Islamic Radicalisation Is Reaching Into Kenya
Islamic Radicalisation Is Reaching Into Kenya
Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation
Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Podcast / Africa

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.

Briefing 85 / Africa

Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation

Kenya’s proximity to and troubled relationship with Somalia and the militant Al-Shabaab movement threaten its security and stability, necessitating sound strategies to combat Islamist radicalisation that go beyond counter-terrorism.

I. Overview

Somalia’s growing Islamist radicalism is spilling over into Kenya. The militant Al-Shabaab movement has built a cross-border presence and a clandestine support network among Muslim populations in the north east and Nairobi and on the coast, and is trying to radicalise and recruit youth from these communities, often capitalising on long-standing grievances against the central state. This problem could grow more severe with the October 2011 decision by the Kenyan government to intervene directly in Somalia. Radicalisation is a grave threat to Kenya’s security and stability. Formulating and executing sound counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation policies before it is too late must be a priority. It would be a profound mistake, however, to view the challenge solely through a counter-terrorism lens.

Related Content

Kenya’s North Eastern Province emerged as a distinct administrative entity dominated by ethnic Somalis after independence. It is, by most accounts, the worst victim of unequal development. A history of insurgency, misrule and repression, chronic poverty, massive youth unemployment, high population growth, insecurity, poor infrastructure and lack of basic services, have combined to produce some of the country’s bleakest socio-economic and political conditions.

Two decades of conflict in neighbouring Somalia have also had a largely negative effect on the province and Kenyan Somalis. The long and porous border is impossible to police effectively. Small arms flow across unchecked, creating a cycle of demand that fuels armed criminality and encourages clans to rearm. Somali clan-identity politics, animosities and jingoism frequently spill over into the province, poisoning its politics, undermining cohesion and triggering bloody clashes. The massive stream of refugees into overflowing camps creates an additional strain on locals and the country. Many are now also moving to major urban centres, competing with other Kenyans for jobs and business opportunities triggering a strong official and public backlash against Somalis, both from Somalia and Kenya.

At the same time, ethnic Somalis have become a politically significant minority. Reflecting their growing clout, Somali professionals are increasingly appointed to impor­tant government positions. The coalition government has created a ministry to spearhead development in the region. A modest affirmative action policy is opening opportunities in higher education and state employment. To most Somalis this is improvement, if halting, over past neglect. But the deployment of troops to Somalia may jeopardise much of this modest progress. Al-Shabaab or sympathisers have launched small but deadly attacks against government and civilian targets in the province; there is credible fear a larger terror attack may be tried elsewhere to undermine Kenyan resolve and trigger a security crackdown that could drive more Somalis, and perhaps other Muslims, into the movement’s arms. Accordingly, the government should:

  • recognise that a blanket or draconian crackdown on Kenyan Somalis, or Kenyan Muslims in general, would radicalise more individuals and add to the threat of domestic terrorism. The security forces have increased ethnic profiling but otherwise appear relatively restrained – especially given past behaviour; still, counter-terrorism operations need to be carefully implemented and monitored, also by neutral observers;
  • develop effective, long-term counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation strategies. A link exists between radicalisation and terrorism, but counter-terrorism tactics aimed only at stopping Al-Shabaab and other militant groups should not become the only official response. Counter-radicalisation – reducing the appeal of radicalism – and de-radicalisation – persuading people who are already in radical organisations to leave them – are long-term processes that require tact and patience.
  • allocate, along with donors, additional state and development resources to North Eastern Province and elsewhere to rectify decades of neglect and end some of the social problems that drive radicalisation;
  • study madrasas, perhaps through a local university, to learn which are most radical and influential, both to better understand the problem of their radicalisation and to moderate extremist teachings; create a Muslim Advisory Council of respected leaders, open to hardliners, but representing all Kenyan Muslims, that is responsive to the community’s concerns and aspirations, able to articulate its message to those in power and competent in formulating the reform measures needed to improve its well-being; and
  • develop a process, with community input, for selection of a Grand Mufti: Kenya, unlike many African countries, has no supreme Muslim spiritual leader whose primary function is to provide spiritual guidance, and when necessary, make binding pronouncements on vexed issues by issuing edicts (fatwa). It would be difficult, of course, to find a unifying figure, given the sectarian and regional tensions, but it should be feasible.

Because of the policy immediacy relating to Kenya’s intervention in Somalia, this briefing focuses on Kenyan Somali radicalisation. The growth of Islamic extremism among Kenyan and Tanzanian Muslims on the coast will be the subject of a future study. The recommendations, nonetheless, apply to all of Kenya.

Nairobi/Brussels, 25 January 2012

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