The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, and the government of Ethiopia opened a workshop on Countering Violent Extremist Messaging in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 24, 2014. The seminar, which runs from February 23 to 28, is being held in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the U.S. Department of State, and the Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA). H.E. Taye Atskeselassie, Director General for American Affairs at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ambassador Patricia Haslach, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia; Brigadier General Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., Commanding General of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA); Ambassador Saleh Sahboun, Permanent Representative of the League of Arab States to Ethiopia and the African Union; and Mr. Peter Otim, Acting Head of the Defense and Security Division, African Union spoke at the opening session.
Ambassador Haslach began the session by touching on the U.S. and Ethiopian governments’ efforts in advocating counter narratives to extremist messaging. She encouraged participants to develop practical recommendations for countering extremist messaging in the region, in order to enhance our common endeavors in improving collective security.
Following Ambassador Haslach, Brigadier General Grigsby Jr. gave an update on CJTF-HOA’s activities and programs in countering violent extremism, specifically its efforts in messaging and strategic communications, as well as strengthening partner capacity. He explained that changing attitudes is feasible, but changing behaviors is much more difficult, specifically regarding violent extremism.
Ambassador Sahboun and Mr. Otim each presented their organizations’ understanding of violent extremism and extremist messaging in the region. Ambassador Sahboun explained that the Arab League holds regular conferences addressing countering violent extremism with Arab and African countries, and he stressed that working across all levels and sectors is paramount. Mr. Otim touched on the persistent challenge of defining terminology regarding violent extremism and terrorism, but he emphasized that this should not translate into inaction and complacency when dealing with these issues.
Finally, Ambassador Taye officially opened the workshop on behalf of the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He emphasized regional challenges and the impact of technology and globalization on the spread of violent extremism. He stressed the need of countries in the region to develop counter narratives to violent extremism.
The week-long workshop in Addis Ababa provides a venue for approximately 60 participants from nations in and around the Horn of Africa, U.S. government officials, civil society leaders, and experts from international organizations to discuss strategic approaches to countering violent extremist messaging in the region. Among the workshop’s goals are to facilitate cooperation and discussion among governments in the Horn of Africa and its environs; to enhance and institutionalize cooperation among security forces and to generate a network to promote democratic governance.
The workshop builds on previous ACSS events, including: the “Horn of Africa Region Destabilizing Factors and Transnational Threats Seminar – Seeking Whole of Region Solutions to Transnational Threats,” co-sponsored by ACSS and the NESA Center for Strategic Studies; and the ACSS Countering Violent Extremism workshop series.
ACSS is the pre-eminent institution for strategic security studies, research, and outreach in Africa. The Africa Center engages African partner states and institutions through rigorous academic and outreach programs that build strategic capacity and foster long-term, collaborative relationships. Over the past 14 years, more than 6,000 African and international leaders have participated in over 200 ACSS programs.