Extremism in Kenya

by Mohamud Ahmed Ali

Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist-Consultant, Executive Office of the President, Kenya – Department for Strategic Initiatives and Development of Arid/Semi-Arid Regions

The United Nations Security Council under resolution 2178 of 2014 defined violent extremism as “something conducive to terrorism, sectarian violence and commission of terrorist acts”. These acts are often promoted in a confine conflict where organized extremist organizations take advantage of local grievances to take a position or advance an idea.

The Kenyan context

Violent outburst in Kenya can be traced back to immediately after independence when secession conflict emerged between government and a group of ethnic Somalis in the North Eastern part of the country, then referred to as Northern Frontier District. The group endeavored to secede part of Kenya to join Somalia. The conflict, waged between 1964 and 1967 included a state of emergency, resulted in military massacring.

Almost at the same, a similar narrative was propagated by largely non-violent Swahili (Afro-Arab) and Arab-Muslim populations at the coast, expressed their post independent fears of possible alienation and dilution of their cultures by the dominant Christians up country (Van Metre, 2016). Things would remain silent until in the 90’s when coast based Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) was formed, a formation that was later linked to a number of attacks in the region (Patterson, 2018).

IPK was also thought to be affiliated to an Al Qaeda Somalia based al-Ittihad al-Islami group which executed twin bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on 7th August 1998. It was not until 14th of October 2011 when Kenya responded militarily to the Al Shabaab abduction of a tourist from Manda Island and some Kenyans in Wajir and Mandera (Olsen, 2018). The military incursion thereafter triggered a series of retaliatory attacks involving foreign and Kenyans terrorists, a phenomenon that dawned to Kenyan government that its youths were being radicalized to violent extremist groups.

Notable extremism incidences in Kenya since independence

  • Bombing of Jewish-owned Norfolk hotel on 31st December 1980 by the Palestinian militant supporters over what’s thought to be Kenya’s involvement in the Israel’s operation in Entebe Uganda. About 20 people including foreigners were killed and 87 more wounded August 7th 1998 United States embassy bombings in Nairobi where 213 people were killed
  • Bombing of Kikambala Hotel in 2002 killing 13 people and injuring 80 others Westgate Mall shooting in 21 September 2013 by gunmen who killed 67 civilians Killing of 60 people in Mpeketoni, Lamu County by the Somali based Al Shabaab group in 17 June 2014
  • Westgate Mall shooting in 21 September 2013 by gunmen who killed 67 civilians
  • Killing of 60 people in Mpeketoni, Lamu County by the Somali based Al Shabaab
    group in 17 June 2014
  • Killing of 148 student in Garisa University college on April 2nd 2015
  • Attack of Dusit 2D hotel complex in Nairobi in January 15th 2019 by Al Shabaab
    where 21 people were killed and 28 others wounded.

Drivers of violent extremism in Kenya

Al-Shabaab, which is the predominant Extremist Organizations in Kenya highly depend on new youth recruits to perpetuate their ideologies. The group have astutely taken advantage on a number of prevailing factors to exploit and recruit vulnerable youths:

Personal factors. According to the (Human Rights Watch, (2012) some youths while in pursuit of their purpose and meaning in life, often long for heroic or iconic status in the society. Being aware of this, Al Shabaab would target such individuals and sell them views and ideas that would fulfill their desires for self-actualization.

Socioeconomic Factors. youths in Kenya find it hard to access employment opportunities, quality education, habitable housing, quality health services etc. These inadequacies have rendered them vulnerable to radicalisation.

Political factors. youths in Kenya are often motivated by the need to battle injustice, impunity and corruption among the public officials. When the application of the law is perceived to be inconsistent or unequal, they become disillusioned and look for solutions outside the formal structures. British Broadcasting Corporation (2011) reported that Impunity among the politically connected elites frustrates the youths making them lose confidence in their legal institutions. Similarly, Human Rights Watch, (2012) adds that the feeling of being used for political gains and forgotten until the next general elections makes some youths conclude that solutions to their problems cannot be attained through conventional politics, hence violent extremism.

Religious factors. Muslims youths in Kenya have been brainwashed into believing that ongoing conflicts in Islamic countries links to the wider campaign against Islamic religion. Through the promotion of the universal Muslim brotherhood, Hanbali School started opposing Shaafi’s school in Kenya, as a result, the youths in the country began to perceive the problems experienced in Somalia, Afganistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and other Islamic states as a problem affecting all the Muslims globally and is worth their involvement.

Accessible and affordable internet. With the increase in cheap smart phones and coverage of at least 3G network in most parts of the country, internet has become key medium of radicalization and recruitment for extremist groups. Crisis Group, (2011) declares that there exist at least five sites today that are run by Somalia based extremist organizations.

Flaws in Counteractive strategies. Prior strategic mistakes in countering extremism in Kenya especially against Kenyans of Somali origin resulted to some joining extremist groups in retaliation.

Domestic measures to counter extremism

In an effort to thwart violent extremism, the National Strategy to combat violent extremism was established in Kenya in 2016 and mandated to gather resources from the government, private sectors and civil society groups to help facilitate tactical change from militarization to de-radicalization of previously radicalized youths. The drive, spearheaded by the Kenya National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) targeted the coastal counties of Lamu, Kwale and Mombasa (Jamestown Foundation, U.S. Department of State).

In 2017, Kenya formed a committee composed of all government principle secretaries and the Inspector General of police (IG) to lead a complementary national fight against violent extremism in the country. In 2018, NCTC involved ministry of education in rolling out countering violent extremism programs in schools.

A review by Kenya security specialists later in 2018 expressed that whereas militarization had significantly decreased violent activities, there was a sharp increase of online radicalization. To complement government’s efforts, Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS) in collaboration with Institute of Development Studies launched an online library in September 2018 to enhance CVE research.

To prevent easy transit of insurgents from Somalia, Kenya in 2015 began constructing a 440 miles wall along its border with Somalia consisting of watch towers, barricades and ditches. Construction however halted at some point after some controversies erupted with Somalia government In parliament, the Kenyan legislators passed the Security Laws (Amendment) Act No. 19 of 2014 which gave power Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) restrain media scrutinizing them. The piece of legislation also permitted law enforcers to hold terror accused suspects for almost a year as well as monitor and tap phones.

Note: The view expressed in this article is solely that of the author’s and does not represent that of Policyinstitute.net and its entire staff.

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