How radicalisation happens


By TNLM Reporter

Few Kenyans know what radicalisation is. Fewer still know how to avoid, prevent it. Radicalisation is the process by which an individual or group of people adopts an increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideology and aspirations that reject or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.

Although no research has been conducted locally to establish a step-by-step process of radicalisation, the New York Police Department of Intelligence has broken it down to four steps, each including its own key indicators and triggers.  

First is the pre-radicalisation stage, which deals with the personal being of the recruit, including their ordinary life prior to radicalisation, whose key indicators were individual’s background and current environment. 

Second is self-identification where the individual comes to see oneself in a reflection of radical movement(s). Its key indicators were a crisis event that occurs, pushing the individual towards radical religious beliefs, mainly Islam, regular attendance at a specific mosque and change in personal behaviour, which may include giving up bad habits such as gambling, drinking alcoholic beverages, and smoking, as well as becoming involved in social activism pertaining to Islam.

The third stage is indoctrination, where the individual starts intensifying focus on his/her beliefs. Key indicators are that the individual takes on political world view and relates all things back to their radical Islamic beliefs and their teachings; then they withdraw from mosques and move towards a smaller groups where radical ideas are espoused and shared, and continue engaging in politicalisation of the new radical beliefs.

Finally, the individual enters the most lethal stage of this process – Jihadism. Here, they start to embrace jihadism by taking actions based on their beliefs. This would be indicated by a decision to travel abroad to countries involved in conflict for training or preparing for an “act of furtherance” by way of Internet research, physical surveillance of possible targets, and visiting jihadi websites for words of encouragement prior to an attack. They would also start acquiring materials needed for explosives or other means of attack, such as guns, vehicles and bomb components. Clearly, it is difficult to rescue a radical at the third stage. It is impossible, and perhaps very dangerous, to attempt to intervene at the last stage. 

However, Anneli Botha, a security expert and researcher with the South Africa based Institute for Security Studies says radicalisation should be prevented before it starts. The terrorism and religious extremism expert says the biggest threat to stability in Kenya will be if extremists succeed in dividing Kenya between Muslim and non-Muslim. 

In a research she published in 2013 titled Assessing the vulnerability of Kenyan youth to radicalisation and extremis, she says: “The reality is that Islamist extremism in Kenya often manifests around issues that are of concern to the Muslim community as a whole. These issues are then “hijacked” by Islamist militants with the ultimate goal of converting moderate Muslims to their interpretation of the world. In order to achieve this, the Islamist militant endeavours to exploit existing sub-standard socioeconomic conditions, accompanied with feelings of frustration and alienation from the government. In attempting to secure the success of this strategy, extremists capitalise on the government’s inability to provide basic services, and offer an alternative. Radicalisers also create or infiltrate bona fide charity organisations in areas with poor socioeconomic conditions and uplifting the community thus winning the general support of ordinary people and “buying’ their loyalty”.

The Constitution recognises freedom of religion. Irrespective of one’s family heritage, being a citizen means that they are equal not only before the law, but also as human beings in relation to others. 

Botha says this fact calls for introspection on the part of the police officer stopping and searching a person because he looks Somali, or the Muslim throwing a hand grenade into a church because he sees Christians as the “enemy”. Both of these examples touch on collective punishment based on perceptions. Addressing and breaking down these perceptions extends well beyond the responsibility of the police or the Kenyan government, but the government can set an example and provide some of the tools to prevent radicalisation and enable de-radicalisation. Importantly, there is no quick fix for the level of radicalisation seen in Kenya.

During the Kenya Community Support Centre report of the National Conference on Anti-Radicalisation and Political Violence In Kenya held last year, Sheikh Stambuli Abdinassir, a Muslim historian said: “There is discrimination even amongst Muslims themselves based on colour and class but this can be addressed if people  embraced diversity and stopped antagonising each other. I encouraged our people to start organising themselves in social and economic sectors to demand for their rightful position in government.”

He was supported by Ibrahim Lithome an Islamic researcher and lawyer who said that though Islam was the first foreign religion to be introduced in Kenya, many Muslims are yet to enjoy their rights as they have been denied citizenship and other rights based on their religion. According to him, government’s insensitivity when dealing with radicalism, religious misconceptions, and global conspiracy, are some of the other factors that fuels radicalisation. He, however, observed that Muslims have a duty to rise against marginalisation by changing the way they perceive it. 


Said Lithome: “Self isolation, lack of strategic planning, blaming the government and not investing in development projects increases the vulnerability of the youth recruited by extremists.”



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