Kenya’s proximity to and its troubled relationship with Somalia and the militant Al-Shabaab movement threaten its security and stability, necessitating sound strategies to combat Islamist radicalisation that go beyond counter-terrorism, according to a recent report by the Crisis Group.
Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation, the latest Crisis Group briefing, examines the spillover of Somalia’s growing Islamism and radicalisation into the neighbouring country. Al-Shabaab, which in the last four years has built a formidable and secretive cross-border support infrastructure and network among Muslim populations in the north east and Nairobi and on the coast, is trying to radicalise and recruit youths, often capitalising on long-standing grievances against the central state. The October decision of Kenya to deploy thousands of troops in Somalia’s Juba Valley to fight the group underscores the threat that the government perceives it faces from Somalia’s insurgency and growing Islamist radicalism, according to the Crisis Group.
“Al-Shabaab’s swift rise to relative dominance in southern Somalia has added to concerns about radicalisation in Kenya and beyond”, said Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Analyst. “Despite recent military setbacks, growing internal schisms and public backlash, it remains a major threat to Somalia’s and the region’s security and stability”.
Kenyan Somalis – some 2.4 million of the country’s 38.6 million population according to the 2009 census – have been exposed to various strains of radical Islamism in the last four decades. A history of insurgency, misrule and repression and lack of basic services in the North Eastern Province have posed an additional threat. Moreover, Somalia’s two decades of conflict have also had a largely negative effect on the province and Kenyan Somalis.
The deployment of troops to Somalia may jeopardise benefits produced by a modest affirmative action policy that is opening opportunities for ethnic Somalis in Kenya and drive more members of the politically important minority into Al-Shabaab’s arms. There is also concern that the decision to join the fighting in Somalia country may lead to more terror attacks inside Kenya, the Crisis Group said.
Partly due to lack of resources, government counter-terrorism efforts continue to focus on policing and border security, but more needs to be done both with programs designed to counter radicalisation as well as with those that seek to de-radicalise persons who have already joined radical groups. There is a link, but counter-terrorism tactics aimed only at stopping Al-Shabaab and other militant groups should not become the only official response to radicalisation. Reducing the appeal of Islamism and persuading people already in radical organisations to leave should be a priority. Moreover, the government should recognise that a draconian crackdown on Kenyan Somalis, or Kenyan Muslims in general, would radicalise more individuals and add to the threat of domestic terrorism.
“It would be a profound mistake to view the challenge solely through a counter-terrorism lens. Counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation are long-term processes needing tact and patience”, said EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Radicalisation will be a problem long after the physical threat of Al-Shabaab terrorism subsides”.