"Kenya: Al-Shabaab – Closer to Home", crisisgroup


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One year after the Westgate attack, Al-Shabaab has become more entrenched and active in Kenya. Meanwhile, the country’s immediate post-Westgate unity has broken down in the face of increasing attacks, and the political elites, security services, and ethnic and faith communities are beset by mutual suspicion and recriminations.

In its latest briefing, Kenya: Al-Shabaab – Closer to Home, the International Crisis Group highlights Al-Shabaab’s growing presence and increasingly frequent attacks and the muddled response of Kenya’s government, security services and political elite. Anti-terrorism operations perceived to target entire communities have exacerbated feelings of marginalisation and persecution, particularly of the Muslim minority, and are feeding directly into Al-Shabaab’s messaging and recruitment.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • The wider danger of Al-Shabaab’s tactics in Kenya lies in its ability to use existing religious and ethnic fault lines to deepen the country’s political and social divides.
  • Kenyan political elites need to acknowledge the domestic terror threat and form a common action-plan together with the country’s senior Muslim leadership to counter extremist recruitment.
  • The government should put into practice the recommendations of the 2008 Special Action (“Sharawe”) Committee set up to address the concerns of the Muslim minority: these include measures to end institutional discrimination against Muslims and their more proportional representation in senior public service appointments.
  • The government and its security services need to identify and isolate the specific Al-Shabaab threat and not conflate the actions of extremists with specific communities – especially in the north east and the coast – whose past and present grievances make them suspect in the eyes of the state. It must reappraise its anti-terrorism practices and operations, which are perceived as collective punishment of Muslims and particular ethnic groups. It should also allow for transparent investigations and redress where operations have exceeded the law or breached constitutional rights.

“Kenya’s 4.3 million Muslims have been historically marginalised, especially in the north east and along the coast”, says Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa Project Director. “If the government wants to cut grassroots support for Al-Shabaab, it has to address the widespread institutional and socio-economic discrimination felt by Kenyan Muslims”.

“The blame for growing radicalisation in Kenya lies less in the weaknesses of the country’s institutions than in the unwillingness of political leaders to put aside partisan divisions”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Deputy Africa Program Director. “Their playing politics with terrorism compounds an already volatile situation”.

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