Why dialogue is an essential tool for peace, security and development

The hatred and ignorance that breed violent extremism thrives when we stop talking. Intercultural dialogues could be a viable solution.

The hatred and ignorance that breed violent extremism thrives when we stop talking. Intercultural dialogues could be a viable solution. Image: Unsplash/Sunguk Kim

Gabriela Ramos
Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
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  • Violent extremism is rising globally, with a 17% increase in attacks recorded in 2021.
  • Somalia and Kenya are two countries that have experienced significant impacts of Al Shabaab’s violence and the group has been linked to 22,000 fatalities since 2008.
  • Intercultural dialogue can open up channels of communication and foster understanding between groups from different cultures.

Violent extremism is born from distorted interpretations of culture, hatred and ignorance and threatens our societies’ foundations – tearing us apart and weakening collaboration. And according to the Global Peace Index 2022, violent extremism is on the rise, with a 17% increase in attacks in 2021.

East Africa is a region where violent extremism is particularly rife, with Al-Shabaab – rooted initially in Somalia – having spread their campaign of terror to neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. The group has been involved in more than 8,400 events linked to more than 22,000 fatalities since 2008. Though there has been a 17% decline in terrorism deaths attributed to the group, they still ranked among the four deadliest terrorist outfits in the world in 2021.

Somalia and Kenya have had to live in the shadow of terrorism for far too long. Somalia is the third most impacted country by terrorism for the fifth consecutive year, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2022. In 2021 alone, 599 people died and 479 were injured due to 308 terrorist incidents in Somalia. In recent years the intensity of the Al-Shabaab threat in Kenya has declined, yet the memory of the attacks on the Westgate Mall in 2013 and Garissa University in 2015 looms large to this day.

Therefore, the question remains: What can be done to address this hatred and ignorance which rips societies apart? How can it be stopped?

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To counter violent extremism, we need to talk

Intercultural dialogue occurs when different groups commit to engaging in meaningful, open communication that creates connections and breaks down barriers. An important tool for peace, security and development, intercultural dialogue has been used throughout the world to combat hatred and ignorance.

In Kenya, intercultural dialogue is countering violent extremism and promoting sustainable peace and human rights. In 2019, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (ICRK) launched “Building Intercultural Bridges,” which turns to intercultural dialogue to foster contact and understanding between Christian and Muslim communities and supports youth who experience exclusion, lack of opportunities and vulnerability to recruitment by violent extremist groups.

In an interview for the ICRK, Ali Amani Babu, a youth from Mombasa who participated in the programme, attested, “We had been made to believe that these two religions are sworn enemies and they can’t tolerate each other. Through this programme, we were able to change that perception and now we are able to cooperate in all activities in our communities.”

Recognizing the potential of intercultural dialogue and the growing need for tools that support collaboration, UNESCO launched the Initiative for Enabling Intercultural Dialogue in partnership with the Institute for Economics and Peace. The partnership has just launched a report containing data proving the efficacy of intercultural dialogue in improving social cohesion and social inclusion for the first time. The report draws on data from 160 countries in all world regions.

Intercultural dialogues: a solution for peace

Through this programme ... we are now we are able to cooperate in all activities in our communities.

Ali Amani Babu, Participant in Building Intercultural Bridges, Mombasa

Findings highlighted in the UNESCO report launched under this initiative – We Need To Talk – show that intercultural dialogue can make a real difference. Between 2015 and 2019, 69% of terrorist attacks and 89% of deaths from terrorism globally occurred in countries where dialogue between opposing groups is stalling. Conversely, countries with higher dialogue levels see higher peacefulness and human rights protection. Programmes based on intercultural dialogue, like Building Intercultural Bridges, offer spaces to learn about “others” and ultimately break down existing barriers and promote understanding.

Policies and actions that enable intercultural dialogue can have widespread impacts. UNESCO’s new framework offers communities a guide on how to maximize impact for the first time. We will see transformation in our world if we take advantage of this important new data.

When we stop talking, solutions to tensions and conflict become impossible. The hatred and ignorance that breed violent extremism thrives when we stop talking. There is not one easy solution to addressing groups such as Al-Shabaab and their impacts but intercultural dialogue can be leveraged to forge divides and bring communities together again. Let us allow UNESCO’s new framework to guide us to a better tomorrow.

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