Extremist groups have turned Kenya’s polarised political landscape into fertile recruitment and breeding grounds for the next generation of terrorists in the region.
A study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) reveals that terrorists and other extremists group continue capitalising on the country’s highly ethnic and political differences to lure vulnerable individuals.
The study argued that terrorists radicalise and recruit through the same strategies used by online tribal groups in Kenya to promote tribalism and violence.
The 16-month study on online extremists’ threats and responses in Kenya indicated that local terrorists learned the tactics from Isis and others who exploited social, political and economic challenges facing countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria to advance their activities.
“These strategies have developed rapidly, many Kenyan Internet users have not yet responded in kind,” added the report.
The study further revealed that extremist groups exploited political and tribal differences among Kenyans throughout the electioneering period.
“Extremists in Kenya increase their activity during election periods, exploiting and sometimes co-opting the political process.
“Data from the campaigns, including responses by Kenyan social media users, incorporated themes and narratives from Islamists, promoters of tribal violence, and holders of political grievances,” added the report.
The ISD study pointed out similar reasons that past studies found to be the underlying factors behind hundreds of Kenyan youth particularly those from Coast counties crossing into Somalia to join Al-Shabaab and travelling as far as Libya and Syria to join Isis.
The historical land injustices and marginalisation in Lamu, Mombasa and Kwale have been identified as reasons why youth from the Swahili, Bajuni and Mijikenda communities joined Al-Shabaab and Isis.
The ISD study recommends that: “Kenyans of all backgrounds need to begin a process of safely and effectively countering the divisive messages of extremists, particularly during the times of political uncertainty which extremists exploit.”
The agency trained over 50 community service organisations to counter the influence of extremists among Kenyans online.
At least 29 other community service organisations were facilitated to create 18 video counter-narrative campaigns, which were disseminated in the midst of a volatile election period that included an annulled vote in August and a boycotted follow-up vote in October.
The counter-narrative campaign online reached over 4.4 million Kenyans during the campaign period.