CAPT. (RTD) COLLINS WANDERI
When reports emerged that Abdirahim Mohamed Abdullahi, a trained lawyer and son of a chief in Mandera County was the mastermind of the brutal terrorist attack which killed 148 students at Garissa University College on 2nd April, 2015, the whole country was shocked. The conscience of the nation was pricked and a subtle but chilling message sent; that nobody irrespective of their social status or future potential is immune to radicalization and extremist militant ideology.
The spread of extremist militant ideology among well educated, socially advantaged youth in Kenya should however not shock anybody. It is the product of our moral and political philosophy. Kenya is largely an unequal society where the political and corporate elite as well as some Christian clerics have no qualms displaying wanton opulence and urban machismo on the faces of poor people; hungry babies, the old and sick and jobless youth.
This inequality and rampant abuse of State power by the politicians create a fertile ground for any group intent on advancing an alternative utopian ideology. History shows that the easiest way to advance an idealistic philosophy is through religion; a faith which provides substance to the ideology.
Religion gives faith to destitute souls; a belief in higher power and hope for a positive empirical change. Islam offers such a substratum more than any other religion in the world. One of Islam’s core doctrines is that there is more to human life than accumulation of material wealth; big houses, fancy cars and exclusive shopping malls. It is this doctrine that captures the imagination of destitute youth leading to radicalization.
It is no wonder that at one point in history the murderous Mungiki gang adopted Islam and its leadership led a public mass conversion of its adherents from Kikuyu traditional religion into Islam. Islam is that appealing to the down-trodden, marginalised and historically disadvantaged groups and communities. The ideologues propagating violent extremism know this all too well.
But Kenya’s political, corporate and religious elite hardly get the message. Although Kenya has borne the greatest brunt of Al-Shabaab’s brutal attacks in East Africa, on 2nd March 2015, young Kenyans openly expressed support for the militants after Nation FM posted in social media that the extremist group was planning to blow up the House of Parliament.
Shockingly, Kenyans in social media unanimously welcomed such an attack on Parliament; the ultimate symbol of Kenya’s sovereignty as long as it was done when all the MPs are inside the House! This should have shaken the political class to the core but it did not even elicit a whimper from the leadership of Parliament or any of the National Security agencies. This arrogance by the ruling elite is a soft underbelly which Al-Shabaab is likely to continue exploiting.
Arrogance and mechanical thinking will not counter extremism. Building a wall along the Kenya-Somali is ridiculous and unsustainable in the long run. Radicalization is an ideology. The world is yet to invent a missile that can defeat an ideal. Mechanical thinking and physical barriers too have never succeeded in defeating an ideal.
If they could, the Berlin Wall would still be standing today. To counter violent extremism, Kenya requires a paradigm shift; the conception of a new, superior and futuristic moral and political philosophy which promises hope to the poor and the youth of this nation.
Such a political philosophy should frown at excessive greed and reckless display of affluence in a country where the majority live below the poverty line. But this will only happen if the political, corporate and religious elite open their eyes, ears and hearts to the majority poor; listen to the cries of hungry babies, the pain of sick old men and women and the angst of jobless youth.
Indifference and labelling people who are suffering and perceive themselves as neglected by government and society at large will only drive them further into poverty and destitution and provide a fertile ground for more radicalization and militant extremism.
(Capt. (Rtd) Wanderi is the chairperson, Kenya Institute of Forensic Auditors)