Nairobi: “There is no conflict between Muslims and Christians,” is a key finding of a recently launched report on youth radicalization in Nairobi and Mombasa states. This counters common perceptions on existence of religious intolerance, following several tragic terror attacks in Kenya, that were in most cases carried out in a manner aimed at driving a wedge between Muslims and Christians.
According to a recent report by the Well Told Story, Kenya’s biggest local youth brand based on extensive research, understanding and insights into the lives of Kenyan youth, - the researchers encountered groups of young people where there was a high degree of collaboration and cooperation between Christians and Muslims and many gangs included members from both religious groups. It goes on to say that the Shabaab are deliberately exploiting the social and cultural tensions in a multi-religious, politically and economically challenged community, using religion as an identifier and driver in order to divide society and achieve ideological goals.
In terms of reasons for joining radical organizations, the report shows that lack of hope, inequity and injustice drive young people towards the Shabaab. In addition, some policies employed by the Kenyan government in the fight against terrorism tend to push the youth into the hands of the Shabaab such as the use of indiscriminate violence by security agencies which lead to feelings of anger, fear and injustice. In such a context, the youth are living in a binary world imposed upon them by others, where they are constantly being judged as being for or against either the government or one of the many different antisocial groups.
Despite these problems, the report shows that there is an opportunity for change in the two communities as social connections are strong. This is depicted by the little tension that exists amongst the communities and the high level of resilience in these regions. The communities also agree on the nature of the problem as well as its solution which is unusual as young people seldom agree with those in their environment.
There is a distinction between gangs, Mombasa Republican Council and the Shabaab as the former enjoy legitimacy in the community while the latter have no local social legitimacy. Most surprisingly was the finding that love and belonging in the society is what the youth yearn for but instead experience rejection and conflict at all levels. In order to counter radicalization effectively, the report recommends the building of integration and strengthening of social connections that lead to high levels of resilience in the society.
The report titled “Exploring Religious Tolerance among Young Kenyans in Nairobi and Mombasa,” was commissioned by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and published by the Well Told Story. It was launched on 29th April 2016 in Nairobi, in an event dubbed “Youth Voice on Radicalisation and Violent Extremism.” As opposed to the conventional method of experts convening to discuss on youth radicalization and publishing a policy brief, the Well Told Story employed a different approach that engaged the youth as its main client. It employed the GroundTruth research process, which is crafted to engage with young people on an issue and triangulates their experiences with those who shape their context and environment. This approach gave the youth a chance to air their problems as well as paint a picture of their ideal world at the personal, local, national and global level. Further, the findings were published in a comic version in order to demonstrate Well Told Story’s unique multi-facetted communication concept to stakeholders.
The launch was attended by state and non-state actors concerned with countering radicalization and violent extremism, who engaged in dialogue sessions on the causes of radicalization amongst the youth and solutions at the national, local, global and personal levels. Hon. Johnson Sakaja, a key guest at the event, said that that he would present the report findings to his committee and ensure that the issue of youth radicalization is put at the forefront, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on National Cohesion and Equal Opportunity and Chairman of Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association.
The event provided a platform to the participants for networking and exploring collaborations with the hope to enhance efforts in countering radicalization and violent extremism in Kenya.