downloadMany people often ask what Muslims and their community are doing in the face of rising radicalism and extremism within the Islamic world. We can take the example of what is happening in Kenya.

Religion is extremely important in the cultural, social, and political life of Kenyans. The Kenyan society is religiously plural with a majority of Christians, a minority of Muslims, a small percentage of Hindus, and a significant segment of the population that practices traditional religions or combines traditional practices with either Christianity or Islam. The Muslim community comprises about 10% of the Kenyan population.

The more or better part of this community is on the Kenyan coast where they make more than 30 percent of the coastal population and where they have a significant historical and political role. Most members of this community are also in The Northern and North-Eastern parts of Kenya. In Nairobi, big Muslim populations are found mostly in the neighborhood of Eastleigh in the North-Eastern part of the city.

Generally, minority Islamic communities in different parts of the country have experienced a certain amount of discrimination or even persecution which is mostly felt by the ethnic Kenyan Somalis. This is something which has increased in recent years. The East African Counter-terrorism Initiative was set up in 2003 and included U.S. support for funding and training the Kenyan Anti-terrorist Police (Hammer 2007; Hirsch 2006). Results included increased deportations, house, and office raids, and reports of police profiling according to Islamic dress and appearance.

Special treatment of Christians in certain opportunities is an aspect that is seen to split Muslims from a larger society of the Kenyan community. Christianity dominates most of Kenya, and through this, most schools are of Christian descent. As this was being done, the mosques and Islamic schools became isolated.

In addition, some Muslims have complained of being profiled during job interviews or even in workplaces because of their religion. In certain neighborhoods, non-Muslim parents discourage their children from playing with Muslim children. Such behavior from both the police and citizens tend to alienate the Muslim more which eventually leads to Islamic radicalization as they attempt to affirm their importance in society.

The problem of counterproductive terrorism has always been experienced in most parts of the country which is Muslim dominated. This problem has still been exacerbated by the Kenya police, which always carries out mass raids in places where there are more Muslims rather than targeting the suspects.

This is a practice that always keeps or makes the youths remain repressed. The youths then seek to retaliate by seeing their community as a sect excluded from the entire country.

The Muslim radicalism did shift as the Muslims now came to perceive themselves as being excluded from most of the employment opportunities given to the other people of Kenya. This was seen as most Kenyans from the interior came to buy or purchase properties at the Kenyan coast and began setting industries. This aspect saw most of these people gaining at the expense of the owners of these places through the burgeoning tourism industry at the coast.

Kenya has become a prime location for radicalization and recruitment. As early as 2012, reports indicated that the al-Shabaab movement was attracting a large number of Kenyan converts to Islam. By December 2014, it was estimated that Kenyans comprised around 25 percent of the terror group’s ranks. Al-Shabaab has primarily recruited within Muslim communities along the Kenyan coast. School heads in these communities have said that al-Shabaab militants have infiltrated their institutions, influencing students and recruiting youth to their cause using economic, religious, and social coercion to convince them they have no alternative to joining extremist organizations.

In Kenya, there are two main NGOs that are making strides in addressing radicalization: the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims (SUPKEM) and the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK). These organizations are important for incorporating Muslim voices into peacebuilding efforts, although the former has stronger ties to the government.

The significant factors they are addressing and that are known as the big promoters of radicalization are Unemployment, Poverty, and Political Marginalization. Through their partnership with the local communities, SUPKEM and CIPK have acknowledged the dire need of developing counter–radicalization policies that will prevent the youths from turning into violent groups.

Despite increasing concerns of new and emerging issues, and the persisting importance of previously identified conflict drivers, SUPKEM and CIPK together with other small Islamic groups (Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance [KMYA] and Muslims for Human Rights [MUHURI]) have been very active to push forward opportunities for conflict resolution and community engagement through renewed and continued commitment to address critical community concerns and engaging all stakeholders through a variety of dialogues and comprehensive platforms that they enumerate below:

  1. Support long-term engagement on critical community concerns by reinforcing existing platforms like County Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Action Plans and Civil Society Organizations-led interventions.
  2. Encourage multi-stakeholder discussions on new tensions that are creating divisions between communities and government.
  3. Explore the evolving domestic violence trends to verify and then understand the causes and consequences on the community.
  4. Support strengthened family networks and relationships to reduce the risk of youth joining gangs, using drugs, or being radicalized.
  5. Increase understanding of any existing or potential connection between youth gangs and violent extremist

Work continues in the grassroots with important monitoring instruments being used to check the success of these efforts. In a future article, we will be interested in exploring the other aspect of inter-faith collaboration to counter radicalism. Then we will be able to explore where we come in as a missionary institute and how best we can emulate the process in the countries where we serve and how best to engage in CVE.

                                                                                     Robbin Kamemba SMA