SUMMARY: Violent Extremism and Community Policing in Tanzania

Violent Extremism and Community Policing in Tanzania,” a report published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), examines whether Tanzania’s community policing practices contribute to the prevention of violent extremism. In the report, USIP utilizes information collected from a series of community workshops and interviews conducted in the Morogoro, Tanga, and Zanzibar regions of Tanzania in July 2017 in order to analyze the effectiveness Tanzania’s community policing initiative in countering violent extremism.

With the expanding presence of terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, in countries within close proximity to Tanzania, international interest has grown in the effectiveness of the country’s strategy to counter violent extremism. In 2005, to prevent terrorist attacks, Tanzania established the National Counterterrorism Center, an interagency unit comprised of multiple actors, including the Tanzanian Police Force (TPF). A year later, TPF launched a community policing model that incorporated groups of local, civilian volunteers, to report potential risks to local leaders and TPF’s ward-level police to improve community-police relations and receive more information on security issues. Tanzania has since made the community policing program a primary focus in its strategy to counter violent extremism.

Yet, the USIP report notes that community stakeholders and police, even when from the same region, lack a common language for discussing violent extremism, which limits community policing program’s preventative capacity. In the coastal Tanga region, an event in 2015 involving a heavily armed group has led to a heightened awareness of violent extremism in the region, which led participants to discuss violent extremism more than participants in the other two regions examined. Still, community stakeholders pointed to more individualized drivers of insecurity, though police representatives ranked terrorism as the top security risk. In Zanzibar archipelago, while stakeholders did identify violent extremism risks, the overall security dynamics suggest that the threat of violent extremism is low compared with politically motivated violence and violence perpetrated by vigilante groups. In the inland Morogoro Region, while an awareness of violent extremism seemed to exist, a hesitance existed among participants to discuss it openly, and assessment participants agreed that land conflicts drive violence and insecurity. The report poses the government’s portrayal of attacks motivated by violent extremism as crimes void of any ideological motivation as a contributing factor to the relatively low perception of violent extremism as a risk. Additionally, the report notes that the government’s framing of violent extremism has been enabled by a degree of self-censorship by the local media and civil society, who refrain from public discussion of the topic out of fear of government backlash.

In addition to finding a common language or space to discuss violent extremism, the USIP report also suggests that TPF’s community policing initiative has failed to improve community-police relations, for a distrust of police exists throughout the three regions due to abuse of authority, excessive use of force, and corruption. Local communities are highly suspicious of police handling of violent extremism suspects. The securitized response to violent extremism makes those close to at-risk individuals hesitant to report warning signs to the police. Also, the tendency of TPF to interact with its informants more frequently than members of the broader community further deters community members.

Thus, the report concludes that it would be premature to apply TPF’s program as a preventive measure to violent extremism without further efforts to strengthen the community-police relationship. Therefore, future efforts to counter violent extremism in Tanzania should focus on how to strengthen the capacity of local police and local communities to collaborate openly to address related issues. To do this, community stakeholders suggest increasing community-police dialogues, the professionalism of police officers, and the responsiveness of policing.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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