Treat returning Kenyan Shabaab fighters as assets

Muslim scholars chair a discussion on counter-radicalisation and drug abuse at Aga Khan Hall in Mombasa on October 10, 2015. Authorities should identify, counsel, rehabilitate and reintegrate the returnees. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The attacks have also ignited calls for the withdrawal of Kenyan troops serving under Amisom from Somalia.
  • Most of the returnees are believed to be hiding in the poorly policed, porous North-Eastern and Lamu.

It is believed that in the past few weeks, Al-Shabaab has carried out at least 11 terrorist attacks in north-eastern Kenya and Lamu County, killing more than 20 security personnel and maiming many more.

Security analysts and politicians have been quick to infer that the successes of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) have forced Al-Shabaab operatives to cross over to Kenya and these are the ones responsible for the attacks.

The attacks have also ignited calls for the withdrawal of Kenyan troops serving under Amisom from Somalia to come and bolster homeland security.

Some even argue that Shabaab attacks Kenya because of Kenya’s involvement in Amisom.

As much as these arguments may hold water, there is another potentially contributing factor that is given little thought.

In the recent past, the unprecedented executions of Kenyan Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia – at least 20 in the past year – on suspicion of spying for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) have caused fear and shock within their circles.


This may have triggered their escape back to the country, posing additional security challenges to Kenya.

Most of the returnees are believed to be hiding in the poorly policed, porous North-Eastern and Lamu.

But, as much as the returnees could be blamed for the escalating attacks, they could be valuable in countering radical ideologies that motivate youth to join extremist groups and commit attacks.

Writing in the TIME magazine (February 27-March 6, 2017 issue), Charlotte McDonald-Gibson argues that returnees are both a security risk (in terms of committing terrorist attacks or recruiting others) as well as an “enormous” asset in counter-radicalisation efforts.

In The former Neo-Nazi helping returning ISIS fighters let go of hate the writer notes that, by treating returnees as enemies of the State and potential attackers, they will feel isolated and alienated – the very attributes that “pushed” them to extremist groups.

They know a lot about the people who may be radicalised. They also know what buttons are pushed by extremists.

With proper amnesty backed by a legal and policy framework and community goodwill, returning Kenyan Al-Shabaab fighters could be recruited to give a first account of the hard (and un-Islamic) life that a militant goes through while in Somalia.


They can be supported to come up with a powerful narrative to counter Al-Shabaab’s alluring narratives.

Vulnerable youths are likely to belief first-hand accounts of what it means to be a terrorist in a foreign land and the recent executions targeting Kenyans by returnees themselves can drive the point home.

The authorities should identify, counsel, rehabilitate and reintegrate the returnees and, most importantly, treat them as assets and not enemies.



Increase attachment period for students to learn skills

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But the thousands of fresh graduates who flood the job market every year are unemployed for lack of skills despite having studied the relevant courses.

Universities should extend the time for practical lessons, including attachment, to help students acquire the hands-on skills demanded by employers.



Posta lacks ideas to stay afloat in the Digital Age

I hardly get a letter but I maintain the post box because, in Kenya, a postal address is required on official forms.

Business has not been good for the Postal Corporation of Kenya thanks to the digital technology, yet Posta increases rates every time.

Posta is surely barren of ideas. It should start home delivery of letters and parcels as well as have internet, photocopy, M-Pesa and telephone services in its premises.



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We all can’t fit in workplaces and this will provide an opportunity to work from home.

Crime will also reduce as the youth get a fall-back plan for self-reliance.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a living example of a technology-made billionaire.