From RUSSEL ADADEVOH IN Accra, Ghana
ACCRA, (CAJ News) – AT a time governments across the world are battling the escalation of terrorism and violent extremism, a Ghanaian youth has managed to save more than 20 radicalised youngsters, including a despondent young man’s life a day before he was to join the vicious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar (34) is the brains behind the West Africa Centre for Counter-Extremism (WACCE), which following an astounding success in his homeland despite limited funding aims to expand to neighbouring countries battling insurgency and civil war.
WACCE works with local youth and community groups to help identify and counter the potential drivers of radicalization and violent extremism. The organisation promotes support to vulnerable people at risk of recruitment into terror groups.
While Ghana is seen as a model for stability in the West African region, Muqthar knows firsthand the impact of conflict, with the country having suffered upheavals in past decades.
“I have always been interested in security,” he said in an interview about his project inspired by one of the most forgettable eras in Ghana.
His Gonja tribe was not spared the inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic clashes that bedeviled the Northern Region of Ghana in the 1980s and 1990s. The Gonjas fought relentless battles with the Nawuris Nchumuris during the tumultuous days. Thousands of people were killed in the clashes that also sucked in the Konkomba and Nanumba tribal ethnic groups.
“My family and I were victims to the 1994 conflict,” he reminisced.
“At the time, Somalia was disintegrating into anarchy whiles Rwanda was on throes of death. There was a pervasive presence of peace and conflict initiatives. I was influenced by these experience and environment,” Muqthar added.
All these disturbances influenced the formation of WACCE, which Muqthar established upon returning home after graduating from Coventry University in England, where he was conferred with a Master of Arts in International Terrorism in 2013.
Situated in the capital Accra and the northern Tamale, the independent and non-profit organisation focused on counter extremism research intended at uncovering the underpinnings of radicalization and violent extremism, it has made unprecedented success over the past two years.
This includes the dissuading of 22 radicalised individuals from joining terrorist groups. Among these is a youngster who was on the verge of joining ISIS after recruitment online.
“He had prepared to leave Ghana for Syria. Just a day before his departure, he coincidentally watched our outreach programme on counter- radicalization. That changed him and he changed his mind,” said Muqthar.
“He immediately went online to enquire about us. He then sent us messages regarding his situation. We then reached out to him, first ensuring he blocked all contact with the recruiters,” Muqthar disclosed.
WACCE plans to expand to Mali and Burkina Faso in the next two years.
Lawlessness blamed on Islamic militants has beset Mali since a coup in 2012. Neighbouring Burkina Faso has also suffered civil strife in recent years after some coups.
“West Africa is one of the deadliest regions for terrorism,” Muqthar pointed out.
“My plans are to expand my counter terrorism work to include the entire West Africa region, helping to dissuade vulnerable groups and individuals from engaging in violent extremism and falling into the void of terrorist recruitment.”
Such plans are not deterred by lack of support by government but are spurred by youth committed to nurturing harmony in the region that has suffered bloodshed for years.
“WACCE is run by a generally youthful team of men and women who are genuinely committed to contribute to peace and stability in the region.
In recognition of his work since graduating from university, Mutaru has been shortlisted for an international award at the United Kingdom Alumni Awards in Ghana.
In 2016 he was also elected as a Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders, being invited to a summit in Washington DC where he met former US President Barack Obama.
John Latham, vice-chancellor of Coventry University, students and alumni from the university made significant contribution to their communities in the United Kingdom and internationally.
“Mutaru’s is among the most significant and important,” Latham said.
He expressed pride Muqthar’s journey began in Coventry.
“The success of our alumni is in part down to the experiences they have here and the opportunities they take throughout their studies,” said Latham.
– CAJ News
From RUSSEL ADADEVOH IN Accra, Ghana