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What Does Social Exclusion Have to Do with the Attacks at Westgate, Nairobi? Asking the Right Questions

Sadaf Lakhani's picture

Elif Yavuz, a former World Bank consultant, was amongst the 68 people who died in the attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September of this year. At the time of her death, Elif was working for the Clinton Foundation. Hers had been a life dedicated to fighting poverty and disease.
 
The horror of what enfolded at Westgate is a reminder of the pervasive threat of insecurity, and at the same time of our efforts to protect lives and preserve human dignity the world over. The massacre raises questions, too. Are we deploying the right tools to help put an end to such violence? And what is the role, if any, that development practitioners can play in preventing them? The recently released World Bank report, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, provides us with some ideas.
 
The Al-Shabab attack in Nairobi was a tragedy for the victims and their families. Nevertheless, countless numbers of people across the globe die every day in less violent circumstances, and yet just as needlessly – from disease and malnutrition for example.  Consider malaria – the issue on which Elif had been working: the latest data show that more than one million people, the majority of them children under the age of five in Africa, are likely to die of malaria this year. Many of these deaths occur in countries where wealth and opportunity are to be found, but the wealth is concentrated in the hands of only a few, while others are barred from opportunities. The evidence suggests that these inequalities, and the feelings of injustice and powerlessness they engender, have the potential to fuel conflict and tempt people to espouse radical ideologies and resort to violence as a means of addressing injustice.

In addition to the economic dimension – as in the perceptions of the inequitable distribution of wealth, there is also a social dimension.  Groups engaged in violent conflict in their countries are often seen as being and perceive themselves as “different” from the mainstream in their societies. This is as true for developed and developing countries as for countries with strong democratic governments and others still at work building stable state institutions.       
 
The changing nature of terror attacks and the profiles of those carrying them out suggest that the same factors may be behind the involvement of young people in other forms of violent conflict. As well as Somalis, the perpetrators of the attack at the Westgate shopping mall included young people from the U.S. and countries in Europe. Some of them were the children of immigrants who had left fragile or war-torn countries. The recent Boston marathon bombing and some of the terror attacks of the last decade illustrate that ideologies advocating the use of violence attract followers from across the world, especially amongst disaffected and alienated young people.
 
Tackling the radicalization of young people in essence is about addressing the causes of their exclusion. Development practitioners play a critical role in this regard through programing in fragile states that targets the most vulnerable groups, for example, or by expanding education and employment opportunities for young people belonging to minority groups, among others. Poverty and social exclusion however are not one and the same, as the report points out. Addressing social exclusion that can fuel violent conflict and lead young people to subscribe to violent ideologies also requires an understanding of the attitudes, practices and policies that lead some groups to feel and be perceived as “different,” and as a consequence be denied opportunities. The report argues that policies and programs aimed at addressing social inclusion do not necessarily do more, but do things “differently”; they must be designed using a social inclusion “lens.”  Designing the right program or policy means understanding clearly the problem being addressed, and by beginning with asking the right questions.
 
Social exclusion results in costs to societies. As the report makes clear, these costs are not always easily apparent or quantifiable. But when they mean loss of innocent lives it’s easy to see that inclusive development matters. 

Photo Credit: DEMOSH
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