Let's counter Al Shabaab propaganda

Since 2012, the Global Terrorism Database (DTB) has consistently ranked Kenya third among countries most affected by terrorism in Africa after Nigeria and Somalia.

To acknowledge that terrorism and violent extremism are a top national security agenda, President Uhuru Kenyatta personally launched the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism on September 7, 2016, and appointed Ambassador Martin Kimani to head the National Counter Terrorism Centre, a special envoy for countering violent extremism.

But there are fears that the Government may not have done its best in taking the lead in countering extremism or offering alternative positive narratives that will cumulatively “displace” the agenda of extremist groups like Al Shabaab.

First, the Government could have done better by continuously and consistently highlighting the human cost of violent extremism in the country and the region as a whole.

Research has demonstrated that highlighting the human cost of violent extremism provides a powerful reality check to the glossy and sanitized propaganda of extremists groups like Al Shabaab.

For example, the story of Satrin Osinya, who survived an Al Shabaab attack on a church in Likoni in April 2014, could have been turned into a powerful counter-narrative to deny Al Shabaab local sympathy and support.

Second, and as the guide to counter narratives argues, the Government should take the lead in providing timely, accurate and authoritative information to the public during terrorist attacks in order to counter and displace extremist propaganda.

Third, the Government should, as much as possible, avoid fear-based messaging that could embolden extremist groups.

Finally, the Government should invest in identifying and protecting credible and legitimate messengers to communicate what it is doing to address the plight of Kenyans, including communities that are at risk of being lured into extremism.