence, we are all extremists to a certain degree.

The failure to understand extremism therefore means, the failure to devise solutions to stump out far right wing extremism. While governments are meant to be the defenders of the people, their failure to recognise that they are and should be an extremist group renders them incapable of fulfilling their mandate to protect the public.

Take Nigeria for example, a country of 36 states with a population estimated at between 170-200million, has a military comprising of 162 000 personnel. That is, a single military officer technically has responsibility over a 1000 individuals. While numbers may not necessarily be a factor where the military is well resourced and positioned, one cannot overlook the fact that for a country that spends over $2 billion on defence, a terrorist organisation with a sporadic revenue of barely 1% of military spending per annum, is causing so much trouble. Over the past few years, Boko Haram attacks have escalated in frequency and impact, resulting in the deaths of at least 3,000 people so far in 2014 and forcing at least 250,000 people to flee their homes in one year.

Firstly, understanding that extremism is not necessarily always negative is key in combating terror, poverty and the challenges that slow down growth in Africa. The next step would  be to comprehend why extremists of any kind have succeeded over the years:

a)            Extremists are hands on – while governments run countries from the comfort of grand buildings ridden with red tape, extremists generally live where they operate and are constantly on the move, evolving and reinventing themselves when necessary.

b)            Extremists practise what they preach – They do not spend millions organising events for the sheer purpose of telling the world what they “intend to do”. They generally “do things” to attract the attention of the media.

c)            Extremists are consistent – they do not relent  till they are either given what they want, or completely out of options.

d)            Extremists improvise - when funding fails to come through, stretch their resources and make a plan to get things working regardless of the means employed

While two evils do not make a right, gaining an understanding of how extreme right wing groups such as Al-Qaeda and El-Shabab have thrived despite opposition from legitimate entities such as governments and civil society would assist in combating conflict that slows down economic growth in the developing world. In order to catch a thief, one needs to think like a thief sans carrying out theft.


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