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Shakahola a classic case of deeply-rooted radicalization

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AYUB MOHAMUD ABDI is the founder of Teachers Against Violent Extremism (TAVE) Kenya and recipient of local and international awards due to his anti-radicalization programs in schools and communities. The Global Teacher Award winner speaks to SILAS NYAMWEYA on why Kenyans have to be alert for radicalization by religious extremist groups and why he doesn't fear threats from propagandists occasioned by his works.

You are actively involved in fighting religious extremism and radicalization in schools... what is your motivation?My motivation to engage in de-radicalization programs in schools is a result of the continuous challenge of radicalization by extremist groups who use different avenues to achieve their agenda. We also need to understand that based on the current economic, and social circumstances, a large number of our youth are at risk of joining radical networks.Religious extremism is a global threat that affects developed and developing countries. In Kenya, for instance, we saw its implications, especially in 2016 when malls, passengers, properties, and lives were destroyed. Most of the time, Muslims are perceived to be sympathizers of violent extremists and my efforts are also geared towards dispelling that perception. In essence, violent extremists use religion as a scapegoat to promote and achieve their selfish goals. I am also highly motivated by the willingness and commitment of the community in Eastleigh, Nairobi, and other areas to provide solutions to issues of violent extremism affecting our country.

How do you exactly do this?I have developed anti-radicalization lessons in classrooms which are aimed at creating awareness on radicalization issues and how the students can avoid falling into the trap and hands of religious extremists. The lessons include de-radicalization messages which are incorporated into social and religious subjects such as Islamic Religious Education.I am also the founder of Teachers against Violent Extremism (TAVE), an anti-terror network geared towards building resilience in schools and a platform for teachers tackling extremism. I also initiated a platform called Community Development Initiative (CDI), where I engage the youth, women, and religious leaders on how they can challenge the narrative of religious groups. Besides, I am the patron of a grassroots youth empowerment initiative. Through my initiatives and leadership, I conduct regular training on religious leaders, men and women, teachers, young people, and law enforcement agencies to jointly come up with mechanisms for addressing the problems posed by violent extremist groups in their respective communities. Can you tell us some of the awards and achievements as a result of your efforts?I thank God my efforts have been recognized in Kenya and worldwide. The awards I have won include the Honorific Juvenile Justice without Borders International Award. This was a result of my dedication to preventing the recruitment of young people by extremist groups. I am also the winner of the Global Teacher's Award Medal, Dubai.I also won a Unesco Peace medal, a tribute for global heroes in the campaign against Violent Extremism at the Metropolitan Museum of Art- US.I am also a recipient of the Presidential Head of State Commendation Medal of honour- KenyaStill, on achievements, I also organized a Kenyan and US teachers Summit in Nairobi attended by representatives from the US, US Embassy, Kenyan teachers, and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC).I have also had an opportunity to participate in high-level policy makers' forums outside the country such as IGAD/Hedaya Centres of Excellence, USIP, APCEIU, IICBA, Club de Madrid, UNESCO-MGIEP, and GCTF Forum, among others.

What can you say has been the greatest impact of your deradicalization programs in schools?A major impact resulting from my work has been a change of perception; behaviour among students indoctrinated by religious extremists.I have done many counter-violent extremism initiatives to date and our programs had a profound impact on how religious leaders counter extremism, this improved the relationship between law enforcers and the community. I believe that when students have the right attitude, they will also be able to impact the community positively.

What is your general comment on Shakahola events that were as a result of indoctrination by Paul Makenzi?The situation in Shakahola is a class case of radicalization. Anyone irrespective of status can be radicalized. Religion is an emotive issue and anyone can be vulnerable to mind manipulation. Since this matter is under investigation, I don't want to dwell much on discussing this issue.

Based on your experience as an educator, to what extent do you think our students are being radicalized by religious extremists?I can attest that many students across the country have been radicalized to the extent some of them abandon their studies to engage in violent extremist activities. Most of us still remember what happened at Garissa University, where some students were recruited to commit heinous crimes against their colleagues. Even in the Shakahola incident, we understand the leader used student networks to recruit members. Therefore, this is something that needs to be looked into keenly and addressed by all means. There is no doubt that our students are vulnerable to extremist religious elements who use various platforms, including social media, to find targets.

From your view, what is the best way the government can stop radicalization?The best approach is to empower critical voices in schools and communities who will in turn help in pushing back the influence of violent extremism and radicalization in our schools and communities.

Have you faced any threats or obstacles outside of your anti-radicalization programs?Definitely yes; this work is extremely challenging as it poses a risk to our safety. We have been targeted by violent extremist groups for standing up against their propaganda and agenda. I receive calls and text messages from anonymous numbers warning me about what I do. I call on the government to support and empower people like us to effectively execute our duty of promoting social peace.

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