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Radicalization of Youths in Kenya.

Youth unemployment, poverty, systemic corruption, human rights abuses and sociopolitical marginalization are contributing factors to the Islamic radicalization of Kenya’s youths. Proximity to Somalia is also another factor that has contributed to the recruitment of Kenyan youths and children into violent extremist groups. Inequalities that marginalize youth and exclude them in matters that concern them is a denial of human rights.

Since Kenya began its military incursion in Somalia in October 2011, a string of grenade attacks, some allegedly by Somali Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabab or probably their sympathizers, have occurred in the Kenyan towns of Mombasa, Garissa and Nairobi, its capital. However, Islamic radicalization is not new to Kenya. In August 1998, Kenyans were involved in twin bomb attacks at the US Embassy in Nairobi and the Tanzania city of Dar es Salaam, which killed more than 220 people. Thus, with evidence of Al-Shabab recruitment activities in Nairobi, Northeast and the Coast areas, it has increased the urgency to counterterrorism and potential underlying conditions conducive to extremism.

Mombasa, despite being Kenya’s most cosmopolitan city, is riddled with political tension and sporadic episodes of violence stemming from perceptions of continuing marginalization and injustice. It has been labelled as the ‘hotbed’ for radicalization to violent extremism. However, there has been a series of efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism by the international community in partnership with the local civil society and the Kenyan government.

Radicalization and violent extremism have destabilized peace in our livelihoods and at an individual level. This destroys all gains of development, as insecure people cannot concentrate on development issues.

In order to counter the radicalization of youths in Kenya, there is a need to understand what the youth vulnerabilities to violent extremism are and how we can change this in a multi-stakeholder participatory inclusive manner to build youth resilience to radicalization.

Understanding young people’s capacity to make a livelihood for their families and themselves and have a voice in local governance is critical for formulating targeted policies and programs to support Kenyan youths in achieving meaningful lives that are fulfilling as well. Addressing conditions conducive to poverty and joblessness and partnering meaningfully with them to design policies and institutions that fulfil their needs are going to be critical for Kenya’s security and development in the long term.

No one is born a violent extremist, they are made and fuelled. Trying to counter violent extremism is not enough. We need to prevent it and hence this calls for forms of ‘soft power’ to prevent a threat driven by hatred, distorted interpretations of culture and ignorance. Disarming the process of radicalization must begin with human rights and the rule of law, with dialogue across all boundary lines, by empowering all young men and women and by starting as early as possible, on the benches of schools.


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