Radicalization of Youth in Mombasa, Kenya – Quo Vadis?

By: Paul Adhoch – Trace Kenya*

The first cases of Kenyan youth radicalization, recruitment and trafficking for militia and Al-Shabaab fighting in Somalia was reported in 2006 by civil society organizations in Mombasa and Nairobi. Some places in Mombasa and Nairobi formed the foci of these activities. With time these radicalization activities took root in the country. At that time the government of Kenya took a dim view of the Civil Society Organizations reports and dismissed them as “mere propaganda and alarmist”. There were vehement denials across the country concerning such recruitments. Four years later, the government acknowledged the fact that youth were actually being recruited for terrorist activities generally; in Al-Shabaab and have also been convicted for partaking in the terrorist activities. A number of youth are now serving lengthy jail terms for being members of terrorist groups.

In October 2011, the government of Kenya sent the military (Kenya Defense Forces) to Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab and to support the international community on war on terror. Even then the government acknowledged that this was an uphill task with the assistant minister for internal security Mr. Orwa Ojode (RIP) claiming that the terror group had its tail in Somalia and its head in Eastleigh. A year later, Kismayu, an Al-Shabaab strongpoint was captured.
The military (KDF), is still in Somalia to-date with “no exit plan” according to the Cabinet Secretary on Defence Ms Rachel Omamo. The presence of the KDF in Somalia seemed to have increased local soft target terrorist activities in Kenya best witnessed in the Westgate Mall attack last year. There have been numerous soft target attacks including churches, restaurants, and public transport mainly in Nairobi, Mombasa, Garissa and Mandera cities. These are considered as revenge attacks as a result of KDF activities in Somalia. Other countries except Uganda with a similar military expedition in Somalia have not faced similar attacks. One may ask why the Al-Shabaab revenge attacks have been severe in Kenya? It is a fact too that Ethiopia has a large contingent of its defense forces in Somalia, yet they are not subject to same severity despite their proximity to Somalia.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that i. unlike her neighbours, Uganda, and Burundi except Ethiopia, Kenya has a large border with Somalia. ii. Kenyan and Somali citizens, have also intermarried and live mainly in the four cities in Kenya that have suffered the brunt of attacks. iii. There is a huge population of refugees. Urban refugees are resident mainly in Nairobi and Mombasa. iv. There are also indications that the terror group has its sympathizers in the country. v. Kenya is also seen as a strategic ally of the western countries hence attacking it sends a strong message globally.

In seeking to address the above concerns, the Kenya government has initiated a concerted effort to flush out illegal immigrants living in Mombasa and Nairobi. This effort was started in the early weeks of April 2014. The effort has elicited opposition by several citizens who see it as harassment of innocent citizens. The condemnation has been extended to the fact that house searches are undertaken without warrants and the fact that one ethnic group is being targeted. This has made the Kenyans of Somali origin to live in fear. On the other hand a number of citizens are supportive of these swoops – as a result of the recent terror activities. They also claim that criminals have also come to the limelight as a result of the swoops.

The government has also since March 2014 i. ordered the return of all Somali refugees from Daadab Camp – the largest of the camps, back to Somalia. This has equally met some resistance from some local and international humanitarian organizations who wish to have a structured and secure return for the refugees. ii. Some members of the Kenyan parliament have insisted that the camp be re-located into Somalia territory, from whence the refugees can find their way to their respective homes in Somalia.

While the above approaches may reach some success as far as dealing with external terrorists is concerned, dealing with home grown terrorism is more difficult. The philosophy of terror groups lies in promoting radical ways to address issues. These groups have also radicalized youth to violently eject Imams not buying into radical philosophies, destroy churches, actively and violently demonstrate against the state and display intolerance to “non-believers”. Terror activities have a potential of undermining the stability of Islam in the coastal region and Kenya in general. They also present a possible route to sectarian violence such as that witnessed in Nigeria through Boko Haram. Matters are not made any better by the fact that many youth in this category are of modest formal education.

Radicalism poisons young people who are later trafficked to be trained to undertake terrorist activities. Some leading Islamic scholars have called for re-education of the youthful terrorist returnees. They have also called for deepening of scholarship to Imams so as to counsel and guide the youth on the true meaning of the term “jihad”. In 2013, 160 Muslims scholars declared a fatwa (decree) on Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu. They will congregate again later in 2014 to evaluate the progress of the decree. It would also be important for these leaders to think of different measures to dissolve radicalization and start a gradual process of rehabilitating, reintegrating and educating those finding themselves in terror acts. They should also think of permanent preventative activities.
In the meantime, the government of Kenya must of necessity, ensure that population harmed by terror activities do not grow their own fundamentalists’ groups as a result of anger. Continuous prevention is a must. The police and all concerned should continue strengthening security at all times. It is important however that human rights are respected in all process. Secondly, there is need for proper reintegration and reabsorption of the former terrorist youth through trauma and psychological accompaniment be they in the prisons or elsewhere.

*The writer is the Director of Trace Kenya. Trace Kenya is a counter trafficking in persons NGO based in Mombasa, Kenya.

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    Jun 13, 2014 @ 04:34:26

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