Domestic Policies Complicate Kenyan Insecurity

Photo/Viktor Dobai


Domestic Policies Complicate Kenyan Insecurity

03 Oct 2014

Two recently published reports, from the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) and the International Crisis Group (ICG), graphically demonstrate the counterproductive consequences of Kenya's counterterrorism policy.

The reports indicate that a more comprehensive and inclusive social, educational, and security reform approach would better counter extremist narratives and radicalisation tactics in the country.

In September 2014, Anneli Botha at the Institute for Security Studies published a report on her research into the radicalisation process and motivations toward recruitment of native Kenyan al-Shabaab and Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) members. The report is based on one hundred and forty interviews with members of al-Shabaab, MRC and family members. The study provides evidence to support three widely reported arguments concerning Kenya's security situation.

"Education, or a lack thereof is a crucial contributing factor to relative deprivation"

  • First, there is domestic radicalisation in Kenya; it is not entirely foreign actors and it rises from a domestic Kenyan context.
  • Second, not only is education crucial to mitigating a person's susceptibility to radicalisation, but the quality of education is equally important. A bad education and/or inhospitable learning environment can encourage rather than discourage radicalisation. Al-Shabaab recruits surveyed were better educated than their MRC peers (more than 50 percent of interviewed al-Shabaab members had completed a secondary or tertiary education), but their presence in school for more years had contributed toward their radicalisation not mitigated it, because of the quality of that education and the environment it was conducted in. Only 33 percent of al-Shabaab members were employed when they were recruited.
  • Third, the actions of the government, particularly the security forces, which are in most cases the most visible branch of government Kenyans interact with, directly contribute to the radicalisation process. Recruits to MRC and al-Shabaab stated the discriminatory, arbitrary and out of proportion actions of the security forces as the "tip on the scale" in their radicalisation and recruitment to the groups. By their actions, the security forces are adding to Kenya's security issues, not solving them.

On 25 September, the International Crisis Group published an update briefing on al-Shabaab in Kenya. They state that to address and halt security abuses and radicalisation, the government and security apparatus must first acknowledge that problems exist. This is a homegrown problem; and it is not the proxy weapon of opposing political actors. Government led committees have in the past, laid out specific institutional discriminatory and marginalising policies, including separate and augmented application processes for identity cards and passports, lack of development in Muslim dominated areas and an absence of Muslims in decision and policy making positions. The report also criticises politicians for "playing politics with terrorism". Opposing political parties (which are largely drawn along ethnic lines) are using the increased insecurity to score political points with their constituents, simultaneously increasing ethnic tensions alongside existing radicalised religions issues.

Key Findings – Institute for Security Studies Report

"The present context is serving only to lose further hearts and minds"

  • Muslims perceive themselves to be treated as second-class citizens; this is not without evidence. They are required to produce additional proof of identification to apply for identity cards and passports. Security operations disproportionately target Muslim, particularly Somali-Muslim, communities; at the beginning of Operation Usalama Watch between 4 and 10 April 2014, 4,005 "Somali-looking" individuals were arrested and detained. Of those, 3,010 were released as having no criminal record. A majority of those interviewed stated that "injustices at the hands of the Kenyan security forces" were the determining factor in their recruitment; 65 percent referred specifically to the government's counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Thirty percent of al-Shabaab members indicated that in an "in group, out group" framework, the government was "them". Sixty-seven percent felt the "them" was those of another religion. Ninety-six percent believed opposing the government was right and just.
  • There is a correlation between a potential recruit's economic situation and receptiveness to radicalisation. Much more important however, is a recruit's perception of personal or communal poverty relative to other groups and regions in Kenya.
  • Both MRC (67 percent) and al-Shabaab (97 percent) recruits felt their identity was under threat (ethnic for the MRC, religious for al-Shabaab). Forty-nine percent of al-Shabaab members felt that enemy was the government; 24 percent felt it was other religions.
Key Findings – International Crisis Group Update Briefing
  • The report offers two specific recommendations, under which fall a number of practical steps to take, to reduce the "rising communal tensions and historic divides" that are more entrenched and a greater cause for concern in Kenya than distinct terror cells. These are: o The Kenyan government, opposition leaders and Muslim leaders must work together to address historic grievances, marginalisation and entrenched institutional discrimination that –as discussed in the report above– are the main motivations for radicalisation in the country. o Counter terrorism strategies and operations must ensure that they target suspects not ethnic and faith communities as a whole. Again, this is in agreement with the report above.
  • Muslims in Kenya do not speak with a single voice, which means the government often feels it doesn't have a counterpart to work with, and that Muslim communities often cannot provide a coherent counter-narrative to radicalising rhetoric or al-Shabaab recruitment techniques.

Al-Shabaab recruits: "Government and security forces hate Islam"

  • Many in Kenya –government and Muslim leaders included– believe the rising influence of Wahhabism. This is mainly seen in the Saudi-funded charitable and religious organisations established in Kenya over the past decades. These organisations also often target youth (through orphanages, clubs and madrasas), which is causing increased inter-generational tensions as the youth grow up with views divergent from the old Kenyan Muslim leaders.
  • Al-Shabaab is exploiting existing religious and ethnic fault lines to radicalise and recruit. Only by addressing these broad and deeply entrenched issues can the government and communities mitigate extremist influences. While programs are addressing those issues, the security services must ensure they are not themselves exacerbating them through their own tactics.

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 


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Institute For Security Studies
International Crisis Group