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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Asymmetrical Warfare, Horn Watch, Kenya-Somalia relations

A new Al Shabaab Video


On the Eid day which marks the end of month of Ramadhan Al Shabaab through its media wing, Al Kataib, released the video, “the path to paradise”. The almost 40 mins video chronicles the lives of young recruits from Minnesota who joined Al Shabaab.

The major theme of the video revolves around the evils the west is perpetrating on earth, and call on every Muslims to participate, as a religious duty in defeating the Kufars- infidels.

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Horn Watch, Kenya Watch, Kenya-Somalia relations, Uncategorized

Counter terrorism undermines security sector reform in Kenya


This week marks 15 years since terrorists associated with Osama Bin Landen attacked American embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. Years, latter Kenya has become a counter terrorism linchpin in the Horn of Africa. This has impacted on liberty, human rights and the on going security sector reform.

For a while despite suffering multiple terrorist attacks, n the Horn of Africa, Kenya hasn’t been a big player in counterterrorism projects, at least overtly. That changed October 2011 when Kenya sent its troop to Somalia to fight the Islamist group Al Shabaab following the group’s cross border kidnapping of western tourists and aid workers.

KDF In Somalia

Kenya Defense Forces entering Somalia

As a result Kenya’s exceptionalism in the region- the only country that’s military has never gone to war with any of its neighbouring country, changed.  This had two effects; one, Kenya became a legitimate target for the Al Shabaab as indicated by a series of grenade attacks on Kenyan soil- although not all of them are work of Al Shabaab, b) Kenya assumed a prominent role in the war on terror in the region.

Consequently, Kenya stopped relying on its soft power and instead began projecting a muscular policy, especially domestically; this has seen erosion of the modest gains made in human rights, rule of law and good governance. As a result, there has been a spate of extra judicial killings of people suspected to be involved in terrorism activities.

The Muslims, especially Somali’s and the Mombasa Republican Council have been victims of this shift. For the MRC, while it’s not corporate policy to work with Al Shabaab, there are incidents where members of MRC have been recruited to join Al Shabaab in Somalia. Yet this has been used as a justification for blanket labeling of the group as a terrorist outfit.

One of the movement’s strengths – its expanding network – is simultaneously one of its main weaknesses, as individuals who do not necessarily share the same agenda as the MRC leadership can still claim to belong under its umbrella. The movement can thus offer a safe haven for more radical elements of the population, wrongly tarnishing the original group’s reputation.

The Grenade attacks intensified since Kenya intervened in Somalia

The Grenade attacks intensified since Kenya intervened in Somalia

For the security organs labeling MRC as a terrorist outfit has the obvious benefits- it opens the tap of unquestioning western funding- a product of post Sept11 ubiquitous fear industrial complex where everything goes. The obvious danger of uncritical funding of unreformed security agencies to conduct counterterrorism is their egregious human rights violation. And it will undermine the ongoing security sector reform- This carte blanche posture undermines security sector reform processes that are anchored in accountability and transparency. Additionally, lack of oversight, undermines decade long governance funding that have been beneficial, however marginal.

The ethnic profiling of Somali’s have brought back the ugly past which feeds into the uneasy and tense historical relations between the Somalia and the government. At the dawn of independence, the North Eastern f Kenya voted in a referendum to join Somalia. The young Kenyan government disregarded the referendum results and launched a brutal counterinsurgency military operation in the area dubbed the shifta(bandit) war of 1963–1967. Since then, the interaction between the Somalis and the government is predicated on mutual distrust.

Nairobi Agust bomb blast

Debris from the August 2008 US embassy bombing in Nairobi’s CBD

Al Shabaab has been recruiting among the community which has seen increased indiscriminant profiling of innocent Somali’s. Former Assistant Minister of Internal Security during a parliamentary debate said, we needed not to go to Somalia, because the head of the snake- Al Shabaab, is here in Eastleigh- a popular Nairobi suburb popular with the Somalis. Such rhetoric emanating from a high level official doesn’t bode well for peaceful coexistence, and could easily be interpreted as a subliminal signal to the junior officers to discriminate against the community.

Before September 11, such statements could only find space on the margins, but in Post September 11 such thoughts are part of the mainstream where “national security” has been instrumentalised to become a be all and end all.

We need to hit a reset button before the present default mindset of securitization of every problem causes further harm because this mindset has fostered a culture where security has been made the solution.

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