BY MULLU WOCHE
The recent events in my hometown of Marsabit unearthed a myriad of realities of the youths living in the county. The arrest of a Sheikh suspected of supporting terrorist activities caused the youths to respond violently and in the process lives were lost and property destroyed. This is not about that incident, rather it’s about the undertones of this and many other similar incidences experienced in Marsabit in the recent past.
Violent Extremism and radicalization of youth is a reality in many parts of our Country including Marsabit county. In the Coastal and the Northern Eastern regions, where I had the privilege of engaging with the community on this issue for a couple of years; the pain and the despair on the faces of the fathers and especially mothers of these youths is devastating to say the least. It is very concerning to me that OUR community is not having candid discussions and taking actions against this very dangerous path some of our youths are on.
Terrorism is not a preserve of one particular religion as we have been made to believe. Infact in my conversations with youths, ideology did not feature on their top three reasons for wanting to join Al-Shabaab. Grievances towards Government in terms of marginalization were identified as the major push factor towards radicalization of the youth.
According to Omelas, a tech data analytics platform, 71% of youth cited government actions as triggering their decision to join violent extremist groups. This is the void that Terrorist organizations capitalize on. They come bearing ‘gifts,’ promising a hefty salary, housing, sometimes a bride and most importantly a cause to fight for; Against injustice. The humiliating experiences of a Northerner when accessing government services for example in acquiring a national ID or worse still a passport is one of the ways that the Kenyan Government makes us feel like the ‘other’. And so when the Country you call your home treats you like an unwelcome visitor you walk around with no sense of identity which creates a fertile ground for the violent extremists’ narrative to take root.
We have an opportunity to interrogate and reflect on what roles we play in turning this narrative around. It’s true that we have been marginalized and yes our youth feel disenfranchised but the power to change our circumstances has been handed back to us through devolution. The County Government plays a crucial role of ensuring that resources are distributed equally, that our young children and youth are getting quality education and SMEs are supported. The religious leaders have a moral responsibility of ensuring that we continue to co-exist peacefully.
Respect for each other’s’ beliefs and religious tolerance should be preached to all. I believe that no religion teaches one to hate and therefore when one uses religion to propagate hate, religious leaders should come out to strongly condemn such individuals.
Parents play an even more crucial role of inculcating values such as love for all humanity, kindness, generosity, respect and tolerance early on in their children’s life and that is not just a responsibility of the mother. Fathers too play a strong role of modelling and influencing behavior in their children. The socialization of individuals in their childhood and young adulthood, frames the choices they make during their lifespan and will affect how they view politics, religion and their personal relationships. Intentionally creating time with your children to talk about their days, aspirations and disappointments builds confident and functional youth.
This is not a fight against extremism or of one religion against the other but a fight for the future of our county and against anything that threatens our progress. The youth are the backbone of any society. They cannot be ignored or wished away. We must invest in them for the very selfish reason of securing our future. Their voices must be heard in any development plans for the County. It will be such a shame if five years to come we will still be lamenting about marginalization when the power to course correct has been put back into our hands.
Mulu is a gender specialist with a special interest In community engagement in preventing and countering violent extremism moreso in strengthening women’s role in Preventing and Countering violent Extremism.She currently works with NCIC in the Peace building and Reconciliation Department.