19 February 2015

In Kenya's news (an opinion piece): How Kenya can stop the radicalization of its young people

Young men arrested as terror suspects in Kenya

Radicalization of Kenyan youth is reaching alarming proportions. What is fretting us is the ability of Al-Shabaab to reach out to non-Somalis and non-Muslims and recruit them with ease. It is clear that Al-Shabaab is specifically targeting young people who are angry with the country. Al-Shabaab and other violent groups are exploiting our vulnerabilities to recruit the young people.

60% of Kenya’s population is under the age of 30

75% of Kenya’s out-of-school youth are unemployed

Our job market can only absorb one out of five graduates, meaning the educated youth have either to be self-employed, stay at home, or roam streets looking for dream jobs. And we are not even talking about those who drop out of primary and secondary schools. It’s understandable why some of them end up in the criminal world.

One obvious fact is that these violent groups are mainly composed of the unemployed or unemployable youth who were voluntarily or selectively recruited. They are frustrated, marginalized and alienated from mainstream society. Many feel their hopes and chances in life have been taken away from them. Misery and hardship are their way of life. 

Idle youth with no jobs

Deepening poverty ferments social discontent that turns our frustrated youth into a mass underclass vulnerable to radical ideas. Their misery and abject conditions are easily tapped into by Al-Shabaab and similar groups. It becomes very easy to mobilize these young people and send them to commit violent acts.

Terrorism and other heinous crimes committed in the country can also be seen as protests against society, an alternative means of survival and a form of employment. The youth are not only easy to recruit and train but also easy to indoctrinate with radical ideas. This could be attributed to social vulnerability as in absentee parents, erosion of social control, and high levels of delinquencies in families.

With broken and dysfunctional homes in urban slums where the state has practically withdrawn, terrorist and violent groups easily move in to fill the void and recruit the vulnerable youth.

Too many students are dropping out of school and cannot, therefore, find gainful employment. Universities and colleges are producing unmarketable and ill-trained graduates uncompetitive in the job market. Their curricula do not focus on the fundamentals of knowledge, skills, and values. The knowledge supposedly being imparted to students in tertiary institutions is irrelevant to our economic and social needs. Our educational institutions specialize in teaching students how to pass examinations but not how to productively survive in a primitive accumulative society like ours.

These schools, colleges and universities must change and imbue our young people with values of patriotism, train them in innovation, creativity and self-reliance. If that happens, their graduates would not be a burden to society and a danger to the nation.

Religion provides these youth with a shared identity which they use as a driver to seek justice or to redress many of their grievances. Their motivation is not revenge-seeking. Despite their poor backgrounds, they are not driven by greed. They have issues with the government policies - both domestic and foreign.

Evidence shows that radicalized Kenyan youth are driven by a complex matrix of ideology, identity and personal motivations like hate and prestige. The government has also contributed to the flourishing of youth grievances by abetting corruption and tribalism.

The government aggravates the problem when it criminalizes youth grievances. The use of heavy-handed approaches to silence the young people is easily exploited by groups like Al-Shabaab to recruit new members.

"Pwani si Kenya" (the coast is not Kenya)

Government responses to terrorism have inadvertently assisted these groups to indoctrinate and recruit the youth by portraying the state as an instrument of brutality targeting their identities. This provides an entry point for alienated and opportunistic elites to pursue their hidden agenda to be incorporated in government, gain political power or worse, to promote secession through chants like “Pwani si Kenya’’ (the coast is not Kenya).

State weakness and fragility also generates inequalities, mass social discontent and alienation, militarization of security agencies, extra-constitutional actions, deep identity divisions and inability to provide public services and goods.

As the state loses its capacity to provide public goods and services to most citizens, grievances increase and find avenues for articulation through outfits such as the Mombasa Republican Council. Our youth are driven by “righteous indignation” and anger displayed in their atrocious violent acts.

Schools and places of worship are used to radicalize and recruit the youth. The radicalization program includes inculcating the youth with outrage, resentment, defiance, subversion, and resistance. They are encouraged to use violence to express their dissatisfaction and frustration, exert their power, seek attention, search for recognition and identity and challenge or embarrass the government.

While religion per se does not radicalize the youth, it constitutes a framework for interpreting their prevailing conditions and realities. It also provides justification of what is acceptable and allowed or what is forbidden and denigrated. Religious and ritualistic practices are usually used in recruiting, training, and deploying the youth into action. While some youth don fetishes and religious symbols, others invoke scriptures while carrying out attacks.

Unless we do away with conditions that alienate our youth, Al-Shabaab and other criminal groups will continue to recruit from our slums, streets, villages, schools, and dysfunctional homes.

[opinion piece by Professor Trevor Ng'ulia (security expert), 7 February 2015, Saturday Nation]

No comments: