Kenya and East Africa in general faces dynamic, multi faced and complex radicalization challenges. This paper is impacting on Islamic Fundamentalism and Religious Extremism. Terrorist radicalization is a process whereby an individual comes to accept terrorist violence as a possible, perhaps legitimate and even only way to a certain course of action.
Radicalization challenges emanating from Somalia should be of special concern to every East African state. Somalia’s unending instability and conflict has had its direct impact on neighboring countries and paved way for vulnerabilities that the terrorist group Al–Shahab is exploiting among the youth.
Indeed, Somalia’s chronic instability poses a grave challenge to the region as it has experienced conflict for more than a decade now. Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to not only regional peace, security and development but international as well.
Since October 2011, Al Shabaab militants have carried out deadly attacks both in Kenya and outside on a number of both civilian and law enforcement agencies. There is the recent attack, January 21st on the Kenya Defence Soldiers under Africa Union Mission In Somalia (AMISOM) in El Adde, Gedo Somalia where the KDF lost more than one hundred soldiers in their army base.
This was before the Ugandan contingent at the town of Janaale, Somali on the September 21st 2015, was also attacked and there were more than ten reported fatalities.
Al- Shabaab seems to be changing tactics by attacking remote military bases inside Somalia. How is it that their efforts are actually partially successful?
Is it that they might have insider information among the AMISOM troops or the lack apt of intelligence sharing and coordination among the various country AMISOM troops had worked towards the Al-Shabaab advantage?
In April and July 2015, the Al- Shabaab carried out attacks in North Eastern Kenya, border town to Somalia. The historic Garissa University Terrorist Attack will go down in history as one of the most superlative terrorist attacks in Kenyan and global history and can be likened to the Mumbai November 2008 organized and coordinated terrorist attacks which drew widespread international condemnation and outcry.
We cannot fail to mention the Westgate Shopping Mall Attack which occurred on the 21st of September 2013 whereas the extremist group Al- Shabaab claimed responsibility of the same. In June 2015 there was the Al Shabaab attack on the Burundi Army, AMISOM base in the village of Lego.
The militant group is suspected of carrying out nine attacks in Kenya in December 2011, some of the attacks resulted in injuries and casualties while some resulted in none. There were several other terrorist attacks in Kenya before then and in neighboring Uganda, atleast 74 people were killed in twin bombings in Kampala in July 2010 and Al- Shaabab claimed responsibility for the blasts as a retaliation for Ugandan support for AMISOM, just like Kenya.
Rwanda has been fortunate as its despite its neighbors suffering from terror attacks, it has not experienced the same. Nonetheless Rwanda has of recent apprehended several people suspected suspected to have ties to the Islamic State according to the Reuters News Agency.
In all the Terrorist attacks, there are allegations of insider information and coordination with the Terrorist group with either security personnel or civilians. One of the biggest driving forces of terrorism is ‘’radicalization’’.
There have been vast reported cases of not only Kenyan but also Western Youth radicalization, recruitment and trafficking for militia and Al- Shabaab fighting in Somalia. What then could be the drivers of youth radicalization in East Africa and how can this be combatted?
Possible drivers of terrorist radicalization and violent extremism are varied and complex and unique in each case. The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy says adverse political and economic circumstances, religious and ethnic discrimination, heavy-handed counter-terrorism operations, and perceptions about international injustices are the ‘push factors’ that cause radicalization.
Socio-Economic Drivers of Radicalization
Radicalized societies have created a deep sense of collective frustration, humiliation, and deprivation relative to expectations among the youth. Terrorist can easily exploit targeted radicalized social habitat. Through Globalization many youths have an acute awareness about various opportunities available elsewhere.
This leads to frustration, victimization, and humiliation among growing cohorts of urbanized, less educated, and unemployed mostly of Muslim youth who are able to make comparisons across countries.
This has scaled up the rate of youth radicals whose frustration is compounded by a demographic explosion, growing expectations, economic decline, and diminishing working opportunities for upward mobility. Terrorist have kept on targeting the youth due to this disillusionment in order to commit terrorist activities.
Low standards of living due to lack of economic opportunities have always made young people to be vulnerable to any violent activity due to the frustration developed from lack of good life. The proponent danger of radicalization is more realized when society has a vast number of educated but unemployed youth as then this escalates the a socially excluded generation more vulnerable for radicalisms.
