By Maore Ithula
Without a permanent complete stop of radicalisation, terrorism and terror threats will continue dog this country, experts and opinion leaders say. They have an array of views on how this can be achieved.
Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi says the State has played a huge role in the radicalisation of Muslim youth in the country. In one of his opinion write-ups, he argues: “The agitation at the Coast has a simple solution. The government must withdraw from mosques and madrassas. It must stop determining for Muslims who will lead prayers in their local mosques and who will be the imam. The State should stop its policy to infiltrate Muslim organisations. It must stop extra-judicial killings of Muslims.”
Muslims account for 11 percent of Kenya’s population, which translates to roughly 4.4 million people. Most these people live in the marginalised areas of Coast and Northern Kenya. Their education levels are dismal, and thus youth among Kenyan Muslims are mainly unemployed. The community is also marginally represented in the government.
Captain (Rtd) Collins Wanderi says that because of historical injustices suffered by Muslims since independence, Islam generally appeals even to non-Muslims living in any marginalised area of the country.
Refuse to see facts
The former Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) man is also a lawyer and chair of the Kenya Institute of Forensic Auditors. He quips: “Islam appeals to the downtrodden, marginalised and historically disadvantaged groups and communities in Kenya. The ideologues propagating violent extremism know this all too well. But Kenya’s political, corporate and religious elite hardly get the message. Thus radicalisation will continue unabated until they hear the wake up call.”
The lawyer also wants the State to dissuade the material gains made by various criminal enterprises and activities across the country.
Led by Captain (Rtd) Simiyu Werunga, the African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies has also recently researched radicalisation and how to combat it. Werunga points out:
“To start with, Al-Shabaab identified joblessness as an entry point; hence, the radicalisers can recruit by offering jobs. Better still they can tell the youth, ‘we can train you so you can come back and fight for your rights’.”
Experts believe the problem goes beyond religious schools, which are already viewed with suspicion by the authorities, and is now spilling over to secular schools, both state-run and private. For this reason Werunga believes that, in some cases, parents “quietly endorse” the recruitment of their children.
Werunga believes there is a need to focus on the underlying problems that Al-Shabaab exploits in its recruitment drive. Unless entrenched poverty, marginalisation and discrimination against the Muslim community, and residents of coastal areas in general are tackled, the problem will persist, he reports.
On the other hand, Billow Kerrow, the Senator for Mandera, is persuaded that although some Muslims hold radical beliefs, they may not be violent, arguing that there is growing evidence that people engaged in terrorism don’t necessarily hold radical views. In his view, Kerrow suggests that the government needs to critically examine drivers of radicalisation before planning counter measures.
Nevertheless, based on scientific research and empirical data, Botha has raft of countermeasures that the leaderships in Kenya can adopt. She says:
“A variety of countermeasures involving multiple actors are required to successfully counter the message of extremists. The first step is addressing the factors or circumstances enabling radicalisation. One of the greatest mistakes governments and security agencies often make is to copy other countries or regions in this regard. This does not imply that countries cannot borrow from other successes, but they should primarily understand that the circumstances of each country are unique.”
In her view, what drives individuals to extremism in Europe is different to what one experiences in Africa. Furthermore, she notes, even within the same continent, like Africa, one cannot compare Algeria with Kenya, or even Kenya with Uganda.
“Understandably, Kenya and Uganda are neighbouring countries and circumstances in one will impact on the other, but the local dynamics in each country are different,” she offers.
Although she concedes that she does not have an instant cure for radicalisation in Kenya, she has a few suggestions, adding that no one strategy she offers be dealt with separately, but should rather be seen as part of a larger scheme. Whereas poverty alone is not driving people to radicalisation, for instance, poor socioeconomic circumstances undoubtedly make individuals more susceptible to it. A key factor is the unequal opportunity for upward social ability as a result of religious, ethnic or political differences.
In Kenya, the difference between Nairobi and the coastal region is unmistakable. In the coastal region, the contrast between luxury hotels and the poverty of ordinary Kenyans living near them is equally striking.
State can institute change
The government can create an environment that encourages innovation. By offering tax breaks and low-interest loans to change the mentality of future entrepreneurs at school, much can be done to encourage and equip young people not only to become educated, but also to contribute to the financial stability of the country and to their own well-being.
The concept of a Kenya for all Kenyans recognises diversity, but the real test lies in the way in which individuals from different backgrounds treat others. Government can set an example in this regard. Individual politicians need to accept responsibility for what they say and do that divides society; equally, it is essential not to use tribal affiliation to secure votes. This strategy divides people in the long run.
In the absence of a political party or parties able to articulate feelings of marginalisation and frustration within the framework of the law, extremists will be the only voice both Muslims and non-Muslims hear.
The absence of a moderate voice that speaks for the majority will further fuel the perception among non-Muslims that the actions of extremists represent entire communities. This contributes to a vicious cycle of distrust and misunderstanding on the part of non-Muslims, which, in turn, results in Muslims being treated as “terrorists” and second-rate citizens, leading to marginalisation and possible radicalisation.^