Mandera County has, for the past several years, been known for terror incidents that have led to many deaths and injuries.
These attacks by suspected Al-Shabaab terrorists started in 2011 with 2014 marking the climax when, within ten days, 64 people were killed by the.
The non-Somali population has been mostly the target of the extremists who for long have crossed into Mandera at will, caused mayhem and returned to the war-torn Somalia unhindered.
The local community has also suffered the consequences of the presence of terror cells by being killed in suspicious and unexplained circumstances and also due to economic sanctions that have left them helpless.
Security agencies in Mandera have also suffered from the attacks with scores being killed in their security camps or by roadside explosives planted by suspected the militants.
To address the increase in terror incidents in the area, the county government came up with several intervention measures including organising several forums to discuss possible local solutions to the problem.
A fully-fledged department of counter-radicalisation and violence extremism is in charge of the programmes.
A four-day forum to engage locals drawn from the perceived terror hotspots in the county dubbed “Building Local Capacities for Prevention and Countering Violent Extremism” has been underway.
Mr Issa Mohamed, an expert in countering violent extremism and peace building reported that Mandera is on the right trajectory.
“Currently, the situation across the county has improved compared to a few years back but the county government and other stakeholders still need to hold a continuous conversion of counter-violent extremism (CVE),” he said.
Religious leaders, elders, youth and women from the terror hotspots were involved in the training.
“We are working towards enhancing capacity against radicalisation that is an enemy within by engaging this selected group,” said Mr Mohamed.
According to the expert, locals need to understand the twisted Islamic teachings used by extremists in radicalisation.
“We want the local population to understand and be able to identify early signs of radicalisation in society,” he said.
A radicalised individual can be identified from his or her behaviour including avoiding others. They also feel ostracised by their peers, he added.
“A radicalised person is simply looking for a new thrill or source of excitement and always wants to go out and correct a perceived injustice,” said Mr Mohamed.
To prevent radicalisation in Mandera, Mr Mohamed proposed a proper communication strategy to explain government policies and also development of inter-cultural dialogue within.
“Lack of job opportunities and harassment from government security agencies forced the youth into radicalisation but the narrative has changed,” he said.
In 2015, the national government declared amnesty for Al-Shabaab returnees but no success has been recorded to date.
Mandera Governor Ali Roba vowed to support programmes aimed at countering violent extremism besides the rehabilitation of returnees.
At least 350 locals from 30 wards in Mandera East, Lafey, Mandera South and Kotulo sub-counties were engaged in the training to fight terrorism.
“We have so far engaged 210 religious leaders across the county and our aim is to have them champion the prevention and countering of violent extremism,” said Mr Mohamed Adan Osman, the head of de-radicalisation and counter-violent extremism department.
Mr Adan Ali Hassan, a resident of Arabia, said the training of locals on the effects of radicalisation is what was lacking. This led to a detachment between the locals and the government.
“Being trained on the whole issue of extremist violence is a score in the fight because we are able to know and differentiate between right and wrong,” he said.
Leaders from the vast north eastern counties met in Mandera last November and agreed to fight Al-Shabaab menace in the region.
Mandera County has since drafted an action plan to prevent and counter violent extremism that will be launched soon.
A baseline survey conducted under the county action plan by Malaika Foundation suggests that the incidents of radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism in Mandera are mainly linked to Al-Shabaab militant group based in Somalia.
The survey found out that the biggest challenge in Mandera is not just the attacks that continue to take place in the county, but more importantly, the ideology which enabled locals to support the attacks, tolerate or keep quiet about them, and which have subdued citizens into fear when the attacks happen.
“We are very keen on changing all these vices in our society and have it stand against any form of terror cells,” said Mr Osman.