We must snatch youths from the jaws of radicalism

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BY MACHEL WAIKENDA

Freedom of worship and the free will to choose where to worship is enshrined in the Constitution. Christian evangelists invade our private and public spaces in schools, work place, on TV, and in crusades. Muslims preach that there is no other God to be worshipped but Allah, pray five times in a day and utter the Shahadah repeatedly.

Faithful from Jehovah Witness and Mormons knock on our doors on Saturday morning as Catholics hold their Sundays true and Seventh Day Adventists keep their Sabbath Day holy. Hindus, Judaists and Buddhists worship freely.

That diversity and tolerance is a beautiful thing in the sight of God and man. And that is the beautiful Kenyan mosaic on the religious front. But the recent move by police to invade a mosque in Mombasa is a matter that must get all of us thinking. Reports indicate that police were acting on intelligence tips of an ongoing radicalisation exercise of young people in the mosque.

Suffice it to say that the raid, and indeed events leading to it, was unfortunate and that the police and Muslim leaders must find reason in this incident to work together for a more peaceful region. Religion must not be used to encourage criminal activities that compromise our collective security and trampling of other citizens’ right to life, peace, good health and worship.

Experts have already identified unemployment, poverty and political marginalisation as contributing factors to the radicalisation of Kenyan youth. We know some of the causes, and can, therefore, work to address this sad situation, through inclusive economic empowerment policies.

The nation must also acknowledge an urgent need to develop a counter-radicalisation policy to prevent young people from turning to violent groups and eventually being mobilised as mercenaries for hire to fight sectarian wars.

A casual look at youth unrest in the Coast region over the last few years exposes a picture of a generation that is crying out for help. If this malcontent is replicated elsewhere, we would descend to a state of anarchy. The last population census showed that 78 per cent of Kenya’s population was below 35 years with over 70 per cent of this group currently unemployed. There is, therefore, need for a deliberate move to create jobs to accommodate the large number of unemployed youth.

The danger of having a large non-working population anywhere is that a country experiences rising crime rates and insecurity.
But while at it, religion cannot be used as an excuse of indoctrinating impressionable young people and arming them to engage in criminal activities. Instead, religious leaders must be at the forefront of ensuring youths are empowered for a better future.

Muslims make up an estimated 11 per cent of Kenya’s population and can be found in almost all corners of the country. Traditionally, Kenya’s Muslims are moderate and peaceful. A recent report by Institute for Security Studies in Africa has pointed to the historical political marginalisation of Muslims – right from negotiations for Kenya’s independence, in which ethnic Somalis, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, were not represented – as a contributor to radicalisation of young people.

The report also found that some young Kenyan Muslims have been influenced by radical preaching, which leads them to believe that wars being fought against Muslims abroad – for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq – are part of “a global campaign against Islam”.
Through such teachings, a number of youths have been enticed to join the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, a terrorist organisation that is responsible for attacks in the country using impressionable Kenyan youths.

One of the ways we can deal with this menace is through dialogue which can help reveal why Coastal youths are taking up radicalisation. All Kenyan leaders and peace lovers must understand why the Coast is a soft candidate for radicalisation and seek solutions. Political and religious leaders should also conduct an awareness campaign of radical groups’ recruiting efforts, and monitor facilities where radical teachings are conducted.

Religious leaders must also come up with well-coordinated counter radicalisation programmes through religious teachings and interactive sessions in which they caution youth against being taken advantage of by extremists. Places of worship must not be used to indoctrinate youths to take up arms against humanity.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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