New Research: Experiences in the Kenyan Criminal Justice System and Violent Extremism

Kenya has experienced numerous terrorist attacks in the last decade, which in addition to fatalities, have resulted in massive economic losses with a long-term impact on foreign direct investment. The apparent continuing threat of violent extremism was reaffirmed during the al-Shabaab terrorist attack at the Dusit Hotel in Nairobi on 15 January 2019.

Experiences in the Kenyan Criminal Justice System and Violent Extremism reports on research conducted in Kenya from 2017 to 2019. It explores the link between counterterrorism strategies and recruitment into violent extremism in Kenya as well as the role of the Kenyan criminal justice system in relation to violent extremism. Kenya has been experiencing violent campaigns links to violent extremism for at least two decades. Perpetrators of such acts usually come from counties and communities with Muslim majority residents. Compared to the rest of Kenya, these communities have unusually high unemployment, underdeveloped infrastructure, poor economic opportunities, long-standing local grievances, close-proximity to Somalia – all of which can serve as important internal and external radicalizing factors not only in Kenya but also in the wider region. Kenya’s contribution to foreign fighters to Somalia and to conflicts in countries such as Syria and Iraq have increased both in total and capital.

Due to the violent and seditious nature of these terrorists, coupled with increased threats and a rise in the number of fatalities, Kenya has enacted an ambitious counter violent extremism and radicalization initiative aimed at preventing radicalization and rehabilitating those who have already been radicalized. While the emphasis continues to focus on individuals, there has also been recognition in that addressing violent extremism as part of prevention of terrorism has to include interventions aimed at addressing the environment conducive for violent ideologies and extremists who radicalise and recruit followers.

It is evident from the Kenyan counter strategy initiatives that a holistic approach, that also addresses the development dimension of violent extremism, should be enacted. For counter initiatives to succeed, the government of Kenya should undertake two strategic initiatives. First, policies and strategies must be designed together with affected communities, including victims of violent extremism. The key to tackling violent extremism, and ultimately eliminating terrorism, lies in Kenya’s collective effort approach and less on a doing it alone approach. Second, evaluate what has worked and what has not through piloting and testing before rolling out. Critically, identify the gaps and limitations of current counter strategies.

This research on Experiences in the Kenyan Criminal Justice System and Rates of Violent Extremism was carried out in partnership between Finn Church Aid (FCA), The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, Muslims for Human Rights and Kenyan Muslim Youth Alliance and funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism. On behalf of the project consortium, we would like to thank all the project partners and supporters, who have enabled the successful completion of this research project. We would also like to express our gratitude towards the Government of Kenya, especially the Ministry of Interior and the Office of the President, for their support throughout the process.