African politics, Asymmetrical Warfare, Book reviews, Horn Watch, Kenya Watch, Kenya-Somalia relations, Uncategorized

Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya Debates, Ideas and Challenges


Immediately after the militarily intervening in Somalia October 2011, Kenya was hit with an increased number of violent attacks domestically. These attacks have been attributed to Al-Shabaab, the Al Qa’ida affiliated Somalia based armed group and its local Kenya cells.

Some of Al Shabaab’s high profile attacks includes the Westgate Shopping Mall attack on September 21, 2013, when four gunmen stormed the shopping mall popular with foreigners and wealthy Kenyans and killed at least 67 people using assault weapons and grenades.

April 2 2015, Al Shabaab again attacked Garissa University College, in Garissa town killing 148 students and injuring many others.

In June 2015, Al Shabaab attacked the Kenya Defense Force’s (KDF) military barrack in Lamu.

In between these attacks, there have been small-scale, yet deadly attacks.

State’s Response

As a response to these attacks, the national government launched a series of counter-terrorism security operations, primarily targeting the “Arc of Terrorism”- North Eastern Kenya, Eastern part of Nairobi with majority Muslims- Eastleigh and Majengo, and coastal Kenya.

However, these operations have been at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive, they have alienated the community and created trust-deficit between the communities and the security agencies. Additionally, there have been evidence the security agencies committed egregious human rights violations during these operations.

However, increasingly, the government is acknowledging to be successful “hard” approach has to be coupled with a “softer” approach.  As part of that, the national government launched a national Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) strategy on 7 September 2016, after years of consultation with various stakeholders.

This was followed by select counties crafting their respective CVE plans through a broadly consultative process with the national government and other none-state actors including human rights groups.

Pivot towards CVE

While there is no universal consensus on the definition of CVE, there is an emerging understanding that, it is a mix of security and development approaches provide an important platform to build bridges across divergent areas of policy and practice that focus on the prevention and mitigation of violence.

In the past security agencies saw themselves as the primary and exclusive actor in security management. In 2014, Cabinet Secretary for Interior the late Major-General Joseph Nkaissery said, “We cannot have civilians commanding uniformed people. It cannot happen, it has never happened anywhere in the world. It is only the activists and civil society which brought this law and it is what is affecting the command structure”.

But with County CVE plans, there has been discernible shift from Nkaissery’s posture to a more inclusive approach involving civilians into security management.

Localising CVE

CVE’s chief gap in Kenya is the lack of locally-generated empirical evidence to guide public policy. Most of the policy interventions crafted or suggested are hardly anchored in best practises and accompanied by tested evidence. Some verge on derogation of parts of constitution, especially those relating to individual and group freedom.

Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges a compendium produced by Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies, a Kenyan think tank, is arguably the first locally produced multi-disciplinary output combining theory and praxis, in dealing with CVE.

The Horn of Africa is beset with incessant and multiplying cycles of conflict, especially Post the Cold War. However, most of the CVE discussions in Kenya hardly acknowledge the linkages between Kenya and the Horn of Africa.

Gendering CVE

 Masculine warrior culture in security discourse has exclude many women from peace and security arena, when they are involved, they cast as agency-less victims. In Countering Violent Extremism: A Gender Perspective, Nerida Nthamburi disabuses the notion women as just victims she argues they are also perpetrators of violence. In most groups, women not only play the traditional “soft” roles of cooking, and serving as sext slaves, they take part in actual combat.

Understanding of the duality of the role of women in extremist groups will help in policy and programming.

Samar Al-Bulushi & Mohammed Daghar, Rehabilitation or Indefinite Detention? A Critical Examination of an Emerging Approach to ‘CVE’  provides a good sequel, but further atomizes the role of men in violence extremism; “young Muslim men become homogenised figures who are interested only in jihad and politics; their private lives, rendered inconsequential, are abstracted from their social, political and religious commitments, and from broader historical processes”

The chapter also is a useful examination of CVE’s discourse that has been uncritically embraced spurning a subgenre of experts servicing multi-national, regional organizations and national and county government, all working on CVE. Regardless of the fact that what CVE aspires to achieve is not new, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, (DDR) in post-conflict situation was designed precisely to address what CVE is intending to do.

CVE’s long term success is predicated on empirical evidence, participation of local communities and customised context-specific intervention. Thus, Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies’, Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges is a useful contribution to the CVE academic and public policy discussion.

One quibble, the chapters started as an inverted pyramid, starting from the macro and distilling down to the micro, but changed somewhere along the line; Paul Goldsmith Horn of Africa’s regional context was correct, but that should have been followed by “Operation Sanitize Eastleigh”: Rethinking Interventions to Counter Violent Extremism by Kamau Wairuri because, in some ways, it shows the limits of Counter-Terrorism (CT) and hence CVE. That should have been followed by Kenya: Fighting Terrorism Within and Without the Law by  Ken Nyaundi. Countering Violent Extremism: A Gender Perspective – Nerida Nthamburi and Online Radicalisation and Recruitment: Al-Shabaab Luring Strategies with New Technology – Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen, should follow each other since they are addressing specific issues.

Countering Violent Extremism: Lessons from Lamu, Kenya by Patrick Mutahi and Nathaniel Kabala and Rehabilitation or Indefinite Detention? A Critical Examination of an Emerging Approach to ‘CVE’- Samar Al-Bulushi and Mohammed Daghar and Returnees and Justice: Alternative Justice System as a Mechanism for Amnesty in Kwale County of Kenya – Steve Ouma Akoth, should have been of similar cluster.

CVE’s long term success is predicated on empirical evidence, participation of local communities and customised context specific intervention. Thus, Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies’, Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges is a useful contribution to the CVE academic and public policy discussion.

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