Preventing/Countering violent extremism in North Eastern Counties of Kenya


By: P/CVE Expert based in Wajir county


The North Eastern Counties of Kenya have witnessed the brunt of terror attacks for the last 10 years albeit with differing intensities. From time to time, one gets to ponder on what drives our youth to radicalization to violent extremism. One gets to question the social fabrics of our society and what we could have done to either cushion our youth from getting radicalized into violent extremism or what we could have done as a community to own the process of safeguarding our communities and the safety of those serving us in different capacities. We have witnessed the devastating effects of terror attacks on our social and economic well-being and we understand more than anyone how unbearable it is irrespective of our resilience.
Long since the emergence of violent extremism and the terrorism threat, civil societies, iNGO’s and NGO’s through their respective donors have reached out and played their part in preventing radicalization to violent extremism through different strategies meant to tackle the drivers and root causes of violent extremism ranging from creating awareness on violent extremism, training youth on competence based skills training and training parents and school teachers on various early warning signs of radicalization to violent extremism and other positively impactful strategies.

The Kenyan government’s approach.

Violent extremism is indeed a security problem. But the hard-liner approach, inspired only by security measures taken by our National government is less productive and has sometimes led to further inflaming violent extremism. In the rare cases where societies have managed to limit the problem, a multi-dimensional approach has been key whereby National government, County government, civil societies, Non-governmental organizations and the affected communities have partnered and synergized their partnership on an objective centered towards delivering the people from violent extremism and to lead them towards economic emancipation and growth.
It is imperative for National government to give considerable attention and resource to preventing violent extremism approaches (PVE) and not only militarized counter terrorism (CT). It is important to highlight the dominant “external stresses” framing employed by the Kenyan government to understand the threat of Al-Shabaab violence, a discourse that casts what is inside Kenya as safe/secure and what comes from outside as threatening. In this discourse, Kenya is seen as an “island of peace” amid a broader context of external dangers—including Al-Shabaab across its border in Somalia—that threaten its security. This framing results in both an overemphasis on the external nature of Al-Shabaab violence (underplaying some of its sources within Kenya) and the targeting of Somali and Muslim populations in Kenya as “external” threats to the country. The latter is part of a longer history of unequal citizenship for Kenyan Somalis and/or Muslims, populations that the colonial and then post-colonial governments have tried to control through restricted movement, forced villagization, identity screening, military coercion, and collective punishment. Therefore, current military responses to Al-Shabaab across the border in Somalia and repressive counter-terrorism activities/ policies within Kenya have only strengthened Kenyan Somalis’ and Muslims’ sense of alienation and victimization in relation to the Kenyan state, grievances that are used by Al-Shabaab to gain support and recruits. Indeed, Kenya’s military operation against Al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2011—though intended to protect Kenya from further violence—resulted in greater numbers of Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya, including the Westgate Shopping Center attack of 2013, 2014 Mpeketoni attack, 2015 Garissa University attack and 2019 Dusit D2 attack.
Therefore, in order to fully understand and effectively address Al-Shabaab violence in Kenya, it is necessary to look at security/insecurity from the perspectives of those most marginalized in Kenyan society; doing so enables a recognition of the ways in which the Kenyan state is itself often experienced as a threat by these populations, which explains why its military operations against Al-Shabaab may be counterproductive, as these often galvanize further support for the group. In other words, the insecurity created by Al-Shabaab stems not from “external stresses” alone but from the interaction between “external stresses” and “internal stresses” (the history of state persecution against Kenyan Somalis and Muslims upon which Al-Shabaab strategically builds).

CVE Action plans and lack of resource allocation and implementation by County governments.

County governments are closer to, and thus better understand, the needs of their own local communities but they are often absent from the national decision-making process. Mandera County has, by a commendable margin shown seriousness and have taken it upon themselves to implement their CVE action plans by putting independent structures in place which are fully resourced. Garissa County and Wajir County have lagged behind by not allocating resources to implement the pillars in the action plans that they developed and launched. As it is now, it is only Civil society and NGOs that are actively resourcing and working towards implementing and achieving on the prioritized pillars in the CVE ACTION PLANS. Even though there are competing needs, County governments should own the CVE ACTION PLANS and take into account that allocating resources to the fight against radicalization to violent extremism is a key priority so as to make positive progress in the fight against violent extremism.

Sustainable solutions and theory of change.

Sustainable solutions for the prevention of violent extremism therefore require an inclusive development approach anchored in tolerance, political and economic empowerment, and reduction of inequalities. One of the best applicable and contextually relevant frameworks, the UNDP’s conceptual framework and theory of change defines eleven interlinked building blocks of strategies for preventing violent extremism: The building blocks are:
1. Promoting a rule of law and human rights-based approach to PVE;
2. Enhancing the fight against corruption
3. Providing effective socio-economic alternatives to violence for groups at risk
4. Enhancing participatory decision-making and increasing civic space at national and local levels;
5. Strengthening the capacity of local governments for service delivery and security;
6. Supporting credible internal intermediaries to promote dialogue with alienated groups and re-integration of former extremists;
7. Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment;
8. Engaging youth in building social cohesion;
9. Working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders to counter the abuse of religion by violent extremists;
10. Working with the media to promote human rights and tolerance; and
11. Promoting respect for human rights and diversity and a culture of global citizenship in schools and universities.

This theory of change and P/CVE approach will positively contribute to preventing and countering violent extremism in all its forms by addressing the root causes and also the drivers of radicalization to violent extremism.


The peace building community and practitioners are currently split in their positioning and stratagem to P/CVE. There are those amongst them who criticize the P/CVE agenda and approaches, given all its related and perceived risks for staff and the perceived securitization of development and peace building work. Then there are those who creatively re-evaluate some of their programming approaches to qualify for P/CVE funding at Country and County level – with varying degrees of analysis on related go/no go decisions. Furthermore, there are organizations which try to find a middle ground, by influencing the P/CVE policy debate in a practical way to make the available funding more likely to have a positive impact, applying principles and learning from peace building and conflict sensitivity practice over many years. One could argue there is a moral obligation for peace building practitioners to influence P/CVE policy and practice to avoid risks and threats to the same communities in which many peace building organizations already operate. Peace building actors will need to work together very closely if they want to influence the P/CVE discourse and programming according to peace building and conflict-sensitivity principles. No single peace building actor will be able to do this alone. Systemic approaches might provide a useful entry point to discuss strategic cooperation between funders, policy-makers, and implementers at both the policy and the programmatic level. For this purpose, much more evidence on what constitutes effective P/CVE programming is required. While there are emerging efforts to increase the evidence base on drivers of violent extremism and the emergence of effective approaches (Allan 2015), there is currently no systematic evidence base on what works and what doesn’t (and why and how and for whom), shared between organizations engaged in this space. There is much to be learned from the peace building field, but there are also independent learning’s required on the specifics of P/CVE engagements and related policy coherence and programmatic effectiveness questions. This will need to include applied research, more systematic, systemic and shared analysis across international and local stakeholders, and more evaluations and assessments that go beyond ‘project effectiveness’ and really analyze the impact of P/CVE interventions on conflict and country systems. The impetus for such a larger, systemic focus cannot come from project and program levels alone: including such thinking and approaches at the level of decision-making on policies, country strategies and funding will be essential ‘to move the needle’ on P/CVE. Needless to say, all of this will only be useful if there is real willingness to learn from past and ongoing engagements, and possibly to adapt current P/CVE approaches.

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