Islamic Radicalisation Is Reaching Into Kenya
Islamic Radicalisation Is Reaching Into Kenya
Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation
Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation
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Podcast / Africa 3 minutes

Islamic Radicalisation Is Reaching Into Kenya

Somali militant group Al-Shabaab has built a cross-border network with the aim of radicalising and recruiting youth to fight in Somalia and carry out attacks within Kenya. EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group's Horn of Africa Project Director, discusses how best to counter the trend.

In this podcast, EJ Hogendoorn discusses how best to counter the trend of radicalisation in Somalia. CRISIS GROUP

You can find below a transcript of this podcast.

Welcome to this podcast from the International Crisis Group. I’m Kimberly Abbott. Islamic radicalization in Somalia is reaching into Kenya. The cross-border network Al-Shabaab has built is attempting to radicalize youth to fight in Somalia and conduct terrorist attacks in their own country. The problem has become more severe with the Kenyan government’s decision to intervene directly in Somalia. Joining me to talk about the issue and our new report, Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation, is EJ Hoogendorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director.

There seems to have been a trend of increased Islamic radicalization in Kenya’s northeast, particularly in light of Kenya’s intervention in Somalia. What is behind the trend?

There have been a number of factors. One longer-term one is that for the last couple of decades there has been an increased funding of conservative madrasas that have made the Muslim community in the Northeast province much more conservative and isolated from the central state. In addition to that, what we have is the spillover of Islamic extremism from Somalia, where Somali groups, or Somali radical groups, are trying to radicalize Kenyan Somalis.

Who are these groups?

The first group that we’ve identified is a group called Ittihad al-Islam, which was kind of the prototype radical Islamist group with some jihadi fringes. It was militarily defeated by Ethiopia, but its leadership basically went to all the Somali-speaking portions of the Horn and continued their radicalization activities. Subsequent to that we found al-Shabaab, which is now taking control of south and central Somalia, and it has developed extensive networks in the northeast province and other Somali-speaking portions of Kenya and is trying to radicalize that community also.

Can you tell me more specifically what the strategies are that they are using for this radicalization?

Generally, what they do is they indoctrinate students who are in conservative madrasas. They then try to get them to join groups that are sympathetic to al-Shabaab, and ultimately they try to recruit them to fight a jihad with them in Somalia. What’s happened, of course, is that Kenya has decided to intervene in southern Somalia, and now has essentially expanded the war into the northeast province.

What is the government doing to counter this problem?

Unfortunately, in our view, Kenya has largely taken a counterterrorism approach, which basically means that they see this as a security problem, one that can be addressed by either the police or other security services. We think that that’s problematic. We think that counter-radicalization and de-radicalization are very different things and require different policies. And at the same time, we’re also concerned that the extensive use of police and security services risks alienating the Kenyan-Somali population and in fact increasing radicalization amongst them.

So what should the government be doing? What’s your view?

We very much think that the Kenyan government should be taking a much more holistic approach. Obviously, counterterrorism has a role to play in keeping the country safe. That said, the Kenyan government needs to be much more proactive in terms of monitoring radical madrasas that are promoting very extremist Islamist views. It can be doing more to counter the appeal of radical groups in Somalia. It can also try to increase development in historically very poor parts of Kenya where Kenyan Somalis live.

Where they’re finding their best recruits.

Of course. Part of it what’s driving them is that these people are absolutely destitute, they’re not prospering, and because of that they’re looking for alternative identities, one of which of course is Islam.

Has the government been able to identify the specific madrasas--are they readily identifiable? Could they do something about it, or are these hidden?

As far as we know, the government really hasn’t done a comprehensive survey of the madrasas. I should say, of course, that madrasas are a very common feature of Muslim Kenya, and they serve a very necessary function. That said, there are very extremist madrasas out there and we do fear that they’re the ones that are driving the radicalization movement of a very small portion of the Kenyan-Somali population, but of course it still remains a threat to peace and stability in Kenya.

Beyond the Kenyan government, what can the onlookers do, what can the international community do, and what can donors do?

One thing we need to be clear about is that we think that any kind of attempt to reform these madrasas or to reform how the Muslim community is governed should be a Muslim-driven policy. That said, as we’ve said before, a lot of what’s driving radicalization is underdevelopment, is feelings of marginalization, and thus we think that much more development could be focused on these very poor areas and could be targeted to try to give poor Muslims more opportunities and a greater chance of being integrated into wider Kenyan society.

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