Kenya: Nyanza, Western, New Breeding Ground for Terrorists, Survey Shows

Kisumu, Siaya and Vihiga counties are the new breeding grounds for terrorist groups, a baseline survey conducted in 10 counties of Western Kenya has revealed.

The new study shows how terrorist groups such as the Al-Shabaab are changing tactics and recruiting from new regions as opposed to the usual Coast, North Eastern and Nairobi areas.

The survey revealed that apart from the three counties, Bungoma and Kakamega have for a while remained active recruitment grounds in Western Region having had some members in the past who were recruited to the terrorist group Al Shabaab prior to the Dusit attack.

The survey was carried out by Dr Tom Mboya, a lecturer of Political Science at Maseno University, and Mr Jeremiah Owiti between November 2019 and February 2020 for Champions of Peace, National Counter Terrorism Centre with the support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands.

The baseline survey titled "Western Kenya Prevention and Countering Violent Extremism Assessment Report" released on Wednesday morning was to establish evidence-based sign posts geared towards improving the design of the interventions by the government.

"Our findings indicate that here are certain individuals in Kisumu that are recruiting the youth all the way from Busia especially at the borders at Maseno. We also found out that Siaya County was slowly becoming a hotspot especially in the Bondo area where some have been lured to Somalia and Yemen," said Dr Mboya.

He pointed out that they have shared the exact details and statistics with the relevant authorities for further investigations and action.

According to the survey, many recruits are lured through employment opportunities overseas and are later forced into terrorism.

According to the research, should some people suspect that one person was exhibiting terrorist-like signs, six per cent will not interfere, 18 per cent would report and try to talk him out of it while 51 per cent will try to talk him out of it.

"The shocking part is five per cent would support the person to join Al-Shabaab. To an extent that there are certain percentages who would do this, that is something that concerns us," said Dr Mboya.

He stated that during focused group discussions, some people revealed how some youths, who were turned down during recruitment of police or defense forces, would join Al-Shabaab to 'lipiza kisasi' (revenge for not being accepted).

The survey also revealed that poverty, unemployment and marginalisation and exclusion from decision making processes were fueling the recruitment as disillusioned youth see terrorism as an easier way out to make easy and good money.

"We have unemployed youth whose drive is 'better a short happy life rather than a long life, penury and drudgery. This makes them join the terrorists group and make quick money," said Dr Mboya.

He pointed out that the community's trust deficit with the police and the young gluing their eyes on some terrorist sites was also leading to many getting radicalized and joining terrorist groups.

The survey also revealed that 66.4 per cent of residents of Western Region believe corruption poses a significant security threat followed by crime at 50 per cent, violent extremism at 40 per cent.

The research covered Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisii, Nyamira, Bungoma, Kakamega, Busia and Vihiga where 1,795 respondents participated as well as 30 focus group discussions.

The researchers used questionnaires, did literature review, key informant interviews and focused group discussions to get information.

Mr Elly Opondo, Programs Director at Champions of Peace told the Nation that they were sensitizing various groups on how to counter these terrorism threats.

"There is a need for supportive interventions that enhance a sense of urgency, purpose and identity among youth. The government should support entrepreneurship and employability skills training for the youth," said Mr Opondo.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a two-day capacity building training for Kisumu County engagement forum bringing stakeholders from security, county government, civil society organisations, religious leaders, business community and members of academia.

Some recommendations in the survey were to conduct mentorship and life skills programs for the youth and also establish creative information dissemination platforms to reach the youth to reduce vulnerability to radicalisation.

Others were use of technology platforms to report cases of violent extremism, use the vulnerability to radicalization profile to target project beneficiaries and increase capacity of community members to identify and report cases of radicalisation.

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