Kenya needs a fresh strategy to counter violent extremism threat

It is estimated that about 20 Kenyans have been recruited into Isis.

Thursday March 10 2016

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Earlier this week, Kenyan police arrested four people on suspicion of trying to join the Islamic State group in Libya.

The men were on a bus bound for Uganda allegedly before connecting to Sudan then Libya.

While the arrests point to sound intelligence and close collaboration among the security agencies, it nevertheless continues to highlight the reality of violent extremism as a continuing threat in Kenya.

It is estimated that about 20 Kenyans have been recruited into Isis.

This poses new challenges in countering violent extremism in the light of the many others who have joined Al-Shabaab.

It also underlines the fact that the nature and patterns of violent extremism have changed from a threat primarily emanating from Somalia to a home-grown, Kenyan problem necessitating a review of the strategies of how to counter it.

Counter-terrorism efforts are critical in dealing with extremist violence.

However, in the absence of a robust, coherent, high-level strategy to counter and prevent violent extremism, the danger is that only the security aspects will be addressed and will continue to define the scope of policy interventions in dealing with terrorism.


Whereas counter-terrorism is concerned with disrupting terrorism using security and law enforcement means, preventing violent extremism focuses on strengthening communities’ efforts to resist radicalisation and extremism.

The Kenyan government should review and develop an integrated and comprehensive strategy that brings together different agencies and actors.

The strategy should take into account the complexity of the drivers of extremist violence.

To gain the confidence and support of the relevant communities, prevention approaches must not be securitised.

A prevention strategy must, however, interface with what the law enforcement agencies are doing.

Given that extremist violence is underpinned by an ideology of marginalisation and victimisation that is shared by some Muslim youth in the coastal and northern regions of Kenya, perceived or real grievances held by communities living in these areas must be addressed.

Kenya’s counter violent extremism strategy must take into account the role of religion and encourage and support both inter and intra-faith dialogue and engagement.

The government needs to work with a diversity of leaders within the Muslim community and not just the clerics.

Not all youth are associated with mosques or will listen to clerics.

It will be important to identify and partner with influential people from all sectors to facilitate publicising counter narratives and address contested concepts such as the religious role of violence.


A prevention strategy needs to pay attention to the networks of mobilisation and recruitment of the youth into extremist groups.

This should not be turned into surveillance or spying on the Muslim community.

Access to social media, for instance, can be widened to increase the diversity of voices that can challenge and counter the narratives propounded by extremists.

The strategy should support actors and institutions such as schools to promote critical thinking among the youth and students so as to equip them with skills to challenge ideas that are promoted online by extremists.

Many young people get their information from the internet and there should be greater investment at the school and community levels to promote safe use of the web.

Parents also need to be encouraged to monitor what their children are browsing and reading.

Policy development should be informed by research and data and draw from measures that have been successful in stemming the recruitment and mobilisation of the youth into criminal enterprises, gangs, and extremist movements.

This could contribute to addressing the perception that radicalisation only affects Muslim communities.

Effective prevention of extremism is local. To that effect, the national strategy should take into account the important role that county governments can play.

It is only by strengthening community-level efforts and upholding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that the war against violent extremism can be won.

Mr Mutahi is a policy analyst based in Nairobi. [email protected]