Kenya asked to emulate Uganda in taming terror

What you need to know:

  • The Kenyan State has consistently failed to engage with its Salafi minority in a constructive manner and has consistently resorted to indiscriminate violence against the Islamic sphere as a whole

  • Tensions between Kenyan authorities and Muslims have been heightened by the government’s profound suspicions of Muslim NGOs, Dr Throup said.

  • He said government officials could use these organisations to monitor what was going on in Muslim communities.

NEW YORK

Uganda has largely succeeded in deterring radical Islamist elements while Kenyan authorities have failed to address socio-economic grievances that give rise to violent extremism, a forum in the United States was told on Friday.

Partly as a result, Islamist attacks on civilian targets in Kenya were likely to continue, two experts warned in presentations at a Washington think-tank.

“The Ugandan State was able to distinguish between the Islamic sphere in general and the violent minority within it,” Dr Sebastian Elischer, a professor of African politics at the University of Florida, said.

“The Kenyan State has consistently failed to engage with its Salafi minority in a constructive manner and has consistently resorted to indiscriminate violence against the Islamic sphere as a whole.”

SOCIO-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

David Throup, a Washington-based academic specialist on Kenya, offered a similar assessment at the forum sponsored by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“The Kenyan State has not been able to grapple with the social and economic problems of coastal Kenya and the northeast,” Dr Throup said.

“It sees those problems through a prism of state security. It has been very brutal and has actually incited recruits for Al-Hijra,” he said, referring to the Kenyan affiliate of Somali-based Al-Shabaab group.

In its dealings with ultra-conservative Muslims, Uganda has taken the effective approach of ‘soft’ regulation in cooperation with religious proxies, Dr Elischer observed.

KENYAN CITIZENS

“Co-optation characterises a lot of what President Yoweri Museveni does. Violence and exclusion have characterised Kenyan politics since independence,” he said.

The two speakers agreed that some Kenyan citizens were responsible for some of the recent Islamist violence within the country.

“The leadership of Al-Shabaab faction inside Kenya is no longer drawn from Somalis or traditional Muslim peoples of the Coast but from upcountry converts,” Dr Throup said.

He added that a significant number of Kenyans in traditionally non-Muslim parts of the country converted to Islam in the 1980s and 1990s.

STRATEGY

Radical Islamists have pursued a strategy of launching large-scale attacks on civilian targets in Kenya and, less frequently, in Uganda in order to force those countries’ governments to withdraw their soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia, Dr Throup said.

He added that the approach was very sensible from Al-Shabaab’s perspective.

“If I were the leader of Al-Shabaab, I would target a number of shopping malls in Nairobi, particularly those close to the United States embassy and the United Nations compound,” said the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies professor.

He added that such attacks would have “very, very damaging consequences for the country’s economy”.

TENSIONS

Dr Elischer said he was surprised more violence of that nature was not occurring.

“It is virtually impossible for the Kenyan Government to deter such attacks,” Dr Throup told the gathering.

Tensions between Kenyan authorities and Muslims have been heightened by the government’s profound suspicions of Muslim NGOs, Dr Throup said.

This scepticism stems from the creation of two Muslim NGOs that played roles in organising the 1998 US embassy attacks in Nairobi, he added.

NGOs

“At the same time, the Kenyan Government has a basic problem — it does not like NGOs,” Dr Throup said.

And that is in part because some “made the mistake of being so virulently in support of (opposition leader) Raila Odinga in 2007”, he said.

He added that political divisions might be healed if the government “stopped beating up Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) and Haki Africa,” referring to NGOs that have been subject to financial sanctions.

He said government officials could use these organisations to monitor what was going on in Muslim communities.

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