One can also not disregard the impact of communication networks and social media in perpetrating and spreading terror. Recently, social media and communication technologies most popular among the youth such as the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, My Space are used as pivotal tools for radicalization.
Political Drivers of Youth Radicalization
Political injustice involves the violation individual right, such as denial of personal rights, infringement on right to freedom of speech lack of protection from cruel and unusual practice.
Political motivation and even exclusion of the youth in the political and development arena has propelled many towards extremism and radical Islam.
With the lack of a stable, peaceful and democratic political context or perception of the same thereof, there is a created a vacuum for an acceptable and fair regime or leadership.
Extremists groups or persons can use exploit this gap to further their interests and thus target the spited and let down youth to fight for or join their cause.
Altogether East Africa’s burgeoning youth populace is not only shaping the regions’ political landscape but also the political and whereas the youth felt left out in the established governance regimes, they resort to other groups which they can identify with. This is more so with the youth who feel used by politicians and the country legal cognizant quo.
Religious & Ethnic Discrimination
Prominent Terrorist groups such as Al –Shabaab and IS share an ideological network with Al- Quaeda and are prominently described both racially and ethnically. In an era where there is germane racial and religious profiling when it comes to the war against terror, a good number could be catapulted to join the network after negative bias and uncalled for prejudice due to their religious and ethnic affiliation.
This has most occurred with not only Somalis but also a good number of Muslims in the Diaspora. Every person normally identifies themselves with a certain social identity. Threats to Social identity, which depends on the content of the identity targeted, may lead varying socio-political responses.
In this regard, religious discrimination may be especially threatening, due to challenging both the social group and its belief system, thereby promoting more active collective responses.
Engaging all religion and ethnic to common focus of development integration and purpose will lead to coexistence and tolerance among members of different societies.
Individual Drivers of Radicalization
Psychological and cognitive factors such as one’s self image, sense of belonging and identity, beliefs, values, norms, attitudes and morals could be a motivator or repellant to radicalization.
A political or religious grievance precipitated by a sequence of events or trend can play a role in the radicalization process. A case in point is whereas the revenge or loss of a loved one can be a motivating factor to joining an extremist group.
Heavy handed counter terrorism Operations
Human rights violations and disregard of the rule of law during counter terrorism operations play a vital role in radicalization. A practical example is when the security personnel flaunt the law in the fight against terrorism and there are youth or even children of tender years watching.
There have been whispers of extra judicial killings of terrorist suspects but this should be castigated in the strongest terms possible. When a sibling, a villager or child of the victim watches the father who is a suspect being whisked away and not arraigned in court in time as per the law, or abused and violated then the observer sympathizer may feel strongly inclined to join the network due to the unfairness perpetrated as these then appeals to the emotion.
A case in point is the Kenya government effort to flush out illegal immigrants in April 2014 whereas residential areas within Nairobi and Mombasa known to be infiltrated by Somalis were targeted. The efforts elicited mixed reactions by the general citizenry who saw it as uncalled harassment of innocent civilians and the targeting of a particular ethnic group.
There was also criticism of the raids as the searches are purported to have been conducted without valid warrants thus unconstitutional. The Constitution and International laws ought not to be violated or repressed even in the quest to curb terrorism. Falling back to repressive and unconstitutional responses which violate human rights in the pursuit of peace and stability only works against the intended objective.
Perceptions about International Injustices
There are a series of incidents that have undermined the war against Terrorism and actually elevated and spurned on radicalization. Several sequences of events have seriously undermined Western credibility in the staged war against terrorism and terrorist activities.
A good example could be the occupation of Iraq, Guatamano Bay atrocities and the alleged incriminating evidence of CIA interrogation facilities of terrorist suspects in European and other countries. Such told and retold gory stories circulate and actually can motivate the actions of radicals.
Countering violent extremist and radicalization ideals that pave way for violence require a skillful mechanism and comprehensive response. This should include both effective governance and constitutional action, in compliance with international human rights standards and the rule of law, against those who incite others to terrorism and seek to recruit others for terrorism, and multidisciplinary efforts to address conditions that are beneficial to terrorism.
There are many issues, relevant but not specific to terrorism that needs to be genuinely addressed, in their own right and without undue security bias. The security forces have a key role in the criminal-justice response to countering violence extremist and radicalization associated with terrorist acts, but their role should be limited in proactive prevention efforts.
Nonetheless the rule of law and constitutionalism should be upheld and even emphasized in countering radicalization.
This Article appeared in the Informer East Africa, February 2016. UK EDITION