Author: Dominic Pkalya
Senior Regional Manager,
Strong Cities Network
Preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) conducive to spread of terrorism continues to be a leading political and security priority in Kenya. The Global Terrorism Index for 2019 ranked Kenya at 21 in its list of countries in the world most affected by terrorism, and has consistently remained in the top 25 of this list in annual indices.
In response to this phenomenon, the country launched a National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism in 2016. Before this, development partners and civil society organisations (CSOs) had designed initiatives meant to drain the swamp of radicalisation that leads to violent extremism and terrorism in the country, but these were often isolated, or lacked impact and longevity. To cascade the national strategy to the grassroots, the government, through the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and with support from CSOs, developed County Action Plans (CAPs) on P/CVE.
Dominic is currently the Senior Regional Manager on the Strong Cities Network (SCN) based in Kenya and mainly leading ‘PROACT – Community Based Intervention Programme in Kenya’ as well as supporting other SCN initiatives in the Horn of Africa region.
He has over 17 years’ work experience and extensive field operations in conflict management and peace building including preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE), small arms and light weapons reduction, community dialogue, research and policy advocacy. He has worked in conflict prone arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya and across the borders with Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia (popularly referred to as Karamoja and Somali clusters).
He holds a Masters of Arts (MA) degree in Media, Conflict and Peace Studies from University for Peace, Costa Rica.
Most of these initiatives have targeted those perceived to be vulnerable to radicalisation and recruitment into extremist organizations like Somalia based Al Shabaab, which has since established local cells and or franchises in Kenya.
However, while the significance of this first step should not be understated, it is not without its drawbacks. Research conducted by Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers in collaboration with Finn Church Aid (FCA), Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and Kenyan Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) between 2017 and 2019 judged that these P/CVE initiatives have failed to create enduring change because they have ignored the families of those questioned, arrested, convicted or even acquitted of terrorism-related charges.
” Violent extremist organisations use the breakdown of trust between local communities and state to harness support for their activities and to recruit individuals at risk “
The research, Experiences in the Kenyan Criminal Justice System and Violent Extremism, amongst others, sought to gauge a deeper understanding of the ways that violent extremist organisations use the breakdown of trust between local communities and state and the criminal justice system to harness support for their activities and to recruit individuals at risk.
Terrorism and extremism is not limited to suspects or victims alone but also has a profound effect on families and communities. It follows that the families and communities have a critical role to play to stem the tide of radicalisation, but this will only be achieved if they are targeted and included in P/CVE efforts.
Families of people suspected or convicted of terrorism-related charges have been subjected to untold sufferings and harassment by the security agencies and rogue elements within the community. In some cases, rogue criminal justice system actors often demand money and sexual favours, to ‘aid’ in the terrorism cases, including tracing those who had been ‘disappeared’. The research documented a case study in Malindi where a retired civil servant was conned close to KES 200,000 (around £1,500 or USD $2,000) by an alleged senior military officer to help him trace and return his grandchildren who were arrested at a checkpoint as they were heading to Lamu to visit their bedridden father.
Still in Malindi, the report cites a case of a respondent who was conned by his own stepbrother of money using the pretext of helping her secure the release of her son who had been accused of terrorism charges. It also turned out that the same stepbrother had conned other members of the family.
Families have also been forced to relocate to other areas to escape public wrath for abating terrorism. This happens to those families whose sons, daughters, husbands or wives have been accused or suspected to be engaging in terrorism. Some students have had to change schools after members of their families had been arrested on terrorism charges. Even for such cases, getting admission to another school is a tall order given that the stigma of being associated with terrorism follows them.
P/CVE initiatives are vital, but if they jeopardise community relations and trust, they risk alienating the very people they intend to protect and bolstering the extremist groups they intend to counter. The ultimate goal of the prevention of violent extremism is the protection of humanity. We must therefore strive to keep humanity at the heart of P/CVE.