President Uhuru Kenyatta to lead Africa's charge against violent extremism

Kenya will lead Africa in seeking solutions to violent extremism during the 70th Session of the General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, in September.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, while officially closing the Regional Conference on Countering Violent Extremism yesterday, also said he would present results of the deliberations of the conference to US President Barack Obama, who is making his maiden visit to Kenya next month.

Uhuru thanked Obama for inspiring the Kenyan conference after he hosted the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February.

The President warned the international community that “terrorists and violent extremists are on the march”.

“They have murdered tens of thousands of innocent people. They threaten the continuity of states. They are determined to destroy the global order of sovereign states and respect for diverse cultures and nationalities,” he said.

He spoke hours after terrorists killed more than 30 people in Tunisia, Somalia and France.

Eight broad outcomes from the White House summit were discussed at the Nairobi conference that began on June 25. They ranged from the typologies and drivers of violent extremism in Africa to the local architecture and dynamics of radicalisation, recruitment and delegitimising violent extremism narratives.

Other topics included developing national counter-violent-extremism plans, effective partnerships in combating violent extremism, the role of the civil society, private sector, media and internet in combating violent extremism.

The conference came at a time when the world is facing a spike in threats posed by extremist groups keen on growing in numbers, political ambition, geographical spread and operational sophistication.

“Africa is emerging as the epicentre of terrorism,” Prof Rohan Gunaratna from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore told the gathering. Prof Karima Bennoune from the University of California-Davis, said the international community was paying the price for not comprehending terror acts in countries like Algeria in the 1990s.

“International solidarity is important when fighting violent extremism,” she advised.

Objectives of the conference included examining, reflecting on and evolving strategies for dealing with violent extremism. Among the presentations was a study on the reasons why an increasing number of youths are joining violent extremists.

Dr Mustafa Ali, a researcher on violent extremism, said a majority of Kenyans who have joined Al Shabaab do so for ‘religious’ reasons while six per cent are influenced by economic reasons.

Economic reasons

On the contrary, a majority of Somali nationals, 27 per cent, joining Al Shabaab were influenced by economic reasons, followed by religious and economic reasons (25 per cent).

“Some 79 per cent of Kenyans who joined Al Shabaab did so to ‘defend religion’ while 56 per cent of Somalis joined for ‘self’,” Ali said.

He advised that countries generate counter-messaging on radicalisation and segment audiences.

The study also put the spot Muslim religious leaders on the recruitment of youth to violent extremism.

According to research, 34 per cent of Kenyan Al Shabaab were recruited by a ‘religious figure’, 38 per cent by a friend while 21 per cent made a personal decision to join.

When compared to those joining Al Shabaab in Somalia, it was established that a majority, 30 per cent, were recruited by friends, followed by 24 per cent who made a personal decision while only four per cent were recruited by a religious figure.

The research also highlighted the age at which the youth were radicalised. A total of 57 per cent of Al Shabaab and 52 per cent of MRC (Mombasa Republican Council) joined at between ages of 10-24. The highest number (35 per cent for Al Shabaab and 45 per cent for MRC) joined the militant groups between ages 20 and 24.

In terms of education, 47per cent of Al Shabaab members and 67 per cent of MRC had primary education, 45 per cent of Al Shabaab and 24 per cent of MRC had secondary education, while 8 per cent of Al Shabaab and 9 per cent of MRC had tertiary education.

Internal Security PS Monica Juma said the meeting was attended by 500 delegates from 42 countries.