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Kenya: Coping with Radicalization and Terrorism

Updated on May 20, 2015
Geoffrey Otieno profile image

Geoffrey is a 42 year old actor, director, playwrite, novel author and online freelance writer; he is a graduate of Literature and Sociology

The Dead in Garissa

Radicalization Torturing Kenya

A new word in circulation, is torturing the Kenyan government and citizens alike: radicalization. Loosely defined, radicalization is the inculcation of brutal notions into minds of the youth, with the express intention of making them carry out violent actions. The word is incomplete unless prefixed by the word “religious”. So in essence, the complete phrase is Religious radicalization. The main culprits for this practice are Islamic fundamentalists bent on unleashing religious violence on innocent citizens. In addition, there is the radicalization of poor youth to make them killers in the name of cattle rustling among the more conservative communities in the north, who are armed to the teeth with modern automatic weapons. The Kenya government hands are full in trying to cope with these two forms of radicalization.

Defining Moment

The defining moment for the government came with the infamous, Al Shabaab led 2nd April 2015 Garissa University attack, followed a month later by a massacre of citizens in Nadome, Turkana County by local militia. The failings of the government in containing these two attacks and the general runaway insecurity in the country, were gleefully and expediently taken out of focus by the opposition. While many a government official was heard mattering that terrorism is a global problem that has affected even some of the most developed countries; there was no proper explanation for the locally initiated Nadome attacks. What this means is that the government is not to blame for international terrorism, it is a creation of foreigners. Such an argument is futile, since the buck of security stops squarely with the government, especially where foreign aggression is involved. Moreover, there was no explanation for the constant failure to control local militia since the founding of the Kenyan Nation.

Armed Herdsboy in the North

The Juxtaposition of Foreign and Local Attacks

The argument by government authorities falls through when one considers the uncanny juxtaposition of foreign and locally initiated attacks. Consider this, Kenyans ushered in the month of April with the bloody massacre of students at the Garissa University in the north-eastern part of country. The attack was organized, executed and readily acknowledged by the radical Al Shabaab group based in Somalia. Over one-hundred students were killed by masked gunmen, who took over the University for over six hours before official help arrived. That was undoubtedly a terrorist attack in which radicalized Islamic youth were involved.

Just three weeks later, however, the bloody attack by village warriors took the lives of over sixty Kenyans, including women and children, in Nadome. Amazingly, the attack was followed by other intermittent attacks over the next three days, even with the overworked and poorly funded combined Kenyan security forces already present in the region. There was no foreigner involved here. It was purely local tribesmen who executed the bloodletting. So it was not foreign terrorists but full blooded locals who were involved.

The juxtaposition of the two events, so close to each other in terms of time, left citizens wondering about the ability of the government to cope with insecurity in general. The common denominator of course was the ineptitude of the government security apparatus in the face of attacks aimed at the public. Nevertheless, the thin line between foreign terrorism and local crime has been stubbornly maintained by the government.

Kenyan Radicalization

Radicalization in Kenya is a factor of the pervading inequality in the country and the ineptitude of government security arrangements. Radicalization exists everywhere in country. All the 47 counties that constitute the nation have their fair share of machete and gun wielding radicals, who end the lives of ordinary citizens every day. They come in all forms: robbers, car-jackers, housebreakers, arsonists and rapists. The subtler form of radicals are commercial sex workers who spike the drinks of their clients, sometimes with fatal consequences. The one thing all radicals have in common is that they don’t care about their lives, so why should they care about yours.

Militia groups such as Mungiki, Kamjesh, Angola-Msumbiji and Chinkororo have littered Kenyan history for long periods of time. Though most of these groups have been disbanded over time, new ones have always come up to replace them. Their modus operandi has always been to terrorize citizens for the sake of extortion and robbery. The only difference between them and the modern day local and international terrorists is the level of sophistication. Whereas the former are usually mostly armed with machetes and other crude weapons, the latter have automatic weapons and grenades. Nevertheless, the effect is the same, the groups murder people as a means of meeting their agenda.

