“Akwaaba!” the joyous sounding proclamation, simply meaning “Welcome!” was heard often to all who traveled to Accra, Ghana, for the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P) All–Africa Regional competition, held January 12–13 at the University of Ghana’s ISSER conference hall. Traditional Ghanaian drumming and singing echoed in the corridors as esteemed guests and dignitaries were literally danced inside for the final presentations and award program sponsored by EdVenture Partners (EVP), Facebook and Africa Center for Security and Counter Terrorism (ACSC).
In a country where horrors of the Boko Haram insurgency continue, and a history of religious separations and extremism run deep, students from all parts of the country provided specific examples of a positive way forward. Connecting global partners and civil servants whom may have never had the opportunity to meet, the spirit of inclusion and progression was evident at the ACSC regional competition when three finalist student teams from African universities presented creative approaches to address violent extremism in each of their communities.
The three finalist teams were selected from 27 African schools participating this term.
The final rankings of the winning teams were:
First place – American University of Nigeria (Nigeria)
Second place – University of Development Studies (Ghana)
Third place – Tunis Business School (Tunisia)
American University of Nigeria
Students from American University of Nigeria shared their multi-faceted campaign geared towards promoting religious tolerance and acceptance amongst a region equally divided amongst Christians and Muslims. Their research indicated that youth in Nigeria justified extremist behavior due primarily to their affiliation with their respective religious identity. Titled “I Am a Believer,” their campaign therefore promoted relatedness and interdependence of all Nigerians irrespective of faith. As a part of the student’s efforts to create a space for beliefs to co-exist, Beliepedia, a web application which compares answers from the Bible and Quran, was launched to provide an interactive forum for mutual agreement and collective action. This digital platform along with a series of community outreach efforts, including a football tournament, peace march and storytelling event in Mubi, and social media challenges, rounded out a cohesive campaign.
University for Development Studies
Voices for Change, a student agency of approximately 20 students from University for Development Studies, worked to host a series of events under the platform “U Matter-Get Involved” to foster an environment of collective action against extremism in Ghana. This team took an all-inclusive community-led approach to encourage the silent majority of members in their community to become more vocal in the fight against violence and hateful rhetoric. The campaign used impactful local community theatre, street carnivals, created dialogue between various community chiefs, received local media broadcasting and utilized social media platforms such as Facebook to promote their message of civic action.
Tunisia Business School
Four students from Tunisia created and implemented a campaign titled “Speak” with the primary purpose to educate youth using facts about growing local extremism, while empowering them to use their influences to change their reality. One highlight of their strategy was their digital platform, which engaged the online community in learning about extremism in Tunisia and created a dedicated space for brainstorming solutions in both Arabic and English. Additionally, they have been able to successfully develop multiple partnerships within their community to further support and promote their campaign.
Attendees were moved by the presentations, as youth play arguably the most “prominent role in the prevention and fight against terrorism in Africa,” according to Emmanuel Kotin, ACSC’s Cofounder and Head of Programs, who provided remarks along with other members of their staff.
EdVenture Partners CEO Tony Sgro similarly noted there is no one better equipped to “make our communities, campuses, countries and world a safer place” than young, tech-savvy digital natives, who are themselves the targets of radicalized groups.
Other special guests in attendance included Jennifer Jefferis, Special Representative on religion and political violence; Nana Afadzinu, Executive Director, West Africa Civil Society Institute; Sarah Shabbir, Cultural Attache’, Embassy of the United States of America; and Akua Gyeke, Public Policy at Facebook.
Kotin and these leaders repeatedly recognized the students as leaders and pioneers, “influencing a refreshing culture” of religious tolerance and acceptance, each campaign of which hopes to continue their work beyond the competition and awards ceremony.
To see more images from the awards ceremony, view the full photo album here.