Reasons why the amnesty for 'reformed' alshabaab returnees is failing security in Kwale

The recent  killings of Nyumba Kumi elders as well as “reformed” Al Shabaab returnees in Kwale County has served to demonstrate how entrenched the problem of terrorism and violent extremism is in Kenya, particularly the coastal region. These targeted killings will cumulatively sabotage countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts being expended by government, civil society and communities in Kenya as a whole.

The killings of peace elders, reformed and de-radicalized youths (popularly referred to as returnees) has also indicted the government amnesty that was issued in 2015 for youths who had denounced extremism to benefit from a government sponsored disengagement, demobilization and reintegration program. From the very beginning, this amnesty was set to fail because of a number of inadequacies in its design.

The amnesty was nothing other than a press statement issued by the Minister for Interior and Coordination of National government. There was no evidence that the amnesty was backed by a policy framework, gazette notice or legislation and as such it was not taken seriously by the communities and the government departments that were to implement it. Amnesty for Al Shabaab returnees is not a simple thing like amnesty for reformed cattle rustlers in North Rift who are readily embraced by the authorities and “rehabilitated” by the likes of Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. A water tight amnesty, backed by a piece of legislation, subsidiary legislation, policy or at minimum gazette notice could have yielded better results.

Lack of an amnesty policy framework; security personnel entrusted with the disengagement and reintegration program may have breached the trust and confidentiality agreements between the peace elders and the returnees who were eventually traced, tracked and eliminated by Al Shabaab militants, sympathizers or recruiters in Kwale County. Corruption within the management of intelligence information may have exposed the victims to their killers, sending shockwaves to other returnees and peace elders. Perhaps this is why the Regional Commissioner, Nelson Marwa, told mourners in Kwale that if they don’t trust the local security agencies they can call him directly.

The killings have served to remind all and sundry that Al Shabaab operatives are embed within communities. They are part of our local communities. They know all of us, including the elders and the so called returnees, the betrayers, but we don’t know them. This is why the community policing philosophy, embodied in Nyumba Kumi and local Peace Committees, need to be taken a notch higher to weed out extremists within our midst. It’s a herculean task but we don’t have any choice other than to embrace Nyumba Kumi community policing model.

Frustration within the Police hierarchy in Counties like Kwale may have contributed to laxity and don’t care attitude towards prevention of crime and terrorism. There are allegations that promotion within National Police Service is a preserve of a certain community and officers from one formation of the police, the General Service Unit. A recent visit to the coastal counties revealed the same hence apathy in policing.

Failure of the National Government to involve the local government in policing matters, particularly weighty security issues like disengagement and reintegration of returnees, could have led to the failure of the amnesty. Recently and during a County CVE Colloquium in Matuga, Kwale County, Governor Mvurya blamed the national government for informing them of the amnesty and reintegration program in Kwale County at the very tail end of the program. Without the involvement of the county government, such programs that very much hinge on community participation and goodwill are certain to fail.

In the absence of a national CVE Strategy or policy to guide such things as amnesty, disengagement and reintegration of those who have denounced extremism, Counties need to come up with their specific and tailored made CVE strategies to address the problem of youth radicalization and violent extremism in Kenya. This is why efforts of counties such as Kwale and Mombasa in coming up with their specific CVE strategies should be hailed and supported.

Finally, the government should put in place a follow-up mechanism of surveillance, mentorship and support to ensure that disengaged and reintegrated returnees do not slip back to radicalization or recruit and indoctrinate others in society. The rate at which youths, including well educated girls, are joining Al Shabaab or ISIS is worrying.