By Okwaro Oscar
Since the entry of Kenyan forces in Somalia, the threat of terrorism has grown in magnitude. It seems Operation Linda Nchi, while it weakened Al-Shabaab, also embittered them and brought terror war to our backyard. This obviously calls for change of tact by our military to meet menace.
The solution is for the International Community to support Kenya, stabilise Somalia, freeze terrorist networks and help Somalia create a thriving economy, functional government and a successful educational system.
The point then is that military operation is a temporary solution to terrorism. Although KDF disabled al-Shabaab, it did not prevent an emergence of new networks. In fact, military suppression of a country tends to lead to sympathy and more support for extremists from sections of the citizenry.
Extremism is an old phenomenon that is found in almost every religion – from the Yakuza in Japan, the Balkans in Yugoslavia, the Suds of Iraq, to the numerous youth gangs of large urban agglomerations everywhere – and, perhaps, it is only The Vatican that is spared from this societal malaise.
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s former prime minister, who fell victim to terrorists in 2007, remarked that, extremism, militancy, terrorism and dictatorship feed off one another in an environment of poverty, hopelessness and economic disparity among social classes. Thus, in order to disarm terrorists, nations must combat these factors.
Therefore, the creation of educational systems that allows children to rise beyond the social and economic status of their parents remains sacrosanct strategy to stop potential terrorist influence.
In the book ‘Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West’, Bhutto insightfully articulates that countries like Iraq, Somalia and Pakistan spend 1,550 per cent more on their military budget than on education. As a result, poor citizens who can’t access money either go uneducated or turn to militant schools. As she points out, “from illiteracy and poverty stem hopelessness and from hopelessness come desperation and extremism.” Getting more specific, she cautions that some madrassas are breeding grounds for terrorists because rather than focus on education, they manipulate religion to brainwash children into soldiers.
For this reason, the international community must provide support to Kenya to help the Somalia government prioritise spending on education. Emerging policy must target strengthening systems and boosting local economies.
If we look to economics, it is a fact that when educated children surpass the economic status of their parents, a middle class is created. Micro loan programs can also aid the creation of a middle class, which is essential to a strong workforce and a stable country. This strong middle class is also essential for a successful democracy.
Kenya can realise democracy in Somalia by supporting stable, civil governments, which can keep terrorist networks from spreading inwards.
Stability cannot exist in an unjust government, and letting social inequities and injustices fester provides a rich breeding ground for terrorism.
There exist strong feelings amongst Muslims that Kenya is systematically undermining Islamic culture. Many moderate Muslims see the global war on terror as a war on Islam. This is not the image that will help the Kenya and/or UN build allies.
Kenya must now forge a strong relationship with its Muslim community so that, when it succeeds in earning the trust of the moderates, we can join hands to confront radical groups. This is the model that helped the US immensely during the war in Afghanistan when America sided with the Northern Alliance (a coalition made up of several Islamic ethnic groups) to overthrow the Taliban.
We can create the type of dramatic change in perception that is needed by investing against terrorism and thereby stabilising Somalia. As Bhutto narrates, once ordinary people identify assistance that improves their lives and of their children, they bond with the source of that aid. This connection could bring a dramatic turnaround in perceptions of Kenya’s presence in Somalia.
In fact, significant evidence supports this. After the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan that killed 92,000 people, the US donated billions of dollars for reconstruction while US soldiers delivered food to starving survivors.
The CNN poll conducted immediately showed that favourable views on the US operation had increased by over 54 per cent. The same poll indicated “a precipitous drop in support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
This direct and visible support from the America created dramatic changes in public perceptions over a short period of time, but it proves that, locally, creating and supporting organisations that can stabilise Somalia should be regarded by our government as long-term investments towards countering terrorism and insurgency.
For instance, through the Marshall Plan, implemented in Europe after World War II, the US spent billions in recovery of European countries. The same support (funds) can be spent on rebuilding Somalia and other terrorist networked nations. Under such a model, if this cost were shared by leading economies or blocs such as the US, the EU, Japan and China, these countries can contribute billions for such aid, compared to the trillions spent in Iraq war.
Money can fund war, but it can also prevent it. This type of solution not only makes sense but it is also morally right for our government to work with these youths to support visible, viable and direct programs that inspire hope.
— The writer is an analyst with Gravio Africa; the views are his own.