Lately, Tanzania has been changing its approach toward dealing with violent extremism in the country, a move seen by many analysts as a step in the right direction. It is an approach that departs from an earlier strategy that involved denials, control of the narratives, and limiting the flow of information around the issue.
The change in the approach can be observed in two areas. The first one is on the admission of the threat that violent extremism poses to Tanzania’s security situation while the second area can be observed in inviting Tanzanians in the fight against the scourge that continues to make governments worldwide sleepless.
The shifting in the approach goes back to October 21, 2020, when Inspector General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro reported about terrorist attacks that took place in Kitaya, a village in Mtwara. About 300 insurgents had crossed from Mozambique and reportedly killed people, looted and destroyed properties in the area.
On the same day, in a meeting with villagers of Kitaya and Michenjele in the region, IGP Sirro urged members of the community to act on stopping the radicalization of individuals, including their family members, saying that the sooner they report suspicious individuals, the better.
A call to parents, guardians
“Fellow parents and guardians, do not allow your child to go into terrorism, do not allow your child to change his/her mind and become careless,” emphasized IGP Sirro during the meeting. “If you see your child heading into that direction and you truly care for him/her, please report him/her to the police so that we can start to mould him/her early, once he/she gets into that [terrorism] it becomes a problem.”
But it has not ended with IGP Sirro. On November 15, 2021, President Samia Suluhu Hassan informed Tanzanians that it is true that violent extremism poses a threat to Tanzania’s security situation, applauding the works done by the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) in keeping Tanzania’s borders safe. President Samia also pointed out that it was exactly for this reason that she decided to send troops to Mozambique under the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mandate to fight the insurgents.
“In recent days the security situation in our borders, especially in the south, has been threatened by the presence of a terrorist group in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region which borders our region Mtwara,” noted President Samia. “The group has been trying to carry out attacks in some of our villages in Mtwara which has resulted in deaths, injuries and destruction of properties. But our army went there and dealt with the situation. The government has also sent Special Forces along the border which has led to the return of social-economic activities and reduced existing fears.”
Collaboration is key
The Head of State also acknowledges the importance of involving other non-state actors in the efforts aimed at keeping Tanzania safe.
“The fight against the threat of terrorism is not just a matter for the security apparatus,” she remarked recently. “But requires co-operation from various institutions, including the media and civil societies that have the responsibility of educating the public about the importance of peace and the harmful effects of [persons] involvement in terrorist acts.”
The Chief of Defence Forces General Venance Mabeyo echoed this on November 26, 2021, when he explained how the involvement of citizens is crucial to the TPDF’s success in the war against terrorism in the country.
“The fight [against terrorism] is a tough war,” he said. “It needs special attention because they [terrorists] do not use conventional warfare method they fight in smaller groups. We are working to control the situation, but the big help is expected to come from citizens because citizens are the ones who live with these groups, they live among us, without citizens information it’s not possible for the army to know them.”
CDF Mabeyo went on listing some of the attributes of identifying some of the culprits including seeing strangers around but also cautioned on how they use religion in recruitment.
Some notable milestones
These are some notable milestones in the fight against violent extremism. While there have been several programs in the past such as from UNDP and other local organizations such as Inter-Religious Council for Peace Tanzania (IRCPT), in most cases the government has been reluctant in engaging directly with stakeholders.
This change in approach is welcome because it provides the opportunity for actors to explore factors causing violent extremism, understand the risk areas and over time apply positive pressure to the rehabilitation of groups and individuals. It also opens an opportunity for actors to build the capacity of citizens, especially in early detection, as well as understanding the risk that violent extremists pose to the community.
Social media, also, is another angle that needs to be explored, especially on the messaging and understanding of how far some of the negative narratives to violent extremism have penetrated and what can be done in countering some of the messaging.
Tony Alfred K is a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @tonyalfredk. These are the writer’s own opinion and they do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. You want to publish in this space? Contact our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.