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Kenya’s complex war on terrorism calls for deeper reflection

By Jared Okello | Feb 22nd 2019 | 3 min read

Kenya had enjoyed a prolonged peaceful lull before we were unfortunately visited by terrorists who targeted dusitD2 in the upmarket 14 Riverside Drive well over a month ago. The involvement of indigenous, restless, unemployed, embittered young Kenyans complicates this war. This is a new approach by the Al Shabaab, perhaps to reduce suspicion while planning attacks.

The radicals have continued to recruit, train and deploy against us, with the sole view of orchestrating mass killings of innocent people on our soil.

Former US President George Bush Junior, while addressing other G8 leaders in July 2005, asserted thus: “We fight poverty because hope is answer to terrorism.” People have, however, argued that poverty is a permanent part of the human condition. To some extent, this line of reasoning is understandable.

Within the African continent, decades of aid have not eliminated poverty, and in sub-Saharan Africa, the situation has worsened considerably in recent years.

Among the culprits blamed are ethnic conflicts; flawed economic models; and demographic factors such as population growth, disease and the exhaustion of natural resources.

Fighting poverty is not just shoveling money in the direction of the poor. Some people have put too much faith in aid administered through foreign governments while others have preached discredited ideas of trickle down economics.

Economists have also learned more about how to make effective use of aid money by channeling the majority of funds through nongovernmental institutions, while emphasizing opportunities for women, stressing low tech solutions, heeding environmental consideration, and finding ways to let even the poorest participate economically.

Quick trip

Is this the only trigger factor for our young population to get indoctrinated to join extremist groups? This is just one such reason. The prospective warriors are additionally lured by the promise of fleshly delights and the expectation that they will be allowed to choose 70 friends and family members to join them in “heaven.” When such youths try to subvert the thinking of alienated, disaffected young people, not all of them are poor or lacking in education that they should offer a supposed quick trip to paradise in return for the willingness to kill civilians by blowing themselves up.

How should our country respond? Terrorists define themselves through their actions and desire to secure their place in a sacred struggle. President Bush went further to state that, “when terrorists spend their days and nights struggling to avoid death or capture, they are less capable of arming and training and planning new attacks.”

Safe havens

We can try to go after them, capture and kill them as we currently do in Somalia by raiding their cells, but we cannot get them all. We can persuade them to abandon violence, but if our arguments have no basis in their own experience and conviction, we cannot fully succeed. Perhaps our best chance is to work cooperatively with those nations that offer them safe havens, who are also trying to reach the same minds as the radicals by preaching a more complete society.

Connections may be made to the shadowy network of terrorist recruiters who operate in various parts of our country, with a view of vanquishing them in the end.  

They are being trained in assassination, kidnapping, making bombs and attacking fortified targets. If terrorists and their allies are to be defeated, then plainly this assembly line must be shut down, remembering they are elusive and resilient. Their internal support base must also be caused to collapse.

We should restructure our intelligence agencies, train security forces, improve surveillance capabilities in Somalia and bolster our homeland defence.

To deter people with guns, well-equipped and adequately trained forces are needed, but finding them is not easy. Kenyan soldiers have stayed for too long in the neighbouring country of Somalia with a bid to stabilise that nation and get rid of terrorist elements.

Expecting a soldier to risk everything in defense of his or her homeland is one thing; expecting that same soldier to travel thousands of kilometres to intervene in, and perhaps die because of somebody else’s quarrel is another.

About poverty as a motivation, the youths should be promised relief from the insecurities of daily life: Right to a job, education, decent healthcare, a place to live, and basic nutrition. This will be a deterrence to indoctrination.

Mr Okello is the Member of Parliament for Nyando Constituency.

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