NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 17 – Months to a possible referendum to amend the country’s Constitution and next year’s General Election, electoral processes have been singled out as one of the major drivers of violent extremism in Kenya.
It is a complex situation coupled by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that has led to an economic meltdown, with thousands losing their jobs, while those still working, are retained on reviewed salaries.
Officials at the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) said political statements by politicians pushing a certain narrative have ended up radicalizing a section of Kenya’s population.
“We are engaging politicians,” an official at the National Counter Terrorism Centre told Capital News.
Other factors include integrity issues with the voting process that leave a section of the population disgruntled with an outcome they do not believe in.
Notably, the country’s political landscape is ethnically driven rather than issue based.
Already, the National Counter Terrorism Centre has raised alarm over a growing wave of extremism in the country, specifically between March 2020, when the pandemic struck the country.
Other drivers of violent extremism in Kenya as captured in a guideline on Child Safety and Security Against Violent Extremism (CSSAVE) for basic education institutions are violent resource competition, ethnic tensions, poverty, indoctrination and terrorism.
“This is the first of its kind guide book in the world,” NCTC Acting Director Joseph Opondo told Capital News.
Kenya has for years bore the brunt of the ugly face of terror posed by the Al-Qaida linked Al-Shabaab terror group and while the group has continued to launch small pockets of attacks along the border towns, the country has enjoyed some relative calm this year.
In 2013, the terror group killed 67 people during a 4-day terror attack at the Westgate Mall, in April 2015, the group killed 148 innocent students in Garissa University and in January 2019, some 21 people were killed during the 14 Riverside Complex attack.
“To keep the tempo of attacks, groups like Al-Shabaab need to continually recruit and build a base of sympathy. A bulk of these efforts are aimed at the young; they exploit “push” factors such as inequality, marginalization, unemployment, weak family ties and extremist religious indoctrination,” reads the report.
Other “pull” factors worsening the situation according to the report include peer pressure, perceived material incentives, desire for revenge, ideology and negative internet and media influence.
“Violence is often fueled by extremist positions held by opposing parties, whether individuals, groups or community,” the report states.
The report warns of plans by terror groups to recruit students, including those in secondary and university, through inducement and radicalisation.
Kenya has recently witnessed high-level of indiscipline among students, a worrying trend that has since been documented by the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC).
The perturbing wave of learners’ unrest between August 2016 and 2017, while this year, cases of students attacking teachers, in some cases attempted murder, have been reported.
This, the report warns, provides a fertile recruitment ground for extremist groups and criminal gangs like Gaza, China Squad, Chinkororo, Sungu Sungu, Mungiki among others.
“These diverse criminal actors seek to recruit students through inducement and radicalisation. Such practices interfere with curriculum delivery, lowers access to education and undermine teacher’s authority in instilling school discipline,” Opondo said.