Extremely Together’s Young Leader from Uganda, who works to train teachers, Imams and young people in countering violent extremism.
As ink pours from my pen, pain pours from my heart, knowing that there are young people somewhere whose lives end prematurely, who are radicalized and preyed on by recruiters in hope for better lives, perceived after life, joy and happiness and a hope for safer spaces for identity and belonging.
My name is Ndugwa Hassan from Uganda, co-founder and Senior Programs Coordinator with the Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum. My interest in the work of countering violent extremism stems from my survival of a terror attack on July 11th 2010 when I joined my friends to watch the world cup finals match between Spain and Holland that was being broadcast live from South Africa before two bombs rocked the rugby stadium in quick succession. Instead of blaming the government and terrorists, my friends and I took a bold decision to start the very active process of countering violent extremism in our country and the East Africa region. I have managed to transit from victimhood to being an active practitioner in challenging extremist ideologies and narratives that lead to violence. I have done this through engaging the youth populations that are most at risk of recruitment through providing them with positive alternatives, building capacity of religious leaders in conflict resolution, peace building and ICT skills to give their message a wider reach through social media engagement with the youth populations and turning mosques into centre of development rather than breeding areas for terrorists.
We must engage all society in the fight against extremism – religious leaders of all faiths, women leaders, youth groups, leaders in the arts, music and sports, as well as the media and private sector.
Time and time again, youth I work with admit to being angry over the international community’s double standards toward Muslim populations and poorly governed states such as people living in Gaza, the world’s inaction on the bloody civil war in Syria, autocracy in Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, DR Congo and Somalia. They feel disempowered in their daily lives, as access to food, health care, electricity, and other basic services remains a struggle. That outrage is legitimate. The message that there are peaceful outlets for these feelings is more likely to be heard when coming from community actors like me and the other young people selected for the Extremely Together Initiative by the Kofi Annan Foundation.
I’m now part of the Extremely Together campaign that aims at providing a firm, lasting and effective counter narrative against extremist narratives and propaganda that propels many young unsuspecting people into joining terrorist groups. We are extremely together because we believe a world free of hate and terror is possible. We believe we can work together as a strong voice that will positively inspire many of our peers out there who are on the verge of joining or engaging with extremist groups.
My contribution to this campaign will be to provide alternative stories and alternative calls to action to the youth populations through various platforms including social media, mainstream media, workshops and conferences. I know there are many local voices pleading to de-link especially the peaceful teachings of Islam and other religions from the senseless violence of groups like Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda and Daesh. My counter narrative focuses on encouraging my peers to embrace positive struggles, such as being frank in advice to a tyrannical ruler or oppressor, exercising discipline or self-restraint, taking care of one’s parents, studying, teaching, defending oneself and others in accordance with the law other than the terrorist struggle (Jihad) that ends up taking their lives and destroying humanity.