The Real Reasons for Insecurity in Kenya

There is no country on earth which does not have some form of radicals among its citizens. The only difference between these groups and the ones in Kenya is that the former are not allowed to operate with impunity. The security forces there usually make sure of that.

The lawlessness in Kenya is as a result of what seems to be a pervading government policy to make sure that security forces fail in their duties. The commando trained Recce company of the police that was sent to Garissa University had to travel hundreds of kilometers by car when a chopper would have worked faster. Moreover, they were heard grumbling that they had not been given their allowances for the trip.

Powerful Relatives and Friends in High Places

The work of the police is further thwarted by government entrenched powerful relatives and friends of suspects, who always order that the suspects be released from custody. Failure to comply with such orders has often resulted in the defiant police officers being transferred to Northern frontiers of the country such as Garissa and Nadome, where life is very difficult and dangerous. Subsequently, the officers tend to comply with such unofficial orders, resulting in shoddy or abandoned investigations. As a result there is a long list of unsolved crimes in police files. Meanwhile, the protected suspects go right back into crime, and the police fear to apprehend them. Alternatively, when the police get fed up, they simply shoot the suspects dead and claim they were armed and resisting arrest. The same powerful persons, mostly politicians and businessmen, have also been closely linked with funding and organizing the activities of the village warriors and urban militia.

A Challenged Force

Corruption among the Police

The police are no angels either. Every list released by transparency international in recent times portrays them as one of the most corrupt institutions. Police officers on the beat are often more concerned with extorting bribes from citizens than preventing crime. As a result, crime tends to thrive without much inhibition. Some officers have even been found guilty of lending their arms to criminals so as to share in the proceeds of crime. It is so easy for criminals to buy the police in a given area so as to be allowed to carry out crime unchallenged. The officers then arrive later, long after the criminals have fled. Considering that serious terrorists do have a lot of money, it cannot be ruled out that they sometimes get passage for their sophisticated weapons by simply bribing their way through police checks.

Inadequate Police Numbers

The Kenya-Somalia border is very long indeed. Most of it goes unmanned since there are not enough security officers in the country. The same applies to the South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda borders. The porous borders therefore offer endless opportunities for illegal arms to flood into the country. The Turkana and Pokot tribesemen who periodically massacre each other in places like Nadome while “cattle rustling”, get their arms from Kenya’s neighbors. It is therefore easy for armed crime to thrive with a well oiled contraband arms and ammunition supply. This of course offers an irresistible window of opportunity for international terrorists as well.

Containing Radicalization

The Kenya government needs to go back to the basics. The first step is to be a little more serious in providing security. This simply means offering adequate support for the security forces in terms of funding, equipment, backup and tactics. It calls for punishment of officers found involved in crime and corruption. It also should involve the punishment of powerful relatives who always interfere in police work. The recent proposed prosecution of Nandi hills MP Charles Keter and nominated MP Sonia Burji, who tried to interfere with operations at a weigh-bridge, is a step in the right direction.

The second step is for the government to resolve the ever increasing problem of youth unemployment. If the youth do not have a means of getting an income, the situation kills their dreams. A youth without dreams is a disaster waiting to happen. It does not matter if it is the Kenyan politicians and businessmen or the Islamic preachers who take advantage of such youth. Sooner or later, some uncanny person will step in to use them to meet certain radical ends.


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    • pramodgokhale profile image


      3 years ago from Pune( India)


      I have read your article..India is facing same situation of terrorism and exteranl threats and funding to Indian terror groups.

      I was shocked of incidents in malls and streets of Kenya and killings of innocent civilians. Kenya is the only place known multi racial social fabric running smoothly in Africa.. It can be repaired but as you say inequality within society is also a factor for this crisis.

      I hope Kenya will come out of crisis soon.


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