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.

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Book reviews, Kenya Watch, Uncategorized

In Kenya’s historiography two myths have been accepted as historical facts- Jomo Kenyatta was the undisputed father of anti-colonial struggle, and the Mau Mau were the main, if not the only freedom fighters.

But the dean of Kenya’s history, Prof Bethwel Ogot dismantle both myths eloquently through marshaling of historical fact as a way of reviewing David Anderson’s “Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire” and Caroline Elkins,” Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya” for which she won a Pulitzer in 2006 in nonfiction category. More than Anderson, Elkins came in for serious critique By Ogot regarding her faulty methodology and shaky conclusions.

Kenyatta- the father of anti colonial movement

Ogot illustrate Kenyatta was not only keen in pursuing a military option against the Britain; he was in fact a late entrant of the decolonialisation train. He also provides a nuance that gets lost when Mau Mau is portrayed as a monolithic freedom fighters representing, if not the Kikuyu, but Kenya as a whole in fighting for independence. Ogot writes,

 “By 1950 three political blocks have emerged among Kikuyu influence by the redistributive power of the state. Two of the three groups were the conservative block, represented by the chiefs, headmen and senior Christian elders, most of whom were prominent land owners and businessmen, and a moderate nationalists who emerged from the first batch of educated ‘mission boys’ who were westernized in attitudes and style of life and preferred urban life and saw old conservative chiefs as a barrier to progress. Political struggle ensued between these two groups therefore: Kenyatta empitomised the moderate group”… the third group was that of militant nationalists”

Further, Ogot explains,

“two issues have to be resolved: the role of Kenyatta in the Mau Mau war and how to memorialize Mau Mau. The two books have endorsed the now accepted fact that Kenyatta was never a member of Mau Mau, nor was he the Machiavellian, fire-eating, satanic figure the white settlers had imagined him to be. He was instead a mission-educated gentleman who had preached moderate reform and was a constitutional nationalist both before and after the Mau Mau war. At Lokitaung, he refused to join the National Democratic Party led by Kaggia whose ideology was anti-European and anti-loyalist. He had married a European woman and the daughter of a chief, and because of that, when he was in prison, he was always on the side of the conservatives and the government”

From the above, the label, a leader into darkness and damnation about Kenyatta was born out of British colonial overestimation of Kenyatta.

Mau Mau is the only freedom fighters movement

Ogot explains, Kikuyu’s were not the only people who supported the Mau Mau,

“ The two books under review, and other studies on Mau Mau, refer to camps set aside by the British for non-Kikuyu Mau Mau suspects, particularly Kamba and Maasai. But they never tell us what went on in those camps. We know from the Nairobi archives that a special screening camp set up at the beginning of 1954 found that of the 25,000 Kamba living in Nairobi, 8,000 were recorded by the screening teams as suspects who had taken several Mau Mau oaths, and 17 of them were involved in the forest fight. What happened to them? In Machakos district, the Kamba had formed a resistance organization comprising 3,000 members and by the end of 1954, 170 of them had been arrested for complicity in Mau Mau. In Narok district it was found in June 1954 that 350 Maasai had joined Mau Mau; and some Luo and Gusii from Nyanza had taken the oaths and were in support of the rebels. By mid-July 1954, 4 Luos had been convicted of Mau Mau offences. And a scrutiny of the lists of those detained in the over 100 camps in the country reveal that a good number of them came from non-Kikuyu ethnic groups. We need a study of the detained similar to Anderson’s of the hanged”

He goes into details about other communities, the Nandi’s, the Pokot’s, Luo’s etc all fought British ColonialismDini ya Msambwa, Dini ya Mafuta pole ya Africa are just but a few of some of the anti colonial movements

You can read the paper here Review of ‘Histories of the hanged’ & ‘Britain’s gulag’ (2)

Kenyatta, Mau Mau and Kenya’s independence

Aside