Research on Experiences in the Kenyan Criminal Justice System and Rates of Violent Extremism has been Launched

Drivers that could push youth in at-risk communities towards violent extremism are manifold. The perceptions of unjust treatment by authorities in charge of the criminal justice system could however have a particularly heavy impact. Episodes or attitude of mistreatment by criminal justice authorities can indeed encapsulate and multiply drivers identified by past research as recurrent motivation for youth’s radicalization. Revenge, perception of a stigmatization by governmental authorities of the community of origins, violent repression of youth’s grievances, and further complication of youth’s hopes for economic stability have all been identified as drivers pushing youth towards extremist groups.

The objective of the research is to deepen understanding of the ways violent extremist organizations use the breakdown of trust between local communities and state and criminal justice system to harness support for their activities, and to recruit individuals. The research explores the mechanisms, triggering factors, context determinants, and how the lack of communication and a history of mistrust and marginalization contribute to the erosion of relations between criminal justice authorities and local communities. As an outcome of this, the research seeks to find potential for policy changes and recommendations for organizations, practitioners, researchers, national authorities, and regional and international policymakers.

The studies focus groups are the following:

  1. those who have been questioned, arrested, and/or detained on terrorism-related charges;
  2. their families; and
  3. criminal justice system operators active in the target regions on issues related to violent extremism.

The research  is funded by the US Department of State Counterterrorism Bureau.

Collaboration on international and local scales

The research project is lead by three senior researchers, Dr. Anneli Botha, Mahdi Abdile and Dr. Sarah Muringa Kinyanjui. In their previous research on Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, Mr. Abdile and Dr. Botha have focused on individuals’ perceptions and experiences of injustice and sentiments toward the government among radicalized individuals, making the researchers well positioned to carry out further research on the theme. These earlier research findings demonstrate the need for further examination of perceptions of injustice and mistrust in authorities in order to gain a deeper understanding of the part they play in radicalization.

Research activities will be carried out in four phases during the period of 18 months: the preparatory phase, the field research phase, the data analysis phrase, and the dissemination and publishing phase. Structured questionnaires will be developed for the three groups to assess both the concrete impact and the perceptions of counterterrorism measures and their implementation.

The research will include at least 200 face-to-face interviews and 16 focus group discussions. The findings of the research will be discussed with local and international stakeholders, with specialized organizations, practitioners, researchers, national authorities and international policymakers in order to feed into global thematic expertise and data on radicalization and to benefit local communities and authorities through concrete recommendations for cooperation.

Throughout the project activities, specific attention will be paid to the role of women and girls, who are both victims and perpetrators of terrorism. These women are crucial to efforts to mitigate and turn the tide of extremism.

Leveraging the project partners’ local connections and expertise as well as the Peacemakers Network’s global reach ensures widespread impact of the research on the ground and also among international stakeholders. The research findings will provide critical tools to building local resilience to violent extremist organizations, advancing better relations between local communities and criminal justice actors, and for the generation of recommendations that have global relevance and contribute to international efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism.

Heading picture: Sunset in Kenyan costal city Mombasa in November 2017.

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Anna Tervahartiala
Communications Officer