BWIRE: Battle against violent extremism can be won

By Victor Bwire

Kenya is firmly on course on dealing with violent extremism (VE), though a number of challenges still face the country’s interventions that warrant urgent attention by stakeholders.

The changing dynamics including corruption, current social and economic hardships, the pull and push factors, recruitment characteristics, concentration regions, movement routes and locations and failure by the authorities to fully implement the amnesty for returnees calls for re energized approach to the VE issue.

Additionally, new knowledge and information on the issue of VE and radicalization in the country must be generated and shared with stakeholders to ensure the current interventions to deal with the problem are evidenced based and target the correct beneficiaries, the most at risk individuals, otherwise we risk reversing the great gains so far made.

While government efforts including enhanced physical security within communities, Nyumba Kumi initiatives have had very positive impact on the communities, they still remain a purely security approach, thus will need to support and expand at risk-individual’s interventions including counseling, mentorship and integration activities for the returnees.

Media is critical in these efforts at mitigating the effects of VE and radicalization in the country, as watchdogs on how resources and interventions are working, sharing the correct and current information on the matter and journalists being members of the community have vital information and experiences that are critical in the country’s overall strategy.

From a recent training undertaken by the Kenya Editors Guild at the Coast, it came out that journalists are also suffering and are potential targets in the VE and radicalization interventions.

There is increased tension between police, military and other actors working on national security and the media whenever the terrorists attack or when the security agents are pursuing individuals involved in extreme violence.

Participants narrated how they have suffered during these attacks, physical attacks, trauma, loss of equipment, mental stress and also been exposed to being recruited. A number of journalists have been labeled sympathisers and are currently under the radar of security agencies.

Others have been openly called out after doing stories on the issue hence live in fear, while others through being tracked have led to suspects being arrested or killed thus are marked by suspect’s families.

Its worse for court reporters who narrated the ordeals they go through while covering terrorism related cases in courts, the threats from security and sympathisers and risks involved.

The media, security sector players and other stakeholders have no choice but to sit together and come up with guidelines for covering terrorism and other emerging security threats that thrive on oxygen of publicity in a manner that does not fuel and embolden those who seek to do us harm.

In a society threatened by terrorism and/or violent extremism, journalists face much greater difficulties. They will likely operate in a climate of fear and threats.

A research entitled; Preventing Violent Extremism: Understanding at-risk communities in Kenya and supported by UK and Netherlands Governments, released recently, identifies a number of issues that merit attention as the country forges ahead with implementing its PVE programme.

Among the factors identified to provide room for violent extremism and radicalisation include extremely small and weak social/family support for ex-gang youth or orphans, poverty that see young men and women get recruited as a way of looking for income.

Others include failure to crack down the recruitment networks because of factors including corruption, lack of trust between security agencies and communities, failure to properly man the new VE connection points such as Tanga (Tanzania), Mombasa, Kwale, Garissa and Uganda.

Unlike before, towns like Migori, Busia, Malaba and Bungoma are now the hotbeds of the VE and radicaisation yet such counties are yet to prioritise such challenges and work out mitigation interventions.

While focus has been largely on men, the study indicates that women play a central role in VE and radicalization in Kenya including as sympathisers, supporters, recruiters, informants, transporters for money and weapons and caregivers to children, orphans and relatives connected with VE.

The biggest number of recruiters appear to be women and cases of women disappearing and re appearing in the communities are rampant. Indeed interventions need to focus on women as women were found to have borne the greatest brunt of the effects emotionally, socially and economically by VE and government war on radicalization.

The Government’s returnee policy for youth in affected regions is yet to materialize fully thus its implementation has slowed down the other interventions.

While the government launched the national CVE policy and a number of counties have developed the CVE County Action Plans and Integrated Development Plans, the issue of the amnesty and returnee policy is mute. In fact some counties like Busia, Migori and Bungoma are yet include such in their plans.

The study makes a number of recommendations including better use of resources meant for VE activites, building trust within the various players and the community, enhanced collaboration amongst the various players, research into causes and how to cure the push and pull factors among other activities.

As usual, the study fails to see media as a critical player in the CVE efforts, and spares no detailed space for such- role of media in enhancing accountability in the use of resources, media and information sharing on the current trends including connection points, and journalists as potential recruiters and recruitees who also need to be targeted in the current interventions.

The Writer Works at the Media Council of Kenya and is a Journalists Safety Trainer.