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Why Kenya should be tough on terrorists and the causes of terror

By James Mamboleo | Jan 28th 2019 | 3 min read

When fighting terrorism, crime, violence or any other social ill, there has traditionally been a dichotomy between two competing schools of thought. The first says that we should deal with the issue at hand. If it is terrorism, then invest more in law enforcement and adopt a more pro-active approach to counter terror operations. If the evil is crime, then increase prison sentences and put more police on the streets.

The alternative approach is to deal with the underlying causes: alienation, exclusion, poverty or unemployment. Advocates of this school of thought argue that a complex challenge such as terrorism or crime cannot be dealt with through law enforcement and that in the absence of a social response to what is essentially a social ill, the issue can never be truly addressed.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected this separation. When he was elected leader of the then opposition Labour Party, he realised that his party was associated with the second approach, the ‘softly-softly’ approach, while the Conservatives favoured the first. The problem for him was that the public wanted a tougher approach.

His answer was to refuse to be bound by traditional approaches and instead to incorporate both schools into one policy. As he told the Labour party conference in 1995, “we will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.” It seems that President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken inspiration from this two-in-one approach in his own response to the terrorism that has blighted our nation for the entirety of his term in office, which again reared its ugly head last week.

Lessons learnt

The President has shown to be both tough on terrorism and its causes. All of us should support his resolve to vanquish this animal that visits untold suffering; killing maiming and raining fear on innocent people. The response of the security forces to the attack was swift and effective, applying lessons learnt from past attacks methodically and with precision.

All the terrorists were eliminated and numerous arrests have been made. The threat was dealt with decisively and a message was sent to our enemies that Kenya was no longer a soft target. But this is not the end of the matter.

The President has authorised the security agencies to seek out every individual involved in planning, funding and executing this cowardly attack. Of note is the fact that arrests have not been limited to those directly involved, but also include those who were in touch with the terrorists, among them a sheikh.

In this, the Government has made a crucial acknowledgement that terrorism is an action inspired by an idea, and that the idea must be tackled in order to bring true results.

Recruitment tools

Uhuru’s administration is aware that terrorists are not born, but rather they develop and grow. This is, above all, a social process. They are moved not just by ideas, but also by their circumstances and what they witness and experience around them.

Poverty, unemployment and hopelessness are the ultimate recruitment tools for terror groups. The swathe of development projects we have seen in recent years as part of Uhuru’s Big Four agenda should be seen within this context.

Affordable housing projects are an investment in counter-terrorism. Increasing access to education is an investment in counter-terrorism. Huduma Centres are an investment in counter-terrorism. Equally, confused identities and alienation from wider society can easily drive young people to embrace terror.

In a country as diverse as Kenya, the feeling that one’s ethnic or religious group is unrepresented in the Government can create a feeling of worthlessness, which terror recruiters seek to exploit.

That is why the recent efforts to build a stronger national identity and to include Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and their supporters in the Government are important. A Kenya in which everyone has a stake is a Kenya which fewer young people will be willing to destroy.

The aftermath of a terror attack is a strange time to reflect on progress in the battle against the menace. After all, this attack has destroyed lives, families and communities.

But this attack should not make us lose sight of the fact that under the leadership of Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya is making progress in the fight against terror. And if we continue to be tough on terror and tough on its causes, we will prevail.

Mr Mamboleo is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. [email protected]

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